SBU Launches Freshman Community Service Day |

Despite a scorching heatwave, more than 300 Stony Brook students came together 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 freshmen to their campus and community while making new friends and relationships. The newly created Seawolves chose one of eight service projects ranging from cleaning, writing projects, plantings and a field day.

Students plant new green space near the 9/11 Memorial Arch.

The day started at Staller Steps where students received backpacks and t-shirts. In her welcome address, President Maurie McInnis thanked the group for volunteering. “We believe 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 the audience were representatives of the community partners involved 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 gave out coupons for future discounts.

As the project start time approached, the students followed the signs to their respective duty stations. 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 to the east end of Route 25A, while Michael Arens, Office of Government and Community Relations, led the team through the west. Armed with gloves, bags and scavengers, the groups removed trash along the sidewalk. Local restaurants and stores in the designated cleanup area, such as The Bench, Bliss, Stop & Shop and Mario’s, offered students a break and water. The groups were joined by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, who has organized and participated in area cleanups with the university and other groups for many years. 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, Commuter Student Services, removed 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 Town Councilor Jonathan Kornreich. Between clearing and cutting, Mones shared with the students the significance of Patriot’s Rock and invited them to return to see other Three Village Trust properties.

The team that strayed furthest from campus was Dean of Students Ric McClendon. He and his team took the bus to Patchogue to run a field day for children with Down syndrome at Gigi’s Playhouse. Elizabeth Rahne, owner of the establishment, 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 provided many families with an afternoon of fun and attention, as evidenced by the continuous smiles.

Back on campus, hundreds of students were also heading to their homework. A team led by Urszula Zalewski, Career Center, was brought to the Student Union, where they completed the assembly of 1,300 school backpacks with school supplies. Backpacks will be distributed across the island for K-12 children 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 giving away backpacks – joined Zalewski in expressing their appreciation to volunteers for their service.

Stony Brook volunteers coordinated fun activities for families at Gigi's Playhouse.
Stony Brook volunteers coordinated fun activities for families at Gigi’s Playhouse.

A team led by Pam Pfeil of the Veterans Affairs Bureau traveled to the Student Activity 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, 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 of the City of Brookhaven/Meals on Wheels program accepted the share cards.

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, a different student story will be highlighted. Homebound residents reading the newsletter will have new content to learn about the future of our students for many editions to come.

The beautification of the campus 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 greens and flowers on the walkway between the Student Activity Center and Frey Hall and at the memorial arch between the humanities and psychology. “The variety of plants we have chosen will return each year and students will be able to watch them grow with a sense of pride for having helped,” Claeson said. The planting of the Memorial Arch took on special significance in honor of a commemorative event marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

At the end of the exhausting day, the volunteers returned to Staller Steps to enjoy exciting WUSB music, 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.

The community service day was organized in conjunction with several student affairs departments and the government and community relations office. The program co-chairs, Joan Dickinson, Community Relations, and Jeff Barnett, Office of Student Life, had tremendous leadership from the project team leaders, strong support from Katherine Colantuoni and Megan DiGioia for securing event spaces and transportation, and countless hours of WUSB programming. by Isobel Breheny-Schafer.

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