Brandeis at 75

A Support Network Like No Other

For decades, the student-run Waltham Group has overseen community-service programs that assist others in myriad ways — and enrich volunteers’ lives.

People in a library shown in a black and white photo People in a library on a computer shown in color
While technology continues to change, the Waltham Group has always prioritized tutoring students in the Waltham community.

By Kennedy Ryan

Generations of Brandeis students have discovered their passion for community service through the Waltham Group.

This network of student-run volunteer programs was founded in 1966 to help students make a difference in the world through community engagement. The group started with only 30 students, who paid $5 a semester to participate. It is now the largest student organization on campus, and its local reach has broadened to include regional and national efforts.

Students who volunteer work with every age group, from kindergarteners to elders. The issues they address range from homelessness, to health disparities, to gaps in educational preparedness. Volunteer opportunities may be short-term or long-term, and sometimes turn into mentorships that last a lifetime.

Since the Waltham Group was founded, more than 20,000 Brandeis students have served as volunteers, and the number of partnered programs has doubled each decade. Today, 75 student leaders manage 40 community partnerships involving 1,250 volunteers, who donate an average of 40,000 hours of service each year, making the Waltham Group one of the oldest and largest student-service organizations at a U.S university.

Mark KauffmanMark Kaufman

Mark Kaufman ’71 says the group gave him purpose during the Vietnam War years.

“When I was at Brandeis, it was a tumultuous time on campus,” he remembers. “Everyone was trying to find their outlet for impact. Although we could protest — Brandeis ran a strike information center at the time — I felt I could make my mark through volunteering in the community.”

As a Waltham Group member, Kaufman served as a tutor and ran a summer program for kindergarten students. He also worked as the group’s volunteer coordinator. The experience shaped his career path. After graduating, he spent 25 years working in the Massachusetts education system as an elementary teacher, elementary and middle school principal, director of curriculum and instruction, and superintendent of schools.

“My whole professional career emerged from my involvement in children’s education and community organizing, all from the Waltham Group,” says Kaufman, who is now retired.

For Donna DeChambeau ’24, the current president of the Waltham Group, the organization was a major factor in her decision to attend Brandeis.

“Volunteering has always been a big part of my life,” she says. “When the tour guide mentioned the Waltham Group during my campus tour, I knew Brandeis would be the right place for me.”

“My whole professional career emerged from my involvement in children’s education and community organizing, all from the Waltham Group. ”

Mark Kaufman ’71

The COVID-19 shutdown meant DeChambeau began her Brandeis experience virtually, so during her first two years with the Waltham Group she volunteered online, hosting after-school programs for elementary school children on Zoom.

Donna DeChambeauDonna DeChambeau

This year, through the Big Siblings program, DeChambeau attended her first in-person event, creating snow-globe crafts with a group of children at their school. “There was glitter everywhere,” she says. “It was so great to be in the Waltham community in person.”

Like Kaufman, DeChambeau says her Waltham Group activities have focused her professional plans. “The group helped me figure out who I am,” she says. “Though I knew I wanted to attend medical school after graduating, my experiences have shown me I want to work in pediatric care.”

As the Waltham Group approaches its 60th anniversary, it continues to adapt, partnering with new local organizations; adding new programming; and establishing the Waltham Group Alumni Network to raise awareness and funding, and help secure the group’s future.

Yet its mission remains unchanged. “The Waltham Group continues to be a resource for the community,” says DeChambeau. “We are here to help our community partners where they need us.”