In 1969, seven undergraduate Princeton students moved off campus and created Community House in hope of making a difference in the community outside FitzRandolph Gate. A half-century later, the foundation they laid continues to benefit the community.
“They were my support,” said Ayesha Qureshi, who worked with Community House members on her college-application essay for Rider University, where she graduated in 2019. As a first-generation college student, Qureshi said, navigating the application process was tricky. She credits the program with helping her find her way and settling on the path that led her to become a teacher in an urban school. “I felt like I had a guide through all the madness,” she said.
The program initially provided tutoring, field trips, and other family-focused events. Community House now offers a broad menu of services including summer camps, mentoring, and college preparation to about 350 youths each year who range from pre-school to high school students. The program serves Princeton-area children and those of University employees who are low-income, persons of color, or who would be first-generation college students. But alumni say they benefited along with the children.
“We went to Community House certainly intending to give, and I hope we did, but I am here to tell you that we got much more than we gave,” said founding member Gary Hoachlander ’70 during an anniversary celebration Dec. 8 at the Carl A. Fields Center. “What we learned those two years, I think, has affected each of us deeply and profoundly.”
About 50 students, parents, staff members, alumni, and community partners attended the event, an opportunity to reflect on Community House’s mission and impact as well as to applaud the generations of University students who have built on the founders’ legacy.
John Mavros ’71, another founding member, said field trips were a favorite memory of the early days because they provided a way to broaden the children’s horizons beyond Princeton. “We were a safety outlet,” he said.
The program also was an opportunity for personal growth and challenge. “I think there’s a need for Princeton students to look outside of themselves because you can become very self-centered at Princeton,” said Rebeca Clay-Flores ’97. Like others at the anniversary event, Clay-Flores said the experience informed her life deeply, as she went on to work in schools and in nonprofits geared toward education.
Marjorie Young, former director of Community House, said the program continues to thrive because it stands on the pillars of a strong mission — education — and passion. From her days as a teen receiving tutoring, to her time serving as director, to seeing her nephew go through the program, Young has experienced much that Community House has to offer. “I have never seen more passionate students,” she said.
Many alumni said their work with Community House was the highlight of their time at the University.
Many alumni said their work with Community House was the highlight of their time at the University. When Jane Yang ’11 first came to Princeton, her sole focus was academics. Then she started tutoring in the after-school program. “It was a nice reminder that I might not be the most academically gifted student, but I still had something to offer,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was important in life yet.”
Krystal Cohen ’21, a member of the Community House executive board and a leader of the after-school program, said working with local children “really grounds me in what I want to do and why I’m here.” The program “draws a lot of people that are very passionate about the work that Community House does,” she said, “and I think those people pay it forward and get the next generation passionate about it, and it continues in that way.”