BY MIKE WISER
At 6:50 a.m. Saturday, when a 5.1 magnitude earthquake awoke many students at HLS, some of Springfest’s organizers and volunteers didn’t notice. They were already up and concerned with more important things. There was painting to be done, food to be distributed, a house to be constructed and riverbanks to be cleaned. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also a school-wide party to arrange.
In the end, organizers declared that Springfest Volunteer Service Day was an unequivocal success. Almost 300 students showed up to volunteer Saturday morning in an event that sent them across the city to work everywhere from the Chinatown Immigration Examination Center to the Cambridge YMCA.
Sponsored by the Student Public Interest Network, HL Central and the Dean of Students’ Office, Springfest was designed to let Law School students make a big impact on the community in just one day. One-L sections and student groups, which sponsored or co-sponsored some sort of service project, recruited volunteers from their ranks.
The projects were as varied as the groups themselves. The Black Law Students’ Association brought students from an inner-city school to participate in a mock appellate competition and panel discussion, while the Tenant Advocacy Project, Defenders and the Latter Day Saints Students Association helped to clean up and paint a homeless center.
The Women’s Law Association sponsored a cleanup for a shelter and outreach program in Dorchester. The work was mostly manual labor outside, but according to Site Coordinator Emily Spitser, it was very rewarding. “I think the beautiful weather quickly made the volunteers forget how early they had woken up in order to participate in Springfest,” she said.
While WLA volunteers were battling weeds, Harvard Asia Law Society volunteers were helping potential Chinese immigrants prepare for immigration exams. “What was rewarding about the experience is how excited and eager all the participants were to learn. Many of them are in their 50s and 60s, and struggle with English. Here they were on a Saturday and a Sunday, taking notes, asking questions and above all enthusiastic to get as much out of this program as they could, while at the same time having fun,” HALS Co-President Niclas Ericsson said.
Some of the projects may have been as helpful to the volunteers themselves as they were to those they were helping. Across town in Brookline, the Law Review did outdoor work at the Ivy Street School. Chris Kolovos, Coordinating Editor for the Review said, “Many of our volunteers got a kick out of breaking up large trash (mostly old furniture) and throwing the pieces in the dumpster.” Some volunteers, he said, “were especially excited about the chance for violent stress relief, especially during third-year paper season.”
The biggest project by far was an Earth Day cleanup of the Charles River. Fourteen different groups and 1L sections participated in the massive project organized by the Charles River Watershed Association.
Always a Party
While volunteers were out making the world better, others were scrambling to put together an afternoon party for their return. There might have been a little rain, but that didn’t keep students from enjoying what has become an annual festival.
There was no dunking booth this year, but there was cotton candy, hamburgers and, of course, back massages sponsored by Westlaw. At other booths, LL.Ms provided Yorkshire pudding and sushi, while Lincoln’s Inn provided the Jell-O shots. The Appleseed Center for Electoral Reform sponsored a dart contest where students could take aim at clean elections foe and Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran. And in a similar vein, the Harvard Law School Democrats held a game of Twister where participants were forced to step on pictures of prominent Republicans.
Over at the Drama Society booth, Society President 2L Elie Mystal offered popcorn and explained that his group wasn’t able to hire the mimes or clowns they had hoped for. Apparently, hiring a mime for an hour will set you back $150. But shouldn’t the drama society be able to handle that one themselves? “We have lots of talents in the drama society – miming is not one of them,” Mystal said.
Although this was the first year that Springfest had a volunteer component, the event’s origin can be traced back to LIPPfest two years ago, an outdoor party organized by SPIN to advocate for the school’s Low Income Protection Plan. Last year, the event became SPrINgfest, but organizers at SPIN said they felt the event needed to reconnect with the group’s public interest mission.
Having watched the event develop for the last three years, 3L T.J. Duane said that this year’s Springfest was the most successful because of its emphasis on public service. “I can say having been the only person to work on all three, that this year was by far the most complicated but the most rewarding. I am thrilled with the event and the prospect of it being an annual school-wide event,” Duane said.
There is some controversy over who exactly had the idea of turning Springfest into a day of volunteering, but all of the event’s organizers said that they felt it was important for the school to have a day dedicated to students volunteering. LL.M. students Geraldine Chin and Fiona Tregonning, who co-chaired the event as members of SPIN as well as being HL Central members, said that they had heard about a day of volunteering at MIT and felt that HLS should have a similar event.
Virginia Davis, President of SPIN, said that organizing volunteer opportunities was a “big shift” for the organization. She added that the event was important because it provided an opportunity for groups to volunteer that would not otherwise participate in community service projects.
Over at HL Central, Springfest Co-Chair Ariane Decker said that her group’s involvement in this year’s Springfest stemmed from its commitment to public service. Decker said that the event was one of many community service projects that HL Central had organized.
“I had originally planned to do an all-school volunteer day – it was by chance that we ended up combining it with, the annual Springfest event,” she said. “HL Central is making a very concerted effort to increase community service and volunteerism at HLS,” Decker said.
Another HL Central Co-Chair of the event, 1L Rita Bolt, said that the day was designed to have an impact even beyond the community service projects themselves. “Hopefully, the event will grow year by year and will increase awareness of the community service opportunities in the Cambridge area,” Bolt said.
So who really pulled off this year’s Springfest? Duane gives equal credit to both groups. “This event was a product of the positive collaboration of both organizations and in retrospect the amount of effort that went into it really made it necessary to have both groups collaborating.”
As far as next year goes, all of the organizers said they expect the event to be even bigger.