SUNY Fredonia students return early to help community

The week before classes began, most college students were savoring their final week off before returning to SUNY Fredonia for the start of their spring semester; however, members of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship returned to Fredonia early for a week of voluntary community service.

InterVarsity is an inter-denominational student ministry on campus, and they declared their sixth annual winter service trip a success. The nineteen students and two alumni spent six days serving at 11 different locations around Dunkirk and Fredonia.

Each day, the students volunteered for about five hours, and then returned to Fredonia First United Methodist Church in the evening to eat dinners together that other churches helped provide. During down time, the students prayed for the community together, studied devotionals, listened to visiting pastors who came to speak and rested up for the next day’s work.

They even spent some of their free time writing heartfelt letters to inmates that would be delivered through a prison ministry.

The biggest accomplishments of the service team can be seen at Willow Mission, a homeless shelter that had previously been damaged by a flood. All the while donning shirts that read ‘SERVANT,’ the students worked long and hard to restore the house.

“My favorite part of the trip was when we finished the house at Willow Missions,” said Michael Palazza, a freshman first-time servant. “It was completely in shambles when we had gotten there, and over the five days, it completely got changed. All of the painting, the floors were redone, and it was just awesome to see that we started something and finished it and to see the appreciation on everyone’s faces.”

The home will now be used to house local women who are homeless.

Kathryn Pilgrim, InterVarsity’s campus staff member, kick-started the annual service trip in 2009 when she was a college student, and has attended every year since.

“I started the trip six years ago. It was much shorter then, and we never imagined that it would have this big of an impact on the Chapter and the community,” Said Pilgrim, who graduated from SUNY Fredonia in 2011 with her Bachelors and in 2013 with her Masters degree. “It’s something the students look forward to, and it brings us all together in the body of Christ to connect with a lot of local churches.”

This year Pilgrim served as the event supervisor, while the majority of the trip was organized by the group’s Outreach Coordin-ator Erin Sauerland.

The students hope that through the event, they could not only give back to their community, but that they would gain a better reputation for their generation.

“I hope (people) know that college kids aren’t just these rowdy people,” said chapter President Marsha Cohen, who is in her third year of service. “We don’t destroy the town every weekend; we aren’t all party-goers. We are human beings who aren’t that selfish. We do care about the community that we go to school in.”

Palazza said that he particularly liked serving with Meals on Wheels.

“We got to serve some of the elderly, and they were very grateful to see that young people were getting involved with the community,” he said.

Students also frequented the WCA Home, where they spent time with the elderly women, playing games like Bingo, and painting nails.

Other service locations included, Concord Estates, St. Columban’s, Fredonia Place, the Salvation Army, Dunkirk First Baptist Church, Rural Ministries, the Dunkirk Historical Museum, and Lakeshore Humane Society.

“It’s always good to give back because we have so much,” said Palazza. “Young people care too, and they can make a difference in the community. We can make it a year-long thing, not just a week of service.”

Other participants included Austin Aserian, Jason Black, Katie Cornell, Emily Davis, Anna Ferrante, Andrew Gilbert, Adam Glasier, Travis Jordan, Gina Lanfranchi, Andrea McCarty, Andrew Senseney, Hannah Shea, Michelle Sudyn, Zack Tuttle, Derek West, Melanie Lora, Miranda Warner, and Garrison Koehler.