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On April 5, Amy Robertson will be packing up food for a hunger-relief initiative in Beirut, Lebanon. On April 26, Matthew Smith will be cleaning up a riverside park in Stamford, Conn.
The two alums will be among thousands of BU alumni, faculty, staff, and students volunteering throughout April during the fifth annual Global Days of Service, a collaboration between the BU Alumni Association and the Community Service Center. In 2013, more than 3,200 volunteers served at 104 projects in 51 cities worldwide.
“We encourage all of BU to participate,” says Susan Richardson, director of alumni programs and events. “We want to continue to strengthen the tradition of service that has been important to BU since its founding. We hope that alumni, faculty, staff, and friends feel a sense of pride in the impact that BU is having on the world by getting involved in worthwhile service opportunities.”
In addition to those opportunities, Global Days of Service is the time for the Hubie Jones Lecture in Urban Health, to be held on Saturday, April 12, at 10 a.m. in the Kenmore Classroom Building, 565 Commonwealth Ave. This year’s speaker is Donald Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Volunteer sites this year include nonprofits such as Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, Boston’s Pine Street Inn, and food banks across the country. For one project—Children’s Books Online: the Rosetta Project, an online library of illustrated books—volunteers around the world fluent in a variety of languages will record themselves reading the children’s book About Bunnies. “This is a wonderful way to engage our alumni globally, and they can do it from home,” says Richardson. “We will also have volunteers at the London Marathon; they will include our alumni and students currently in London.” And in Seoul, South Korea, alumni will play music and perform opera for patients at a local hospital.
Richardson adds that those who are currently involved in community service in their area—soccer coach, Sunday school teacher—can log their hours as part of the Global Days of Service.
Students are also encouraged to participate. On April 19, they can choose from 39 sites in the Boston area and are encouraged to submit their time to the Million Hours Project. (Students have pledged to complete one million hours of community service before the end of BU’s $1 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign in 2017.) They can register here. If they can’t make it to a site that day, they can log any volunteer hours they complete during the month of April.
Seattle native Robertson (CAS’94) has logged plenty of volunteer hours during her life. At 13, she took her first community service trip with her church youth group to build and repair homes in eastern Washington for Habitat for Humanity. After graduating from BU, she lived and worked in Latin America for eight years, where her volunteer stints included building homes in Honduras, monitoring presidential elections in Ecuador, and working with youths in Bolivia to create social documentaries. A freelance writer, she wrote the book Volunteer Vacations in Latin America (Avalon Travel Publishing, 2013).
In 2012, Robertson moved to Beirut with her husband, who works for the United Nations, and their two children. She volunteers at her children’s school and at the hunger relief initiative foodblessed, which operates two soup kitchens in the city and delivers meals to AIDS patients and food boxes to Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese.
“In March, we sadly observed the third anniversary of the Syrian crisis,” she says. “As the tiniest neighbor hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees, Lebanon is carrying a tremendous burden as it generously provides a refuge for those fleeing violence. Packaging food boxes for foodblessed is one way to help alleviate the burden, in particular because it provides for Syrians and Lebanese alike, according to need, and not according to religious or political affiliation.”
On April 5, Global Days of Service volunteers will pack up food boxes, and foodblessed will deliver them shortly thereafter. “Their most recent distribution was implemented together with another civil organization called Lebanese for Syrian Refugees,” Robertson says, “and they took them to the no-man’s land beyond the border town of Arsal, where little aid is able to get through. They also distribute boxes to some of the clients that attend their soup kitchens.”
Robertson says volunteering allows her to “connect with other people and to show solidarity with those around me. For BU’s Global Days of Service, I am particularly looking forward to getting to know others in Lebanon that are part of the BU family.”
Three weeks later, Smith (CAS’70, GSM’72), and a group of volunteers will be cleaning up the newly developed Mill River Park in Stamford, Conn., where he lives. The work will include cutting down invasive plants, doing river cleanup, and planting bulbs. “It’s an important stage in the growth of the park, as it was officially opened two years ago,” Smith says. “The spring is a great time to publicize it and garner support. Plus, there are hundreds of BU alumni in the adjacent counties, and we are hoping to really generate some interest and enthusiasm.”
Smith, president and CEO of SecLingua, Inc., and a member of the BU Alumni Council board of directors, has participated in the Global Days of Service in the past, collecting and selling toys to raise money for a local charity.
When asked why he participates in the event, he points to the University’s history of service. “The Goodwill Industries was started by a BU alum from the School of Theology, and the nearly 175-year history of BU has been oriented toward community involvement,” he says. “It’s in our institutional DNA, and that mixes with each of us who are alumni. It never leaves us, and we promote it by participating in the Global Days of Service, which further continues the BU tradition.”
Global Days of Service takes place throughout April. Learn more and register here. Donald Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will deliver the Hubie Jones Lecture in Urban Health, on Saturday, April 12, at 10 a.m. in the Kenmore Classroom Building, Room 101, 565 Commonwealth Ave. The lecture is free, but registration is requested.