New and existing volunteer student organizations optimistically enter upcoming academic year

Members of Project Sunshine are pictured assembling "Sunshine Kits" for pediatric hospital patients. Courtesy Hannah Pearl

Despite the barriers to connecting with each other created by the COVID-19 pandemic, several Tufts students were able to create new communities during the 2020–21 academic year in the form of volunteer organizations. Two of these new clubs were Tufts chapters of the national organizations Project Sunshine and Camp Kesem. In addition, Teach-in-CORES was able to adapt to a new virtual format.  

Project Sunshine was founded in the fall of 2020 by now-juniors Hannah Pearl and Kayla Butera. Pearl spoke about the mission behind Project Sunshine.

“The goal of Project Sunshine is basically just to bring social interaction and fun to pediatric patients in hospitals,” Pearl said.

Because Tufts students were not able to physically enter hospitals last year due to the pandemic, Project Sunshine took part in several remote initiatives. The club met in person during the spring 2021 semester to assemble “Sunshine Kits” for pediatric hospital patients. 

“[In the Sunshine Kits,] there’s crayons and journals, and just hands-on things that are age specific, and it helps [the patients], especially during COVID when they’ve been pretty isolated,” Pearl said.

Project Sunshine members also participated in a virtual program known as TelePlay. 

“Project Sunshine started this platform called TelePlay, which is where we play different pre-approved games on a HIPAA compliant Zoom,” Pearl said. “We play Scattergories, Guess Who, and there’s like a winter theme, an animal theme, holidays themes.”

Looking forward to the upcoming school year, Project Sunshine is hoping to pair with a local hospital and start in-person visits, but the logistics of that will be determined by officials at the national Project Sunshine level.

“Project Sunshine National … [reaches] out to whoever the supervisor or coordinator is at a local hospital for us,” Pearl said. “I’m not exactly sure what the specifics are going to be … I’m pretty sure we’ll all need to be vaccinated, and I think it just depends on the specific hospital and what their policies are.”

Similar to Project Sunshine, the Tufts chapter of Camp Kesem was also founded during the 2020–21 academic year. Camp Kesem is a summer camp that is specifically for children who have been impacted by a parent’s cancer. Ilona Eaton, the founder of the club at Tufts, discussed the mission behind Camp Kesem. 

“Kesem is a national organization, and they have chapters at over 100 college campuses,” Eaton, a junior, said. “Basically, their mission is to give kids a chance to have fun and create community and experience a fun, free week of camp that otherwise would not have happened.” 

Last year, the club at Tufts spent the majority of its time working on an application to Kesem National.

“We had to go through a big application process with Kesem National before we could become a club at Tufts,” Eaton said. “That took probably six months just to complete and submit the application and get approved.”

This year, Camp Kesem at Tufts hopes to have both in-person and virtual programming in preparation for hosting the kids camp at Tufts in the summer of 2022. 

“We will be having club meetings … We’re going to do a lot of fundraising this year because we need to raise $30,000 for our first 30 campers, and then also hoping to do fun events, whether that be fundraising or bonding just to get the community growing at Tufts,” Eaton said. 

Teach-in-CORES is another Tufts volunteer service organization looking forward to the new school year and the positive changes it could bring. However, unlike Project Sunshine and Camp Kesem, Teach-in-CORES has been at Tufts for several years. The organization provides Tufts students with the opportunity to teach English and American citizenship lessons to local immigrants and refugees through the CORES Center in Somerville. Christina Fleury, co-president of Teach-in-CORES, discussed how the organization adapted to the challenges of the 2020–21 academic year and the impact those changes will have on the upcoming year.

“[In a non-pandemic semester,] students at Tufts will head over to the CORES Center once a week. The classes are offered like every day of the week, but one particular tutor would only go once, and we teach the English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship classes,” Fleury said.

Fleury noted how this organizational structure was fundamentally altered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I feel like some clubs were really able to adapt to an online mode, but this is the kind of thing that you really couldn’t, especially since we’re working with a community-based organization,” Fleury said. “There were no classes at all last year, which was difficult mostly for the center because that’s really how they support themselves.” 

Despite the CORES Center’s not hosting classes, members of Teach-in-CORES stayed connected as a club and supported the center through virtual initiatives.

“We focused on different things to help support the center. One of them was … improving the digital infrastructure of the center, like creating their mobile website,” Fleury said. “[Another effort] was awareness. They continue to spread awareness about issues involving and surrounding immigration and ESL.”

Teach-in-CORES had an education committee focused on developing curricula for the upcoming year as well as a fundraising committee that helped support the center financially. 

Fleury said the center is tentatively planning on resuming in-person classes — following public health guidelines — starting Sept. 20. Fleury noted that while club members are itching to return to the classroom, there is also significant value in the virtual work the club did this past year, so they are still deciding how, if at all, they will incorporate those virtual initiatives.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to use those virtual committees in the same capacity as we did because students will be teaching, but we’re hoping to find a balance because I feel like it was a bit of a silver lining throughout the pandemic to really be able to focus on those other areas … That really hasn’t been decided yet,” Fleury said.

According to Fleury, a key part of establishing this balance between last year’s virtual initiatives and the coming year’s likely in-person teaching is increasing the number of members of Teach-in-CORES.

“Especially if we incorporate some of the virtual committees into this, I feel like we will need a lot of people,” Fleury said.

While Tufts’ community service organizations remain versatile as ever — both starting and changing despite the adversity of the past year — they seem hopeful that with adequate vaccination rates and the following of CDC guidelines, more personal, face-to-face interaction can occur between Tufts students and community members this coming year.


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