One month ago, on Saturday, October 28th, more than 1,100 Cornellians woke up early and braved a gray and rainy day … why, you might ask? For that little thing we Cornellians do so well: service, Into the Streets style.
Into the Streets is a program of the Cornell Public Service Center and is Cornell’’s largest day of service. This year celebrated the program’s 15th anniversary. City of Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson proclaimed “Into the Streets Days” in the City of Ithaca in 2005 and 2006.
In 1992, a group of idealistic Cornell students began a campaign of action and awareness, organized a week-long series of discussion sessions facilitated by local human services professionals, and recruited student volunteers to conclude the week with the inaugural Into the Streets Day. It began fifteen years ago with 300 students talking about and becoming more aware of important local issues and then using service as a vehicle of civic engagement and idealism.
Evolving over time, Into the Streets is now more action-oriented and focuses on the service component, indicative of Cornell’s and the Public Service Center’s commitment to direct public service.
This year’s Into the Streets Day of Service was the largest ever. A typical year of ITS involves 400-500 students and 30 local agencies. This year, volunteer numbers rose to historical heights. Nearly 1,100 people participated — yes, 1,100 — on 94 teams, at over 40 agencies, in three counties.
And people asked, “How do 1,100 people do community service on the same day, during the same period of time?” Well, the community responds to the Public Service Center and its programs, including Into the Streets, which is well-known and respected in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities.
And we, the ITS Board, accepted the challenge. After months of work we had spoken with representatives of over 100 Ithaca and Tompkins County agencies to provide the chance for Cornellians to experience their local community.
On the morning of October 28th, Joyce Muchan, Assistant Director for Student Programs at the PSC and advisor of ITS, and I greeted and sent off a group of 100 Cornellians to Conklin, New York, a small town near Binghamton, to assist with a flood relief project to help fix homes damaged by flooding in upstate New York. The experience was well worth it, according to Neil Taunk ’07 of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity: “Into the Streets … provided the Southern Tier with helping hands to make life as normal as possible again.”
Following the Binghamton sendoff, the implementation process for the Day of Service officially began. There was a lot to be done, including sorting through 1,100 t-shirts, 850 bagged lunches from Subway, 900 bottles of water from the Cornell Dairy Store and Wegmans. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers the tasks were completed efficiently and smoothly.
A few words need to be said regarding the morning session of ITS Day. There has been feedback offered by volunteers regarding the “misuse” of time registering and motivating volunteers in the morning and not enough service. The morning session is necessary because, frankly, we don’t know who is really going to show up.
Traditionally, about 30 percent of volunteers don’t show up to volunteer, so we needed to be ready for this reality.
Essentially, if volunteers don’t show up, agencies need to be contacted and other volunteers need to be reassigned to compensate for the missing volunteers, assuring each agency a group that day. Therefore, while volunteers eat and prepare for the day ahead, the registration and reconfiguration processes must go on to confirm there are enough volunteers to fulfill the planned service projects. Thankfully, though, most volunteers did show up and the reconfiguration process was seamless.
The kickoff ceremony is intended to motivate, inform, and introduce volunteers to the importance of Into the Streets in the community and at Cornell.
The ceremony featured local politicians of the Ithaca Common Council and Tompkins County legislature: Shane Seger ’99, David Gelinas ’07, Gayraud Townsend ’05 and Nathan Shinagawa ’06.
The final speaker was Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73, PhD ’94, who was able to share her enthusiasm and excitement for public service and Into the Streets with the volunteers. Paraphrasing President Skorton, who made his first State of the University Address earlier in the morning as part of Cornell Trustee-Council weekend, she asked: “What is it that sets Cornell apart from other schools? Our commitment to service sets us apart.”
Into the Streets went extremely smoothly and was the largest day of service in Cornell’s history. How did that happen? Well, a lot of dedication to providing volunteers with a rewarding experience and introduction to the local community was the main goal.
Into the Streets’ success this year is indicative of how a small group of people, in this case students, can make a real difference if they’re willing to commit themselves to a common goal: service and community. For that, I’m proud of my Board and all of the others that shared the Into the Streets experience with me, including those at the Cornell Public Service Center.
We worked long days and nights to provide a service experience that was indicative and supportive of both the needs and wants of the community, and the needs and wants of the participants. It was a thrilling experience, to say the least.
A huge thanks goes out to the 2006 ITS Board: Emily Bielecki ’07, Julie Myers ’07, Taylor Rickenberg ’08, Lauren Wein ’09, Ilana Taxman-Mendoza ’09, Brian Barber ’10 and Denise Ziobro grad.
There are a myriad of organizations and people who helped make Into the Streets a success, including the Carol Tatkon Center, On Site Volunteer Services, and The Triad Foundation. Thank you.
We hope you’ll join us again next year and continue your commitment to service now and in the future. If you’d like to be part of the Into the Streets Board, applications will be available in January. Please join us.
Shane Dunn ’07 is the Project Coordinator for Into the Streets. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Guest Room appears periodically.