FYSOP Launches Today
Animals new issue area in program’s 23rd year
Just days after Austin Bay deposited his belongings at Boston University freshman year, he found himself hauling strangers’ belongings up several flights of stairs in a Worcester apartment complex. He was one of hundreds of first year students who had volunteered for the First-Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP) and among more than a dozen volunteers helping an Iraqi family move into their new home that day.
They had just finished moving in the last item, says Bay (CAS’12), when the family—which included a disabled child—arrived. It was quickly apparent that the apartment—a walk-up—wouldn’t work for the family, so the BU volunteers moved everything to a more accessible space on the first floor.
Bay remembers shaking hands with the father, and that moment sparked an epiphany. “I realized moving to Boston was such a big journey and how much I didn’t know and how much I had to learn,” says the northern California native.
Now, four years later, Bay hopes to lead others through a similar awakening as one of two program managers for FYSOP, a Community Service Center (CSC) program that brings incoming first-time students to campus a week before classes start to familiarize them with the University and greater Boston while also volunteering for a good cause.
This is FYSOP’s 23rd year. Today, the program welcomes about 1,000 students to campus as they begin a week of service in one of 11 issue areas: children, disabilities, elders, the environment, gender focus, homelessness and housing, human rights, hunger, public health awareness, urban engagement, and—new this year—animals. Students are divided equally among each area and work in groups of 10 to 15 at various sites, led by the program’s upperclassmen staff.
Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) will greet the FYSOPers tonight during orientation, then volunteers will spend tomorrow learning more about their specific issue before heading out for three days of service with local nonprofit and community organizations. President Robert A. Brown and his wife, Beverly Brown, director of development for the Center for Global Health & Development and the Office of Technology Development, will speak at Friday’s closing ceremony.
The FYSOP volunteers will contribute as many as 26,000 hours of service in and around Boston, says CSC director Lindsey Wyld Kotowicz. The program remains popular, she says, because it encourages students to develop strong friendships early on, informs them of issues affecting Boston residents, and gives them time to settle in to their new home. BU is “not just about being on campus or class; it’s about the experience beyond,” she says.
This year, some volunteers will find themselves picking crops at Sharing the Harvest Community Farm, in Dartmouth, Mass., as part of the environment group, reading to children at the Salvation Army’s Our Place Daycare, in Cambridge, as part of the children’s group, or creating paper lanterns to auction in support of Jamaica Plain’s Spontaneous Celebration Community Center as members of the urban engagement group.
For this year’s added issue area, animals, volunteers will travel to new sites, including the Ellen Gifford Cat Shelter, in Brighton, the Franklin Park Zoo, in Dorchester, and the Quincy Animal Shelter, where they will help care for a variety of species.
“Volunteers often aren’t teaching anything,” Bay says. “They’re usually learning from people in the community, and that’s what we try to prepare them for.”
That preparation can be intense. While adjusting to life away from home, the students attend detailed training sessions, engage in emotionally and physically demanding volunteer experiences, über-bond with new friends, and participate in nightly social events. By the end of the week, “everyone’s really emotionally raw,” says program manager Alexandra “Sasha” Beskrowni (CAS’12).
Many former volunteers say that FYSOP was a defining experience during their time at BU. It certainly was for Bay and Beskrowni. Political science and international relations major Bay hopes to find a job working in public policy. Beskrowni, who majored in environmental analysis and policy, hopes to pursue a career in that field.
“College is a time when people encourage you to ask questions,” Bay says. “In FYSOP, you start to ask some of those questions,” especially when it comes to issues related to social justice.
BU Today is covering this year’s First-Year Student Outreach Project live this week via Twitter. Share your FYSOP experience under the hashtag #fysop23, and we will post your comments Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday here.1 Comments