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Coming Early, Doing Good

Popular freshman volunteer program FYSOP celebrates 20 years

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In the video above, FYSOP participants describe what it‘s like to volunteer around Boston.

The first freshman arrivals at Boston University are easy to spot. On campus a week before classes begin, they travel about the city in large white vans, wear matching T-shirts, and sometimes break into song and dance.

Participants in the First-Year Student Outreach Project, popularly known as FYSOP, stand out. But for the thousands of students who’ve joined FYSOP since 1989, the precollege volunteer program is what makes them fit in.

“The first week of college marks the beginning of four very important, character-building years,” says Shannon Dickerson (COM’11), returning this August for her second stint as a team leader. “I think it’s fantastic that FYSOP sets that foundation for so many freshmen.”

FYSOP, run by the Community Service Center (CSC), is celebrating its 20th year at BU by welcoming 600 members of the Class of 2013. Students spend three days this week volunteering at sites throughout greater Boston, focusing on one of nine broad topics: children, disabilities, elders, the environment, gender focus, HIV/AIDS awareness, homelessness and housing, human rights, and hunger. By the end of the week, they will have clocked more than 13,000 hours of service. Often, that’s just the start.

Many FYSOP volunteers return year after year as staff members and coordinators, and hundreds participate in other community service programs, from spring break service trips to food-redistribution efforts, says CSC director Lindsey Wyld Kotowicz. “That first week in FYSOP is when students make the friends they carry with them for four years,” she says. “They don’t want the experience to end, so they continue to volunteer.”

“There’s definitely a high retention rate,” says Brandon Polcik (CAS’09), who has returned for a fifth year to serve as FYSOP’s program manager.

Two years ago, when Polcik took a FYSOP group to Casa Nueva Vida, a homeless shelter in Jamaica Plain, he helped weed gardens and clean a playground. The volunteers hadn’t even gotten dirt under their fingernails before a small group of children emerged from the shelter, and soon residents and volunteers were working and playing together. “Interacting with the kids allowed us to put a face to the people we were helping,” Polcik recalls.

Many students are drawn to FYSOP for a head start on getting to know classmates. “BU is so big, I worried that I’d have a hard time making friends,” says Alyssa Shames (CAS’12), who volunteered at the Boston Children’s Museum during her FYSOP session last year.

Others volunteer for more personal reasons. Faith Nwaoha (CAS’12), who moved to Dorchester from Nigeria four years ago, worked at Community Servings, a nonprofit that delivers free home-cooked meals to homebound patients with AIDS and other illnesses. “In my country, AIDS is a huge problem,” she says. “Children are dying from it every day. This was a way for me to share their pain and do something good.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu. Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

4 Comments

4 Comments on Coming Early, Doing Good

  • Anonymous on 08.24.2009 at 5:33 pm

    You go Lauren Looft!

  • Vimal Jhaveri on 08.24.2009 at 6:47 pm

    That guy looks in that picture…

  • Anonymous on 08.30.2009 at 4:17 pm

    This is FYSOP20, but the picture is from FYSOP17. While it’s a fantastic photo, couldn’t you have gotten something more up-to-date, recent, and relevant for the main picture of this page?

  • Anonymous on 08.02.2010 at 12:27 pm

    The amount of people in FYSOP continuously grows and this growth will decrease the vibrant community that the program creates. Close connections are going to be harder to form. 1,200 people is way too many.

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