Freshmen Eryn McCallum and Liza Xiao arrived on campus last semester ready to start volunteering and give back to their community both in the Greater Boston area and at Emerson. When they noticed a lack of student-run community service organizations on campus, the two students decided to start their own by creating an Emerson chapter of Circle K International.
Circle K International is the world’s largest student-led collegiate service organization, according to its website. The organization operates under Kiwanis International, a non-profit organization that helps children with disease, poverty, hunger, and illiteracy.
McCallum, a journalism major who serves as president of the Emerson CKI chapter, said she felt shocked by the absence of an organization dedicated to community service.
“I loved doing community service in high school, and the fact that I didn’t have that here left a hole in my heart,” McCallum said. “But then I thought, ‘Hey, that’s interesting because it’s a project I can take on.’”
Instead of starting her own organization, McCallum looked to her previous involvement in Key Club, another organization founded by Kiwanis International for high school students. McCallum decided CKI could act as a way to get students involved in work that contributes to the community.
“I was a part of Key Club in high school, so I was already comfortable with Kiwanis International because I knew more about how they operate,” McCallum said. “My friend from high school was the president, so I also saw the behind-the-scenes of how they operate.”
McCallum said Key Club went all around Chicago to volunteer at different events.
“We volunteered at The Salvation Army around Christmas time. We helped with the Chicago Polar Plunge where people run into the ice water to raise money for charity,” McCallum said. “We volunteered at a marathon—we also started an initiative for planting and gardening.”
McCallum said she saw CKI as a way to give students opportunities to act on their ambition to help, which she believes is a shared desire in the Emerson community.
“Emerson is a school that’s full of amazing people that I feel like care a lot about social justice and want to help, but don’t know how or where to start,” McCallum said. “Obviously we can’t get to the whole world quite yet, but you can start locally and give back to the people that are here.”
Vice President Xiao, a marketing communication major, is particularly excited about one of the club’s concrete ideas for the future—volunteering at the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk, a nighttime walk to raise awareness for suicide prevention. The annual walkout is organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and will be held in Boston and San Francisco in June of this year.
The process of making an official Circle K chapter at Emerson may take a month due to the financial barriers and the need for more members, according to McCallum. McCallum and Xiao must recruit a minimum of 20 people before Kiwanis International charters them with $600 of funding.
In addition, every member of the club must pay a $6 annual fee starting next semester, according to McCallum. The fee will go towards leadership training, travel costs, marketing, conventions fees, and administrative purposes.
McCallum said that, when the chapter develops, she and the other club members will brainstorm on how to help the Greater Boston community through events, volunteering, and community service. The club will work mostly on a spontaneous schedule depending on when volunteer opportunities arise.
“The way it works is it’s usually a month-by-month thing—you find events as they come and then you contact the person that’s running it and ask, ‘Hey, do you need 10
–20 people to help you with that because I can do that for you,’” McCallum said.
McCallum and Xiao already have some specific causes and communities of people in the Greater Boston area that they would like to help.
“I would love to focus on social justice, work with communities of color, the environment—like cleaning up trash—gender equality, LGBTQ+ issues, or at a homeless shelter that helps domestic abuse survivors,” McCallum said.
The club looks to volunteer at the Greater Boston food bank to help pack food, at the Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly organization to spend time with the elderly, and at the BalletRox to assist dance classes to kids in Boston’s public schools.
Additionally, they want to focus on giving back to their own community at Emerson.
“I want Emerson faculty and students to know that we’re available for events that they want help with as well,” McCallum said. “I want us to be known around Emerson as a group of people that want to help out.”
Leah Jablo, a freshman journalism major, said she wanted to join the Emerson chapter of CKI to meet new people and find others who have the same commitment to community service as she does.
“It’s important to do things for the community because most of the organizations that we have at Emerson are more for yourself, for career goals,” Jablo said. “And I think doing something not for yourself is also a pretty healthy thing to do.”
McCallum said she believes the organization will not only benefit the community but the actual members who will hopefully feel the effects of helping others.
“I think Emerson students would benefit a lot from seeing what an impact it has on other people to actually do something,” McCallum said.
Regarding the future of the CKI Emerson chapter, McCallum said one of her aims is to have more than the minimum goal of 20 members. McCallum said she hopes members will come back next year to help further the club’s progress.
The organization was present at the Another Org Fair at the beginning of this semester, where they got 30 sign-ups.
McCallum and Xiao held their first informational session on Jan. 29 at 8 p.m. in the Max Mutchnick Campus Center and 10 students attended. The organization plans on having another information session in the near future, according to McCallum.
Xiao said she hopes their chapter of CKI attracts students who are truly invested in community service.
“I only want people who genuinely want to give back to the society, so [I am] not forcing people to commit to community service,” Xiao said. “But if you’d like to join, we’re happy to have you.”