Harvard has often had a distant—and contested—relationship with the neighboring community in Allston, but on Monday, 16 students participating in a service project at the Institute of Politics crossed the Charles to spruce up a reading room at the Gardner Pilot Academy.
After touring the school and meeting its administrators, students cleared out a cluttered basement storage space—which had not been cleaned in 12 years according to IOP President and event organizer Jeffrey F. Solnet ’12. Participants decorated some of this new found space with a lively rug and books along the shelves.
Several participants said that the IOP’s community service event and the following discussion with Harvard’s Senior Director of Community Relations, Kevin A. McCluskey ’76, gave them greater insight into the relationship between the University and Allston.
“I’d heard about Harvard’s expansion into Allston of course, but this event put a face to the neighborhood,” said Peter M. Bozzo ’12, a member of The Crimson’s editorial board. “We got to see the surrounding community—which is right across the river—but I hadn’t ever been.”
Following the halt of construction on the Allston Science Complex in Dec. 2009, the University has embarked on a series of community projects to mitigate the consequences of putting the development on hold, including the construction of an ice skating rink and mini golf course.
Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Christine M. Heenan noted that the event highlighted the University’s relationship with the Allston community in addition to Harvard students’ dedication to public service.
“The IOP students’ time at the Gardner Pilot Academy on MLK Day is their second such service effort this year and reflects both the commitment and public spiritedness of our amazing students and Harvard’s commitment to the GPA and to the community,” Heenan wrote in an e-mail. “Service is key to the mission of the IOP, and Allston is key to the University, so the connection is natural.”
The service day at the GPA was the product of the IOP’s previous involvement with the school. In December, the IOP along with the Harvard Democrats, International Relations Council, and several other campus groups organized a carnival for 350 GPA students.
Harvard has also collaborated with the GPA through the Harvard Education Portal, a resource center at which Harvard undergraduates have mentored several GPA students, and the Harvard Achievement Support Initiative, which offers funding and professional development to Boston schools and students.
Solnet said that the community service project, which drew long-time IOP members as well as newcomers to the organization, fulfilled the purpose of the Optional Winter Activities Week—to allow students to explore extracurricular organizations they have not found time for during the semester.
“This event emphasized the dual mission of the IOP and its commitment to both politics and public service,” Solnet added. “And there’s no better time to help the community than MLK day.”
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.