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FYSOP opens up Boston and BU

For some freshmen, service comes first

Mollie Bergeron (CAS’10), Tajah Ross (CGS’10), and Natalie Robinson (CAS’10) fill backpacks with back-to-school supplies at Cradles to Crayons, an organization visited by this year’s FYSOP volunteers. Photo by Frank Curran

A week before classes started on Tuesday, September 5, Trevor Lombaer (SMG’10) had found players for an intramural basketball team, Rick Kavin (CAS’10) had found Boston’s best ice cream, and Natalie Robinson (CAS’10) thought that BU already felt smaller and more manageable.

“I live in California, and I don’t know many people here,” says Robinson. “I thought FYSOP would be a good way to meet people.”

More than 500 freshmen participated in the 17th annual First-Year Student Outreach Project, or FYSOP 17, which offers entering students a chance to get to campus early and spend a week performing community service around the city. Students select one of eight issue areas — children, disabilities, elders, the environment, gender focus, HIV/AIDS awareness, homelessness and housing, and hunger — and spend four days learning about how these problems affect the greater Boston area and volunteering with local organizations. Participants complete about 13,000 hours of community service in the week before classes start. 

Most FYSOP volunteers were involved in community service while in high school and find that the program is a good introduction to BU’s Community Service Center, which sponsors the program and offers volunteer opportunities for students throughout the year. “I wanted to get to see the city of Boston and find out what some of the issues are,” says Tajah Ross (CGS’08), who worked with Hurricane Katrina victims in her hometown of Dallas, Tex.

The experience is also an opportunity for students to get a sneak preview of college life — they get to know the campus and meet their classmates before the entire BU population returns for the start of the semester. “We get to move in earlier, get oriented to Boston, and meet 500 new kids before everyone else,” says Connor Kelly (CGS’08). “And the service is pretty interesting.”

Kelly and Ross both signed up for the children’s issue area, which places volunteers at child-care centers, HeadStart programs, and children’s service providers around Boston. On Wednesday, August 30, they worked at Cradles to Crayons, which provides clothing, books, toys, and school supplies to needy children around the state. Social service agencies submit requests for individual children, and Cradles to Crayons volunteers assemble the needed items and package them for shipment — 350 bags of supplies are sent out each week, and “every one of the bags is a different child, a different story, with a specific need,” says Craig Simenson, a Cradles to Crayons volunteer coordinator.

Other FYSOP participants spend the week working at elder care facilities, helping to restore or clean up nature preserves, or volunteering at local homeless shelters. Each night they come back to campus for movies, performances, and trips into Boston. This year students visited the Museum of Fine Arts, got acquainted with J. P. Licks, and attended a reading and discussion with slam poet Taylor Mali.

While FYSOP’s reputation draws hundreds of first-years every fall, the experience itself brings the 17 coordinators and 30-plus staff members back each year. “I can’t get enough,” says Maylien Herm (CAS’07), a staffer who’s come to campus early to participate in the program for four years straight. “I can’t imagine being at BU without FYSOP.”

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