Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Story of Y2Y Harvard Square Staff

What is Y2Y?

Youth 2 Youth Harvard Square (Y2Y) is the nation’s first shelter for young adults, 18-24, experiencing homelessness. The shelter is staffed by 35 student-staff volunteers, who are supported, mentored, and coached by 5 full time employees forming the Y2Y Network and professional social workers at the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA). Y2Y is a a 501©3 nonprofit registered under PBHA. PBHA is Harvard College’s umbrella service organization for over 80+ programs that facilitate Harvard students providing direct service, advocacy, and activism with and for the Cambridge and Greater Boston communities.Birthed in part from staff, volunteers, and community partners heavily engaged in service-learning at the nation’s first student-run shelter: Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and the Phillips Brooks House Association: Y2Y was created with and for the stake holders it sought to serve with the guidance and support of established institutions in the Harvard, Cambridge, and Greater Boston communities. Having inherited philosophies, policies, volunteers, community partners, and staff from Harvard Square Homeless Shelter (HSHS), among staff of both shelters, Y2Y was initially described as the child of HSHS.  

Area of Growth

Now midway through Y2Y Harvard Square's 4th season as we move toward a more sustainable year-round model of serving young adults experiencing homelessness, our shelter must constantly learn and improve the model centering on health and wellness promotion of its student-staff. The issue of student-staff illness and burnout has been overlooked, since Y2Y opened doors in December 2015, commencing operations during Winter Break. Historically break shifts cause the most illness and burnout among student-staff. 


Given my multi-role experience with Y2Y from its founding stages to serving as an inaugural Friday Overnight Supervisor and now creating the role of and serving in the role of Director of Supervisors, I aim to address an emerging concern held by Y2Y student-staff:

How can we promote the health and wellness of Harvard Students serving as Y2Y's Break Shift staff?

During Winter Break a small sub-set of pre-approved students remain on-campus operating with limited resources and outside support while peers, advisors, mentors, resident deans, and University Health Services shut down. How can Harvard and Y2Y Harvard Square work together symbiotically to prevent illness and burnout of arguably its most vulnerable students who find themselves remaining on campus to serve 27 young adults food, shelter, and access to professional service providers from 7 pm to 9 am with a skeleton staff, limited volunteers, Case Managers, professional staff support, and friends with whom they can decompress after repeated exposure to trauma during what is meant to be a time for rest and rejuvenation?

Research Design

In order to address these questions, I will conduct qualitative research employing three methods: an anonymous staff survey, one-on-one interviews with student-staff, Y2Y Network, PBHA staff and relevant administrators at Harvard College, and a focus group on reviewing and improving break shifts with and for fellow student staff through a community participatory research model. I will analyze and synthesize findings in the form of specific operational and procedural policy recommendations for consideration, voting, and adoption by Y2Y Policy, the decision making body of Y2Y, for pilot implementation during the 2019 Summer Shelter season and break shifts for the 2019-2020 season.

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