Harvard Chan School inaugural Day of Service draws hundreds of volunteers

Harvard Chan School community members serving meals at Woods Mullen Shelter

October 3, 2023 – Around 470 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health community members—students, staff, faculty, researchers, and alumni—came together on October 2 to participate in the School’s inaugural Day of Service.

The campus buzzed with excitement as volunteers gathered in the Kresge cafeteria and donned matching red t-shirts, kicking off the event with a shared community lunch. Afterward, people split into groups to participate in over a dozen different service projects, based at the School as well as shelters, parks, and other locations around Boston.

The Day of Service, originally conceived last year by the Harvard Chan Student Association and organized by scores of volunteers from across the School, was an opportunity for community members to work toward a shared goal of addressing a wide range of social determinants of health. While the service projects primarily focused on the Boston area, remote participants in Massachusetts and beyond also committed to volunteering where they live.

“I’m delighted to see how many of our students, staff, faculty, and alums have jumped at the opportunity to support our neighbors across Boston through our inaugural Day of Service,” said Jane Kim, interim dean of the faculty and dean for academic affairs.

“Measured against the need, our contributions were small—but they were absolutely meaningful. Working together, we were able to provide warm hats and socks to hundreds of people living without homes, clean up a park that provides vital green space in the heart of Mission Hill, cook meals for scores of medically fragile individuals, provide handmade blankets to dozens of children in traumatic situations, and so much more,” Kim added. “The day was also a wonderful opportunity to bring our own community together in the spirit of service. I hope we can make it an annual tradition.”

Diverse projects for diverse causes

Yuri Kim, a second-year MPH student in health and social behavior, helped to make no-sew fleece blankets for children in shelters and custodial care. “I love using my hands to create stuff, so I thought that could be a skill that I could contribute today,” she said. “Not being from the Boston area, this is such a great opportunity to be able to do something for the community here.”

Diana Striplet, a research assistant in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IID), participated in a Save the Children project to write letters to children who are affected by humanitarian crises around the world. “You don’t have to know a person to actually add something bright or positive to their day,” she said. “Little things do mean big things for people, and it could be a changing point in their lives.”

Many participants contributed to specific causes that they are passionate about. For instance, members of the Harvard Catalyst Community Engagement Program were interested in assembling winter kits that contained hats, gloves, snacks, and more for the Pine Street Inn to deliver to unhoused individuals in Boston. Rebekka Lee, program director and lecturer on social and behavioral sciences at Harvard Chan School, said that the project aligned with the team’s mission to address public health priorities such as homelessness. Another volunteer, Eben Philbin, a research assistant in IID, is a gardener whose yard at home has been taken over by invasive weeds. For the Day of Service, he joined a group that went to a Mission Hill park to remove invasive weeds.

The community’s collective enthusiasm for the Day of Service was palpable throughout the day. “This is not surprising at a school of public health—it’s a service-oriented profession,” commented Nancy Turnbull, senior associate dean for educational programs and senior lecturer on health policy. “I hope we’ll make this an annual event. It’s beyond just today—you want this to become part of the way we work at the School and how we educate.”

– Jay Lau

Photos: Kent Dayton