SBU Students Put Faith into Action

Wendy Healy Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Students from St. Bonaventure University here are reaching out at home and around the world in interesting ways to help those in need. 

For spring break, BonaResponds, a disaster-relief group based at the school, went on its eighth trip to the beleaguered Gulf Coast. 

In May, journalism and mass communication professor Pauline Hoffmann will take a group of students to Bethlehem, Uganda, to promote long-term economic sustainability through education and a micro-loan program. 

Students are also assisting local high schools to coordinate blood drives and income tax assistance for the less fortunate. 

Rebuilding in the Gulf Coast

With 63 students, faculty, alumni and regional volunteers, BonaResponds went to Pass Christian and Pearlington, Miss., from Feb. 22 to March 1, to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. In addition, seven volunteers traveled to Gassville, Ark., to work with Hands on Disaster Response to aid victims of the February tornadoes.

Volunteers hung drywall, painted, installed electrical work and delivered goods and appliances. They also listened to Katrina victims who are still suffering, living in trailers, and attempting to rebuild their homes and their lives. 

Trees, debris, garbage, parts of houses and slabs of foundation remain strewn about many communities, according to Emily Ciraolo a St. Bonaventure senior.  People continue to live in tents outside of New Orleans. 

“The storm was an experience,” one victim recounted to the volunteers, “but the two-and-a-half-years after have been holy hell.”

“Initially after the storm, volunteers came by the hundreds to help because it
was sexy,” said Dr. Jim Mahar, founder of BonaResponds and SBU assistant
professor of finance. “Well, it’s not sexy anymore. It’s hard work that, at times, can be frustrating. That really says a lot about BonaResponds nearly three years after the storm after even many national groups pulled out of the area.”

The objective is simple: “We will continue to go back and help others until the job is done,” said Mahar.

BonaResponds was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It has taken approximately 500 volunteers to the Gulf Coast and led just as many volunteers in service projects throughout Western New York. BonaResponds aims to be a world-class organization whose mission is to help people in need, as well as to build better leaders and better communities. The group, comprised of students, faculty, staff, alumni and local residents, is run completely through donations.

On March 29, the organization is holding its first Buffalo Service Day, an extension of its local service days that have been held semiannually in Olean, N.Y., and Allegany.  A volunteer meeting to start the day will start at  9:30 a.m. at the Valley Community Association Center on Leddy Street in Buffalo, N.Y.

Traveling to Bethlehem, Uganda
Students Matthew Keenan of Rochester, Zachary Rodriguez of Syracuse, and Erin Danahy, Lindsay Pohlman of Buffalo and senior Rachel Siepierski of Buffalo will go in May to the Bethlehem Parents School in Bethlehem, Uganda, with journalism and mass communication professor Pauline Hoffmann.

Through the school’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization and the nonprofit Both Your Hands, the students will promote long-term economic sustainability through education and a micro-loan program.

The Bonaventure group will teach 350 students about individual talents and financial responsibility. A micro-loan project will also be established so local adults can start small businesses. Peer workshops will allow people to discuss their projects. 

SIFE has taken yearly educational and entrepreneurial service trips to the Bahamas and the Gulf Coast.

Community Blood Bank Challenge
SBU students are also working with nine local high schools to help them promote their blood banks in the Community Blood Bank Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The goal is to dramatically increase blood units and to encourage life-long donation habits, according to Todd Palmer, SBU instructor and project leader. 

“Our students held a leadership day at each school to assist them with setting up their blood drives,” said Palmer. 

“Each school does a themed blood drive and all the schools will compete in a marketing competition in May.” So far, results are impressive, with Whitesville, N.Y., High School in the lead with 30 units of blood. 

Helping the Needy with Tax Preparation

For the past four years, SBU has worked on Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a program to help the working poor file their income taxes. 

This year, students asked the local mall to donate space, transforming it into an office that looks like a professional tax service. With backing from the United Way and the Department of Social Services to advertise the program, in just two weeks, VITA has surpassed the number of clients it helped last year.  “This service is marketing dignity,” Palmer said.

Those who would like to donate to BonaResponds can send checks to BonaResponds, Attn: Jim Mahar, School of Business, Box BY, St. Bonaventure, NY 14778. All donations are tax deductible. 

Both Your Hands is a nonprofit organization designed to connect caring communities with poor villages to create self-sufficiency and pride in achievement. The organization was founded in 2001 by Deborah Naybor, a small business owner from upstate New York.

— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and occasional contributor to HNP Today.

NOTE:  Information about the service programs in which Siena College students participate will appear in an upcoming issue of this newsletter.