Virtual club meetings allow students to continue volunteering over Zoom


Brookline Youth Tutoring and Enrichment (BYTE) founder Kaya Vadhan leads a team meeting over Zoom.

It’s the start of the second meeting. Members of the Give a Gift Club are trickling in, and this week four more students have their cameras turned on. Despite the sometimes unenthusiastic attitude on Zoom, everyone is participating and figuring out how to give back to their community with the money raised from their GoFundMe.

By playing games and creating a relaxed environment over Zoom, volunteer clubs and organizations are able to give back to the Brookline community and establish relationships and personal connections during the pandemic.

One group that is still going strong during these challenging times is the Brookline Youth Tutors (BYTE). They are a nonprofit tutoring organization founded by senior Kaya Vadhan in 2019 that donates all their earnings to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

They tutor students in grades 1 through11, and Vadhan says their goal is to help academically but to make them happier outside of school as well.

“Our goal is to simultaneously improve education and happiness and understand the relationship between how well people are doing in school and also how that can affect them and other aspects of their life,” Vadhan said.

Last March, BYTE took a brief respite from tutoring to figure out how they were going to best use Zoom to teach kids online.

They had a very successful summer, but one of the main challenges BYTE faced was building relationships with students they had never met in person, according to Vadhan. To compensate for the personal aspect that is somewhat missing over Zoom, Vadhan and the tutors spend time getting to know the students before each session.

“We definitely do spend time on doing just introductory meetings and talking at the beginning of a session, like asking how your day was. We don’t just sit down and be like, ‘Okay, time to get to work.’ I think that’s super important,” Vadhan said.

Another group that has faced similar challenges is the Give a Gift club. They have raised over $1500 through a GoFundMe page and are soon going to turn that cash into toys, books and food for underprivileged families this holiday season.

Senior and co-president Aidan Finnegan says the club is doing well on the donation front, but one challenge this year for them has been getting to know new members and forming connections.

“It’s kind of difficult to get to know new members, especially freshmen, over Zoom. So that’s something we try to overcome. We try to do community building in all of our meetings over Zoom,” Finnegan said.

Co-president and senior Will Dassel said that if school were in person, there would be a lot more socializing. The Give a Gift club is attempting to replicate this atmosphere during remote learning.

“Every meeting isn’t fully dedicated to figuring out what we need to do for the club,” Dassel said. “Some of the meeting time is definitely just hanging out and talking, and I think that helps a lot because all of us are pretty welcoming people.”

While relationships are a big part of the agenda this year, Finnegan said it is important to give back to the community and help those in need.

“There’s a real big need for donating goods, and you don’t have to do it through us. We would love for you to donate goods if we ever have a drive, but seriously look in your community for places that need help. A lot of families are struggling right now,” Finnegan said.

Another club that is helping those hit hardest by the pandemic is SHOP Club. In past years, SHOP members have gone to the grocery store to help senior citizens unpack and put away their groceries.

This year, SHOP has transitioned to virtual meetings once a week. Club members chat and catch up with their seniors. Club leader and sophomore Willa Kitterman said that they play games, write letters, or just talk on the phone.

“To most of the students, the most important part isn’t the actual shopping but getting to know the seniors and talking to them and connecting with them. And so we’re just trying to make sure that that aspect continues, even though people can’t really shop right now,” Kitterman said.

Kitterman said she hopes to combat the loneliness that lockdowns can create for both seniors and high school students.

Club leader and sophomore Risa Cove said that many club members have formed lasting bonds with their seniors.

“You form such connections with these people that you want to see them every week if you can and be as humble as you can,” Cove said.