Publication Date

In August 1996, nearly 600 first-year students fanned out across Schenectady, armed with paintbrushes, rakes, shovels and other equipment. Over the next few hours, they pulled weeds, painted bridges and planted flowers.

The brainchild of then-President Roger Hull, the activity was incorporated into orientation. Hull viewed it as a “good way to get the students out in the community.”

Five years later, the community service project was officially christened John Calvin Toll Day thanks to a gift from Al Hill ‘46 and his wife, Perrie. It also expanded to include the entire campus community, not only first-years.

A Union student volunteering during John Calvin Toll Day

Toll was a member of Union’s first graduating class in 1799 and the great-great-grandfather of Hill, a retired attorney from Buffalo who died in 2007. The Hills created the fund to encourage Union students to undertake volunteer service.

“We believe that the experiences from this activity will carry over beyond graduation and enrich not only those they serve but also the volunteers,” said Hill at the time.

On Saturday, Oct. 5, the community-based activity will celebrate its 24th anniversary. Hundreds of students will again clean up parks, public spaces and provide other help as needed in Schenectady and the surrounding region. Activities will take place at various times between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Coordinated by Union’s Kenney Community Center, Toll Day strengthens Union’s commitment to the city through these volunteer opportunities.

“Toll Day is our biggest single day of community service at Union,” said Janet Sweeney, associate director of community outreach. “It is a great opportunity for everyone to get involved, and we have lots of support from Greek Life, Athletics, clubs, organizations and many individuals. Our community partners and students all look forward to this kick off to volunteering for the academic year.”

Among the sites or organizations receiving assistance:

• Alzheimer’s Association- Walk to End Alzheimer’s

• Boulevard Appreciation Neighborhood Association

• Bethesda House

• Campus Kitchens

• City of Schenectady

• Cornell Cooperative Extension

• First United Methodist Church, Schenectady

• Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve

• Goose Hill Neighborhood Association

• Kelly Adirondack Center (St. David’s Lane, Niskayuna)

• miSci (Museum of Innovation and Science)

• Patroon Land Farm (132 Ketcham Road, Voorheesville)

• Regional Food Bank

• Rose Garden Restoration Committee

• Schenectady County Invasives Committee and Soil and Water Conservation District

• Things of My Very Own

• Vale Urban Farm

• YWCA Northeastern NY

• The MoonCatcher Project

Union consistently is named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for exemplary service to the local community. The honor is the highest federal recognition a school can achieve for its commitment to volunteering, service learning and civic engagement.