Offering thanks to a crowd of more than 800 students who gathered Saturday morning on the Quad, President Mark D. Gearan opened the community service component of Orientation 2014 that would send the 653 new members of the Classes of 2018 and more than 100 Orientation leaders and mentors into the greater community.
This year, in conjunction with the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), Orientation Coordinators developed the service learning component around the theme of food, hunger and justice. This is the 15th year that a service component has been a part of Orientation weekend.
“We have to observe that when we welcome you to campus, we also welcome you to Geneva and the surrounding community,” Gearan said. “It is quite intentional that on your first full day here on this campus, we are giving back to the community. Geneva has been a great host to Hobart and William Smith for almost two centuries. Today, as we continue to foster and enhance a culture of respect on this campus, part of the respect we are showing is our respect for the community.”
In addition to assisting more than a dozen local non-profit organizations, about one-third of the first-year students took part in an extensive project for the Stop Hunger Now organization in Bristol Field House. The international non-profit organization works to distribute food and other lifesaving aid to children and families in countries across the globe. The student volunteers packaged ingredients like rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix into meal packets that will be distributed internationally.
Mark Vermouth, an organizer from international non-profit Stop Hunger Now, told the students, “One in eight people are starving or chronically hungry. Stop Hunger Now thinks that’s unacceptable. Hobart and William Smith think that’s unacceptable. That’s why we’re packaging 60,000 meals today.”
Orientation Coordinator Dana Williams ’16 was pleased with the extended reach of the projects. “We’re glad we could not only engage the local community, but also engage the global community.”
Many of the service learning projects focused more locally on the theme. The 56 students in the new sustainable living learning community spent the day working on the campus farm, beginning to construct a greenhouse and planting food that eventually will be donated to the Geneva Community Lunch Program.
“This has been great. Four groups have rotated through,” said Professor of Economics and Chair of Environmental Studies Tom Drennen, while working on the farm as one of the learning community’s faculty. “They don’t want to leave after the half hour.”
For John Moser ’18, of West Merrick, N.Y., the experience was impactful. “I’ve never worked on a farm before. It builds character.”
“It makes people realize how important helping others is,” added Jacob Vanderlinde ’18, of Lyons, N.Y. “Maybe people will realize what farmers do for the economy.”
Also new this year, HWS students had the opportunity to work alongside Geneva community members in completing some of the service projects.
“We’re excited about these projects because students have the opportunity to make a personal connection with people who live here,” explained Jeremy Wattles, assistant director of CCESL.
Several teams of students were dispersed to different neighborhoods where they worked with the neighborhood associations to spearhead community gardens. At the Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Geneva, students created a community garden and constructed a shed, while others baked bread at Trinity Church for the Community Lunch Program. Yet another group of first-year students worked at the Harmony Food Pantry in nearby Waterloo.
Kelly Monahan ’18, of Hartland, Wis., helped other students and community members repaint many of Geneva’s emergency pull stations bright red and white so they would be easier to identify.
“In high school I did a good amount of service with National Honor Society and Key Club,” she said. “One of the main reasons I chose Hobart and William Smith was because I knew they were committed to service.”
Joseph Harris ’18, of Chicago, Ill., handed out school supplies with representatives of the Geneva NAACP on Exchange Street in Geneva. “It’s been great to see so many people in the community, and it’s great for the school to give back to the community because we share the town,” he said.
Superintendent of Geneva Schools Trina Newton noted this was the third year the NAACP held the school supply event that gives local children back-to-school supplies, as well as food for their families. “I’ve watched the event grow in importance every year,” she said.
Many of the students, like Macaela Rourke ’18, of Niskayuna, N.Y., had participated in service prior to coming to HWS.
“Every year at my Congregation, we have mitzvah day-we go to the food bank,” she explained, noting she really enjoys the chance to participate in community service and also is involved with a movement to stop teen smoking.
For Ted Nappo ’18, of Housatonic, Mass., this was the first time he had participated in a service project.
“I’m really happy and totally willing to do it because I know it’s for a good cause,” he said, adding that he wants to take part in more Days of Service while at HWS.
Aly McKnight ’15, of Amherst, N.H., who was among the Orientation volunteers, felt the day was a success. “Day of Service has been absolutely amazing. This first-year class has so much energy, and the Orientation Mentors also have so much energy, so that combination has resulted in some really passionate work,” she said.
President Gearan, who visited and assisted the Stop Hunger Now volunteers and those distributing school supplies and food on Exchange Street, encouraged the students to make service a part of their entire academic career at HWS. “Giving back to Geneva and the local community is what citizenship is about. This is what we define as a life of consequence. We hope that was one of the reasons why you came to Hobart and William Smith,” he said.