From COCOA House to Best Buddies to Community Pre-O to SiCM, Union students have pitched in during the year of COVID to ensure that community service is thriving.
The Kenney Community Center has named four students – one from each class – to receive their annual Volunteer of the Year awards. They are Julianna Kramer ’21, Josh Kosack ’22, Maeve Daby ’23 and Clara LaCorte ’24.
“Although this has been a difficult year to plan volunteer events, these outstanding students have all found a way to make an impact on our community,” said Janet Sweeney, director of Community Outreach. “It’s very rewarding to get to know students who are so passionate about helping others. I really appreciate their dedication to volunteering, even during challenging times.”
Julianna Kramer ’21, a History and French & Francophone studies double major from Hopkinton, Mass., has been involved with COCOA House (Children of our Community Open to Achievement), Community Experience Pre-Orientation, Random Acts of Kindness Week, and activity-planning with the Kenney Community Center.
She said she has been heavily influenced by the women in her family who make community service a priority. She is considering non-profit work or a law career in the public sector.
“The pandemic forced us all to be more flexible in how we cared for each other,” she said. “My volunteer work shifted largely to being remote, mentoring online or making care packages for those in the community.”
Her advice to future Union students? “Volunteering pushed me to leave the Union bubble and get involved in the surrounding Schenectady community. There is so much to see and so many incredible people to meet.”
She hopes to return soon to pre-pandemic days, when she enjoyed making posters with friends at Kenney where “Janet Sweeney would chat with us and crack us up.”
Josh Kosack ’22, an economics major from Oakville, Ont., had always harbored the idea of starting an organization to interact with kids. As a forward and captain on the hockey team, he saw an opportunity.
While warming up for a game at Dartmouth, he had a “routine encounter” with a young man. Patrick Toner enjoyed the high fives and puck that Kosack gave him, and the 16-year-old with Down Syndrome became a fan of Kosack and the Union team. Patrick’s family wrote President Harris to sing Kosack’s praises.
“I just realized how such a small gesture can have such a big impact on someone,” Kosack said. “I decided to create an organization after my encounter with Patrick.” So began Kozi’s Kids.
Kosack gathered unused home game tickets allotted to players whose families could not attend. He teamed with COCOA House to bring youngsters and their families to games at Messa Rink, and arranged post-game meetups in the locker room. He arranged transportation on the Union trolley and got vouchers for concession food.
What has been most surprising to the Canadian? Americans’ lack of hockey knowledge. The first time he was introduced at COCOA House, a youngster asked, “What’s hockey?”
After a season on hold. Kosack looks forward to getting back to Messa and Kozi’s Kids for his senior year. Volunteering, he said, “opens up so many opportunities to meet other people and to put yourself in their shoes.”
Kosack’s leadership has been recognized with the Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award, a national Div. I honor named for the four-year letter winner at Army West Point and a "consummate team player and team builder" who was killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. For more, visit here.
Maeve Daby ’23, a sociology and Spanish major from Lake Placid, N.Y. has an extensive volunteer portfolio that includes Best Buddies, Empty Bowls, Union Ambassadors, a pen pal program with Yates Elementary School and ESL Hablemos program with Salvation Army of Schenectady. This fall, she will serve as a Community Service Pre-Orientation leader.
Her interest in service started with her parents, who made it a priority and encouraged her in various projects in her Northcountry hometown. She delivered food baskets on holidays; worked at Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society; volunteered at the Wild Center, a natural history center in nearby Tupper Lake; and tended a prayer garden at St. Agnes Church. Her fondest memory was working at the Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne, a program for children facing life-threatening illness.
After Union, she is hoping to attend law school toward a career in international law that would advocate for the underserved. “My service at Union has definitely influenced this choice, and exposed me to the vast number of individuals and communities in need of more comprehensive representation and inclusion,” she said.
The pandemic, though challenging, has presented Daby with opportunities to serve in new ways. She communicates with her Best Buddy via text, and donates to the local food pantry instead of working in person at Good Eats (a culinary program that teams students with developmentally disabled individuals). With in-person mentoring not an option, she created the pen pal program at Yates.
Daby said she was drawn to Union’s community service program as a way to meet people and develop confidence and self-sufficiency. “I have learned how to advocate for myself and the underserved and underrepresented members of my community,” she said. “I think all Union students should be empowered to advocate for others, and find their true passions through service.”
Daby loves service so much that she pursued a work study job at Kenney Center, where she helps other students develop service projects. She also answers “any question imaginable” from Janet Sweeney, the Kenney Center director. “"How much tie dye is needed for 200 shirts? I find the answer [48 ounces] and report back like an Amazon Alexa.”
Clara LaCorte ’24, who hails from Port Washington, N.Y., majors in neuroscience and minors in law and humanities.
She participates in the Pre-Orientation service program, SiCM food pantry, Winter Fest, Toll Day, community tutoring, and the pen pals program with kids at Yates Elementary School.
She had no problem getting started through the Kenney Community Center. “It was so easy to get involved and find things that I enjoyed doing and knew at the same time I was making an impact on the community.”
“There is nothing more rewarding to me than being able to see the impact I have made on other people,” she said. “The volunteer opportunities at Union are endless, and every minute you spend volunteering is one step closer to making our world a better place.”
Last fall, she was paired up with a student who needed help in science. “Watching him grow not only his skills in science but with his study habits and social skills was so special to me. I am beyond grateful and appreciative for the relationship and growth that came from those tutoring sessions.”
While it may be too early to nail down a career choice, LaCorte wants to continue serving others. “Volunteering at Union has confirmed that want I want to continue,” she said. “It’s something I not only enjoy but find valuable and meaningful.”