Mission and Impact


PBHA strives for social justice. As a student-led organization, PBHA mobilizes volunteers in collaboration with Boston and Cambridge partners to address gaps in opportunities and resources. We develop student and community leadership to creatively meet critical needs and advocate for structural change. PBHA seeks to promote social awareness and community involvement at Harvard and beyond.

Core Values

Love and Compassion. We choose to see people as we see ourselves and to act in a way that upholds every person’s human dignity through mutual empathy.

Social Justice. We demand equity and believe that self-actualization results from the coming together of community to ensure the opportunity for each of its members to thrive.

Community Building. We believe in the mutual understanding fostered by community, recognizing and promoting collaboration and fellowship as essential parts of service and life.

Stewardship. We celebrate an environment of integrity, accountability, and sustainability, mindful of the balance between institutional memory and intentional innovation to meet the changing needs in our communities.

Growth of People and Learning. We honor growth and learning as integral to building collective leadership, life skills, and social justice awareness in current and future generations of change agents.

Diversity. We endeavor to build a supportive environment that shares power with our constituents through strong relationships built on mutual respect across identity lines and fosters an organizational membership that includes a range of experiences and mirrors the representation we believe should exist through society at large.


For more than a century, PBHA has worked to fulfill a dual mission – providing vital experiences for generations of students in service and activism, while simultaneously offering programming throughout Greater Boston that meets stated community needs.  Each year, 1,500 student volunteers join with PBHA’s community partners to run more than 80 social service and social action programs.

PBHA programs fall into several categories: adult services, advocacy, afterschool and in-school, health, housing, mentoring, and summer. Although programs range in focus, almost all are community-based and champion on-going, continuous service as opposed to one-day or one-week projects.

Out-of-School Time

CHAD boys studying

Campers in PBHA’s Summer Urban Program work on academics throughout the summer.

Developed in consultation with the Boston and Cambridge Public Schools, the Boston Housing Authority, tenant task forces, community groups, and families, a large part of our programming is focused on affordable, quality out-of-school time care. Programs serve more than 1,000 low-income youth in Cambridge, Chinatown, Dorchester, Mission Hill, Roxbury, South Boston, and the South End.

Youth typically enter our programs through our neighborhood-based summer camps serving 800 young people each summer. All 12 camps challenge campers to build reading, math, and science skills. For seven weeks every summer, they offer enriching and exciting curricula during the three-hour morning session, while afternoons are devoted to educational field trips throughout Greater Boston to complement classroom activities. They employ 130 college students from around the country as directors, senior counselors, and support staff, while 100 at-risk teens, many of them former campers, serve as junior counselors, or full-time teacher’s aides and mentors.

During the school year, many of those same campers enroll in PBHA’s free after-school programs, focusing on enrichment curricula, homework assistance, ESL instruction, and recreation for two hours a day, four days a week. They may also choose to participate in one of our mentoring programs, which promote academic achievement, personal development, and racial tolerance. Junior counselors are encouraged to deepen their involvement through PBHA’s term-time Leaders! Program, which offers them one-on-one and group mentoring, college preparation, and leadership development, along with a part-time service placement.

The impact of PBHA’s out-of-school time programs does not end once youth graduate from high school. Former participants have gone on the successful college careers at Boston University, Brown University, Bunker Hill Community College, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Salem State University, the University of Massachusetts, and Wellesley College, among others. After college, some, like Keith Houston, Matt Parker, and Nicole Young, have returned to become influential members of Greater Boston’s youth worker community.

Adult Services

In addition to our out-of-school time programming, PBHA’s adult services meet the differing needs of our constituents. Programs run the gamut, from prisoner education, to ESL and citizenship classes, to senior visitation programs, to computer instruction. One of PBHA’s largest growing programs is Alzheimer’s Buddies, whose 60 volunteers build meaningful emotional connections with dementia patients during weekly one-on-one visits.

PBHA's teen workers rally in support of youth jobs across Boston.

PBHA’s teen workers rally in support of youth jobs across Boston.

Advocacy and Organizing

Social activism is a vital part of PBHA’s mission. We seek to address the root cause of social problems as well as their immediate effects. Advocacy programs adapt and change over time, but they currently include the Small Claims Advisory Service, which provides low-income clients with legal education and advocacy, and the Student Labor Action Movement, which is committed to activism and education in support of social and economic justice.


PBHA runs a winter emergency shelter and a summer transitional shelter – the only student-run homeless shelters in the country. Opening in the fall of 2015, a third shelter will employ a youth-to-youth model to provide a safe and affirming environment for young adults experiencing homelessness. It will double the number of beds in Greater Boston dedicated to that very vulnerable population.

Harvard and Beyond

PBHA alumni have used the lessons they learned directing PBHA programs to found their own nonprofits all over the country, among them Roger Baldwin at the American Civil Liberties Union, Eric Dawson at Peace First, Katya Fels Smyth at On the Rise and the Full Frame Initiative, Vin Pan and Darin McKeever at Heads Up, and Lindsay Hyde at Strong Women, Strong Girls.  Other PBHAers, including a U.S. president, vice president, four senators, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and a Massachusetts governor, chose a life of public service after volunteering at PBHA.