Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Service at the Kennedy School

Abi Strait is the new 2013-2014 Micah Fellow at ECH!  She comes to us from Wisconsin via the Lutheran Service Corps in Delaware, where she worked at the Ministry of Caring. As a Fellow in the Life Together Program, she'll be splitting her time between ECH and our mother-parish, Christ Church Cambridge.  

As part of my year with the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard and Christ Church in Cambridge, I’ll be working with several social justice programs. One of these is ACT (Advocates for a Common Toilet) - a campaign supported by many community businesses and faith groups to add public restrooms in the Cambridge Common.

On my first official day of work last Monday, Richard Parker, a leader of the ACT project and a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, invited me to participate in the Kennedy School’s day of service on Thursday. During this day of service, first year Kennedy students were assigned to different volunteer activities. ACT was one such activity, and the only one (as far as I’m aware) falling more closely with advocacy than with volunteer work. That, along with it’s name, made it a unique project.  

Although I didn’t quite know what to expect - I’m still brand new to the project and to Harvard after all - and wasn’t sure what my role would be, I told Richard I’d be happy to participate. I knew it would be a way for me to learn more about ACT, a project I anticipate spending a good deal of time with over the next months. It would be a way to learn through doing, not only through reading. It would be a way to dive, not wade, into the project.

And what a learning experience it was! Thursday started out with a talk from Professor Parker about ACT and it’s history, as well as the difference between social justice and charity. The students then split into pairs and had about 45 minutes to find a public bathroom around Harvard Square. There were some rules: no using Harvard buildings, or places where you need a Harvard ID to get in, and no buying anything (which knocks out most restaurants or businesses).

While they were doing that, I helped prepare materials for the signature collection drive we set out on after lunch. The students were in pairs for that, joined by folks who had been working with ACT for some time. Neither my partner nor I had much experience asking people on the street for signatures, but it went surprisingly better than I anticipated. It’s amazing how much the words “toilet” and “bathrooms” catch people’s ears! All in all, about 450 signatures, spread between petitions and postcards that will be sent to the City Council, were collected. An amazing effort for the two hours we were out!

Listening to Professor Parker, seeing the student’s enthusiasm for a project they were just introduced to that morning, and hitting the street myself have given me a much better handle on ACT -- and increased my excitement and energy for it as well. It was, while initially a bit intimidating, a great opportunity and I am so thankful for Professor Parker’s invitation to join in. I’m looking forward to my continuing work with ACT this year and am excited to see where it goes!

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