Tutors Join Alum in Giving Back

The "homework room" of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, Mass. is a busy place, serving more than 200 area students age 7-18. When Brooks School community service volunteers arrive each week, it becomes happily productive too.

Take last Thursday. As soon as the dozen Brooks students settled in to help the youngsters they have been tutoring, the room (open 3 - 6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday) was abuzz with lessons, reading aloud and laughter.

It's a sound that the club's Assistant Education Director Jarad Harris '04 knows well. He grew up going to the facility, volunteered himself while studying at Brooks, and began working at the Boys & Girls Club three years ago after a stint teaching in the AmeriCorps program. "I definitely knew that I would give back to the club," he said. "I was very involved here before high school. The people here helped me with scholarships to get to Brooks."

At Brooks, Harris played football and recalled, "We made it so the team came to volunteer once a week, but I never thought that I would be here working and helping kids with their homework." Not that he has any regrets. "It's great to work at a place that gave me so much," he said.

Many of the kids who get tutored "don't have too much at home," added Harris. "They don't have great support systems, so it feels really good to give them that here."

The fact that it's often volunteers from his alma mater helping out — and that they have been doing so for the past 30-odd years — "gives me such a sense of pride," he said.

Maureen Perkins H'81, founder and former head of Brooks' Community Service program, has been involved with the club those past three decades and is quite proud of Brooks' involvement as well. "It doesn't surprise me at all that the tutoring program is still going strong today," she said. "It's such a positive place."

It helps that the Brooks volunteers take their responsibility seriously, according to Perkins' daughter, faculty coordinator Leigh Perkins '81, P'14, P'18. "A number of our students have kids they work with every time we go," said the English teacher, who has participated in the program for more than 10 years herself. "They understand that the kids come to count on them, and they take tremendous satisfaction in helping a student get through homework to be prepared for the next day."

Each Brooks student "develops systems and tricks they use with particular kids to get them to work effectively," continued Perkins. "It's really fun to observe." At some tables, the Brooksians have developed a system where the club kids get to "grade" their tutors at the end of a session. "They really love giving grades," she revealed. "It's usually 100 or A+ or 'What's better than that?'"

This year in particular, Perkins added, "Brooks volunteers seem to have bonded well with their students," offering consistent "attention and kindness."

Nicole Rivera '17 is one such volunteer. As with Assistant Education Director Harris, giving back is personal for her. "I like that I'm able to make so many connections with the new generation of my city," said Rivera, who used to attend the Community Day Charter Public School - Prospect in Lawrence, which she said "has a very similar feel with the dominant presence of Latino kids."

Spending time with the youngsters at the Boys & Girls Club "brings back memories for me... [and] it makes me feel like I'm able to make a positive impact on them through getting to know them," she explained. "Many of them honestly have gotten so attached to me, and I'm really going to miss a lot of them. They make me laugh, smile and feel true happiness because of the genuine personalities that they radiate. I truly love every second I spend with them."

Alumna Stacy Vallely '01 was similarly moved by her experience volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club. In fact, she declared that it "inspired me to be a teacher!"

When she learned about the community service opportunity during her second year at Brooks, Vallely said, "I opted to give up soccer in order to participate in the program." She recalled a tutee named "Amanda" in particular. "She worked hard when we were together," said Vallely. "When she struggled with something, I'd go back to school and think of new ways to explain things or tricks to help remember things."

After Brooks, Vallely studied early childhood education in college and taught in Boston and Bedford public schools. She is in her tenth year as an educator, now working as a reading specialist, and maintained that the time she spent volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence is close to her heart even today. "I am still thinking of Amanda," she said, "and how to help struggling students."