As a Jesuit institution grounded in the framework of “men and women for others,” Boston College’s broad range of volunteering opportunities have been faced with a difficult challenge during the coronavirus pandemic. While service is not a requirement at BC, the majority of students participate, which has set a precedent for future Eagles. As Boston College’s largest weekly service organization, 4Boston and its members have been working tirelessly to assure that they are able to provide adequate assistance at their placements throughout the pandemic. The three pillars of 4Boston are community, spirituality, and social justice. All three of these have been challenged during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the members of 4Boston are dedicated to their duties to assist the community.
In previous years, 4Boston members have participated in four weekly hours of service and one hour of reflection with a small group of fellow 4B members. Given the rise of COVID cases in the United States, this is no longer possible. Rebecca Klausner, MCAS ‘21, is a small group leader for the African Community Economic Development of New England (ACEDONE). ACEDONE is an after school program that partners with families and refugees in Boston while they transition to life in the United States. Located in the Brookline Village, ACEDONE relies heavily on its 4Boston volunteers to help with the children. This year, the organization is matching students with a child and letting the pair decide when to get together on their schedule. The plan is to have each pair meet three to four times throughout the week via Zoom.
Klausner believes, “Although this is an adjustment from our normal schedule, [I] think the one-on-one format gives us a really great opportunity to build a special bond with our students and offer the attention and support they need right now.”
Those involved in 4Boston experience a unique connection with the world outside the so-called "BC bubble," as building social ties and bonds with those they serve is a major part of the organization. Carmen Hamm, MCAS ‘21, is the leader of a group that volunteers at the Allston Brighton Community Development Center (ABCDC). The Center provides affordable housing and after school programs for local residents, among many other resources. This year, ABCDC has assigned members of its 4Boston groups to certain days on which they will join Zoom calls and help the attending children with homework. This group setting allows for interaction that is essential to the development of young minds.
“Tutoring over Zoom will bring plenty of technological challenges and might not be as engaging as in-person,” Hamm says, “but my group and I are grateful at the opportunity to stay connected with the kids.” This is Hamm’s first year at ABCDC, but she says that she really wants to “create a space for people to connect with others” during this incredibly difficult time.
Virtual volunteering is creating a difficult challenge for 4Boston members, but if they can overcome these unique circumstances, the future of service can be expanded. By utilizing the breakout room feature on Zoom, ABCDC is able to combine group settings for relationship bonding activities and individual meetings for homework help—all within the same Zoom call. “With parents at work and less guidance from teachers, the kids will hopefully benefit from one-on-one virtual support with homework,” Hamm adds.
Boston College alumni Brian Piccola, CSOM ‘20, says that 4Boston defined his college experience. He empathizes with those participating virtually this semester. Piccola was a volunteer at Jackson-Mann After School (JMAS) for two years, and went on to lead the ABCDC placement for his final two years at Boston College. “As we stress the importance of schoolwork to these students, a major impact of these four hours weekly are the interpersonal connections we have with them,” he says.
These connections impact the students but also leave a lasting impression and sense of fulfillment on volunteers. Piccola believes that “our students really need us now since they’re unable to have true social interaction due to COVID.” It is important that the children and volunteers work to keep these connections strong.
The news of 4Boston going virtual did not come as a surprise to anyone. It is also unsurprising that the members of 4Boston have been able to adapt to the changes that the pandemic has brought. Those involved with the organization say that this is the most important year of service they have participated in thus far. That belief is easily seen through the incredible efforts of all 4Boston student volunteers that are putting their time forth to ensure that their service can continue, even amidst a global pandemic.