Young alumni establish program to support students engaged in community service

Mariah Rich Collins ’10 and James Collins ’09

By Brian Klotz

For alumni couple Mariah Rich Collins ’10 and James Collins ’09, giving back to the community is a family affair.

Beginning this fall, the Rich/Collins Community Leadership and Impact Fellowship (CLIF) will provide Brandeis undergraduates the funding to design and implement their own community service projects. The program is modeled after one established at Rice University by Mariah’s grandparents, Hilda and Hershel Rich, and funding and support comes from the Rich/Collins family, including Sharon Rich and Nancy Reed, Renie Rich Carniol, and Mariah and James.

The family’s connections to Brandeis run deep. Despite living 1,800 miles away in Houston, Mariah’s grandmother was an early supporter of the University as a member of the Brandeis National Committee, then known as the Brandeis National Women’s Committee. Mariah’s mother, Sharon, became a BNC life member as a child.

“My family always instilled in me that tikkun olam is not just something you do, it’s something you are,” says Mariah, referring to the Jewish ideal of service or acts of kindness. As a student, Mariah was a coordinator for the Waltham Group and volunteered her time for numerous service activities, including the Waltham Kids’ Club, Community Engaged Learning and Colleges Against Cancer.

Both Mariah and James now work in the nonprofit sector – Mariah advises nonprofits on strategy and James works at an antipoverty agency – and they credit environmental studies professor Laura Goldin with showing them how they could commit their lives to service. “She took learning out of the classroom and into the community,” says Mariah, echoing a value built into the CLIF program.

Brandeis students with ideas for local service and impact projects are encouraged to apply to receive a grant of up to $5,000 and become part of the inaugural CLIF cohort. Applicants must submit a proposal that outlines a realistic and sustainable project that meets a significant community need, as well as an evaluation process to measure its impact. The experience of developing and managing their own project is designed to help students not only give back, but become community leaders themselves.

“The skill set these students will develop will continue to benefit them long after they graduate from Brandeis,” James explains.

Applicants will be chosen in November by a selection committee of students, faculty, staff and members of the Waltham community. One spot on the committee will be reserved for a student-athlete, providing an opportunity for engagement that James, who was a pitcher and team captain for the Brandeis baseball team, would have relished as an undergraduate.

The cohort model will allow students to connect, brainstorm and share ideas throughout the year. Cohorts will also receive ongoing training on a variety of relevant topics, such as grant writing and community asset mapping. Mariah, who took part in the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program while earning a master’s degree at Harvard, found the cohort aspect of that program to be especially beneficial and wishes to duplicate it in the CLIF program.

“Even though we were all working on different projects, we were able to learn from each other,” she says.

When selecting a project for the Schweitzer Fellowship, Mariah returned to Waltham, partnering with Healthy Waltham on public health initiatives. During their time at Brandeis, Mariah and James formed a lasting bond with the local community. “Waltham very much became our home,” says Mariah.

In keeping with this spirit, CLIF projects must focus on the Waltham or Greater Boston area. “Students will be able to understand the needs of the local community,” says Sharon, “and see firsthand the impact they can have.”

Lucas Malo, Brandeis’ director of community service, is “beyond excited” about the CLIF program because there will now be a funding source available to support projects suggested by students. “This will allow local organizations to have their needs met by someone receiving resources and guidance, and it’s another way for Brandeis to give back to the local community.”

Malo worked with Mariah and James when they were undergraduates, so is not surprised by their generosity. “They really have an appreciation and value for the city of Waltham and how Brandeis engages with it.”

As they spearhead the initiative, Mariah and James emphasize the CLIF program’s aim to develop student leaders. Mariah states: “It’s about empowering students to figure out what problems the community is facing and address them.”

Categories: Giving, Alumni Profile
Date: July 28, 2017