Schenectady County

Youths find service appealing

Young people all over the Capital Region seem to have the spirit of volunteerism — reflecting nation

Young people all over the Capital Region seem to have the spirit of volunteerism — reflecting national trends of a rise in service.

Students at Saratoga Springs High School helped put together holiday care packages for the 265 soldiers stationed at the Khyber Border Coordination Center in Torkham, Afghanistan. This is a joint military intelligence center located near the Pakistan border.

It was part of a part of a project for Participation in Government Community Service class. Teacher Maureen O’Toole said the father of one of the students, Lillian Waters, is deployed in Afghanistan.

“My whole class heard about it and wanted to get involved and wanted to do this as their class project,” O’Toole said.

Community service is required for the class. Students work at places including the YMCA, public library and children’s museum. “It’s their responsibility to find a place where they’d like to volunteer. We want it to be a place where they enjoy,” she said.

Students set up drop boxes in different parts of the school including the main office and attendance office and plugged the drive during the morning announcements.

“The kids were so enthused about this. They jumped on the idea. It wasn’t just in class that they worked on this. They were stopping by all the time, passing out brochures, hanging up posters,” she said. “I think they really like the idea of helping the soldiers, sending care packages to troops who are so far away, especially during the holidays.”

Price Chopper had also donated 250 containers for homemade goods and the Holiday Inn of Saratoga Springs donated toiletries.

Among the items the soldiers wanted were microwave popcorn, chicken and tuna in a pouch, powdered drink mixes, candy and personal care products.

Operation Adopt A Soldier in Saratoga Springs let the students use their space and picked up the cost of the postage, which totaled more than $3,000.


Other young people are going to exotic places to help others. Alexandra DeBlock, a 20-year-old Niskayuna junior at Fordham University, is involved with a program called Global Outreach that links people up with volunteer projects around the world. As a freshman, she decided on a whim to go to El Salvador for a service project.

“I fell in love with the people and the culture and learned a lot about the Salvadoran civil war in the 1980s,” she said.

During her time, she got to interview economists, a supreme court judge and an immigration lawyer. Also, they stayed with local families in a rural part of El Salvador. “They had to live in caves for 12 years to avoid artillery that was being dropped on them on a daily basis by the El Salvadoran government,” she said.

DeBlock is leading another group of 10 students from Fordham on a two-week trip to El Salvador. The first week they will be working with an organization called Handmaids of the Sacred Heart doing community development projects. It could be teaching English to children or digging a well.

DeBlock said once people find a service project, they get hooked.

“I think what I enjoy most about this kind of work is really immersing myself in a culture that’s so different from my own and learning how the world is interconnected,” she said. “Hearing people’s different stories I think is really important.”

University at Albany spokesman Karl Luntta said that there is a strong culture of volunteerism and service work at the school. Its 450 student athletes donate about 1,700 hours per year and its 7,000 students in residence halls donate more than 20,000 hours per year.

“They do activities ranging from fund-raising walks, working in soup kitchens to working at AIDS clinics, working to help improve HIV prevention in communities in Albany and counseling, mentoring and tutoring,” Luntta said.

Students have been going to New Orleans to assist with redevelopment efforts every year since Hurricane Katrina. They are going this year as well.

“They’re motivated to volunteer. They’re happy to volunteer,” he said. “The university is not only behind them but supportive of them all the way.”

A report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service showed that about 1.3 million more people of the Millennial generation born between 1982 and 2000 donated their time to nonprofit organizations in 2008 compared to 2007.

They provided more than 1 billion service hours, according to the National Conference on Citizenship Web site.

In addition, the report showed that there was a 10 percent increase in college students volunteering and a 5 percent increase in service among people age 16 to 19.

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