In 1966, 30 students attended the first-ever Waltham Group meeting. Little did they know that 50 years later, the Brandeis community service organization would boast hundreds of volunteers who each year dedicate 40,000 hours to community service.

Students, alumni, faculty and members of the Waltham community gathered in Levin Ballroom this past Saturday to celebrate these achievements. University President Ronald Liebowitz addressed the crowded room and highlighted the group’s accomplishments.

“The Waltham Group volunteers have, over the years, served 15,000 granola bars to kids in afterschool programs. They’ve tied at least 6,250 shoelaces. They’ve provided 93,000 cans of food to those in need. They’ve helped solve more than 75,000 math problems, and they’ve connected enough blood to save 37,000 lives,” he said.

Liebowitz, who comes to Brandeis after serving as the President of Middlebury College, spoke in admiration of Brandeis’ commitment to community service. When Middlebury’s Office of Civic Engagement began to grow, they strove to emulate the model used at Brandeis. “Waltham group was in the eyes of many who were trying to do similar things on their campuses,” Liebowitz said.

“I’m learning a lot about Brandeis, and the more I learn, the more excited I get about working with all of you and all the groups [within Waltham Group],” Liebowitz said.

 Though the Waltham Group currently serves an altruistic purpose, its founding was largely political. Some of the group’s founders were in attendance, and they too spoke to the crowded ballroom. Howard Winant ’68 described the influence of the historical circumstances under which the Waltham Group was founded. 

The Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movements were popular among students at the time, creating an impetus to give back to the community. “All of those factors really shaped our desire as students — perhaps somewhat naively, but definitely committed[ly] — to do movement work,” he said.

 In a way, however, the founding members understand the Waltham Group’s work to still be political in nature. To elucidate this point, Winant posed the question, “What is the fundamental reason that certain activities are pursued [by the Waltham Group]?”

There currently are 20 programs within Waltham Group that work to tackle issues ranging from student achievement, homelessness and public health. In addition to student coordinators and volunteers addressing these issues, staff members are intimately engaged in Brandeis community involvement.

Brian Quigley, who has served as the Community Service Specialist for Waltham Group for two years, spoke about the impact Waltham Group has had on his own life. “The students, staff and Waltham community members who I have been fortunate enough to work with have inspired me, challenged me and shifted my perspectives on the world we live in. Let this dinner be a celebration of all that has lead us to this moment.”

This sentiment was echoed by the Waltham Group co-presidents Mitchell Beers ’17 and Krishna Narayanan ’17. 

“We are both so thankful to Waltham Group for being such a large part of our lives these past four years. It has given us so many life skills that we will use in the future and also inspired a lifelong love of community service,” Beers said.

The Saturday night gala served as a celebration in a weekend of service events. Volunteers worked Saturday and Sunday on service projects in the community. 

This included serving meals to the homeless at the Community Day Center of Waltham, running a fall carnival at the Prospect Hill Community Center, visiting with the senior residents of Leland Home and working at the Waltham Fields Community Farm.

These service projects were not limited to the Waltham area. Brandeis alumni from around the country were also involved in projects involving marine science in New York City, the Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. and forest preserves in Chicago.

During the gala, students and former volunteers reflected on their experiences with the organization. 

There was also a silent auction to raise money for the organization, which included items like gift cards to local restaurants, two VIP tickets to “The Late Show,” park passes to Walt Disney World, and dinner with Lucas Malo (Director of Community Service) and his dog, Mr. Maxx.

This donation drive has been undertaken with a $50,000 goal to fund future Waltham Group endeavors. 

In addition to the silent auction, the Waltham Group has made efforts to solicit donations from alumni and sold T-shirts celebrating their 50th anniversary.   

But most important, perhaps, was the goal of the night as a celebration. As Liebowtiz remarked in his speech, “Tonight we recognize the remarkable success of a brilliant and quintessential Brandeis idea.”