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Giving Back

Giving BackFrom teaching school children about trees and sap to engaging immigrants in community affairs, Tufts students are involved in a variety of service projects in Somerville.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.05.06] For some of the winter, small tin buckets adorned dozens of trees surrounding Tufts’ Tisch Library. While college students and campus visitors may have been perplexed about their purpose, a handful of Somerville school children knew exactly what was happening: the buckets were collecting sap, which would eventually be boiled into syrup. It was all part of a lesson about trees that Tufts student-volunteers had been teaching them in school.

"It’s all fun," Maisie Ganz, a Tufts junior who coordinated the project through the University College of Citizenship and Public Service, told the Somerville Journal. "There’s no stressful part of this whole project. I mean, there’s work to it, but the work is to go into the classroom and teach kids about trees. The work is to go out into the sunshine for a couple of hours and collect sap."

Ganz – with the help of second and third-graders from local elementary schools – recently collected the sap and turned it into syrup at a boil-off, held in early March. Now, the Tufts volunteers and the students they worked with plan to bring the syrup into the Somerville Public Schools for pancake breakfasts.

"She really has the kids focused - all of them," teacher Charlene Buckley, who has opened her classroom to Ganz for the past two years, told the Journal. "She really has a knack for it. The kids look forward to it. It’s a really good community-builder. I love to see this happening in Somerville."

Ganz’s program – and others like it – have flourished thanks to the University College.

“Like many Tufts students who are active in the community, Ganz has coordinated her project through the University College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts, which connects students with local organizations that could help the students, and use the students’ help,” the Journal reported. “The students’ services through University College are not done for college credit, but rather, for the experience, sometimes as it relates to a class they are taking.”

Ganz is just one of many Tufts students spending their spare time giving back to the community.

"These kids have sustained a commitment," Lisa Brukilacchio, a community engagement specialist at University College, told the Journal, adding that they “come up with practical - rather than ‘pie-in-the-sky’ - ways to become involved in the community.”

Their work also has a lasting impact on the community.

Doctoral student Iris Ponte’s Chinese-American playgroup is one example. Five years ago, Ponte, who is studying child development at Tufts, began the group “to give kids - most of whom were adopted from China - a sense of identity and a series of cultural activities that bring them back to their roots,” the Journal reported. Ponte’s playgroup, which meets twice a month in Davis Square, has since inspired a Tufts Chinese Big Sister/Big Brother Program.

"It’s not like a regular Big Brothers/Big Sisters because it has a cultural element to it," Ponte told the Journal. "It alleviates the [Tufts] students’ kind of homesickness, and for the kids, this is so special: having a college student coming over just to play with [them].”

Tufts junior Sebastian Chaskel is also focusing on assisting the large immigrant population in Somerville. The anthropology major founded the Somerville Language Bank, a Web-based tool that allows non-English speaking residents to become more involved in the community. To make his concept work, Chaskel has recruited multilingual Tufts students and others to translate documents and interpret community meetings into local immigrants’ native languages, the newspaper reported.

"There’s all these Tufts students who speak all these languages and want to get trained in translation services," Chaskel told the Journal. "I think the real winners will be the people who don’t speak perfect English, who need the translation services."

The Colombia native is also working on another project to celebrate the traditions and customs of the people of the city of Yucuaiquin, El Salvador, who comprise a portion of Somerville’s immigrant population. He organized an exhibit on a typical Salvadoran dance that will run at the Somerville Museum from April 8 – May 21.

"It’s very much a community project," he told the newspaper. "It sort of makes it official, that these people are here and that they are a part of Somerville."

For local residents, the exhibit is a welcome addition.

“It’s admirable for someone who’s not from my country to be so interested, so into this,” Candelario Flores, a Somerville resident who moved from Yucuaiquin in 1994, told the Journal. “It’s like a gift from God.”

While Ganz, Ponte and Chaskel are busy with ongoing projects, Tufts sophomore Eleanor Heidkamp-Young and other University College students are trying to get a new initiative off the ground. Working with Somerville Homeless Coalition director Mark Alston-Follansbee, the students are trying to develop a Campus Kitchens program, “which would collect food not being used at Tufts and distribute it to people in need,” according to the Journal.

Alston-Follansbee added that the support of Tufts volunteers is vital to his fledgling organization.

"I really see [Tufts students] as being proactive, really wanting to help solve some of these social issues," he told the newspaper. "And having the energy to do it."



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