The Spirit of Service

The Leonard Carmichael Society celebrated its sixtieth anniversary this year, and is still going strong with students serving in the community
Tufts students gathered around a table
A group of Leonard Carmichael Society undergraduates taking part in a project in the Fenway, some of the more than 1,000 students who volunteer through the society.
November 20, 2018

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The Leonard Carmichael Society—affectionately known as LCS—has come far since a band of about ten students back in 1958 launched the university’s first public service student organization.

Today, LCS has grown to more than 1,000 participating students and is the largest community service group run by undergraduates. Volunteers have a wide impact in area communities by participating in thirty-two groups that address areas of community needs, including literacy, homelessness, and food security.

An anniversary celebration on October 20 marking sixty years of service was an opportunity to take a measure of the organization’s progress, said Emily Chen, A19, LCS co-president.

“We were excited to bring together students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, community members, and friends to celebrate the impact LCS has had over the decades,” she said. “By providing our time, commitment, and services without charge, we are trying to help out the greater community in the best way possible.”   

The spirit of the anniversary continues this month with a crowdfunding campaign that seeks to raise $10,000 toward a new van for the group’s efforts. “A new working van will help us provide more consistent and effective services to everyone who depends on us,” said Chen. “It will also allow more students to volunteer for our groups and discover the incredible rewards of public service.”

An umbrella organization for student service projects, LCS has long merged idealism with the practical can-do spirit that allows undergraduates to address social issues that impact local communities.

LCS may best be known for its popular Tufts Kids’ Day, which draws hundreds of local children and their families every April. But students can also support any number of project throughout the year. They include Project Linus, making and donating blankets to children in need; Food Rescue, addressing food security; Peer Health Exchange, training college students to teach in public schools that lack health education; and DREAM, which serves childing living in subsidized housing.

DREAM co-chair Rachel Klein, A20, said students spend three hours a week each Friday working with children from west Somerville; reliable van transportation to pick them up, she said, is essential.

“We have a few mentees who have moved out of the housing community, so we have to drive to pick them up,” she said. “When the van breaks down, it is really stressful. We’re frustrated that we cannot always pick up the kids, and they are always disappointed when they cannot be a part of the programming. I am hopeful that LCS’s crowdfunding campaign will help us finally put those worries behind us.”

How It Came About

The community service organization’s name is inspired by the life and work of Leonard Carmichael, Class of 1921 and president of Tufts from 1938 to 1952. After serving at Tufts, Carmichael was for nearly a decade secretary of the Smithsonian Institution before going to the National Geographic Society, where he was vice president for research and exploration. In 1972 Carmichael was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to LCS, a dining hall on the Tufts campus and a lunar crater are named in his honor.

Richard Dorsay, A60, M64, was LCS’s first president, and one of a handful of students who banded together to found LCS in 1958. In high school, as a member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, he had met New York University professor Franklin Patterson. The year Dorsay arrived started as a freshman, Patterson came to Tufts as Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs. (Patterson, who taught at Tufts from 1957 to 1966, went on to become the first president of Hampshire College.)

Patterson reached out to Dorsay, and to help him get acclimated, Dorsay gathered up a group of students who met in Patterson’s home for conversations.

Richard Dorsay, A60, M64, front row, center, with fellow members of the inaugural 1958 Leonard Carmichael Society. “I have carried the public service spirit with me all these years,” he said, “because I enjoyed it so much at Tufts.” “One time he raised the question: what was there missing on the Tufts campus that we would like to see?” said Dorsay, now a retired radiologist living in California. “We talked about poor relations between ‘town and gown’ and that there were no volunteer service organizations. We didn’t know what it was going to look like, but we wanted to start something that would give back to the community and to bring about more positive town-gown relationships.”

The group secured approval as an official student organization, and its founders settled on a “dignified name,” said Dorsay. “We were trying to establish something like Phillips Brooks House at Harvard.”

A group of about ten students started doing volunteer work at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, a public psychiatric hospital, and continued to reach out. “We went to local hospitals to see if they needed volunteers and tutoring and by the third year we had two lists—a list of students who wanted to do things and list of jobs,” said Dorsay. As reported in the 1960 yearbook, as the word got out, LCS students “donated 5,000 hours to hospitals, institutions, settlement houses, and short-term projects.”

That experience, said Dorsay, informed a lifelong interest in public service and supporting nonprofits in their good works. In 1976, he worked for Project Hope in Guatemala, providing service training for other radiologists. For the past fifteen years, he and his wife also have supported a primary school in a Zimbabwe; their fundraising, with the help of his local Rotary Club, has helped schoolchildren with essentials like chairs and tables. An opera lover, he is also a devoted supporter of both the San Jose and San Francisco Opera companies.

“I have carried the public service spirit with me all these years,” he said, “because I enjoyed it so much at Tufts.”

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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