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April ‘Teen People’

Features MIT Freshman

By Cathy Yao

With his brown eyes, brown hair, and medium stature, most people who meet Alfred F. Ciffo III ’06 might think he is just a typical college freshman. However, like most MIT students, there’s more to Ciffo than meets the eye.

On Feb. 21, Ciffo left Boston on a flight to New York City to attend the Teen People awards and rub elbows with high profile teens like Lil Bow Wow, Serena Williams, and Kirsten Dunst.

Ciffo was selected as one of this year’s “20 Teens Who Will Change the World” by Teen People for creating Teen Connect, a non-profit organization that pairs teens with senior citizens over the telephone on a weekly basis.

“The award wasn’t something I applied for, so I was in a way surprised to receive it,” Ciffo said.

Teen Connect reaches out to elderly

The Hallandale, Fla., native started Teen Connect when he was 14 in 1998. The community service organization first started as a project at his school, and within four years it had grown to over 200 nationwide chapters and an international chapter in Japan. According to Ciffo, the aim of Teen Connect is to “alleviate loneliness and isolation, and basically bridge the intergenerational gap.”

The inspiration for the organization came after his grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was really close to [my grandmother], and we had good telephone contact whenever I didn’t have time to see her during the week,” Ciffo said. “When she was gone, I knew I’d be missing out on an important contact, and that other teens and seniors would benefit form a similar interpersonal connection.”

By the end of his four years at Pinecrest Preparatory School, Ciffo had put in over 4,000 hours of community service to get the program off the ground. He also wrote a book called Teen Connect: A Social Service Guide, made a promotional video, and created a Web site to promote the project.

“I think teens inherently want to make a difference, but they have a lot of other things going on extracurricularly, so community service via telephone is really convenient,” Ciffo said.

Balancing MIT with ‘changing the world’

Many might wonder how Ciffo can possibly balance school here at MIT and “changing the world,” but he said that “90 percent of the battle is getting out of bed -- the rest just happens.”

It seems that a lot of things “just happen” to the freshman. Ciffo is involved in Army ROTC, IM tennis, and his fraternity, Sigma Nu. One thought that keeps him motivated is realizing that “no issue is too small and it’s never too late or too early to make a difference.”

In his spare time, Ciffo likes to read, listen to music, hang out with friends, work out and sleep. Yao-Chung King ’06, a member of Ciffo’s pledge class at Sigma Nu, provided a testament to his laid back attitude: “Alfred’s a pretty funky guy. His grooves on the dance floor are beyond compare.”

Ciffo’s next project after his time in the spotlight is to work on the continued expansion of the program to colleges across the nation and internationally, beginning with MIT. He is working to start a new MIT chapter of Teen Connect.