At 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, first-year students, Colleges staff and Orientation staff gathered on the Quad for one of the most significant traditions of Orientation at HWS. They were preparing to go to more than 30 sites in the community to tackle projects often too cumbersome for staff and volunteers to accomplish in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.
In sending them off, President Mark D. Gearan reflected on how participating in service projects early in life helps establish a lifelong ethic of community engagement.
“We hope that your time here at the Colleges really influences you and that, when you graduate in four years and move on from this place, you will be prepared to be important members of the communities that you join,” he said.
In addressing the crowd of more than 700 first-year students and their Orientation Mentors, Gearan thanked them for being “suited up and ready to go.” “By virtue of your service, you are making a statement to Geneva. You are their new neighbors and colleagues,” he said.
The Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning coordinates with community members and organizations throughout the summer to create an Orientation program that provides service where it is needed most, while introducing first-years to the many opportunities they’ll have to work with the community over the course of their next four years.
“We love having first-years come so we can get to them early and really get them involved in the community,” said Todd Taylor, the volunteer resource coordinator for the Seneca Lake State Park Lakeside cleanup project.
This sentiment was echoed by Mary Roddy, of Friends of the Outlet, Inc., who organized the service experience for students working on the Keuka Outlet Trail. “Each year, Friends of the Outlet look forward to this Day of Service. We consider it a real win-win in that the students experience the natural glory of the trail and we get to do maintenance and beautification projects that are a benefit for all the trail users to enjoy.”
Students working at the Trail spent the morning clearing the brush in key creek side areas to improve visibility of the Outlet, cutting a path through the bushes and vegetation in the Visitor Center area, weeding, cleaning, bridge repair and painting. In addition to the maintenance and beautification projects, students volunteering at the Trail took part in an historic activity, identifying the Preemption Line of Indian Lands in Western New York.
Tucker Gumkowski ’16, of Montclair, N.J., said it felt good to know that he was helping the community. “Our project – working on the bridge supports at the Oneida Bridge – was hard work but it was fun and a good bonding experience. It was nice to get to know people.”
Classmate Cassondra Stolzenburg ’16, of Buffalo, N.Y., agreed. “I’ve always really liked landscaping and so it was nice to help give back to the community by doing something I enjoy. It felt like we were really helping and making a difference.”
While one group of students worked in the wild, another group worked to improve the lives of domesticated animals and the people who care for them. They headed to the Beverly Animal Shelter to rake, mow, fix pens, sit with cats, walk dogs and serve as much-needed reinforcements.
“We are very limited in our time and staff in terms of how much we can accomplish in a day. When someone takes the time to come paint, or walk a dog that needs an extra walk in the day, we just appreciate it so much,” says Cindy Lee, general manager of the Shelter. “When the HWS students come, they are pleasant, in good spirits, willing to do anything we ask. They work very, very hard when they’re here and it’s the greatest thing in the world for the animals.”
Gavin Clark ’16, of Corning, N.Y., said he worked at a humane society when he was in high school as well. “It is great to be able to integrate community service into orientation,” he said.
Wendy Doyle, the principal at LaFayette Intermediate School, is among the many community members who said the work of HWS students is critical.
“What they are doing is so valuable to the teachers and to me. The things that they are doing are really time consuming but so valuable, especially in this age group. It is really important to do those small things to make students feel welcome and the HWS students allow us to make sure that happens,” she said.
Another group of students worked in the storage facility of the Geneva Theatre Guild (GTG), organizing set pieces and props.
“Since our theatre productions touch thousands of community members annually, the students who help us are indeed helping out our community,” says Terri Knight-Miller, GTG board president. “It takes an incredible amount of work to put on four to five productions a year. Because of the amount of effort and time it takes to pull all these productions together, the Guild board and committee members are left with little or no time to do the type of projects that HWS students help us with.”
At every site the students provided their time, positive attitude and a significant amount of elbow grease. Many expressed that it was a good way to start the year.
“It’s really exciting and exhausting in a good way,” noted Grace Bugbee ’16, of Blue Hill, Maine.
Troy Newrider ’15, of Buffalo, N.Y., returned this year as an Orientation mentor. “I think it’s great that Hobart and William Smith strive to have a good relationship with the community and Day of Service really helps that,” he said.
Among the sites where students completed projects this morning were: American Legion, Camp Onseyawa, Elizabeth Blackwell Apartments, Geneva ABCD, Geneva BID, Geneva Community Center, Geneva First Baptist Church, Geneva Historical Society, Geneva Public Library, Geneva Reads, Lafayette Intermediate School, Montezuma Audubon Center, North Street School, Ontario Pathways, Phelps Art Center, Sampson State Park, Seneca Terrace, Smith Opera House, Sonnenberg Gardens, Sons of Italy, St. Patrick/St. Mary, St. Peter’s Church, St. Stephens, Temple Beth El, the Nature Conservancy, Trinity Church, West Street Elementary, Women’s Interfaith Institute, YMCA and Zion Lutheran Church.