475 SUNY Potsdam Students "Make a Difference" with 850 Volunteer Hours


When SUNY Potsdam and its students say they are committed to making a difference locally, regionally and nationally, they don’t mess around. Approximately 475 students contributed more than 850 hours – the equivalent of more than 35 days – of volunteer work during the College’s “Make a Difference Week.”

Dozens of organizations benefited from the students’ work, including the Potsdam Neighborhood Center, St. Lawrence County NYSARC NEXUS Program, Potsdam Humane Society, Renewal House, CAVA, Make A Wish Foundation, American Cancer Society, Campus Rescue Squad, Make Child Smile, Potsdam Chamber of Commerce’s Fright Night, Melissa’s Closet, Potsdam Village Clean Up and United Helpers.

The students raised a total of $1,300, collected 50 pounds of food, donated more than 60 prom dresses and created 234 cards for terminally ill children and amassed more than 200 clothing items.

This is the second year SUNY Potsdam has taken the idea of “USA WEEKEND” Magazine’s Make a Difference Day and turned it into a week of helping others. The effort has really caught on, with the amount of students volunteering this year showing an increase of more than 300 percent. Nearly 13 percent of the undergraduate student body took part in the endeavor. Student volunteers ranged all class years, majors and socio-economic backgrounds.

“I can't even explain how excited I am that we were able to get so many students involved,” said Donnita Firnstein, counselor in SUNY Potsdam’s Office of Experiential Education who co-organized the event. “It really feels good to help students in finding ways to make a difference in our community as well as across the nation and internationally. I hope students begin to look forward to doing this each fall.”

Firnstein and her intern, senior Alison Chiasson of East Rochester, worked to recruit both volunteers and sites at which they could lend a hand.

Firnstein noted students said they wanted to volunteer in the past, but didn’t know how to go about it. Now that they have gotten a taste for it, many students are ready to volunteer on a regular basis.

“Once the volunteer bug bites and they can see how supportive our office is, they want to know what else they can do,” Firnstein said. “Many students expressed to me what a good idea it was and how glad they were they could volunteer their time to bring awareness to issues and raise funds.”

Sophomore business administration major Alex Allen of Lyons Falls volunteered for many organizations during Make a Difference Week, but he also regularly serves the community through his involvement in the Circle K Club.

“There are many people out there that need help and assistance, whether it is a smile or financial help, and through my efforts I have helped at least one person in some way,” said Allen. “The feeling I get from helping others is indescribable. There is no doubt in my mind that I will always help my community and people.”

Those interested in dropping off items such as dresses for Melissa's Closet, winter clothing or non-perishable food items may do so by bringing them to 114 Sisson Hall. For more information about our programs contact Firnstein at firnstdl@potsdam.edu.