The article is reprinted with minor edits from Siena’s website.
LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — For the work he has done at the prison, Dennis Tamburello, OFM, received the Volunteer of the Year Award from Mount McGregor Correctional Facility.
“I was not expecting the award,” Dennis said after the Oct. 24 event.. “But, I have to say, it warmed my heart. I am no more deserving than any other volunteer, but I appreciate the fact that I was recognized; it was really nice to hear. The people at Mt. McGregor are really grateful for everyone who volunteers.”
Mount McGregor is a medium-security, all male correctional facility located in Wilton, N.Y. Dennis has served as a part-time chaplain with the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision since 1991, but started his volunteer work at Mount McGregor, mostly teaching classes, in 2009.
“I have never worked with a group of students that are more motivated and more grateful to learn than these students,” Dennis said. “Many of them used to despise school, but they are now finding talents they never knew that had. It changes their whole image about themselves and they are really very intellectually curious. They get fired up and serious about excelling in their classes.”
Siena’s vice president for academic affairs, Linda Richardson, said volunteer professors such as Dennis put Siena’s Franciscan value of service into practice and they witness the transformative power education has on the incarcerated students. “It takes a lot of time and effort to teach a class at Mt. McGregor,” Richardson said. “The experience for volunteer faculty is incredibly empowering, invigorating and reaffirming.”
Dennis, who believes that the work he’s doing ties to the Franciscan spirit of the college, said he enjoys his time at Mount McGregor.
“It’s about doing the right thing, not looking for recognition,” Dennis said. “It’s a very humbling experience, and there’s a possibility I might teach another religion course at Mount McGregor.”
In the spring of 2010, Siena College launched a program to offer credit-bearing courses at Mt. McGregor. Since then, motivated Siena professors such as Dennis have taught 20 courses from various disciplines, including Introduction to Social Work, Statistics for Social Sciences, Music Theory and Marketing.
“The variety of courses provides a well-rounded liberal arts experience for the incarcerated students, which has immense value and versatility in everyday life,” said Richardson. “They learn new ways to view the world and how they are connected to everyone in it.” Richardson said that the courses also help the students think creatively about their futures.
— Lexi Palma is a senior at Siena College.