One of the most important relationships in John Hammond's life is with someone who isn't even a relation.
At least once a week, Mr. Hammond (formerly associate dean of admissions and now a doctoral student at the Sloan School of Management) meets his unofficial "little brother," a boy named Philip he met several years ago. Through the company he worked for before coming to MIT, he learned of two boys at a Cambridge school who were considered to be at risk for academic or social problems, so Mr. Hammond volunteered to be a mentor for Philip-and he's been in that role ever since.
Philip and his mother (who takes a bus 40 miles each day to her job at a mental health center) live in the Newtowne Court housing project. Other relatives also live with them from time to time, "and some of the uncertainties in his life had begun to create some acting out in the classroom," Mr. Hammond said.
Together, he and Philip, who is now 11, go out to places like the Museum of Science or movies, or they stay in and watch videos or just talk. "My sense is that he really looks to me for a number of things; he sees me as a friend and someone who's committing time to him," Mr. Hammond said. "I'm an older person in his life who's also black and also male with whom he can identify."
From Mr. Hammond and his wife Dr. Paula Hammond, Philip can learn things about adult relationships, such as the fact that married people can have disagreements and still stay together, Mr. Hammond said. When they're together, though, "he also revels in his ability to be a child. he doesn't have an opportunity to do that when he's literally the man of the house."
Because Mr. Hammond is enrolled in a doctoral program (and his wife, who recently completed her PhD in chemical engineering, will be an assistant professor at MIT), they'll be in the area for some time, so he'll be able to keep seeing Philip through at least the beginning of his high school career. Philip is now enrolled in a school for academically gifted children, and he has said he'd like to be a surgeon when he grows up.
The amount of time Mr. Hammond contributed to Philip hasn't gone unrecognized. A year ago, the Cambridge School Volunteers named him as a recipient of the Mack I. Davis Award for his outstanding volunteer service over the years.
"It hasn't been without its stresses. I worry about him sometimes, but I wouldn't have done it any other way," he said.
Although he is not volunteering through the Big Brother Association of Boston, that United Way agency (and its counterpart, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston) matches up adults and children like Mr. Hammond and Philip. During the current fiscal year, the two organizations are receiving a total of $302,600 in funds from United Way, which will direct contributions to any qualified human-services agency specified by the donor, even if it is not currently affiliated with United Way.
As of November 12, members of the MIT community have contributed $68,959 during the current campaign. The drive lasts until November 30, by which time MIT hopes to have raised $320,000 toward United Way of Massachusetts Bay's 1993 goal of $45.36 million.
Donors may direct their money to a specific agency or to one or more of eight areas of concern such as the elderly or the homeless, or they may have United Way disburse the money among agencies most in need. More than 200 agencies serving 1.7 million people in 81 cities and towns benefit from United Way of Massachusetts Bay.
A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 14).