• Volunteers Betsy Soukup and Chelsea He work on assembling LEGO amino acid models.

    Photo: Chelsea Finn

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  • MIT volunteers sort and package groceries at The Greater Boston Food Bank.

    Photo: Mariah Hake

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  • MIT volunteers at The Greater Boston Food Bank.

    Photo: Mariah Hake

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  • Ambalini Selvaraj, MIT retiree, displays her LEGO DNA model.

    Photo: Chelsea Finn

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  • MIT volunteers assist in painting The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center.

    Photo: Lauren McLean

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Community Service Day draws volunteers from across the Institute

MIT community gathers for an afternoon of public service.

When was the last time you had the chance to sort tons of food, build LEGO models, or pick up a paintbrush?

Last week, 59 members of the MIT community had the opportunity to collectively do all three in the name of public service.

On Friday, these MIT community members joined together for the Public Service Center's inaugural Independent Activities Period (IAP) Community Service Day. The participating volunteers — including undergraduate and graduate students, staff, spouses, partners and retirees — were split into groups to serve at one of three local organizations. The event brought together many service-minded individuals from around the Institute, each with their own reason for wanting to volunteer.

"In high school, I never had the chance to do community service," says sophomore Chelsea Finn. "So whenever I find the chance to do it now, I try to take advantage of it."

Aside from having an interest in community service, some of the day's participants were also looking for a chance to meet others in the MIT community. Among these individuals was Kimberly Hula, research administrator in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

"I was looking to share passion with people with similar interests and chanced upon this opportunity," Hula says. "It's great to be able to connect with people from around the Institute."

The first team of MIT volunteers visited The Greater Boston Food Bank, where the group inspected, sorted and repacked donated groceries to be distributed to hunger relief agencies. According to The Greater Boston Food Bank, MIT volunteers sorted 7,352 pounds of food and made 4,524 meals possible as a result of their efforts.

The second team volunteered with People Making a Difference (PMD), a Boston-based nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by MIT alumna Lori Tsuruda '89. PMD promotes volunteerism in one-time projects that meet local needs. Dr. Kathy Vandiver, director of community outreach and education programs for the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences, has an ongoing project through PMD and the MIT Edgerton Center of creating LEGO models of nucleic acids and protein molecules for visually stimulating and interactive classroom instruction. MIT volunteers assisted by assembling these LEGO kits into DNA and amino acid models that will be used by middle and high schools in the Boston area and across the country.

This group of volunteers included several MIT retirees, including Bette Davis, who served as a director in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences before retiring in 2010. Davis elected to volunteer with PMD for something new, since she already had volunteered with The Greater Boston Food Bank the previous weekend.

"I've always volunteered and been interested in social services," Davis says. "I've even found myself busier since retiring."

The final team trekked to Boston's South End to serve at The Salvation Army's Harbor Light Center, a shelter for individuals struggling with drug addiction. Armed with brushes, rollers, and edgers, these volunteers assisted Salvation Army staff in painting the interior of center. Using warm and bright colors, this group was able to spruce up the center and create a more welcoming environment for the center's support programs.

"We are really pleased to see enthusiasm for community service days that involve a wide spectrum of MIT community members," says Kristi Gundrum Kebinger, community volunteer administrator in the Public Service Center. "In addition to giving back to the Boston and Cambridge communities, participants are interacting with individuals from sections of the MIT community with whom they might not otherwise encounter. We are excited to see students mingling with retirees, staff, spouses, and partners, and we look forward to expanding to include faculty and alumni in future similar events."

Though Community Service Day will be an annual event, MIT-wide service certainly does not have to be a once-a-year occurrence. Feel free to send any ideas for future Institute-wide service to serviceday@mit.edu.

Topics: Community, Staff, Students, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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