Waltham Group hosted its recruitment night on Thursday, Jan. 27. The event was held both in-person in the Sherman Function Hall and virtually on Zoom, where coordinators from each of the Waltham Group programs explained their volunteer opportunities.

Waltham Group is an umbrella organization to 20 different student-led volunteer programs, which fall under the categories of “Health and Human Services,” “Mentoring and Tutoring,” “Housing, Environment, and Advocacy,” and “After School Programs.”

During the recruitment event on Zoom, students had the opportunity to join breakout rooms based on each category of community service where coordinators presented information on their programs and answered questions.

Health and Human Services

In Health and Human Services, the first presentation was from Blood Drive, a program dedicated to coordinating and hosting American Red Cross blood drives on campus. Emily Weis ’22, one of the group’s coordinators, explained that Blood Drive volunteers also recruit donors and help on the day of the drive to make sure donors are feeling well. Weis added that the Red Cross is currently low on blood donations and encouraged students to participate in the next drive, which will be held on Feb. 7 and Feb. 9 in the Sherman Function Hall. The last University blood drive of the year will be held in April.

The second presentation was by Brandeis Buddies, a program where students volunteer to spend time with adults with developmental disabilities. Program coordinator Jigme Dolma Dorji ’22 and coordinator-in-training Rachel Bindman ’24 described the group. They explained that volunteers play games, sing karaoke, and create arts and crafts projects. “Brandeis Buddies work together to increase awareness of disabilities and to bridge the gap between different groups on campus,” Dolma Dorji said.

Companions to Elders is a similar style of program, but students instead volunteer to spend time with the elderly, visiting local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Angela Lam ’23 and Charlotte Li ’24 are two of the program coordinators. “Companions to Elders works to reduce social isolation in the older adult population of Waltham,” Lam said. “We hope to reduce the stigma associated with aging and dementia and transition to advocacy work in intersectional ageism.”

The next presentation was from Advocates for Health, a program dedicated to doing health-related volunteer work in the Greater Boston area. Program coordinator Diego Robles ’24 said that the group partners with two other organizations: CareOne and Project Sunshine. CareOne is a nursing facility in Newton, where students volunteer to spend time with patients and plan activities, he explained. Project Sunshine, a non-profit, supports hospitalized children through educational and social programs. Robles said that students connect virtually with the kids to spend time together and play games, as well as send them goodie bags.

The final program in this category is Advocates for Community Transformation. The newest organization within the Waltham Group, coordinator Abigail Zuber ’23 said that this program was founded recently because of a need for “indirect service” during the pandemic, such as additional support and organizing capabilities for advocacy events in the Brandeis and Waltham communities. “Advocates for Community Transformation strives to elevate the voices of Brandeis students and Waltham residents, and work alongside them to ensure their needs are met,” Zuber said. The program often collaborates with other organizations both on campus and in Waltham. For instance, this past semester’s projects included organizing a little free library, campus sustainability petitions, and Kindness Day tabling.

Mentoring and Tutoring

The first presentation in Mentoring and Tutoring was from Big Siblings, a one-on-one mentoring program at Waltham Elementary School that is run through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Dana Jaffe ’23, one of the coordinators, explained that volunteers are each personally matched with an elementary student. Volunteers then hang out with the children, play games, and do arts and crafts projects, while also serving as mentors and role models. Jaffe added that this program is a commitment of at least three semesters so that students become “a staple in your little’s life.” Big Siblings also partners with Sibling Connections, working to reunite siblings separated through the foster care system, she said.

General Tutoring is a tutoring program for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade in the greater Boston area. Coordinator Ken Kirio ’24 explained that the program is very flexible because students can decide how they would like to volunteer, choosing the subjects and grade levels that they are interested in tutoring. Volunteers meet with their students for an hour a week either on campus or on Zoom, Kirio added.

The Language Empowering Action Project, or LEAP, was the next presentation. Nurel Arriaran ’22, one of the program coordinators, described the group. “At LEAP, our mission is to create opportunities for members of the Waltham community through language,” she said. Arriaran explained that LEAP volunteers teach ESL courses to adult immigrants in the Waltham community, as well as host events –– like movie nights, conversation hours, and career-building programs –– allowing them to further practice English. Classes are co-taught by two volunteers, who meet with their students for an hour to an hour and a half each week. And because the ESL syllabus and curriculum are provided, no prior teaching experience is necessary, Arriaran added.

Next, SPECTRUM is a program dedicated to disability awareness and spending time with children who have disabilities of different types. Program coordinator Gabby Wernick ’25 said that the program has three volunteering opportunities. The first is a playgroup where volunteers socialize with the kids, play games, and create art. Second is a tutoring service where volunteers are matched one-on-one with a student to help them with their schoolwork. Third is a mentoring service where volunteers are also matched one-on-one with a child as a mentor that they can spend time with.

The final presentation in this category was from Teaching Assistants in Public Schools. “TAPS is dedicated to reducing educational inequalities through personalized support and building relationships between Brandeis college students and Waltham Public School students and teachers,” Jake Mitchell ’23, one of the program coordinators said. Through the program, he explained, volunteers are trained to be teaching assistants and are then placed as needed in classrooms in the school. Another coordinator, Najla Khan ’25, added that volunteers are required to commit to a Teaching Assistant position for at least one semester, for two hours each week. Lastly, the TAs volunteer in whatever way is most useful to the classroom teacher, such as helping the teacher lead demonstrations or helping students with reading, ESL, or homework assignments.

Housing, Environment, and Advocacy

Community Connections was presented first in the Housing, Environment, and Advocacy series. This program offers one-time service opportunities, making it flexible for volunteers, coordinator Sampada Pokharel ’23 said. She explained that Community Connections partners with many different organizations in the greater Boston area throughout the semester, but the most popular events are trips to Drumlin Farm, where volunteers help work on the farm, and the senior prom event that the group organizes for 2Life Communities, a senior-housing organization.

Habitat for Humanity is another flexible volunteer opportunity. Kaleigh Yee ’23, one of the coordinators, said that this program seeks “to alleviate housing insecurity through volunteering, advocacy, and education.” Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity also do physical work to help develop housing. Yee explained that on weekends, students go to a site where help is needed and participate in tasks like building, painting, and demolishing––skills that are all taught on the site. She added that the program also hosts alternative spring break trips, during which volunteers spend the week helping with builds. This spring, the group will be traveling to North Carolina.

Hunger and Homelessness is a program dedicated to “addressing homelessness and poverty,” program coordinator Isaac Paddy ’22 said. He explained that the group organizes food drives throughout the semester and partners with organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank and Healthy Waltham. Some of the food drives the program has organized include donations for non-perishable foods, personal care items, and student meal swipes and points, Paddy said. In the fall, Hunger and Homelessness hosts the Halloween for the Hungry drive where volunteers “trick-or-treat” door-to-door for food donations. Similarly, in the spring, the program hosts the Wellness Drive where volunteers go door-to-door asking for personal care item donations.

Service Without Borders was the next presentation, which Yee presented as well, filling in for program coordinator Leeza Barstein ’23. This program offers alternative spring break service opportunities for both February and April break. Service without Borders has traveled to many different locations and partners with a wide variety of organizations, Yee said. Due to the pandemic, she said, the group didn’t travel last year but still volunteered by helping in local soup kitchens. 

The final program in this category was Symbiosis, which program coordinators Hannah Riseman ’24 and Leah Beltran ’22 presented. “Symbiosis seeks to provide the Brandeis community with environmental volunteering opportunities that give all those involved a richer symbiosis connection to their natural surroundings,” Riseman said. The coordinators explained that the main program the group sponsors is Prospect Hill Environmental Education. This is an after-school program for kids living in the Prospect Hill low-income housing development, where volunteers engage the kids in learning about the environment. The program also hosts about five one-time environmental service events per semester.

After School Programs

The first presentation of the After School Programs category was Afternoon Enrichment. Program coordinator Marissa Torelli ’23 and coordinator-in-training Jon Standlee ’25 described the group. Standlee explained that Afternoon Enrichment is a mentoring program for middle schoolers, where volunteers spend the first hour of the program hanging out with the kids and the second half peer tutoring them. The students bring their homework and other study materials they need help with, often with recommendations from their teachers or parents. Torelli said that she “loves seeing the students grow” as she volunteers every year. “We give them a positive role model that they might not have in their lives,” Torelli added.

The next presentation was from Junior Brandeis Achievers. JBA is an after-school program for Plympton Elementary School students in second through fifth grade, coordinator Irina Znamirowski ’24 said. She explained that volunteers for JBA co-host different programs –– such as science, art, improv, and coding –– and design their own lesson plans. “You have full creative control of the activities you want to run,” Znamirowski said. She added that the program lasts five weeks in the semester, with the final week being a “parent showcase” so that the kids can show their parents the projects they have been working on.

Kids Connection is a program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Esha Rakesh ’25, one of the coordinators, said that in Kids Connection volunteers “create safe, constructive, and inclusive environments” for the kids through a variety of fun activities. The group partners with the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, and Prospect Hill Community Teens. Prospect Hill Community Teens is mentor-based, so volunteers work with the students’ interests, Rakesh said. Max LeBlanc ’22, another coordinator, said that for the Boys & Girls Club, the kids are of mixed ages and are there to have fun with “safe and constructive play.”

Another after-school program presented was Language and Cultural Enrichment, which program coordinator Tony Consentino ’22 and coordinator-in-training Monica Alfaro ’24 described. LaCE matches volunteers with middle school age ESL learners in the Waltham community, Alfaro said. She explained that this seven week program consists of two hour sessions each week––the first hour is for tutoring and the second hour is for group activities. LaCE creates a “safe space for practicing language skills,” Alfaro said.

The final presentation in this category was from Prospect Hill Kids’ Club, an after-school program for children in kindergarten through eighth grade living in the Prospect Hill low-income housing development. PHKC “promotes academics, leadership, and a sense of community,” coordinator Emma Charland ’24 said. The program meets five days a week for two and a half hour sessions, but volunteers only need to commit to one, she said. During this time, volunteers hold a snack break, help with homework and lead fun activities. “We work with the kids and build a community with them,” Charland said.

Partner organizations

Waltham Group partners with other service and advocacy organizations on campus as well, some of which were represented at the recruitment night.

At the in-person event, the presentations hosted were: Exploring Black Intimate Dwellings: Black Bookstore, Forever Smiles, Family Diversity and Identity Empowerment, the Autism Technology Initiative, and the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers.

At the virtual event, the presentations hosted were: Period Activists at Deis, Brandeis Black Maternal Health, Artistic Transformation Learning Advocacy, Pushout and Peace Building, and the Autism Technology Initiative.