The woods off St. David’s Lane in Niskayuna are lovely, dark and deep.
But Madison Corcoran had promises to keep.
The Union College junior and three classmates had pledged to trim brush from one of the nature trails at the Henry G. Reist Wildlife Sanctuary. The work detail was one of 16 community improvement projects — most in Schenectady County — conducted by more than 400 Union students on Saturday.
The beautification details were part of Union’s 23rd annual John Calvin Toll Day, designed to strengthen the college’s commitment to the area through volunteerism.
John Calvin Toll was one of Union’s first graduates, in 1799.
In addition to the Niskayuna project, Union students helped out at the Autism Society Duck Derby in Scotia’s Freedom Park, worked at Vale Cemetery and the Heritage Home for Women in Schenectady and made appearances at the Maple Ridge Fall Festival in Rotterdam. There were other stops as well.
“Any time I can be outside is where I want to be,” said Corcoran, a junior geology and English major from Orange, Massachusetts.
Bailey Kross, 19, a sophomore biology major from Ravena, also was in the woods. She was glad to spend time on the Toll team.
“As long as it helps someone, something, some cause,” she said.
It was a big help. Margie Amodeo, coordinator for the nearby Kelly Adirondack Center at Union College, said just one person maintains the 111-acre sanctuary grounds.
“To have these students come in, even for a few hours, is a huge help,” Amodeo said.
Matthew Rueter, 18, a freshman engineering major from Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, trimmed Oriental bittersweet vines away from a small tree.
“I tend to use these sort of places, I want to do my part to kind of maintain them,” he said.
Janet Sweeney, who coordinated Toll Day efforts in her role as associate director of the Kenney Community Center, Union’s community outreach department, said the day was a success.
“We had a good turnout and the weather held up pretty much,” she said. “Those are the two biggest factors.”
Sweeney believes students get a lot out of the Saturday spent in the community.
“I think it’s really nice to see so many of their peers volunteering,” she said. “They know about it, they wait for it, it’s a day they can sign up for with a bunch of friends. We have a lot of groups that come together but we also have a pretty good number of individuals that just kind of sign up to check it out. It’s a good way to get involved.”
In Scotia, about 50 Union students, many wearing gold Toll Day T-shirts, met the public at the Duck Derby. They entertained kids with balloons, temporary tattoos, a duck coloring station and prize wheel. They also made sure small children did not get too close to the Mohawk River.
“I’m really into community service, this is like our Super Bowl,” said Jacqueline Sharry, 21, a senior biology major from Worcester, Massachusetts. “We plan all year for John Calvin Toll Day. Everybody watches football whether they like football or not, everybody volunteers on John Calvin Toll Day.
“Everybody loves Schenectady on John Calvin Toll Day,” Sharry added. “And every day — but especially on John Calvin Toll Day.”
Sophie Eydenberg, 18, a sophomore classics major from Allendale, New Jersey, was glad to be part of a volunteer team.
“A team that gives back is a team I want to be a part of,” she said.
Kathryn Osterholtz, 18, a freshman anthropology major from Amherst, New Hampshire, also was glad to suit up for the volunteer team.
“I just really enjoy the value of service,” Osterholtz said. “I grew up at a Boys and Girls Club, I understand the impact that volunteering can have, both as a child and as a volunteer.”
Many of the Union young women were from the Sigma Delta Tau sorority, and used the morning exercise as a bonding opportunity. Some just wanted to hang out with small children.
“I work with kids in the summer and I miss being around the kids all the time,” said Claire Williamson, 19, a sophomore computer engineering major from Winchester, Massachusetts. “So this is a really good opportunity to connect back with them.”
Men from Union’s Sigma Chi fraternity were also on the job in Scotia.
“It’s supporting the community, branching out,” said George Dremluk, 22, a sophomore neuroscience major from Alexandria, Virginia. “And lending a helping hand wherever I can.”