Allie Kirchgessner spent three hours Saturday afternoon pulling weeds outside the Hamilton Hill Arts Center.
The Union College freshman said that was an improvement over most Saturdays.
“It’s better than just sitting at Union doing homework for a long time,” said Kirchgessner, 18, of Concord, Massachusetts, who hasn’t declared a major but plans to study psychology.
Kirchgessner, who said she has “always liked volunteering and helping others,” was among more than 500 students to get their hands dirty on the 20th annual John Calvin Toll Day of Service, which had students volunteer at 25 city sites, including Schenectady Inner City Ministries, Yates Village, the Museum of Innovation and Science and Vale Cemetery and Park.
The event is hosted by the college’s Kenney Community Center and is named for a member of the college’s graduating class whose descendants also graduated from Union and donated money to the college to continue community service, said Janet Sweeney, event coordinator and the college’s assistant director of community outreach.
“It used to be a freshman day of service, and it has become a campus-wide event,” she said.
Calvin Wiles, 19, a sophomore pledging the Chi Psi fraternity, raked leaves in Vale Cemetery with two other pledges. After nearly two hours, the trio had covered three tarps with leaves but still had a long way to go, with plenty of foliage at their feet. More students were spread out over the expansive cemetery.
“Greek life still cares about charity. . . . That’s probably one of the biggest messages we’re trying to send,” said Wiles, of Merrimac, Massachusetts, who plans to study environmental policy. “That’s something I know our fraternity personally does value.”
Students from about 15 Greek life organizations volunteered Saturday, as well as many individuals, athletic teams and residence hall groups.
Reed Bixby, 19, one of the other sophomore Chi Psi pledges, said “Union is a pretty closed campus,” so the day of service offers a good chance to leave campus.
“It’s kind of nice,” said Bixby, an economics major from Amherst, Massachusetts. “I feel like I’m a member of the community.”
Sweeney said getting the students involved in the community is an important aspect of the event. The students are assigned to their locations, so they don’t get to be choosy.
“People, on this day, get to go places that they never would go,” she said as she observed students gardening at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center. “We do have some students who volunteer here [at the arts center] on a regular basis, but it’s a small group.”
Jim Kelly, the arts center’s maintenance engineer, said he appreciated the students’ help. After an hour of work, he and about 10 students had filled 21 5-gallon bags with weeds, leaves and other debris.
“It helps out an awful lot because we’re a nonprofit, and we’re very tight money-wise,” said Kelly, who has worked there about 30 years. “I don’t have the time to get out here and do everything that needs doing, and we’re trying to get ready to turn around and have windows put in.
“It makes the neighborhood a lot better. It’s always nice to turn around and be neat and clean.”