With 24 service-related Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) on Boston College’s campus, students have plenty of options to choose from. The Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC) is the home to several of BC’s most popular service programs including Relay for Life, BC Bigs, and the Welles Crowther Red Bandanna Run. In the fall of 2011, the VSLC added a new program to its list: the First Year Service Program (FYSP).
“The program consists of us three on the junior lead team, 15 sophomore leaders, and then all of the freshmen that sign upat the begining of each semester,” said Catherine Coffey, A&S ’16, in reference to her fellow junior leaders Caitlin Slotter, A&S ’16, and Emily Carroll CSOM ’16. “After the information sessions that will be held next week, students will sign up for a placement in the hallway outside of our office in Mac on a first come, first serve basis.”
Unlike other similar service programs at BC, FYSP does not require an interview or even an application to participate—any freshman can join simply by signing up.
“Some people like to call FYSP 4Boston without the application, which is not a bad thing because 4Boston does a lot of great things as well,” Coffey said. “We just do them in a more accessible, convenient way with a focus on freshmen meeting other freshmen.”
The program can be as little or as large a time commitment as determined on a student-by-student basis, starting at just two to three hours of service per week along with a once-a-week, hour-long reflection.
“The reflections are not based on your placement, they are based on your availability time-wise,” Coffey said. “You get to meet more people that way, too, because you have already met the people you volunteer with weekly—we really just want it to be as accessible as possible.”
The 15 sophomores in the program lead the reflections each week. Instead of just one leader at each reflection there are always two, exposing freshman participants to more points of view. The junior leaders tried the two-person reflection leadership structure last year and enjoyed bouncing ideas off of one another to create more interesting reflections.
“We really hook you up with the sophomore mentors, and you get to meet some juniors, too,” Coffey said. “It is nice to connect with upperclassmen as a freshman in an intimate way because there aren’t many opportunities to do that on campus.”
Another unique aspect to FYSP is that freshmen can join in their second semester when they are less overwhelmed with applications from most other clubs that only accept applications at the beginning of the semester.
“In the second semester, freshmen can also switch placements and/or reflections if schedules change or they just want to try something new,” Carroll said. “We have such flexible availability, too—we even have a placement on Saturdays.”
FYSP prides itself on its variety of placements throughout the Boston area. “Something that really appealed to me was FYSP’s diversity of placements,” Carroll said. “I know for me, in high school, my service was standard tutoring, so it was great to take a different avenue of volunteering through this program.”
“When I volunteered for the Carroll School for the Blind it really opened my eyes to a different group of people that I had never thought about before,” Coffey said. “When you think of service most people think of big issues like poverty or education and this helped me to focus on individuals in my service.”
This year, freshmen will have 13 different placements to choose from: City Connects (St. Mary’s school), Mason Rice After School Program, Commonwealth Tenants Association, Wednesday Night Supper Club, Jeanne Jugan Residence, Boston Scholar Athletes, Women’s Lunch Place, Irish Pastoral Center, Fenway High, Epiphany School, Cradles to Crayons, Carroll Center for the Blind, and College Success Academy. For the placements that are farther away, FYSP provides transportation by BC van.
“Kate Daly [assistant director of the VSLC] is the faculty member that helps us put together our list of placements,” Carroll said. “As junior leaders, the three of us reached out to the different placements this summer, and what we try to do is get them all set up for the sophomore leaders, and then we assign them each a placement so they can be the liaison between the placement and FYSP.”
“Some placements like the Irish Pastoral Center are kind of far away, so we try to provide transportation by BC van to students when we can,” Slotter said.
Although the program is centered around the freshman participants, the sophomore and junior leaders enjoy great benefits as well.
“The sophomore leadership position includes a lot of hands-on leadership skills,” Coffey said speaking from experience, as she, Carroll, and Slotter were all sophomore leaders last year.
“You are leading reflection, organizing its structure, coordinating with the sites, and we are giving them a lot of the responsibility, which I don’t think you get at a lot of sophomore positions in other clubs on campus,” she said.
As junior leaders, the girls play a lesser role in the everyday workings of the club and instead supervise its general operations. They mainly serve as a resource for the sophomore leaders, and hope to allow the sophomores to take the program in their own direction.
“It will be weird to leave the program next year because we do not have any senior positions, but that is not what the program is about—it is all about the freshmen and not about seniors having leadership positions,” Coffey said.
All three of the leaders were drawn to FYSP as freshmen for different reasons, deomostrating thediversity and flexibility of the program.
“I came in my second semester freshman year and volunteered at the Carroll School for the Blind, and the girl that I volunteered with remained my really close friend,” Carroll said. “You really stay connected with these people because the program takes you outside of the ‘BC Bubble’ and makes you realize the problems you face at school are miniscule compared to the clients you serve, and sharing something like that with another student creates a strong bond that lasts for years.”
“For me, I lived on Newton, and I really struggled with getting involved because I never wanted to take the bus back, to campus” Coffey said. “But I volunteered for the Carroll School for the Blind, which is within walking distance from Newton Campus, so it was something I could do because I lived on Newton—sort of like a special perk instead of the usual disadvantages of living there.”
The junior leaders strongly encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to come to one of the three information sessions: Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. in Eagle’s Nest; Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. in Eagle’s Nest; or Thursday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. in Stuart Dining Hall.
Featured Image Courtesy of First Year Service Program