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Campus Life

Changing the World Through Service

CSC celebrates 25th birthday


On a recent Thursday night, Alex Reese pulls open the doors of a 12-passenger van in front of Panera Bread on Comm Ave and deposits a trash bag full of day-old pastries. Reese (COM’13) is among 95 volunteers participating in Student Food Rescue (SFR), one of 13 programs run by BU’s Community Service Center (CSC). Each week, Reese and her fellow SFR volunteers collect unsellable food from Boston-area bakeries and grocery stores and deliver it to local shelters. On this night, Reese and her team gather nearly 50 pounds of food and take it to Woods Mullen Shelter in the South End.

Since its founding 25 years ago, the CSC has been improving the lives of people not only in Boston, but across the country.

It’s improved the lives of BU students as well. “We want to provide students with meaningful and mutually beneficial ways to volunteer within their community,” says CSC director Lindsey Wyld Kotowicz (SED’07). “We hope to develop well-rounded, balanced citizens and help them fit into the world outside of BU.”

The CSC officially marked its anniversary with a celebration on November 18. Among those who gathered for games, a cake, a piñata, and a service project making birthday cards for a local community group were current volunteers and nearly two dozen CSC alumni.

Originally called The League, the CSC was founded in 1986 by Stephen McMahon (CAS’88, SSW’92) as a way to connect BU students with service opportunities in Boston.

“There were increasing needs in the community, and at BU at the time there was no one clear way to get involved,” says McMahon, who in 2001 founded McMahon Solutions, a company that coordinates volunteer programs for corporations.

Boston University Community Service Center, Global Day of Service

BU students volunteer during the University’s Global Day of Service last April. Photo courtesy of the Community Service Center

The project, initially run out of Marsh Chapel, was designed to be a directory of local nonprofit organizations that students could contact if they wanted to volunteer around the city. Interest in service was so great, the center began to organize its own volunteer programs.

“It was all student-initiated,” McMahon recalls. “There was a lot of energy on campus.”

Today, the CSC prides itself on still being run primarily by students. The center has two full-time staff members, but most of the organizing is done by student program managers.

One of the first projects was Siblings, a mentoring partnership between BU students and Boston-area elementary school children. The program is still in existence.

Today,more than 4,000 BU students are involved each year in CSC programs, which partner with more than 40 local nonprofit organizations in and around Boston. Current projects provide support to immigrants and the elderly, and offer science, music, art, and theater programs to elementary and middle school children.

The center is perhaps best known for its First Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP), an orientation program that connects approximately 1,000 incoming freshman volunteers with local nonprofits before the start of the fall semester. Another popular program overseen by the CSC is Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which sends approximately 400 students across the country each March to work with more than three dozen community-based organizations focused on homelessness, HIV prevention, hunger, environmental protection, and other issues. Both programs began during the late 1980s.

Boston University Community Service Center, CSC, TrickOrCan

Former CSC volunteers Chrissy English (COM’06) (from left), Liz Foley (SED’06), Graham Veth (COM’06), Josh Koshar (CAS’07), Meg Levene (CAS’05), and Fritz Kuhnlenz (CAS’06, SED’09) participate in this year’s Trick-or-Can, going door-to-door to collect canned food for the CSC. Photo courtesy of the Community Service Center

Colleen Huysman was a FYSOP volunteer her freshman year and later became a program manager for the program. She recalls the satisfaction she got working with people with disabilities and with young children.

“Seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces, you really felt like you were making a difference,” says Huysman (CAS’10, COM’10), who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan.

Brandon Polcik, another CSC alum, volunteered with Joining Hands, which pairs students with the elderly or with disabled adults. The experience proved life-changing.

“It opened my eyes for the opportunity to build community with action and dialogue with people you don’t always interact with,” says Polcik (CAS’09). “I felt a part of the Boston community through action, and it propelled me to do service after school.”

After graduating from BU, Polcik landed an internship at Youth Build, a Cambridge, Mass., trade and education program for high school dropouts. He is currently a first-year AmeriCorps member in Detroit.

Polcik’s decision to pursue a career helping others is not uncommon for CSC alumni. Out of the 24 program managers who graduated last spring, 21 have gone on to volunteer with Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or AmeriCorps, according to Kotowicz. She hopes the center will continue to inspire students for generations to come.

“I hope students are finding service fun and that being a citizen of the world is something they want to do,” Kotowicz says. “I would love for the CSC to be that open and welcoming center for as many people as possible.”

Allison Thomasseau can be reached at althoma@bu.edu.

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