Students help nonprofits navigate rough waters
Published: Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:10
Today's rough economic times have hit nonprofits hard, and contributions from Tufts student volunteers have recently proven particularly helpful to a variety of organizations in the university's neighboring communities.
A decrease in fund-raising earnings and other drops in revenue have forced nonprofit organizations to cut their budgets by large percentages. As a result of the budget cuts, they have had to slim down their operating capacities as well. Recent student assistance has made a greater impact than usual at several local organizations that rely on such help.
"We've lost almost 20 percent of our budget," Mechilia Eng, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middlesex County, said. "There are waiting lists at our clubs; it's a really trying time for us."
The Boys & Girls Clubs last year had about 12 student volunteers from Tufts in addition to members of the men's and women's track teams, who have worked with youths interested in running, according to Eng.
The students' assistance, Eng said, helped her organization survive.
Students can provide crucial infrastructure support to nonprofits with small administrative staffs, Eng added. Volunteers have done such great work for the Boys & Girls Clubs, she said, that the organization hired two Tufts alumni to work in its after-school programs.
Hundreds of students, on their own initiative and through Tufts groups, have for years partnered with local nonprofit organizations.
Community service-focused Leonard Carmichael Society (LCS), the largest student-run organization on campus, sends over 1,000 undergraduates to volunteer in 40 different service programs. Group members travel to local homeless shelters, raise cancer awareness, tutor local schoolchildren and participate in a host of other activities.
The Citizenship and Public Service Scholars Program, run by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, engages students in community service both on and off campus, according to Sarah Shugars, communications manager at Tisch College.
Fifty-one students, called Tisch Scholars, participate in projects the range from exploring how the planned MBTA Green Line corridor will affect the community to working in the Middlesex District Attorney's office to help juveniles avoid getting jail time for minor crimes, according to Melissa DeFreece, the coordinator of the Tisch Scholars program.
DeFreece said that the Scholars program does its "best to make sure students are as prepared as possible" in a variety of environments.
Through the program, scores of Tufts students have made a significant impact in the lives of hundreds of local residents by working with the Medford Family Network, an arm of Medford Public Schools that provides programming for families with young children.
Tisch Scholars hold family programs on Saturdays for several hundred families, and student interns assist staff with simple tasks such as helping with storage and day-to-day operations, according to Marie Cassidy, the program coordinator for the Medford Family Network.
Cassidy said she appreciated students' help "now more than ever."
"Because cuts have been so great, we have had to lose lots of staff," she said. "To have lively college students is such a positive piece to all of this."
About 70 students volunteer each year at the Medford Family Network, Cassidy said. The annual International Family Festival stands out as one of the most important events of the year in which students are involved.
Not all support comes in the form of manpower. LCS raised and donated $1,500 to the Medford Family Network last year, a sum shocking to the organization's administrators, Cassidy said.
"It was such a surprise, and they did this all on their own," Cassidy said. "Tufts students have been just exceptional to work with. They've gone above and beyond the call of duty, full of energy and creativity."
Groundwork Somerville, a small nonprofit that focuses on improving the environment through community-based partnerships, is similarly appreciative of student help. The group's executive director, Jen Lawrence, says Tufts students play an important role in the nonprofit's functions.
"All of our Tufts students have a great impact on our organization," Lawrence said.
The organization has four volunteers during the academic year and two during the summer who work on tasks relating to environmental policy and community health, among other projects, Lawrence said.
Nonprofit administrators agree that, without student help, their organizations would be much worse off during the recession.