Darya started working at OrACORe in June 2023 after graduating from Bates College with a…
In May 2020, the OrACORe team organized an anti-racism taskforce led by our research assistants with the purpose of participating in active discussions centered on social equity and racial justice. Recognizing that going beyond discussion and engaging with our communities is important, we formed a community engagement taskforce focused on connecting with communities and organizations in the Boston area. In this blog, OrACORe research assistants (RAs) Alec (he/him), Aleks (she/her), Claire (she/her), Hanna (she/her), Julia (she/her), Maame (she/her), Mahima (she/her), Paul (he/him), and Zoe (she/her) reflect on what it means to connect with the local Boston community through volunteering during the COVID-19 era, and the longstanding commitment of growing as social changemakers.
Our Social Change-making Ecosystem
Societal change relies on the diverse contributions of all members that live within its boundaries. This is the ethos behind activist and author Deepa Iyer’s Social Change Ecosystem, a map that identifies 10 categories of social changemakers: the weavers, experimenters, frontline responders, visionaries, builders, caregivers, disrupters, healers, storytellers, and guides. Iyer’s framework became a central resource for us, serving as the perfect framework to guide our introspection and to discover how we each fit into the change-making ecosystem.
Social Change Ecosystem Map: https://buildingmovement.org/our-work/movement-building/social-change-ecosystem-map/
Attribution: Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project.
SM, © 2018 Deepa Iyer.
All rights reserved. All prior licenses revoked.
October 2020 Version
Our RA cohort contributes a range of change-making characteristics. Alec, Aleks, and Claire identify as caregivers, defined by Iyer as individuals who “…nurture and nourish the people around them by creating and sustaining [communities] of care, joy, and connection.” During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aleks volunteered as a computer science tutor for elementary school students. As a recent computer science graduate, she was all too familiar with the under-representation of women and keenly aware of the lack of underrepresented racial groups in the field. Encouraging and supporting students who felt apprehension toward envisioning themselves as computer scientists in the future was a highlight for Aleks. This experience revealed her penchant for fostering atmospheres where individuals feel safe and seen. Alec’s fervor for the outdoors led him to volunteer with the Youth Enrichment Services (YES). YES is an organization whose aim is to expand young people’s engagement with the outdoors by joining downhill skiing, running, biking, canoeing, and rock-climbing groups led by volunteers with a passion for these activities. Alec, an avid rock-climber, runner, and skier, enjoys the camaraderie and confidence-building he observes amongst the students as they try skiing or long-distance running for the first time. “Through volunteering with YES, I can help connect others to these great activities so that they can experience the lifelong health and social benefits of physical activity.” Issues with understaffing due to the pandemic continues to affect organizations nationwide. Claire was drawn to volunteer with the Crisis Text Line (CTL) in Boston because it experienced a surge of individuals seeking support in these difficult times. “I try to maintain environments of comfort, thus helping people reach calmer mindsets was a good way for me to feel useful when the chaos of the times made us feel helpless.”
…Helping people reach calmer mindsets was a good way for me to feel useful when the chaos of the times made us feel helpless.-Claire McHugh
Every movement needs a guide, someone who is willing to share knowledge they’ve gained through their experiences. Hanna, Paul, and Zoe identify as guides and engage with the community through mentorship. Each of these RAs sees the connection between their “guide” identity and community engagement. Hanna and Paul are volunteers for YES as bike-riding and ski instructors. Hanna recounted the excitement of working with students of all ages and skill levels saying, “I strongly believe in the students’ ability to overcome challenges. Helping them celebrate their individual accomplishments during challenging rides, regardless of where others around them are skill-wise, is what makes these moments so fun.” Paul pointed to his childhood skiing experiences and the mental and physical benefits that came with hitting the slopes. “I enjoy sharing what I know about skiing with the kids and to see them enjoy the slopes, even if they fall down sometimes. When we hit the slopes, it’s all about having fun, getting back up when you fall, and leaving all the stress behind,” said Paul. At the start of the pandemic, Zoe served as a COVID Care Navigator for the Beach Cities Health District in LA county, where she advised COVID positive individuals on self-care, quarantine, and isolation protocols. Drawing on her experiences as a peer counselor for first-generation college students, Zoe was prepared not only to help people navigate uncertainty through education, but to lend an empathetic ear.
Helping [students] celebrate their individual accomplishments during challenging rides, regardless of where others around them are skill-wise, is what makes these moments so fun.-Hanna Mass
Builders are an integral part of the change-making system, ready to organize others around a central goal. When we first started our community-service meetings, Julia galvanized our team into what became an office-wide clothing drive for a local food and clothing shelter that cares for individuals experiencing homelessness. “It’s been hard to connect with community members in the face of COVID-19 and with respect for the protocols that are keeping us all safe, but these restrictions also provide us an opportunity to pivot. How can we continue to do the things we value in life and community, especially if we can’t do so in-person? It’s tough, but I think it’s doable.”
The weavers of the social change-making ecosystem are individuals fueled by the potential to connect across different groups and spaces. Mahima’s interest in drawing connections between her lived experience, interest in music, and community engagement led her to working with The People’s HeART, an organization started at MGH that aims to promote health equity and create inclusive healthcare spaces through art, design, and music. “As a musician and someone interested in health equity, I was so intrigued by the unique opportunities that artists provide to connect with communities and uplift community voices,” said Mahima. She looks forward to conveying messages of equity and justice through innovative and creative media, especially through musical collaboration.
Iyer describes visionaries as individuals who imagine “bold possibilities, hopes, and dreams to remind us of our direction.” Regarding how imagination fuels her drive to foster connection with people in the Boston community, Maame said, “As a black woman, I find myself imagining ideal conditions, environments where people are adequately supported to reach their highest potential.” Out of this interest to look at the future with hope, Maame volunteers as a mentor with the Valedictorian Project, an organization that connects high-achieving students from underrepresented backgrounds with a mentor to help guide them throughout their four years of college. As a first-generation college student herself, Maame enjoys sharing the lessons she’s learned and helping her mentee navigate a new environment full of possibilities.
I find myself imagining ideal conditions, environments where people are adequately supported to reach their highest potential.-Maame Opare-Addo
What the Future Holds
The beauty of having a dynamic team with different changemaker roles is that we can learn from each other. Throughout our weekly community engagement meetings, we discuss how to we can help each other lean into roles that feel unfamiliar. We imagine ways of finding rest in times of difficulty and reflect on the importance of maintaining community connections that are sustainable. As young adults discovering how we can contribute to our communities, we recognize how committing to lifelong learning as social changemakers is preparing us for careers in research and medicine, professions that call on the next generation to contribute to current efforts to achieve health equity.
A Call to Action
The late social activist Grace Lee Boggs says it best — “You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.” Everyone can play a role in this ecosystem and every contribute is deeply valuable. We encourage readers to lean into their strengths and keep an open mind to growing in areas that feel unfamiliar, keeping in mind that this is a lifelong journey focused on learning from others and growing along the way.
You don’t choose the times you live in, but you do choose who you want to be. And you do choose how you think.Grace Lee Boggs, Social Activist