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Racial, religious minorities serve respective ethnic communities

Every Saturday afternoon, Rai Wilson '98 ventures beyond FitzRandolph Gate to another world. At the Clay Street Learning Center, a short walk down Witherspoon Street, Wilson tutors Tomai Young, an African-American 11-year-old, in the basics of reading, writing and math.

As an African-American himself, Wilson said he has made a conscious decision to "find a place with black kids" and serve his own.


Wilson is not the only one. Students of many racial and religious backgrounds at the University choose to serve their own communities outside the campus gates.

Community House is one of the largest organizations that focuses on minority students serving minority communities. Established in 1969 by an interracial group of undergraduates, the organization has seven permanent projects primarily dealing with mentoring and tutoring area youth. Though not explicitly stated in its mission, the organization is a "racially oriented volunteer group," according to staff member Christy Pichichero '98.

Role models

"We are a racial organization, although anybody can join," said Pichichero. "We're out there to reach out as role models to minorities," she said.

Most of the projects run by Community House – including the volunteer program at Clay Street – focus on tutoring and mentoring children of African-American or Latino descent.

A large portion of the roughly 70 regular volunteers who serve through Community House are of black or Hispanic background as well.

"It's important that when students look at their mentors, they identify with that person," said Community House director Marjorie Young.


Maury Garrett '99, a black student, organizes performing arts projects at Clay Street through Community House.

"Being here, letting (minority children) see me on a regular basis, lets them see that that school up the street isn't just for white people," he said.

Garrett attended a mostly black public school in Connecticut where applying to Ivy League schools "wasn't even something you thought about." He said much of his work at Clay Street is to allow children to explore possibilities, academic and otherwise.

"A kid will look at me and say, 'I want to go to an Ivy League school,'" Pichichero said.

'A bit of home'

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Young explained that many minority University students think of local minority communities as "a bit of home."

"A lot of black families look at kids who go to college as the hope of the family," Young said.

Wilson agreed. "I think of all the sacrifices that were made for me to be here," he said, "I think a lot of black students feel they've been very fortunate and they'd like to help in any way they can."

Wilson said that, as a potential member of the black middleand upper-class, he has reevaluated his career plans to address the "disproportionate problems in the black community."

Wilson came to the University intending to be a corporate lawyer. Now he said he plans to teach law and work on the "reapportionment of funds to poorer communities."

According to Young, community service is integrated into the life of many minority volunteers. "There's a level of ownership that comes with helping your own. . . . There's urgency," she said.

Hannah Breshin '98, a Puerto Rican native, who coordinates a program to teach English as a second language to employees at some of the eating clubs, said her ethnicity adds to her bonds with her students.

"They feel more comfortable with someone who is a native speaker, it unites you," Breshin said.

"In some cases I've gone to their homes," she said.

Many students not only know the families they work with, but also integrate their service work into their academics. Pichichero said Community House members often write their theses on issues that integrate community service.

"Community service is not a temporary state," Young said.

Religious outreach

Community House is not the only program that encourages service to one's own. According to Associate Dean of Religious Life Sue Anne Morrow, several religious groups have service projects, although not necessarily targeted toward their own denominations.

The Hindu Students Council president Kruti Trivedi '00 said the group is planning two projects, one serving at a South Asian battered women's shelter, and another mentoring recently immigrated South Asian children.

The Center for Jewish Life sponsors a variety of community service projects many of which specifically target local Jewish groups.

According to CJL program director Amy Reisner, the center sponsors visits to a local Jewish nursing home and sponsors onetime projects such as food and toy drives during Yom Kippur and Hanukkah. In addition, on a need basis, students at the CJL tutor children in Hebrew, and aid Russian Jewish immigrants settling in the area.

" 'Every Jew is responsible for another Jew.' That is an overriding principle within Judaism," Reisner said.

According to Courtney Weiner '01, an active member of the CJL Social Action Committee, efforts are being made to expand its involvement in the community. Weiner said students intend to regularize weekly Jewish nursing home visits and "adopt" an immigrant Jewish family during the holidays.

Beyond the immediate community, Weiner explained the CJL also supports various fund-raising and tree-planting projects in Israel.

When it comes to the center's support for Israel, she said, "If we don't do it, no one else will."