Siena College Students Engage in Community Work

Janet Gianopoulos Around the Province

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Siena College is extending itself to help the community in two ways. For the spring semester, it welcomed a new program, The Siena College Presidential Mission and Service VISTA Fellows Program, which will bring five full-time VISTA members to the campus. In January, two friars accompanied a group of students to volunteer at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. 

Donna Smith, director of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s New York State office, welcomed Siena College to the VISTA family, and explained that the spirit of the program is to “fight poverty with passion.”

Integrating Service Learning
Working with VISTA, Siena College will better serve New York State’s Capital Region, with a special focus on unmet needs and anti-poverty initiatives. “There’s been groundwork for years, with various initiatives,” PresidentKevin Mullen, OFM, shown in photo above, said, “and institutionally, by founding the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy which has engaged students to serve in the region since 1999. The overall goal with our new initiative will be to integrate and escalate applied service learning through each Siena College student’s educational career,” bringing students closer to the wider community. 

Siena faculty member Dr. Mathew Johnson, who spearheaded the grant request for this federal program, will be responsible for overall direction and coordination of the grant activities. “I was a first-generation college student, without the means to go home on breaks, so Siena became a home to me,” said Johnson, who graduated in 1993. 

Siena’s first four VISTAs are: Nicole Tommasini, who will work at the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy, assisting in developing and implementing Siena College Bonner Leaders and Siena College Scholars programs with Dr. Johnson and Judy Dougherty. Yalitza Negron, from Pine Bush, N.Y., will be Community Based Research Partnership Program coordinator, working with Dr. Johnson on organizing, promoting and better articulating the variety of service learning opportunities. Ca-Sonya Young, of Albany, N.Y., will serve as a coordinator of the Siena Urban Scholars program, directed by Dr. Bob Colesante of the Center for Urban Education. Richard Sheward of Schenectady, N.Y., will coordinate an Urban Environmental Health and Justice program for youth, working with Dr. Rob Breen at Siena. A fifth VISTA person will be selected as a community partnership coordinator, to help grow and develop volunteer training, placement, recruitment and tracking via the Franciscan Center.

Volunteering in Philadelphia
In addition, in January, Siena students volunteered at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.  
Larry Anderson, OFM
, and Walter Liss, OFM, accompanied 
Meaghan Hart, Ciara Greene, James La Grutta, Brian Kane, Clare Jednak, Stephanie Spindler, Emily McHugh, Susie Blaisdell, and Kendra Perro to the Inn, shown in photo at right. 

“Apparent was the neighborhood’s poverty,” McHugh wrote for the Promethean, Siena’s student newspaper, “but quickly noted was the array of interesting personalities residing there as a guest, volunteer, or staff member.

The Province established St. Francis Inn in 1979.

— Janet Gianopoulos is director of Siena College’s News Services.