With a significant portion of our student body remote, as well as newfound implementation of COVID-19 guidelines, various student organizations that typically work in the local community at Wellesley have been forced to adapt the ways that they get involved with the local community. Many organizations have been forced to put in-person volunteering on a complete hold, while others have also had to shift to online platforms to accommodate remote students.
Wellesley Chinatown Afterschool Program (CHAP) is an outreach organization that strives to support the academic and social development of K-6 students living in Boston’s Chinatown. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the program has had to abruptly pivot to a completely virtual platform, which is still ongoing for this semester. This year, the program consists of hour-long virtual tutoring sessions every day, and Wellesley students choose one day per week to tutor.
One of the program directors, Ayla Han ’21, described the logistical changes CHAP has faced as a result of this years’ off-campus travel restrictions. Aside from the fact that CHAP counselors no longer physically travel to Chinatown through the Wellesley vans, the program also underwent other structural changes.
“We knew how stressed out, uncertain, and scared our kids probably were about like COVID, so we wanted to really emphasize the community aspect of Chinatown Afterschool,” Han said. “It’s always been super, super important, of course, but we wanted to emphasize it even more.”
This past spring, Boston Public Schools had also adjusted their teaching format in face of COVID-19, allowing CHAP to utilize more time towards community building activities, such as yoga, pictionary and writing stories. This year, Han reports that CHAP will be returning to a structure that incorporates an hour of homework as well as an hour of project time in order to emphasize both academic and social support.
With the program online for the foreseeable future, Han reports that the community between counselors between different colleges has become stronger. Because CHAP includes counselors from a variety of colleges in the greater Boston area, it would ordinarily be difficult to form meaningful intercollegiate connections.
“We’re so focused on the kids that you don’t really get a chance to bond with counselors from other schools, especially,” said Han. “Now that we’re online, it’s honestly become easier to form friendships with counselors from other colleges because if you want to meet up or collaborate, you’re just like ‘Okay, let’s meet on Zoom in 10 minutes.’”
Overall, Han reports optimism for CHAP’s future amidst these uncertain times. “I feel really grateful that we have such a strong team of leadership and counselors,” she said. “Each of our counselors are so dedicated, enthusiastic and invest so much into our amazing students.”
Similar to CHAP, Wellesley for Boston Children’s Hospital (WBCH) is an outreach organization that has had to significantly adapt to COVID-19 due to its large focus on the greater Boston community. Kelly Hsu ’21 and Charlotte Emily Ryan ’21, co-presidents of WBCH, have actively been working to plan and organize volunteer work despite limitations imposed by COVID-19.
WBCH is an arts and crafts based volunteer organization that plans events that benefit the Boston Children’s Hospital community through volunteering in the hospital, visiting patients or making donations.
Because of the off-campus travel restrictions due to COVID-19, as well as the restrictions at the hospital itself, WBCH has put a halt to in-person hospital visits. Up until last spring, there would be weekly rotating in-personal hospital volunteer events in which general members could sign up for slots. This year, however, WBCH has been putting much of its efforts on making on-campus deliverables, such as individualized goodie bags and blankets for patients, and hosting events for general members.
However, Hsu and Ryan both noted that the time saved on traveling this year has allowed WBCH to explore new opportunities for members. In late Sept., they welcomed guest speaker Leara Glinzak, a board certified art therapist, over Zoom to discuss art therapy and its impact on treatment of childhood cancer. “Just taking away these travel limitations really opens up a lot of new opportunities that we’re excited about,” said Hsu.
Additionally, WBCH held an artwork campaign in September to promote “Going Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month,” which raises awareness about childhood cancer. General members had the opportunity to create artwork about what it means for them to “go gold,” and the submissions were posted on the WBCH Facebook and Instagram.
In regards to volunteer work this year, WBCH plans to continue making deliverables. Instead of personally delivering these items to the hospital, coordinators and staff members will have to drop them off in order to limit off-campus travel. “I know that the activities that we’re planning bring so much joy to these patients and families, but it will be different not being able to actually see that,” said Ryan.
Overall, both Ryan and Hsu express optimism and gratitude for their ability to continue their work this year, even though it may look different. “During a time when there’s kind of a lot of hurt and negativity in the world, it’s really great that we have this group on campus who can work towards enacting positive change and building awareness,” said Ryan.
Although Environmental Action (EnAct) is an organization that typically engages in both on-campus and off-campus activities, the COVID-19 restrictions have still been impacting its work. However, despite certain limitations, EnAct has still found itself continuing to fight for environmental justice through direct action in the local Wellesley community. Co-President Melissa He ’21 emphasized EnAct’s active participation in local protests to support community efforts that align with their mission as a key component of the organization.
This year, many EnAct members have attended local demonstrations of Fridays for Future, a global climate strike movement initially started by Greta Thunberg. These protests occur in front of Wellesley Town Hall every Friday at 3 pm and have been ongoing for over six months, even throughout the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Since returning to campus, members of EnAct have been actively participating in these socially-distanced, masked demonstrations to raise awareness about climate change.
Alongside Fridays for Future, EnAct has also aided Extinction Rebellion, a global environmental movement, with its organization of a funeral parade that occurred on Oct. 24 at 3 pm at the Wellesley Town Hall. This event was to demand that the Town of Wellesley declare a climate emergency by voting on a resolution in late October. Following the march, the Advisory Committee voted to support the resolution.
“Extinction Rebellion does these avant garde, art oriented protests that are meant to shock your system a little bit, which I personally really like as an art history major,” said He.
In order to attract attention to the funeral parade, members of EnAct participated in an art build on Oct. 2, in which students would stencil and wheat-paste across public spaces in the town of Wellesley. Through this event, however, the difficulties imposed by COVID-19 guidelines became apparent. As a remote student this semester, He has been managing the logistics of these events from California.
“I wish I was on-campus so that I could physically help with the stenciling. Managing that from afar is very complicated,” she reported.
General members studying remotely are also unable to engage in these events to the highest degree possible.
“For the stenciling project, individuals need to be in the physical space near Wellesley to participate in it, so many people who are not on-campus, myself included, cannot participate in the event in a physical way,” said He.
Not only is EnAct playing a vital role in local community demonstrations, but the organization is also spearheading on-campus environmental initiatives, such as the newfound food sustainability initiative. Professors Erich Matthes, Julie Walsh and Liza Oliver, have launched an initiative to lower Wellesley’s carbon footprint in relation to the food on-campus by getting rid of red meat in dining halls.
“We’re really focusing on a structural way to attack this problem by directing energy to a petition and communication with the College admin,” said He.
Aside from the numerous projects that EnAct is working on, the community aspect of the organization may be different this year.
“Because many of us are online, there is a level of separation between all of us,” He said. “EnAct is a very supportive space for all its members and anything that comes up. Obviously, that’s still the case, but it’s much harder to form those strong connections online.”