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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

More than just volunteers

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: Featured, Features

Since 1966, Brandeis University Waltham Group has been sending students to Waltham and the greater Boston area to volunteer through the group’s outreach programs. According to Lucas Malo, the director of community service on campus, Waltham Group’s goal is “embracing our city through breaking down stereotypes, building relationships, and a respect for mutual learning and partnership.”

Waltham Group consists of 21 outreach programs, whose focuses vary widely. From offering educational assistance to youth in need, to providing basic needs to the homeless, to matching up volunteers with elderly citizens within Waltham, the reach of its various programs is truly all-encompassing. Up to four coordinators (depending on the size of the individual program) plan, organize and manage the various events and numerous hours of volunteering that is conducted. With over 700 volunteers, Waltham Group continues to act as an essential liaison between the students of Brandeis University and the city of Waltham, with the common goal of building a better community.

One of the programs that Waltham Group offers is Hunger and Homelessness. The program provides citizens in need with the food, shelter and support that are essential to their well-being. Petra Nelson ’15, a coordinator for the program, enjoys every part of what she does in the program. “By bringing food to the Community Day Center, a wet shelter in Waltham, and interacting with the guests there, we are helping everyone without discriminating against those addicted to drugs or alcohol,” she said. Other than interacting with the guests at the center, volunteers of the Hunger and Homelessness program also cook a meal and eat it with the guests.

Another program that Waltham Group features is General Tutoring. This program establishes a one-on-one tutoring opportunity between Brandeis students and adolescents of the local area. Having university students working in tandem with kids who are just beginning their learning career is a great experience for both the mentor and mentee. Nelson, a volunteer for General Tutoring, loves being a part of the program. “Being a tutor for General Tutoring has been lots of fun. I love interacting with [my] tutee, who is an English Language Learner,” she said.

Aside from providing knowledge and necessities to the communities nearby, Waltham Group and Hillel, since 2007, have partnered up with Habitat for Humanity. Together, they work to educate Brandeis students and the general public about housing issues in the area. Moreover, the Habitat for Humanity chapter at Brandeis serves as an advocate for locals around the community who are affected by such dilemmas. Brandeis students who are members of this program also have the great hands-on opportunity to truly change people’s lives by constructing homes for community members to live in.

None of the various programs and events hosted by Waltham Group would have been possible without its Fundraising and Development team. This body, with Waltham Group’s overarching goal in mind, coordinates all the fundraising events to provide the financial backing to the club that it requires. Eric Gordon ’17, one of the coordinators for the group, said that fundraising can be tedious and unforgiving. However, it is also very fulfilling, he stated. His motivation derives from experiences such as “going into the classrooms at the Plympton Elementary School in Waltham and seeing exactly what it is we are raising money for.”

Malo, since his arrival in the spring of 2008, has dedicated his time to Waltham Group in the hopes of increasing its influence and, of course, maximizing aid to the community. With over 20 years of experience in service and social work, he has been the cornerstone of Waltham Group and the community service program at the university. With a master’s degree in social work, Malo has used his expertise as staff advisor to enhance the volunteering program at Brandeis. An approach of his that has made the group such a success involves providing the flexibility and various opportunities that have been necessary for students to become leaders within the group. He noted that it was exactly this that allowed “Budgeting and Steering and [the] Waltham Group Coordinators … [to] implement all of the changes that have [positively] impacted their student organization.” It was the students, he said, who were responsible for the increase in fundraising and the increase in programs that make the group what it is today.

Despite being the largest student-run club on campus, Waltham Group continues to strive to bring new events and programs to reach its full potential. “At this time the Waltham Group has been able to adapt its programs to meet the needs of the local community,” Malo said. However, he believes that there is always room for improvement within the club. Malo continues to talk to students about the possibility of opening more programs for Brandeis students. “As I talk with students about our programs the one area that we [have] sought out for is animal rights/advocacy volunteer work,” he said. And if any student sees a need in the community, Malo said the Department of Community Service “always encourage[s] students to approach us with new ideas, passions, and opportunities.”

In the past five years alone, Waltham Group has tripled its number of volunteers, student leaders and projects in the community. Starting this school year, the community service team on campus has further grown with the addition of Brian Quigly, who has experience in coordinating student activities and overseeing leadership development programs. It is new additions to the community service program such as these that demonstrate Brandeis’ continued goal of searching for new ways to enrich and refine its programs and positive influence in the surrounding community.

Nelson believes that, despite the fact that the programs of Waltham Group can vary, “We share one common goal: giving back to our community.” In the end, however, it is not only Waltham that benefits, as the continued aid that Waltham Group provides has given its staff and volunteers heartwarming memories that they will never forget. As Gordon stated, the best part of Waltham Group is the realization that the hard work contributed makes a real difference.