NEW YORK – Cornell alumnus David Pattison '83 spent Saturday helping paint walls at Sylvia's Place, a shelter for gay and lesbian homeless teens, that recently moved into a new facility in Harlem. And he was delighted. "This was the one [weekend activity] I really wanted to do. It was a chance to reconnect with Cornellians and give back," he said.
Attorney Jay Waks '68, until recently president of Cornell University Council, spent his Saturday working with wife Harriet and daughter Ali, ILR '08, sewing dolls for Cornell Cooperative Extension's Manhattan-based Project Sunshine. "This was an opportunity to practice what I've been preaching about community service," he said. "Cornell gives so much to us we can afford a day to help its service projects."
Community service was a multi-generational effort last weekend as children, parents and grandparents worked with Cornell students, staff and alumni as volunteers at sites across New York City for Cornell Cares, an activity organized by the Cornell Public Service Center (PSC).
More than 300 Cornell volunteers helped at soup kitchens, community centers, homeless shelters and other projects, led in many instances by current PSC students, as part of the "Big Red in the Big Apple" celebration for alumni.
Volunteers at Broadway Community Inc., a soup kitchen and homeless shelter at Broadway Presbyterian Church on 114th Street, sorted donated clothing, cleaned toilets and floors, stored canned goods and installed kitchen shelving.
"You learn the kinds of food that people served by homeless shelters eat and the kind of clothes they need," said Shannon McCann Rand '00. "I'll be wiser about what I donate now. There's a big need for clean T-shirts, warm socks, warm jackets in large sizes. It would be great to have a permanent Cornell Cares program in New York City."
Lauren Wein, ILR '09, a student project organizer at Broadway Community, said, "A clean, attractive space can help foster a more positive atmosphere and self-respect among the people that the shelter serves." Wein, who runs Into the Streets, a PSC project in Ithaca, noted, "I also encouraged volunteers to talk with staff and learn more about the shelter's needs."
At World Vision's Bronx warehouse, which distributes clothing to the world's poorest children, Shaniquoa Elrington '00 and her mother, Audrey Humes, of Brooklyn, helped out by sorting clothing destined for schools and hospitals.
"I had heard of World Vision, but today I got to see it up close," said Humes. "It was a great experience in every way. It really brought home to me that there are people out there who have very little and really need these items. And I got to spend quality time with my daughter."
Other alumni made dolls and packaged crafts for Project Sunshine, run by Cornell alumna Margaux Neiderbach and serving children and families facing medical challenges.
"It was a good experience and it was fun to spend time with, and build a common sense of purpose among, people ranging from my age all the way up to the ages of my grandparents. I would definitely do it again," said Lauren Coakley '04, who recently returned from a Peace Corps assignment in Grenada. She volunteered with her grandparents, Art and Dotty Kesten, both '44.
Mady Hornig '78, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, and her son cleaned stairwells with a volunteer crew at Broadway Presbyterian Church Community Center, which serves the homeless in Morningside Heights. She ended the day, she said, committed to connect the center with a city agency selling eco-friendly cleaning products to nonprofit organizations.
"These chemicals are not good for me," she said. "So they can't be good for homeless people. Cornell may be red, but it's also green."