Celebrating PBHA Seniors

Hearing from Lizzie McCord '21

Lizzie McCord ’21

By Farah Afify ‘22


For our second installment, we spoke to Lizzie McCord, a senior living in Pforzheimer House and concentrating in History. In addition to directing the Mission Hill After-School Program, Lizzie designed and implemented Junior Leaders in Communities (JLinC), a new leadership camp in the Summer Urban Program for rising high schoolers. Lizzie currently serves on the Officers team as the Alumni Relations Coordinator.


Farah Afify: How did you get involved with PBHA?

LM: So, in my Harvard interview, I asked — and I know this because I looked at my admissions file recently and [my alumni interviewer] wrote that I asked — about public service at Harvard, and I think he mentioned PBHA. I don’t think I processed it so much, but I knew that it existed. And then, when I came to campus for Visitas, I went to both of the PBHA events. I went to the game night one — I don’t know if I went because it was PBHA or just because I wanted to play games — but then I also went to the one that was like for student organizers. It was in the Parlor room and Anwar [former PBHA president and SLAM organizer] was there moderating the conversation. And that was my first impression of PBHA. I was like okay, yeah, this place seems cool. So, when I came my freshman year, I went to the Open House, and I knew I wanted to do something with young people, because I had done that in high school and I really liked it. I liked teaching, so I just went around and got all the flyers for the different after-school programs, mentoring programs, all of them. I remember going to the Mission Hill table and the person being like, “We have volunteers from Wellesley and Northeastern and Harvard,” and I was like oh, that sounds so cool. And also, I think they mentioned that it was the oldest student-run after-school program in Boston. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but people say that. And so I signed up, and the rest is history.

FA: How has PBHA helped you be a better leader? How has it helped you create relationships with the Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston communities?

LM: That’s a big question. I always tell the story of my sophomore year, when I started having a leadership role in Mission Hill After-School. I wasn’t a director, but I was the intermediary — we call them coordinators — for the teen group, and I hadn’t worked with teens before. So I didn’t really know the kids, and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, because it’s the kind of thing where you totally learn by doing. Like, they give you training, but that’s never gonna prepare you. So I got there the first day I was supposed to be a coordinator, and usually, you have a co-coordinator, but it was just me because no one could come in that day or something. And I was just so overwhelmed. I had no idea what I was doing, and I’m not good at asserting myself. I was super quiet, and I didn’t know what to do. And then, within two or three weeks, I feel like I had just figured out how to… I figured out what my personality in a classroom needed to be. And I feel like from that, I just gained so much confidence in being like, okay, this is the plan, I know what the plan is, and I’m competent enough to be like this is what we’re doing and to be able to tell people that. So I think that was a big piece of just being able to feel confident, and I always say I feel like after-school is where I first was like… I feel like a ton of people come to Harvard and have a ton of imposter syndrome, and I definitely did. But doing after-school is really when I was like, okay, I’m definitely good at this thing, and I am fully qualified to be doing this. So that was definitely a big piece. And then in terms of community relationships with Boston and Cambridge — I mean, less with Cambridge because the programs I’ve done have mostly been in Boston — but I feel like just meeting people who are doing work in Boston that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Especially with JLinC, they’re from all different neighborhoods. So I just got to meet kids and families from all different neighborhoods and hear about their experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have known. When I was doing JLinC in person, I would do site visits at all the different camps [in SUP], so I got to take the bus all around Boston. I walked from Southie to the South End. Stuff like that that I definitely would not have experienced otherwise, especially like seeing parts of Boston that are not the typical places where Harvard students would go into Boston, but they still have so much cool history and are just really awesome.

FA: Yeah, you’re making me realize how much I miss in-person.

LM: Oh, I miss it so much. So much.

FA: What is your favorite room in PBHA?

LM: Okay, that’s hard. I want to say Leighton, which is kind of a hot take because it’s mostly like a meeting space. But it has really good vibes, like you walk in and see people like really planning and pouring their hearts into whatever they’re doing. But also Shepard, because Shepard also has a special place in my heart. During the summer, I would come to PBHA during Director Week when nobody’s there yet and just start writing and brainstorming stuff on the whiteboards.

FA: I thought you were going to say napping, but you said writing stuff on the whiteboards.

LM: Surprisingly, for somebody who lives in the Quad, I never really took naps at PBHA. I was always kind of scared that people would walk in on me while I was sleeping.

FA: Tell me about your favorite PBHA memory.

LM: Oh, okay let’s see. During Director Week, when it’s in person, you go and do a camping trip. All the directors go camping so you can learn how to camp and lead a camping trip. So when we did that, during the night, we made a big campfire and everyone sat around and didn’t tell ghost stories but told like… riddles? Like Maria [PBHA’s Executive Director] had all these riddles that she knows, and we were all trying to solve them. And it was just really fun. That was a good memory. There’s another one that’s also SUP and also camping related that I always come back to. I think we were either driving to or from camping in the van, playing whatever music my campers were into, which was probably like Kehlani. And they were all singing along. And I turned around, and all of them had like hair brushes, deodorant, one of them had a plastic microphone for some reason, and they’re all just like singing into their various things. And it was so funny, and everytime that I would start to sing they would be like, “Okay, Lizzie! We see you!!”

FA: What is the craziest place PBHA has taken you, or the most unexpected situation you have found yourself in through PBHA?

LM: I guess, it was last fall, so fall 2018. The teens in Mission Hill really wanted to go to an escape room, but escape rooms are really expensive. Like the ones that you think of that are in downtown Boston are really expensive. So I did all this research to find like cheaper escape rooms, and I found one — I don’t remember where it was, but we had to drive for a while. And it was just — the kids loved it, but it was so funny. Like it was just the one room we were in, and it looked like a cafeteria, like there were just tables, but the lights were kinda dimmed. And then there were just like these random objects that had a lot of stuff on them. We had to decode them to get like the key to unlock some big box and inside of that would be something else and so on. It was an escape room, it met all the criteria, I guess. But it was so funny, and I have never been to a different escape room besides that, so that was my sole experience.

FA: Did you guys win the escape room?

LM: My room did not, because I think we got stuck on something for a really long time that actually turned out to be that the lock wasn’t opening but we had the right code or something. But there was another room, and they escaped successfully. 

FA: If you were an inanimate PBHA object, which would you be and why?

LM: Oh, I would be one of the empty black boxes in Kate’s office. Maybe they’re not empty actually. I don’t know.

FA: Wait, what black boxes?

LM: Oh, okay, so she has all these empty old black boxes from SUP. And I feel like they’ve just seen so much being in Kate’s office. I feel like they just have so much wisdom.

FA: Tell us a secret about PBHA staff or something that surprised you about them.

LM: Okay, this isn’t a secret but I always feel like with PBHA staff, you have a sense of their age or how long they’ve been around, and then you talk to other staff members or alumni or someone and they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, Maria was my DoP,” or something like that. And it’s like wait what? It just feels like all of them have infinite age and wisdom, and I don’t understand. They’re simultaneously young and have been around for a long time, and I just don’t get it.

FA: Yeah, there’s some real wizardry going on here. Okay, do you have any advice for current students involved with PBHA?

LM: I think a lot of times, people will do PBHA and realize that it feels really aligned with their values, and they feel really good doing it, but there’s so much pressure to do things that are more like “success-oriented,” so then they kinda drop off or they don’t become more involved. Maybe they’ll just be a volunteer in a program for a long time, which is obviously still really important. But following that, I remember Kate [PBHA’s Deputy Director] telling me my sophomore year to think about whether or not the things I was considering doing for the summer were mission-driven — like my personal mission. And I think that’s just really important, especially in a place like Harvard where it feels like there’s so much noise outside. So, like coming back to what your values are and what’s important to you, if PBHA is the place that you feel like you can have those and be surrounded by people who share those as well, then do that



Leo Garcia ’21

by Ria Modak ’22 and Daniela Castro ’22

For our first installment of PBHA’s Senior Spotlight Series, we spoke with Leo Garcia, a Quincy House resident and Sociology concentrator. At PBHA, Leo is a volunteer with HARTZ and served on the Officers team as Programming Chair from 2018-2019. Leo also organizes with Act on a Dream, produces various shows including Eleganza, and is an aspiring physician.

Daniela Castro: How did you get involved with PBHA? What is the story behind that?

Leo Garcia: There are actually two stories. The first is, during Opening Days, there used to be a big fair in the Science Center Plaza. There were a bunch of Harvard organizations, and I actually met Maria there. We started talking and she asked where I was from, and I answered that I’m from Houston. And for context, a huge hurricane had just hit Houston, and so we started getting on the topic of family and neighbors who had been affected by one of the biggest floods to hit Houston in my memory. And so she started mentioning Alternative Spring Break and invited me to the PBHA Open House. So Maria was my first welcome into PBHA.

I had been involved with the elderly community back in Houston pretty seriously over my gap year. And that was something that I had wanted to continue. That’s when I found HARTZ, which is dedicated to doing art therapy with the elderly in Cambridge, which felt really right up my alley. I thought, this is the perfect intersection for me. That’s how I started volunteering.

Ria Modak: How has PBHA helped you become a better leader? How has it helped you create stronger relationships with the Harvard and Cambridge and Boston communities?

LG: These are both really big questions which I’ve kind of been about throughout the past year leading up to the end of college and all that I’ve appreciated about Harvard, with PBHA being at the top of that list. I had lived in Houston since I was three years old and had built really strong ties with my community of friends, family, and through service, so being transplanted to a different city was a big change, especially because of the Harvard bubble and the idea that you’re meant to stay on campus for years. 

Harvard (as an institution) does a really good job of keeping you within the gates.They do so for your own safety, but also to determine the kinds of relationships you cultivate at Harvard. It’s like a total institution. And PBHA, on the other hand, is opposed to that. It’s about breaking down those gates and redistributing resources into the community. That mission of wanting to connect with the Boston community is something that is very hard to find on campus. Rather than making me a better leader I think PBHA has shown me that the importance of leadership is community embeddedness, horizontality and interconnectedness. The mission of Harvard College is that you’re trying to be a citizen-leader but PBHA does a really good job of teaching you how to be a good citizen.

DC: Tell us about a favorite PBHA memory.

LG: I think I have to do two: one that’s program-related and one that’s Officers-related. I’ll start by saying that getting to staff SUP full-time over the summer was incredibly difficult but also incredibly rewarding. My favorite memory was the Midsummer Celebration and seeing all the camp kids coming together, inviting their family members, and kind of taking over the park for their performances. I feel like my baby fever was skyrocketing to the point where these six-year olds were tormenting me but I still wanted to squeeze them and hug them: I think that’s the beauty of youth work, which wasn’t something I’m used to in my work with the elderly community.

In program, I think one of my favorite memories was taking the residents of the Cambridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We had been able to take them to the Harvard Art Museum and through some connections we were able to contact a vendor for transportation to take some residents to the MFA. We got to connect one-on-one in a really special way. In my case, my resident was in a wheelchair, so we were just rolling around the museum, making jokes. It was really beautiful to experience this form of camaraderie that is across generations.

RM: What is the craziest place PBHA has taken you?

LG: One of the residents I knew from the Cambridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, who recently passed this last summer, was a comedian before he retired. He always spoke about this comedy club he used to perform at that used to exist above the Hong Kong restaurant in Cambridge on the third floor. He kept asking me to go to the club and finally, when the dates lined up, he was able to call the MBTA to request a ride to the place, which had moved to Boston.

So I went to the Cambridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at 8pm on a Friday night and we got on an MBTA van that took us straight to the club. And it was a super young comedy club. They had a table reserved for us with his name on it, and everyone knew him. I think I got home after midnight. It was really fun to be able to meet the comedians afterwards and take some pictures. I don’t know how PBHA got me there, but I was there. 

DC: If you could be an inanimate PBA object, what would you be and why?

LG: For the end of SUP, we decided to get a step and repeat banner, but we didn’t have a stand for it. It’s about 10 feet by 10 feet and every time we had to put it up, we struggled: it’s extremely heavy, so you can’t just tape it up. It turned out to be much more complicated than what we expected. It reminds me of PBHA, how we’re striving to appear polished and elegant, but we’re a little bit gritty and nothing can take away that grit. That’s the beauty of PBHA, we’re always like the unpolished step and repeat banner without a stand.

RM: Do you have any advice for current students involved with PBHA?

LG: My only advice is, if you want to dedicate more time to PBHA, follow that impulse. There’s so many things to do on campus, but PBHA is one, if not the most, fulfilling in terms of what you can learn. I feel like all the things I’ve learned in PBHA have helped me so much in my own life, and I hope are shaping the way that I approach clinical care as a future physician. Become a director for your program, go to Cabinet. Don’t look at these things as requirements, but really be engaged in those spaces. The people you’re meeting in program and PBHA meetings are so  dedicated to the work that they’re doing. By the time I’ve finished college, I’ll have leaned as far as possible into PBHA. Of course, don’t burn yourself out, but if you feel like it’s something you do want to dedicate more of yourself to, then absolutely go for it because you won’t regret it.