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25 Years 4Boston: BC largest student service program

4Boston, the largest weekly service organization at Boston College, is marking its 25th year of providing reliable, compassionate outreach to social service, educational, and health care organizations in and around Boston. 

From October to April, 4Boston students volunteer four hours per week at their placement site and devote another hour to group reflection. 

Since its start in 1992, 4Boston—administered by the Office of Campus Ministry—has grown significantly, from approximately 150 students serving at 15–17 placements to 550 students at 28 placements for 2016–17.

 “The 4Boston students are really passionate,” said Campus Minister Carly Anderson, who directs the program. “There’s a lot of loyalty for the placements. Students are really busy, so for them to commit five-plus hours a week to being part of a group like this is incredible. It’s inspiring and hopeful to be working with [these] students.”

The hallmark of 4Boston is what program organizers refer to as the three pillars: community, spirituality, and social justice. The community is created both at the placements and among the volunteers through service and reflection. The reflection time is used to address social justice issues, such as consideration of the policies and structures that create unjust conditions for others and how these circumstances can be transformed. The reflection also incorporates spirituality, such as discussing the ways that God moves through the service work.

“This idea of community engagement and service as part of being men and women for others is all rooted in the Jesuit faith tradition,” said Anderson, who notes that Loyola University Chicago has introduced a program modeled after 4Boston. “4Boston is a pioneer in a lot of ways.”

Emily Sokol ’17, an English major and medical humanities minor in the pre-med program, has volunteered at Marian Manor, a nursing home in South Boston, since her freshman year. She was drawn to that placement site after seeing firsthand the impact volunteers had at her grandmother’s nursing home.

She says 4Boston volunteers bring residents to Mass, followed by coffee hour or glee club. In the afternoon, volunteers help with activities such as bingo and bowling.

Sokol’s “favorite day of the year” is the Marian Manor Senior Prom. 4Boston volunteers created this annual event—complete with a theme and prom king and queen—for the residents and their families. Held on a Saturday in April, the event is attended by all the 4Boston volunteers assigned to Marian Manor. 

According to Anderson, there is no typical 4Boston volunteer. The students in the program represent a range of academic interests, national and international geography, and religious and spiritual backgrounds. “Commitment to our pillars—community, spirituality, and social justice—is what these students have in common.”

Robert Harding ’17, a political science and Hispanic studies double major, has been a volunteer at Edison K-8 School in Brighton for four years. “As a freshman, my 4Boston family was very important to me. The time spent with my small reflection group was very formative.”

The 4Boston volunteers at Edison work as teacher’s aides in the classroom during the school day. Students might help one of the teachers in the art room or work one-on-one with a student who needs a little extra help.

For Harding, seeing a student struggling with a task in October but making great strides by March is the biggest reward of his service.

Other 4Boston placement sites include Franciscan Hospital for Children, Perkins School for the Blind, Pine Street Inn, Rosie’s Place, St. Francis House, Women’s Lunch Place, Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Jackson-Mann Community Center, and St. Columbkille Partnership School, among others. 

Anderson says the enduring appeal of 4Boston is “a testament to the power of relationships and how formative that can be, particularly relationships across lines of difference.” Because of the time commitment, especially for students who return for two or more years to the same placement, “there is space to create real bonds,” she added.

Sokol and Harding are members of the 4Boston executive board and serve as reflection leaders and liaisons between 4Boston and their placement sites. Both expressed pride in the long-term, high-impact nature of the service provided by 4Boston to different populations in Boston.

Anderson joined Boston College over the summer and made it a priority to visit, with Graduate Assistant Susan Brusky, each of 4Boston’s placement sites. “The feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive. There was a lot of gratitude. For some placements, BC volunteers are their only volunteers, and the work could not be done without the manpower of BC and 4Boston volunteers.

“Some sites would say ‘We have a lot of volunteers coming in, but the BC kids really care. They want to get to know our students, our guests, our patients in a way that we see and respect and are grateful for.’” 

—Kathleen Sullivan / University Communications