To highlight how local partnerships improve Cornell, Ithaca and Tompkins County, the university presented the Cornell Town-Gown Awards – known as the TOGOs – to three student-community collaborations.
The 13th annual TOGOs were awarded Nov. 4 at Ithaca High School, the first in-person ceremony since 2019.
Receiving the TOGO partnership honors were:
- Student Resource Navigator Program, through which students help local citizens obtain health care and maintain physical well-being;
- Pro Bono Reentry Legal Assistance, a collaboration between Cornell Law School students and local attorneys to help formerly incarcerated people successfully return to society; and
- Big Red Adaptive Play and Design Initiative, a Cornell student group that adapts toys and other devices to make them accessible for people with physical disabilities.
“The partnerships between Cornell and our community absolutely strengthen us,” said President Martha E. Pollack, who gave opening remarks. “These annual town-gown awards are just a wonderful opportunity to celebrate and honor what we love so much about this shared community, the remarkable spirit of dedication and partnership that has had such a tremendous impact on the quality of life here in Tompkins County.”
Garrick Blalock, Ithaca City School District board member and associate professor at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, kicked off the ceremony, which also included Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life; Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations; Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education; and Jens Ohlin, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School.
The Student Resource Navigator Program is a partnership between Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Tompkins County and Cayuga Health Partners that trains undergraduates to address patients’ social needs. Through a work-study program, the student “navigators” work in health care settings to initiate and track referrals to community resources that improve health and well-being.
Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) provides support to recruit strong student candidates and assist with their participation. The navigators are employed by Cayuga Health Partners through the Community Work-Study Program, funded by the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, which also supports a CCE summer internship for the initiative.
The TOGO certificates were awarded to Grace Zielinski, community health coordinator, CCE of Tompkins County; Foula K. Dimopoulos, adviser, Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives; Lara Parrilla, co-associate director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity and visiting lecturer in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Master of Public Health program, who holds a joint position with Cayuga Health Partners; and students Madeline Lei ’23, MHA ’25; Kaitlin Deshotel ’25; Serah Dureus ’25 and Ismelda Peña ’25.
Pro Bono Reentry Legal Assistance works through the Cornell Law School’s Department of Public Service and engages Legal Assistance of Western New York with more than 100 Cornell law students and undergraduates to work with attorneys on behalf of formerly incarcerated people to seal or expunge jail records, and to successfully move them back into productive society. The group received an Engaged Opportunity Grant from the Einhorn Center.
The TOGO certificates were awarded to Jason Hoge of Legal Assistance of Western New York and law students Griffin Perrault and Allayne Thomas.
Big Red Adaptive Play and Design Initiative champions inclusivity by creating tailored adaptations of toys and other devices to address the unique needs of people with disabilities. The initiative, begun in 2021, aspires to break down barriers as students learn soldering, wire modification, accessibility and design. More than 100 Cornell students participate. The modified devices are lent at no charge to people with special needs in the Ithaca City School District, Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (TST-BOCES), Greater Southern Tier BOCES, Racker and other schools and groups.
TOGO certificates were awarded to Michael Dicpinigaitis ’24, the group’s founder; Maya Yu ’24; faculty adviser Tapomayukh Bhattacharjee, assistant professor in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science; and James Beaumont, assistant director of Unity House in Auburn, New York.
Twenty-one retiring community leaders also received TOGOs certificates:
- Andre Bensadoun, forester, Village of Cayuga Heights;
- Heather Campbell, executive director, Advocacy Center, Ithaca;
- Gary Ferguson, executive director, Downtown Ithaca Alliance;
- Glenn Galbreath, town justice, Village of Cayuga Heights;
- Rob Gearhart, member, City of Ithaca Common Council;
- Denise Gomber, executive director, Downtown Ithaca Children’s Center;
- Bill Goodman, board member and former town supervisor, Town of Ithaca;
- Greg Hartz ’83, president, Tompkins Community Bank/Tompkins Financial;
- Carol Kammen, county historian, Tompkins County;
- David Klein ’69, board member and justice, Town of Ithaca;
- Liz Klohmann, director, Ithaca Youth Bureau;
- Laura Lewis, mayor, City of Ithaca;
- Chris Malcolm, Board of Education, Ithaca City School District;
- Jim Marshall, trustee, Village of Cayuga Heights;
- George McGonigal, member, City of Ithaca Common Council;
- Schelley Michell-Nunn, director of human resources, City of Ithaca;
- Vince Monticello, deputy chief, Ithaca Police Department;
- Sue Ritter, director of planning, Town of Ithaca;
- Angela Sullivan, executive director, Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County;
- Steven Thayer, controller, City of Ithaca; and
- Patricia Wasyliw, Board of Education, Ithaca City School District.