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Lives Enlarged

by Melissa Sorrells '05

With a history of community service that traces back to the founding of both Colleges, it’s no wonder that Hobart and William Smith were recently named one of the Princeton Review’s 81 Colleges with a Conscience. Over the past several years, the HWS community has continued to test the boundaries of collegiate community service, becoming engaged with the surrounding community in several unique and important ways.

“As a Board member of both Success for Geneva’s Children and Ontario ARC, I have worked with countless HWS students to make Geneva a better place. And, as a citizen involved in the community, I’ve seen students participate in amazing ways,” says the Reverend Jim Gerling. “The partnership has become seamless: there are no boundaries between the Colleges and the community.”

While finding time in a frequently hectic schedule isn’t always easy, the HWS community has found that making the extra effort results in lives enlarged by greater returns than they ever imagined.

Making Friends of Neighbors
Every Wednesday night, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Geneva welcomes 50-100 local elementary-aged children. Together withvolunteers from the congregation and surrounding community, the kids sing songs, make crafts, listen to stories and eat a hot meal. The program, called Neighbor’s Night, is in its 20th year of giving local children a safe, fun place to spend an evening.

Joe Schnabel ’06, the program’s HWS student coordinator, has been with the Neighbor’s Night program for five years now. “I learned about it during first year orientation at St. Peter’s. I’ve been coming ever since.”

The program’s volunteers, many of them college students recruited by Schnabel, reach the children through songs and games that teach important values, like being polite and a good citizen. “I think it’s important that they’re having fun while they’re learning something,” says Schnabel.

As student volunteers work to teach life lessons, they’re often learning some of their own. Many of the volunteers have been welcomed into the lives of local families and some have even joined the St. Peter’s congregation.

“These college students have made a real connection with the community through these children,” says Neighbor’s Night director Sue Adams. “And being looped into the community allows the students to develop vital relationships with others from all income and age groups. It’s formative for the students and the children.”

Risking Lives to Save Lives
Firefighters perform an invaluable service to any community, providing a lifeline to those who need it most. It’s a dangerous, often time consuming job, so it might come as a surprise that HWS is profoundly involved in the local department.

“We’ve had Hobart men join the department in the past, but never to the extent that they are now,” says assistant fire chief Kevin Powers.

Currently, there are nine students and one alumnus volunteering with the Nester Hose Company in Geneva, and two students volunteering with the C.J. Hook & Ladder Company in Geneva. HWS Director of Athletic Communications Ken DeBolt has been a volunteer firefighter with the C.J. Hook & Ladder Company for more than ten years.

“If these men were just looking to put in some community service hours, they certainly could have picked easier jobs,” jokes Powers. “But they all really seem to enjoy the work, and we’re lucky to have them in the department.”

Tim Horstman ’08 became involved in firefighting as a high school sophomore and joined the Geneva department shortly after arriving on campus in 2004. “I joined the GFD because I love being a firefighter, and I felt like a piece of me was missing without it,” he explains.

It was Horstman’s passion that inspired other Hobart students, like Sean Kipperman ’06, who joined the department before his graduation last May and is now a live-in volunteer.

“At the Colleges, we pride ourselves on being community service oriented, but you have to really become a part of the community to understand why it’s so important to be involved,” says Kipperman. “The fire department has become my second family. Becoming a part of it is the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done.”

Feeding the Hungry
The Community Lunch program has been a Geneva institution since 1983. The soup kitchen, which is run by Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes (with support from the Geneva Interfaith Council) out of First United Methodist Church in downtown Geneva, serves hot lunches to about 70 people a day, five days a week. In 2005, the program served 20,000 meals.

HWS students, faculty and staff frequently volunteer with the program, and the Colleges’ Public Service Office is responsible for planning, preparing and serving lunch on Thursdays during two months out of the year, October and February.

Marge Shanahan, who manages the soup kitchen, says that she couldn’t run the program without help from extra volunteers, like those from HWS. “All of us regular volunteers are aging, and we have trouble lifting heavy stuff. We run out of steam near the end of the four hours, when it’s clean-up time” she says. “We count on HWS to help us get the job done.”

In addition to volunteering time, the HWS community also helps Shanahan collect food and money to keep the program going. Campus groups hold food drives to benefit the program throughout the year, and President Mark Gearan has made supporting Community Lunch a holiday tradition. Every year, Gearan encourages community members to bring canned goods to his on-campus holiday party. In 2006, the holiday food drive yielded nearly 500 pounds of canned food.

Even Sodexho, providers of the Colleges’ dining services, gets in on the giving. “They donate perishables, like milk and homemade soups, every December and June when the Colleges close down,” explains Shanahan. “They contribute the types of things, like fresh vegetables, that we can’t normally get, so it’s a real treat.”

Volunteers get a lot out of the program, too. Alex Pinsky ’10 says that Community Lunch has helped him connect with other HWS students, and it’s also given him the opportunity to meet members of the Geneva community.

“Being a part of the lunch program is a great life lesson,” says Pinsky. “Meeting some of the city’s lower income families and seeing how friendly they are has taught me to keep an open mind and to appreciate how lucky I am to be attending college.”

Providing Role Models
It has been said that a man is never as tall as when he stoops to help a child. HWS coaches and athletes prove the maxim true. They regularly spend time in Geneva-area classrooms playing games, teaching sports skills and talking to kids about substance abuse, good hygiene and peer pressure.

“I have always enjoyed working with children and watching them develop as their confidence grows,” says William Smith lacrosse midfielder Amber Drumm ’09, a regular in local classrooms. “There is an enormous amount of influence that comes with that because, in their eyes, you are a role model.”

“Children especially look up to athletic role models,” agrees Hobart Soccer Coach Shawn Griffin. “Our athletes take advantage of that fact to spread a great message and teach good habits.”

Each year, Griffin spearheads both the YMCA Youth Soccer Clinic and Little Kickers Program, connecting HWS athletes and Geneva-area children on the field.

The YMCA program welcomes local children to campus for an afternoon of miniclinics with the Hobart soccer team. The Little Kickers program, held in conjunction with Geneva General Hospital, is a five-week program for pre-school-aged-children that teaches the basic fundamentals of soccer.

“These programs teach valuable lessons, but they also get our name out there in a positive way and build our fan base,” says Griffin. “Local families grow to associate Hobart and William Smith with winning athletic programs and good people.”

The athletes, for their part, truly enjoy spending time with local children both on the field and in the classroom, but they also recognize the importance of their actions.

“Geneva is our home for four years, and each student has attributes that could benefit the community if we’d engage ourselves,” says Drumm. “Contributing benefits everyone.”

Promoting Heart Health
The Colleges Sports and Recreation Center, led by Director Russ Hess, opens its doors to the community three times a week for Geneva General’s Cardiac Rehab Program. The partnership, forged in 1991, allows recovering patients to exercise in the College’s fitness center under the watchful eye of medical professionals.

“The Colleges have always bent over backwards to make this program possible,” says Geneva General Cardiac Rehab program supervisor Janice Travis. “We work really well together to decide how we can both benefit from the situation: we get a place for our patients to work out, and we help with the cost to repair and replace equipment in the Colleges’ fitness center.”

The Cardiac Rehab connection has led to other opportunities. During the Colleges’ annual Wellness Week, a registered nurse from the program comes to campus to take blood pressures for the community while a nutritionist talks with students about maintaining a healthy diet.

Hess has begun working with the hospital on a volunteer basis, too. “I talk with the cardiac patients at Geneva General about exercises they can do at home or while traveling and the recuperative benefits of weight training,” says Hess. “I’ve also helped the hospital train their cardiac nurses and go over technique with rehab patients in the Colleges’ weight room.”

In addition to promoting interaction between Geneva General and the Colleges, the Cardiac Rehab Program has had another, entirely unintended side effect. “Our patients just love the students, and the feeling is mutual,” says Travis.

“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many of the patients and nurses, and it has been such a pleasure,” says Ashley Rodger ’07, who works the desk at the Center. “They brought me going away gifts before I left to study abroad, congratulated me on my recent engagement and sent their heartfelt thoughts and prayers when my grandfather died. Our relationships have been very positive and rewarding.”

Creating a Successful Future
Focusing the community’s attention on struggling children and families isn’t an easy job, but Stu Einstein, executive director of Success for Geneva’s Children, undertakes the task with gusto. His organization’s mission is two fold: conduct studies to determine which issues are adversely impacting local children and their families, and then mobilize the community around those issues, introducing resources where they’ll improve the quality of life for children.

HWS students have served Success as interns, filling vital administrative roles as well as becoming involved in the organization’s most important projects and programs. Several students have assisted the “Get That Diploma” Task Force, which has been examining Geneva’s high school completion rate.

Lives EnlargedOther volunteers, including Beth VanHouten ’05, have worked on the organization’s annual Data Report, which documents conditions affecting the children of Geneva. VanHouten is listed as editor of the most recent report, and other students have served as researchers and writers for the project.

No matter what job they’re assigned within the organization, Success interns are making an impact on the lives of local children while gaining valuable job skills and building connections with local community members.

“Through their involvement with Success, with JumpStart and through other programs, the students have had a tremendous positive impact on the community,” says Einstein. “And the community has had a tremendous, positive impact on them.”