More than 500 student volunteers representing MIT fraternities, sororities, independent living groups, dorms and student organizations performed acts of public service as part of the seventh annual CityDays festival sponsored by the MIT Public Service Center.
Service projects accomplished on September 4 in Cambridge, Roxbury, Dorchester and other Boston neighborhoods included cleaning and repairing shelters, helping children and the elderly, serving food at soup kitchens and working to beautify parks.
The projects were followed by the CityDays volunteer fair, where several Cambridge and Boston service agencies recruited volunteers for the fall term.
"Our goal is to help the students get to know their community," said CityDays coordinator Anne McCleod. "Beta Theta Pi is one of the groups that showed up for the day and seems ready to follow up with commitment."
Beta Theta Pi (BTP) had arranged last summer to do a service project at CASPAR, a shelter and alcohol treatment center on Albany Street in Cambridge, Ms. McCleod said.
CASPAR was selected by Aron Qasba, a junior in physics and BTP's vice president, who went to a CityDays meeting where the various options for community service venues were presented, recalled sophomore Chetak Reshamwala, BTP's current secretary, and former community service chair.
The match between the fraternity and CASPAR may strike some people as ironic, since BTP has been required by the Boston Licensing Board to be alcohol-free for three years beginning last July, and the shelter serves adults often suffering from alcoholism.
"I decided it was a good choice based on a previous experience there. I had volunteered at CASPAR before, through an IFC Volunteer Day during a past Greek Week," said Mr. Reshamwala. Sophomore Darnell Kemp, whose family is involved in shelters/rehab centers in his hometown of Minneapolis, was also enthusiastic about BTP choosing CASPAR.
At CASPAR, about half the 15 BTP volunteers worked in the kitchen, helping prepare lunch and cleaning pots, pans and dishes. Two members swept and mopped the dining area and cleaned off the tabletops, while six more did some landscaping work around the building such as pulling weeds and raking leaves.
"The Betas who worked at CASPAR thoroughly enjoyed their stay," said Mr. Reshamwala, who cited a "housewarming," consisting of a short introduction to the history of the shelter and a tour by one of its founders that "definitely connected us to the place and the people, and made the whole experience more comfortable."
Before leaving, freshman Luke Dixon requested literature detailing volunteer opportunities at the shelter. He's interested in taking up a long-term position at CASPAR, Mr. Reshamwala said.
"My experience at CASPAR was generally positive. On a personal note, while I was mopping the floor, I had a short conversation with a guest. He reassured me that our work for the center was very much appreciated, not only by the other staff whose load we lightened, but also by the people who frequent the center," he said.
Ten other BTP members spent their CityDays time at South Boston's Boys and Girls Club, working with children six to 13 years old, reported Mr. Reshamwala. Each volunteer worked for five hours, totalling 125 of the 900 hours of community service required by the Interfraternity Council (IFC) July sanctions.
BTP's community service projects will continue in Cambridge and Boston, resident advisor Stephanie Gagne said.
A meeting to explore further "good neighbor" opportunities was held on Monday night at BTP's Bay State Road house. Fraternity members and MIT administrators met with "almost all of our immediate neighbors, representatives from three neighborhood organizations and a representative from BU," Mr. Reshamwala said.
"During and after the meeting we discussed and got additional ideas for volunteer opportunities in Kenmore Square, Back Bay and other areas of Boston. There was quite a bit of interest in the possibilities of working at Boys and Girls Clubs in the area and coaching and refereeing youth sports. There has also been talk of picking up Little Brothers through the Big Brother program," he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 16, 1998.