Over 1,200 Cornell students found themselves doing everything from cleaning up Collegetown to harvesting carrots Saturday as Into the Streets celebrated its 16th annual day of service in Ithaca. Organized into approximately 140 student-led teams, volunteers made their way to over 60 Ithaca-area agencies to lend a much-appreciated hand.
The day began with an 11 a.m. kickoff in Barton Hall, where groups had a chance to mingle and have lunch before their projects began. While the 1,268 registered volunteers, a substantial increase from the 500 students in 2005, represented a wide variety of Cornell clubs and organizations, volunteers were motivated by a similar interest in community service.
“[It’s] a good way to bring Cornell groups on campus together to help the Ithaca community,” said Dana Easton ’09, who along with the Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Society was headed to the Family Reading Partnership.
Delta Chi Team Member David Jordan ’09 agreed, calling the event “a really good opportunity to feel connected” to the Ithaca community.
Some volunteers were also looking forward to spending time with their teammates: “We decided [to participate] because it would be a good way to help the community and spend time with each other,” said Alpha Kappa Psi Team Leader Jennifer Sofen ’08.
Organizing the event and kickoff was Project Coordinator Lauren Wein ’08. Wein, who worked for the 2006 Into the Streets event as Team Leader Coordinator, was inspired to get involved after a 2006 trip to Nicaragua.
“When in Nicaragua, I witnessed for the first time the intense poverty and horrendous conditions that many people there were living under. At the same time, I saw the ignorant attitudes of many students at the Universidad de Centro America about the reality of the poverty facing people living right in their own backyards. This inspired me to learn more about the conditions of those living in my own community,” said Wein.
Wein credited Into the Streets with helping her learn “not only about the various non-profit agencies in our community and the constituencies that they aim to serve, but also important organizational and leadership skills.”
The kickoff continued with brief speeches from Svante Myrick ’09, Ithaca City Council Member Gayraud Townsend ’05 and Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73.
Myrick, a current candidate for the Ithaca Common Council, talked about his own experiences with service projects, including the REACH program at Cornell. He described his first volunteer efforts as leaving him “hooked on service” and encouraged Into the Streets participants to “go out there and look at [their projects] with a fresh perspective.”
Townsend began by congratulating the Into the Streets board and participants on “this tremendous day,” adding that the event broke the stereotype of apathetic college students and “shows Cornell students actually do care” about the City of Ithaca.
Murphy echoed Townsend’s congratulations and focused on the event’s impact on area agencies. Those agencies include the Family Reading Partnership, which has been hosting Into the Streets volunteers for the past five years. Brigid Hubberman, the agency’s executive director, called Cornell “an important partner in our success,” adding that the agency has been “especially grateful to student volunteers from Cornell.”
“When the Family Reading Partnership began to envision a culture of literacy 10 years ago, we knew that our success would be in our ability to involve the community in our efforts to connect children and families with the joy of books. With the involvement of virtually every sector of the community we have developed a multitude of programs that promote the joy of family reading and ensure that all children have access to books,” said Hubberman.
With the agency’s annual Kids’ Book Fest quickly approaching, Into the Streets volunteers were arriving in the nick of time.
“There is an incredible amount of preparation work!” said Hubberman, adding that “the ‘Into the Streets’ Cornell students who have volunteered with us have been fantastic.”
Other first-time host agencies were similarly enthusiastic. Christine Becraft, president of the Ellis Hollow Community Center — “a small, locally-run, operated and self-supported community center” — described the agency as “so excited” for their first Into the Streets. “Volunteers are always so hard to find and in our little community this is like winning the lottery,” said Becraft.
Becraft added she hoped “that the volunteers know that this is wonderful. It really does make an impact and a difference and is appreciated. It may not be glamorous but the real work seldom is — in the long run, it is what keeps the place looking cared for and needed by the community.”
Murphy expressed similar thanks, noting in her speech that the Into the Streets participants were giving “an extraordinary gift of time, talent, energy, and strength” to the community and hoping that participants would learn about the agencies that “make Ithaca a very special community.”
Team leader Sally Dunst ’09 agreed, summing up many participants’ views of the day-long event.
“It’s a great chance to see Ithaca outside of Cornell,” Dunst said.