Despite a scorching heat wave, more than 300 Stony Brook students gathered on Saturday, August 21, 2021 to volunteer their time on the University’s first day of community service. The program was designed to provide meaningful and impactful service opportunities to introduce first year students to their campus and community while making new friends and relationships. The newly created Seawolves chose one of eight service projects ranging from cleanups, writing projects, planting and a field day.
The day started at Staller Steps where the students received backpacks and T-shirts. In her welcoming speech, President Maurie McInnis thanked the group for volunteering. “We believe that it is the unique privilege and duty of higher education to build a brighter, more interesting and more caring world for generations to come.” President McInnis added that by being here for Community Service Day, the students set the tone for their stay at Stony Brook.
In attendance were representatives of community partners participating in the program. A special welcome was given by Mitch Cohen and Seth Goldstein, local owners of Jersey Mike’s, who donated sandwiches to all volunteers and handed out coupons for future discounts.
As the project start time approached, the students followed the signs to their respective assignment locations. Three groups headed for buses that would take them to community projects.
The first project was a two-mile cleanup of Highway 25A. A large group of 75 students was divided into two teams. Team Leader Jeff Barnett, Office of Student Life, guided dozens of students along the east end of Route 25A, while Michael Arens, Office of Government and Community Relations, advanced the team to the west. Armed with gloves, bags and collectors, the groups cleared the rubbish along the sidewalk. Local restaurants and shops in the designated cleaning area such as The Bench, Bliss, Stop & Shop, and Mario’s provided students with a break and water. The groups were joined by Suffolk County Lawmaker Kara Hahn, who has been organizing and participating in the cleanup of the area for many years with the university and other groups. Kim Bryant from his office helped with the planning.
At Patriot’s Rock, a nearby historic community treasure, a group of students led by Nicole Chiuchiolo, of Suburban Student Services, cleared brush, invasive species and debris from the site. They were led by Herb Mones, Three Village Community Trust, and assisted by Hope Kinney, Robert Reuter and Brookhaven City Councilor Jonathan Kornreich. Between clearing and cutting, Mones shared with the students the importance of Patriot’s Rock and invited them to return to view other Three Village Trust properties.
The team that strayed the furthest from campus belonged to Dean of Students Ric McClendon. He and his team took the bus to Patchogue to organize a field day for children with Down’s syndrome at Gigi’s Playhouse. Elizabeth Rahne, owner of the facility, was delighted with the response from the children and their families. The event ended with a water balloon fight, pizza, ice cream and the knowledge that these volunteers gave many families an afternoon of fun and caring, as evidenced by the continued smiles. .
Back on campus, hundreds of students were also heading to their assignments. A team led by Urszula Zalewski, Career Center, was brought to the Students’ Union, where they completed the assembly of 1,300 school backpacks with school supplies. The backpacks will be distributed throughout the island for children in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in need. Freshman Sonam Verma said of the experience, “I love doing community service and have done projects like this in my hometown of Chatham, New York.” Project partners Jaime Franchi from Island Harvest, Mindy Richenstein from Supplies for Success and Debra Rogers from Phillips Avenue School in Riverhead – one of the schools that will be handing out backpacks – joined Zalewski in expressing their gratitude to the volunteers for their service.
A team led by Pam Pfeil of the Veterans Office visited the Center for Student Activities to write Notes of Hope. Each student received five cards to write inspirational or seasonal messages for their designated audience of local Suffolk residents receiving the Meals on Wheels delivery. When asked why he chose this particular service project, student Peter Gillespie remarked that he was doing it in honor of his grandmother. She has Parkinson’s disease, so he “wanted to create an uplifting greeting that she would be happy to receive.” The students created hundreds of messages to distribute over the next few months. Dona Marchese and Frank Petrignani from the Town of Brookhaven / Meals on Wheels program accepted the cards to share.
Another writing project was led by Cathrine Duffy, HealthierU. Students brainstormed and wrote stories about their education and career aspirations for publication in the Meals on Wheels newsletter. Each month, another student story will be highlighted. Homebound residents reading the newsletter will have new content to learn more about the future of our students for many editions to come.
The beautification of the campus was also part of the story. Two different teams led by Alaina Claeson, Horticulturalist / Landscape Coordinator, and Mike Deblasi, Deputy Facilities Program Coordinator, worked to plant greenery and flowers on the alley between the Student Activity Center and Frey Hall and at the Memorial Arch between the humanities and psychology. âThe variety of plants we have chosen will return each year and the students will be able to watch them grow with a sense of pride in having helped,â said Claeson. The planting of the Memorial Arch took on special significance as a tribute to a commemorative event marking the 20th anniversary of September 11.
At the end of the grueling day, the volunteers returned to Staller Steps to listen to some exciting WUSB music, free ice cream, and outdoor games. Each of the team leaders and students proudly shared the details of their experiences, and all eight projects were brought to fruition.
Community Service Day was organized in collaboration with several departments of Student Affairs and the Office of Government and Community Relations. Program Co-Chairs Joan Dickinson, Community Relations, and Jeff Barnett, Office of Student Life, benefited from considerable leadership from the project team leaders, strong support from Katherine Colantuoni and Megan DiGioia for the securing event spaces and transport, and countless hours of WUSB programming by Isobel Breheny-Schafer.