‘We can’t do it alone!’ Volunteering an opportunity for Northeastern students to give back to the community

Students at the fall volunteer fair, some under umbrellas and some not.
Community partners and students connect at the Fall Volunteer Fair on the Boston campus on Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

For first-year student Ella Sonnenburg, good fortune inspires her to give to others.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and the opportunity to give back and feel like I can make a difference is important to me,” Sonnenburg says.

Sonnenburg and other students looking to give back have plenty of options, as roughly 50 area nonprofits gathered at Northeastern University’s Boston campus recently for the annual Fall Volunteer Fair.

“It’s an opportunity for students to engage with community partners, and it’s another way to give back to the community,” says Nancy Figueroa, assistant director of community partnerships and impact in the office of community service and civic engagement at Northeastern.

Community partners are an important part of the Northeastern community and connect with students in a number of ways such as through co-ops, service learning opportunities and through volunteering. 

“The bulk of our volunteers come from Northeastern,” says Teresa Yao, program manager for the Digital Dividends program at Little Brothers — Friends of the Elderly. Yao and Stephenie Hou, intergenerational program manager, were on campus to recruit volunteers to connect and develop relationships with area seniors. 

Yao said student volunteers are “very important” to the organization and have the opportunity to do all sorts of things according to their interests and talents. 

“We’re intergenerational — that’s key, and college students are an essential part of that equation,” Yao said.

Melissa Long, program director at Boy with a Ball-Boston, which organizes regular volunteer walks in neighborhoods with at-risk youth in order to develop relationships and address neighborhood needs, says that the organization “depends on (students) a lot.” 

We want people involved to come away with more than they had before, after they are with us.

Melissa Long, program director at Boy with a Ball-Boston

“We can find something for them so they can do as much or as little as they want,” Long says, noting opportunities not just on the neighborhood walks, but also in grant writing, social media and more. “We need young people because we can’t do it alone!”

Long also emphasized that volunteering is beneficial not just to a nonprofit and its clients.

“We want people involved to come away with more than they had before, after they are with us,” Long says.

That’s part of the motivation for graduate student Jaswanth Marri, who registered with two volunteer organizations on Tuesday: a tutoring program and an organization that teaches kids how to ski. 

“Even though I’m not sure how to ski,” Marri says, laughing. “This will be my first time seeing snow, being in Boston, and so I’m excited to join and learn.”

Meanwhile, volunteering as a soccer coach for the nonprofit soccer and community enrichment organization Boston Scores led to a co-op opportunity this semester for fifth-year student Kiersten Ruiz. 

“I played soccer my whole life until I came to college and I really missed it,” Ruiz says. “It’s nice to coach the next generation of kids in soccer.”

And no, you don’t have to have soccer skills to be of service. 

“We want people that are committed and want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Molly Gurner, soccer program manager at Boston Scores, says. “We can take anybody with any background and use them.”

In fact, being a Northeastern student is a good credential for 826 Boston, a writing center in Roxbury that offers free tutoring, writing help and publishing opportunities for youth.

“In particular (Northeastern students) have a global mindset and more than other campuses, students are expected to go out and bring that experience back,” says Lindsay Gavin, community engagement coordinator for 826 Boston. “We like to get them out of campus and into the community and get them to learn about the kids near them.”

Cyrus Moulton is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.moulton@northeastern.edu. Follow him on X/Twitter @MoultonCyrus.