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Find Your Center: Connecting through Service

Public service fellows enable students to work with local organizations on important causes

“Find Your Center” is a new monthly column about the people, activities, and resources of the Student Center at Harvard Griffin GSAS. This year, the column spotlights the Student Center fellows who create opportunities for graduate students to get involved in areas such as the arts, intellectual and cultural life, and wellness, to name a few. For September, the focus is on the Center’s public service fellows.

The search for meaning in life is central to Maleah Fekete, a PhD candidate in sociology at the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Harvard Griffin GSAS). One of the ways she has found it is through service.  

“Public service is a way to actualize having a purpose greater than ourselves,” she says. “I have benefited from support from other people, as I imagine other students have, and it's nice to return the favor.”

Today, as public service fellows for the Student Center at Harvard Griffin GSAS, Fekete and fellow students Amerria Causey and Iman Darwish create opportunities for others to give back. They are committed to liaising and working with local organizations on important causes—including homelessness, eldercare, criminal justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigration reform— and helping Harvard Griffin GSAS students connect to the greater Boston community. 

The work of the public service fellows takes many forms. In the past, they have organized screenings of films by Georgia legislator Stacey Abrams and disability rights activist Judith Heumann to encourage political engagement and activism. They have gathered donations of women’s menstrual care products to support underserved residents in Harvard Square and Boston, collected holiday toys for children, and coordinated blood drives. They also help coordinate campus-wide activism, including the Harvard Wears Denim campaign to protest myths and misconceptions about sexual assault. 

Causey, a PhD student in virology, says the fellows’ main goal is to connect students at Harvard Griffin GSAS with their public service interests. “Boston is a happening place to be and there are many advocacy groups working on whatever cause is near and dear to your heart,” she adds. Causey is passionate about working with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), the largest public service organization at Harvard. PBHA runs over 80 programs that serve more than 10,000 people in the local community in ways that include volunteering for local homeless shelters, running summer programs for young refugees, and paying regular social visits to dementia patients. 

Public service is a way to actualize having a purpose greater than ourselves.
—Maleah Fekete

Returning fellow Iman Darwish, a PhD student in the Department of the History of Science, says that as an international student with a passion for service, she was at first unaware of the landscape of volunteering opportunities in the Boston area. “Attending public service events at the Student Center gave me the opportunity to learn about the different organizations and their needs,” she says. Today, she enables graduate students like her to learn about all the different ways they can serve the local community. Last year, for instance, public service fellows organized volunteer events at local organizations such as the women’s shelter Rosie's Place, hunger fighters Food for Free, and the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. There, students prepared, served, and packed meals, cleaned facilities, and sorted and folded clothes, among other tasks. 

The fellows recognize that graduate students are busy so they provide short-term opportunities that allow them to have an impact. Last year’s holiday toy stuffing event, for instance, collected more than 350 plush animals for donation to the nonprofit Action for Boston Community Development, which distributed them to schools in the greater Boston area. “These events create meaningful connections to the local community as well as among students at Harvard Griffin GSAS,” Darwish says. “Every little effort has an impact.”

Causey, Darwish, and Fekete invite all Harvard Griffin GSAS students to join the fellows at the annual Harvard Griffin GSAS Public Service Fair on September 25, from noon to 3:00 p.m. in front of Lehman Hall. "You should come to public service events if what it means to be human excites you,” Causey says, “and if you find joy in being in community with those with a diversity of lived experiences." 

Interested in becoming a Student Center fellow? Find out how on Engage. 

Banner photo by Shutterstock

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