CHIRAG BIHESH PATEL
During Chirag’s 1997 freshman orientation, his dorm arrived to a service project, only to find out that it had not been planned. Being the self-starter that he is, Chirag created the Freshman Day of Service (FDS) to mobilize students into their new home away from home. Unpaid but also uncompromising, Chirag worked throughout summer 1999 to actively explore community needs and solicit financial support for FDS. From distributing supplies to recruiting project leaders, Chirag was able to single-handily accomplish the work of several individuals. More impressive was Chirag’s inventive use of each community agency’s resources. For example, rather than purchasing wheelbarrows and pickaxes for a tree-planting project, Chirag borrowed them from the Parks and People Department. What a creative and powerful way to build lasting connections throughout the community!
When I entered John Hopkins University (JHU) in 2000, I experienced first-hand the fruits of Chirag’s continued labor. That summer, Chirag arranged 27 service projects and mobilized 600 freshmen to actively engage in their new community. From playing cards with nursing home residents, to building houses with Habitat for Humanity, to painting a mural on the side of a freeway on-ramp, Chirag’s goal was to expose each participant to the unlimited possibilities for community action around JHU.
In order to ensure the sustainability of FDS, Chirag created a guide that documented all of the steps he had taken to plan projects and solicit funding. As a result, subsequent FDS organizers were able to build on the success of previous executions of FDS. Since Chirag founded FDS in 1999, it has become an annual orientation event and more than 3,000 JHU students have volunteered as a result. Because of my experience during FDS, I have developed a passion for community service. I know Chirag’s innovative approach to making community service fun has led to countless students volunteering throughout their time at JHU, leaving a long-term impact both on campus and in the community. Chirag is convinced that volunteerism and service-learning should be the norm amongst the youth of today, who will grow up to be the conscientious, responsible, and engaged adults of tomorrow.
Even though he is now a busy medical student in Houston, Chirag continues to take part in programs that mobilize young people to volunteer. Last year, he helped organize the United to Serve (U2S) volunteer day in medical school, where 235 volunteers interacted with patients at the nine participating hospitals. Chirag is on the Steering Committee again this year, determined to make U2S another sustainable volunteer day. Chirag also makes time to personally volunteer with young people, in his capacity as a medical student. Whether educating kids about the current epidemic of childhood obesity of visiting local underprivileged high schools to motivate the students to aim high, Chirag’s passion for mentoring is clear.