Weeklong volunteer program kicks off today with 900 freshmen

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By Samantha Pickette (COM’15)

Boston University BU, First Year Student Outreach Project FYSOP, volunteer

First-Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP) volunteers Maria Rojas (COM'17), from left, Bailey Clement (COM'17), and Maria Simeonova (SMG'17) volunteered last year at the Gifford Cat Shelter in Brighton, the oldest no-kill cat shelter in the country. Photos by Cydney Scott

This week represents a milestone for the First-Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP). For 25 years, the program, which is run by the Community Service Center, has offered entering freshmen and transfer students a chance to engage in a week of community service projects at sites across the city while getting to know their fellow classmates.

For many, like Morgan Whaley (COM’14), the experience proves to be life-changing. A FYSOP veteran, Whaley has served as a first-year volunteer, staff member, and group coordinator and, this year, as one of the two program managers. She came to BU four years ago with the goal of entering the music industry, but is now planning on pursuing a career in social justice. Whaley credits FYSOP with giving her a passion for public service and nonprofit work. “It changed my potential career direction,” she says.

Chen Cao (CAS’14), FYSOP’s other program manager, says that even though this is only his second year with the program, he can’t imagine what his BU experience would be without it. He describes FYSOP in one word: “magic.”

Starting today, almost 900 first-year students—nearly a quarter of the Class of 2018—will get to experience “FYSOP magic” firsthand. (There were just 33 participants the year the program rolled out in 1989). Following tonight’s opening ceremonies, which will include cheers, icebreaker activities, and a skit put on by the group coordinators, this year’s FYSOPers will be divided into small groups that will focus on one of 11 specific areas of public service: abilities, animals, children, elders, environment, gender focus, homelessness and housing, human rights, hunger, public health awareness, and urban engagement. Participants are asked in advance to list their interests in order of preference and efforts are made to assign them one of their top choices.

The students spend their first day learning about their specific issue area. More than two dozen guest speakers—including Leah Bamberger, manager of Greenovate Boston, Mayor Walsh’s sustainability initiative, and Michael Kincade, manager of community programs and outreach for the Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association—brief students and share stories about their own work. The FYSOPers then spend the next three days volunteering at sites throughout the Boston area, working with nonprofit organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank, Black and Pink, and Higher Ground Farm.

Boston University BU, First Year Student Outreach Project FYSOP, volunteer

FYSOP volunteer Jennifer Wong (CGS’15), left, and FYSOP staffer Allison Siglinger (SMG’15) painted an outdoor play area at Jackson Mann Elementary School in Allston last year as part of FYSOP 2013.

Whaley and Cao hope that by the end of the week, first-year volunteers will gain some understanding of the kinds of social issues confronting Boston and that the program will have helped to eliminate the stigma surrounding issues like homelessness, addiction, and mental illness. Another goal is to give volunteers a clearer idea of what their issue area encompasses. Cao, who plans on pursuing a master’s in public health, is excited by how the public health awareness issue area’s focus has developed since last year. “They’re expanding their vision to encompass a more holistic view of what public health is,” he says. “There’s the mental health part, but there’s also sexual health, the vaccination component, the infectious disease component. Everything from what we choose to eat to helmet safety and bike awareness is public health.”

The three days of hands-on service are aimed not only at giving volunteers an overview of their own issue, but also at demonstrating how the 11 issue areas tie together, what Whaley calls “FYSOP Fusion.” “These issues are so interconnected,” she says. “I really hope that’s something our coordinators, staff, and especially the first-year students will learn.”

As FYSOP celebrates its 25th anniversary, Cao and Whaley say they are more interested in looking to the program’s future than focusing on its past. This means a greater commitment to sustainability and the reduction of paper consumption. It also means a greater social media presence—FYSOP is on , , Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. Even those who are not FYSOPers can easily have a vicarious experience of the service work, personal reflections, and socialization that make up the weeklong activities.

More than anything, FYSOP guarantees participants a chance to build a sense of community at the beginning of their BU careers through new friendships, hands-on learning, and lasting memories. “They get to meet their first friends here at BU with shared interests,” Whaley says. “It’s so high-energy and passionate. There’s really nothing else quite like FYSOP.”

The First-Year Student Outreach Program’s opening ceremony will take place tonight at 8 p.m. in the Metcalf Ballroom of the George Sherman Union, 775 Commonwealth Avenue. The event will be streamed live on the Community Service Center’s website.

BU Today is covering FYSOP 2014 live this week via Twitter. Share your FYSOP experience under the hashtag #FYSOP25, and we will post your comments here for the remainder of the week. You can also follow the Community Service Center at .

Visit the CSC for more information about FYSOP and the 13 other CSC academic year programs.

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