Hundreds of Union College students donned work gloves and spread out across Schenectady for the 22nd annual John Calvin Toll Day, a yearly event where students volunteer to help clean and spruce up various city parks and civic institutions.
John Calvin Toll was a member of the first graduating class at Union College in 1799. The day of service named in his honor is supported every year by Al Hill, who graduated Union in 1946, and his wife, Perrie. Toll, an attorney from Buffalo, died in 2007, but the day of service lives on through the fund he and his family created to encourage Union students in volunteering and civic engagement.
“We really like to have students be part of the community beyond the gates of the college,” said Janet Sweeney, assistant director in Union College’s Kenney Community Center, which promotes community outreach and involvement. “We try to connect the students and the community as much as possible, not only through volunteering, but just going to events in Schenectady and just being a part of Schenectady.”
The event this year featured 450 students spread out across 25 sites such as the Schenectady Library, Miracle on Craig Street, Vale Park and Vale Cemetery and Harmony Fellowship.
At Vale Park, Emmanuela Oppong, 20, a sophomore studying bioengineering, said the day was about giving back to the community and drawing closer to her peers in the engineering department.
“We do it as a group, it’s a bonding activity because some of us are new, and we feel good because we’re helping the community,” she said.
Oppong and her classmates were weeding a flower bed in front of the park entrance on Nott Street. Nearby other students were picking up litter on the park’s playground and along the street outside.
“I feel like we have to be out here, because our school is here and most of us don’t even go out because you have a lot of activities happening on campus,” said Oppong. “When you go out you meet people, and going out you connect with the outside community.”
At Girls Inc. on Albany Street, students were raking leaves off the parking lot and cleaning up the playground. Inside the building, up a ladder in a loft area, other students were sorting donated Christmas gifts that Girls Inc. members will pick to give to their families around the holidays.
Jenna Little, 19, a sophomore studying math and chemistry, was busy organizing a jumble of donated gifts — books, dolls and other toys.
Little, a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority at Union College, said she was especially pleased with the day’s work assignment because it was “helping out children especially, and making their Christmases a little brighter.”
“I’ve always loved children, and helping children I think is one of the best ways to give back to the community,” she added.
Members of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity on campus were nearby at Harmony Fellowship, a church located at Albany Street and Hamlin Street.
Pastor Grantley McLeod joked that the students were “doing a little bit of everything … all the work that I don’t have to do now.” That work included painting, organizing closets and taking out trash.
“The great thing about working with Union is just them being willing to give back,” said McLeod, noting that the church has paired with the college on volunteering opportunities for the past eight years. “They take their students and really introduce them to service. Not only service, but service in the local area that they live in, which helps them connect with the city.”
Reed Axman, 19, a premed sophomore studying bioengineering, said his fraternity signed up to serve their non-campus neighbors together.
“We all signed up as a group to help out during the day of service,” said Axman. “Union is part of Schenectady community, it’s good to give back to the community and give back to our fellow Schenectady neighbors.”
Axman said he participated in John Calvin Toll Day last year, and the event is a good way to see what life is like outside campus.
“We’re all humans, we all live in the same place, and we all have to help each other out,” said Axman. “It’s good to get out of the bubble of that little area, which is Union.”