Despite a blistering heatwave, more than 300 Stony Brook students gathered together on Saturday, August 21, 2021, to volunteer their time at the University’s first Community Service Day. The program was designed to offer meaningful and impactful service opportunities as a way of introducing the freshmen to their campus and community while making new friends and connections. The newly minted Seawolves chose one of eight service projects ranging from clean ups, writing projects, plantings and a field day.
The day kicked off at the Staller Steps where the students received backpacks and T-shirts. In her welcome address, President Maurie McInnis thanked the group for being volunteers. “We believe that it is higher education’s unique privilege and duty 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 have set the tone for their time at Stony Brook.
In the audience were representatives from the community partners participating in the program. A special welcome was given by Mitch Cohen and Seth Goldstein, local owners of Jersey Mike’s, which donated sandwiches to all of the volunteers and distributed coupons for future discounts.
As the project start time approached, students followed signs to their respective assignment locations. Three groups headed for buses that would take them to community-based projects.
The first project was a two-mile clean-up of Route 25A. A large group of 75 students was divided into two teams. Team Leader Jeff Barnett, Office of Student Life, guided dozens of students down the east end of Route 25A, while Michael Arens, Government and Community Relations Office, kept the team at the west moving. Armed with gloves, bags and pickers, the groups removed trash along the sidewalk. Local restaurants and stores in the designated clean-up zone such as The Bench, Bliss, Stop & Shop and Mario’s offered a break and water for the students. The groups were joined by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, who has been organizing and participating in area clean-ups with the university and other groups for many years. Kim Bryant from her office assisted in the planning.
At Patriot’s Rock, a nearby historic community treasure, a group of students led by Nicole Chiuchiolo, Commuter Student Services, removed brush, invasive species and debris from the site. They were directed by Herb Mones, Three Village Community Trust, and assisted by Hope Kinney, Robert Reuter and Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich. In between clearing and cutting, Mones shared with the students the significance of Patriot’s Rock and invited them back to see other Three Village Trust properties.
The team that traveled the farthest from campus belonged to Dean of Students Ric McClendon. He and his team rode the bus down to Patchogue to manage a field day for children with Down Syndrome at Gigi’s Playhouse. Elizabeth Rahne, owner of the facility, was overjoyed at the response from the children and their families. The event ended with a water balloon fight, pizza, ice cream, and knowledge that these volunteers gave many families an afternoon of fun and caring as evidenced on the continuous smiles.
Back on campus, hundreds of students were also moving into their assignments. A team lead by Urszula Zalewski, Career Center, was brought to the Student Union, where they completed the assembly of 1,300 school backpacks with school supplies. The backpacks will be distributed Island-wide for K-12 children in need. Freshman Sonam Verma said of the experience, “I love doing community service and did projects like this back in my hometown, Chatham, New York.” Project partners Jaime Franchi of Island Harvest, Mindy Richenstein of Supplies for Success, and Debra Rogers from the Phillips Avenue School in Riverhead — one of the schools that will distribute some backpacks — joined Zalewski to express their appreciation to the volunteers for their service.
A team led by Pam Pfeil, Veterans Affairs Office, headed to the Student Activities Center to write notes of hope. Each student was given five cards to write inspirational or seasonal messages for their designated audience of local Suffolk residents receiving 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 for distribution 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 ideas and wrote stories about their studies and career aspirations for publication in the Meals on Wheels newsletter. Each month, another student story will be spotlighted. The homebound residents who read the newsletter will have fresh content to learn about the future of our students for many editions to come.
Campus beautification was also part of the day. Two different teams led by Alaina Claeson, horticulturist/landscape coordinator, and Mike Deblasi, assistant facilities program coordinator, worked to plant new greenery and flowers at the walkway between the Student Activities Center and Frey Hall and at the Memorial Arch between Humanities and Psychology. “The variety of plants we chose will come back every year and the students can watch them grow with a sense of pride that they helped,” said Claeson. The planting for the Memorial Arch took on special meaning as a tribute for a remembrance event marking the 20th anniversary of September 11.
At the end of the exhausting day, the volunteers returned to the Staller Steps for exciting music from WUSB, free ice cream and outdoor games. Each of the team leaders and students proudly shared details of their experiences, and all eight projects were successfully completed.
Community Service Day was held in collaboration with several departments in Student Affairs and the Office of Government and Community Relations. Program Co-Chairs Joan Dickinson, Community Relations, and Jeff Barnett, Office of Student Life, had considerable leadership from the project team leaders, strong support from Katherine Colantuoni and Megan DiGioia for securing event spaces and transportation, and countless hours of programming from WUSB through Isobel Breheny-Schafer.