When the last bell rings on weekday afternoons at Brookline High School, most students slam their books shut. They stuff their backpacks full of the things and then haul them off to a music lesson, or to sports practice, or to an after-school job. Twenty BHS students, though, congregate instead in an empty classroom and resume planning how to give books away. Who are these teenagers? Why are they doing this? Meet the Brookline Literacy Partnership, one of the community’s most impressive – and youngest – social justice groups.
Since its inception in the spring of 2008, the members of the Brookline Literacy Partnership have committed themselves to combating what current group president Ben Hoff describes as “the unbelievable disparity of opportunity” between different Boston-area communities. In the process, they hope to help bring those communities together. The group’s efforts to raise money and public awareness take on various forms and levels of complexity, but all reflect this central goal – whether they’re selling bookmarks at town events or gathering sponsors for their biggest annual fundraiser, the IntelliJam world music concert, the BLP keeps their community involved every step of the way. The community in turn has pulled its weight – IntelliJam alone has raised nearly $20,000 for the group over two years.
The BLP takes all of these funds and resources and funnels them into programs it has set up at Dorchester’s Mather Elementary, its current partner school. They help fill the bookshelves in the school’s library and classrooms, figure out better ways to organize and staff the library, and purchase standardized book sets for classroom use. Once a week, group members and other trained BHS students travel to Mather to tutor the elementary school students one-on-one. In order to support literacy beyond classroom walls, they give older students books to take home over school breaks. With ever-increasing community support and student involvement, the BPL hopes to expand their existing programs and perhaps partner with even more schools.
Those who have worked with the group have no doubt that this will happen, and sooner rather than later. “Every single overriding goal the group has set out to achieve, they have accomplished,” says Justin Berke of Commonwealth Financial Group. “I’ve been phenomenally impressed with the overall intelligence, strength, and energy of the team.” Berke is a member of the BLP’s Advisory Board, which is made up of about twenty Brookline-based organization leaders and business professionals. They provide the group with advice, support, and connections, although, as Berke emphasizes, the students remain “the ultimate decision-makers and drivers.”
This year, the BLP is applying its thirst for social justice, fundraising expertise, and networking power to the annual Feed Brookline Drive, which Hoff points out meshes well with the group’s nominal cause: “There is a definite link between food and literacy . . . education and literacy prevent poverty and food insecurity later in life, and without adequate food, getting an education is infinitely harder.” Even more importantly, it fits with the group’s overall ethos. “Feed Brookline is a collaboration – it’s a community coming together to make change for good. This concept is the core of the BLP,” explains Hoff. Hoff has motivation to give back as well as pay it forward, as he says that his involvement with the BLP has made him thankful for “the advantages of the community he was born into.” One such advantage is certainly its generosity, which, judging by the actions of Hoff and his fellows, is instilled early. Luckily for the Feed Brookline Drive, chances are good that they will be able to harness it once again.
This year’s IntelliJam Concert is March 17th, 2012 – tickets can be purchased on the Brookline Literacy Partnership website. The Feed Brookline Drive runs through January, 2012.
By Cara Giaimo