The word “volunteer” conjures up different images for different people. For some, it’s the image of a church congregation collecting toys for children or members of Habitat for Humanity building a house for a needy family. For others, it’s a volunteer firefighter or paramedic. The word volunteer can evoke the image of youths and young adults lending a helping hand to the elderly, or retired senior citizens giving their time to help needy families For SUNY Potsdam our small army of volunteers is what makes the difference between a good college and one that is truly alive.
The fundamental premise is simple: Give a portion of personal time for a particular cause and receive no direct payment or compensation in return.
Volunteering covers a wide spectrum — from manual labor to serving as a consultant on a board or committee. Volunteering can include fundraising, campaigning or even putting in some extra hours on the job and not getting paid.
For many, volunteering is a form of civic responsibility. For others, it’s a personal sense of fulfillment. Whatever the motivation, volunteers are an essential element of our society. As a nonprofit institution, SUNY Potsdam has come to rely heavily on its volunteers. Its volunteers serve on several boards, donate time and money to the College, conduct valuable research, keep alumni information current, and provide experienced consultation that would be otherwise unaffordable and untenable.
THE WHITE GLOVE CLUB
Molly (Hershman) Amoriell ’71 and Suzanne Lebeda honorary ’06 had no intentions of creating a large showcase of the College’s history in a renovated portion of Satterlee Hall. But, like many projects that begin small, Amoriell and Lebeda found themselves diving head-long into what would turn into a major gallery on campus.
MARY E. ENGLISH COMMONS
What began as a collection of early photographs became the foundation for the Mary E. English Commons.
“The exhibition designer, Peter Shrope, estimated this is a $750,000 to break $1 million project,” said Amoriell, co-chairwoman of the project along with College Librarian and Archivist Jane (Gatta) Subramanian ’72 and Vicki (O’Neill) Hayes ’89. “We’re doing it on a budget of $100,000, and that’s because of all the volunteers and donors who have made this happen.”
The exhibit, which will be located in Satterlee Hall just outside the Rebecca V. Sheard Literacy Center, will feature 33 dynamic 4-foot by 7-foot panels featuring historic photographs and synopses on topics relating to the College’s history.
“We believe we are the first school to do a history of the College like this anywhere in the SUNY system,” Lebeda said. “That’s only appropriate, since we are the oldest College in the SUNY system.”
The work of more than 50 volunteers over the past two years will be unveiled this summer during Reunion Weekend when SUNY Potsdam will dedicate the Mary E. English Commons. Under the direction of a professional exhibit designer and graphic artist, the group is transforming the foyer of Satterlee Hall into a permanent exhibit hall to showcase the College’s rich history and traditions. Among the volunteers is a group of researchers known affectionately as “The White Glove Club,” named for the attire required for working with fragile materials in the College Archives, located in Crumb Library.
Pictured (from the left): Jane Subramanian ’72, Virginia Cayey ’60, Nancy Griffin, Molly Amoriell ’71
A prototype of one of the panels was unveiled at last summer’s Reunion Weekend, and Amoriell said the dedication of the project will take place during this summer’s Reunion Weekend.
Lebeda, a retired director of publications from SUNY Potsdam, is the graphic designer on the project. She was tasked with designing the panels as well as overseeing the final printing, which is done in Albany.
But they’re not the only ones. Amoriell has four pages of volunteer names. People, including faculty and emeriti, have donated their time to research the history of the College, meet with former faculty, advise the project, travel to the printer’s in Albany, and assemble the panels. High school students from the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Education Services’ Seaway Area Career and Technical Center in Norwood constructed the wood columns on which the panels will be placed. Director of Donor Relations Nancy Griffin helped organize fundraisers for the project and contributed to the Events and Ceremonies panel. Even SUNY Potsdam students researched the Student Organization panel.
“No one person is being singled out or stands out above the crowd,” Amoriell said. “This was a group that came to represent the unity of this College. The volunteer efforts of all these people made this happen.”
Amoriell, who is married to Dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies William Amoriell ’68, also volunteers her time as a member of the School of Education Alumni Board and the Alumni Association. She hopes that the Mary E. English Commons becomes a destination point for the entire campus.
“This was such an unsightly space before the renovations,” she said. “Because it’s a hallway where many people pass each day, it should receive a lot of attention. We’re also hoping it will become a place to hold receptions and special events.”
Finding the words to describe the ease at which the gallery has moved forward has become the challenge. Without directly coming out and saying it, Lebeda believes there has been some divine intervention to make the gallery become a reality.
“There’s been something guiding this entire project,” Lebeda said. “Peter (Shrope) has been amazing. He worked on projects for NASA, so he brings a huge amount of knowledge with him. We’re right on schedule. And everyone came together and has been working so well. This was supposed to happen.”
Since 1964, Norma Jean Lamb has been volunteering a portion of her time to SUNY Potsdam. She graduated from Potsdam in 1951 but admits she wasn’t involved much with the College in the years following her graduation. She was busy with completing graduate programs and establishing her career first as a music teacher then as a music librarian for the Buffalo Public Library.
NORMA JEAN LAMB ’51
In 1964, the College asked for volunteer secretaries to help organize class reunions and keep the College informed of class members’ whereabouts.
“I did it for seven years, then I thought maybe someone else might want to have a turn,” Lamb said from her Buffalo home. “Another member of the class did it for several years and then gave it back to me. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Lamb said she never considered what she does for the College to be volunteering. However she agreed that she has willingly given her time to a cause in which she strongly believes.
Lamb continues to write the remaining 93 members of the Class of ’51 a yearly newsletter, which she sends out each December. She also organizes five-year reunions at the College, which the class has been doing since 1971. Last summer, more than half the class returned to Potsdam for Reunion Weekend.
The class has a single point of contact with Lamb. She canvasses members to discern if the class wants to donate money to a campus cause. So far, the Class of ’51 has donated to the Minerva Plaza and endowed a scholarship in the class’ name.
Lamb says her motivation comes from the deep respect she has for the College.
“It’s a small school with a strong spirit,” she said. “I’m grateful for the musical experience, which allowed me to sing in several choral groups. It also helped lead me down my career path as a music librarian.”
Michael Lahendro is a guidance counselor at Brushton-Moira High School, a small school about a 30-minute drive from Potsdam. A 1977 graduate of SUNY Potsdam, Lahendro began volunteering his freshman year at the Potsdam Big Brothers/Big Sisters. He also officiated a number of sporting events while attending Potsdam and participated in intramural sports.
MICHAEL LAHENDRO ’77
Since he graduated 30 years ago, he has continued to volunteer for the community as well as for the College.
“There’s always been a strong sense of community at Potsdam,” he said. “For some reason, I always felt like I belonged there.”
While always looking for and recruiting future Potsdam students in his role as guidance counselor, Lahendro also directly volunteers much of his time back to the College. Currently, he serves on SUNY Potsdam’s Alumni Association Board of Trustees, which works closely with the College to keep alumni connected to one another and to Potsdam.
In addition, Lahendro lends time during his summer vacation to attend summer orientation sessions for incoming Potsdam freshmen. With a degree in sociology, he also helps man the Department of Sociology booth at career events, promoting the College and its sociology program.
“Potsdam had such a big impact on me,” he said. “Now I’m just trying to give a little something back to the College that helped shape who I am today.”
REALITIES OF PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
In the early 1970s, Michael Galane was just starting college at SUNY Oneonta when he wrote a letter to the state asking which schools offered a degree in computer science. At that time, few schools offered a computer science program. One that did and was leading the nation in computer science education was SUNY Potsdam.
MICHAEL GALANE ’74
Galane, originally of Long Island, decided to transfer in as a junior. Graduating in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a math/science minor, he went to work at Kodak as a programmer. In 1983, he left Rochester and headed for California to work for a relatively new company at the time called Hewlett Packard.
For the next 17 years, Galane lived and worked in the heart of the Silicone Valley. He quickly moved up through the ranks at HP, becoming an executive at what is now a $90 billion company and 11th on the Fortune 500 list. Six years ago, he moved to an HP facility outside Sacramento, Calif., and took over HP’s supply chain, overseeing $4 billion worth of product a year.
It wasn’t just for his knowledge of computers that got Galane promoted. He attributes his corporate successes to the liberal arts education he received in Northern New York.
“As I started to move up in management, it was my liberal arts education from Potsdam that gave me an edge over strictly computer science students,” said Galane, whose full title at HP is senior director, project program management, enterprise storage and servers. “(A liberal arts education) teaches you to think more broadly about everything. As you move away from more traditional entry-level positions and toward management, the liberal arts education helps you better understand other cultures and gives you the ability to think critically. It’s a real advantage.”
It wasn’t until more recently that Galane began reconnecting with his alma mater. In 1998, then College President John A. Fallon III was visiting California alumni. He contacted and met Galane, beginning Galane’s serious commitment of lending his support to Potsdam.
Since that encounter, Galane has helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment from HP, providing Potsdam with much needed computer equipment, including more than 20 computer systems for the F.W. Crumb Memorial Library. Currently, Galane volunteers as a member of the College’s Foundation Board, usually making it back to Potsdam twice a year for the board’s bi-annual meetings.
For Galane, volunteering his time, knowledge and support to the College is his way of giving back to the school that helped launch what has become a very successful career.
“I didn’t realize how much the financial picture had changed,” he said, referring to the loss of state aid over the years. “There is a real need for support at public universities. And the private sector can provide that critical support.”
Most people don’t realize the full extent of Potsdam’s influence on the surrounding region, especially when it comes to volunteer services.
There is the obvious economic base that the College provides by being one of the largest employers in the county and accounting for a large consumer base for the region in travel and goods, but what may be less apparent is the community service and volunteerism that the campus regularly provides to its host community and that is fostered by the SUNY Potsdam culture and programs. Without that kind of commitment from the campus, many essential human and social services would go completely unfulfilled.
Karen (Butler) Easter ’75 came to Potsdam in 1971 on a full scholarship after becoming a National Merit Scholar finalist. She was also pursuing her high school love at the time, who was also attending Potsdam. Upon realizing that her love was not going to be reciprocated, she promptly looked for something to take her mind off her broken heart.
She started working at a student-run call center named Switchboard, which turned into more of a “hippie hangout” than a crisis hotline. When Switchboard fell apart, Easter and another classmate, Dale Hobson ’75, started a new hotline that was meant as a safe place for gay and lesbian students to call. Hobson, who is today president of Reachout’s board of directors, and Easter were given a single telephone to use in an already occupied office.
“The first night the phones were turned on, it turned out to be the night of the Blizzard of ’77,” Easter recounts. “The overnight person received Reachout’s first phone call from a guy who kept saying ‘You’ve got to help me; I can’t get the hotdog through.’ Being in an office with no windows, he had no idea what was going on outside. He thought it was an obscene phone call and hung up. Come to find out, it was the Armour Hot Dog truck, and the driver was trying to call and tell someone at the College he couldn’t get food through because of the storm. We still don’t know how he got that number.”
Today, Reachout is a crisis hotline that serves five counties across the state’s North Country and fields calls relating to numerous issues including depression, rape, where to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and other community services. Easter serves as the agency’s executive director, and her son, Hollis, 25, is the director of recruitment.
Hollis, who recently graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania after receiving a four-year scholarship, looks his age. Yet, he speaks with the confidence of a seasoned professional who has spent many years in business. Which, in truth, he has.
After spending his day at the Campus Learning Center, a campus elementary school that closed back in the 1990s, Easter would bring Hollis to the Reachout office and let him hang out with the volunteers. Today, Hollis spends several weeks going from classroom to classroom on campus, telling students about Reachout and always looking for new recruits.
Recently, Hollis was asked to join the board of directors of Contact USA, a consortium of more than 60 crisis hotlines spanning the country. He considers the invitation a tremendous honor, which he plans to accept.
Running a nonprofit agency, however, is no easy feat, and one of the biggest hurdles is paying employees. Easter said the agency’s budget is heavily dependent on state funding, which has remained nearly flat for a decade.
Hollis has had several offers from graduate schools and private employers. While he understands Reachout will never be able to pay him the salary he has the potential to earn at a private company or even with a government agency, he believes his place is in Potsdam.
“Working here, I know I can go home and say ‘I helped someone today.’ The work needs to be done, and it won’t go on without us. It’s a lifeline for many people in our community.”
With such a tight budget, it’s no surprise Reachout relies heavily on its student volunteers. Those volunteers manage the telephones 24 hours a day, maintain call databases, help train new recruits and offer each other some much needed companionship necessary in such a high-stress, life-dependent situation.
What most North Country residents fail to realize is just how much the community relies on these students. Easter estimates that 90 percent of all calls into Reachout come from community members while only about 10 percent come from students. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of volunteers are college students.
Karen Parnapy, a sophomore psychology major from Malone, NY, plans to stay and work in the North Country most likely as a human service counselor. Volunteering at Reachout has improved her listening skills because, as she said, “you never know what you’re going to get when you pick up the phone.”
“This is the kind of experience you’ll never get in the classroom,” she said. “I’m learning about the specific problems that people in the North Country are facing.”
Alyssa Farenell ’06 graduated with a degree in art education but is now working full time as an administrative assistant at Reachout.
Farenell, who began volunteering in high school, said she first started volunteering at Reachout in 2003 and worked part-time during the summers when students are scarce. Farenell, who is currently applying to graduate schools, said she doesn’t plan to stay with Reachout permanently. However, she does believe the skills she has gained working at Reachout will stay with her for life.
“I do all kinds of things here,” she said. “Right now I’m updating their databases and am helping train new volunteers. No matter what I wind up doing, I’ll probably volunteer again. It just feels like the right thing to do.”
When asked why she has stayed with Reachout all these years, Easter first says she has no idea. Then she answers, “Who else would do it?” But there are other reasons. She gets to watch student volunteers grow into responsible adults.
“You get to see this amazing transformation in the students,” she said. “I get to watch them bloom. They often come here lacking communication skills, and they leave here with better skills and more confidence in themselves.”
At first glance, the term Experiential Education may sound a bit awkward for the former Office of Internship Programs. But the program’s director, Toby White ’89, explains how the title embodies the mission of the program in its entirety.
“Internships and volunteer opportunities allow students to learn through experience rather than just in the classroom,” White said. “In doing so, students gain the value of a whole education through the pedagogy of experiential education, and the community benefits from the students’ labors.” It is the classic win-win situation.
Many students are genuinely interested in volunteering. Others seek volunteer opportunities to help them get experience in their field of study. Several honors programs even require some level of volunteering. Another advantage is that there are no restrictions on volunteering, whereas students need 60 credit hours and must be in good academic standing to be awarded an internship.
“This generation volunteers a lot,” White said. “The Millennial Generation is already volunteering in high school. When they come to college, they want to continue because, for them, it’s what feels right.”
Currently, students volunteer in numerous places for various reasons, and White is happy to offer campus support. He even has a red Potsdam volunteer pin for them to wear, whether they’re volunteering on campus, in town or across the country.
“It’s a great way for people to see where these students are from and connect Potsdam to doing great things,” he said. “It shows Potsdam’s commitment to the outside world.”
Up until now, White’s ability to assess student volunteerism has been limited. However, the College recently purchased software that will allow White to comprehensively track student volunteers and even provide them with validation of their efforts.
The database will allow employees and agencies to specify exactly what kind of volunteer opportunities are available or needed, and students will be able to search for opportunities that interest them.
White also believes that those who volunteered or interned in college are more likely to give that same opportunity back to today’s college students.
Once the new database is firmly in place, White hopes to offer certificates to volunteers as proof of their service.
“Students need not only incentives,” he said, “but also recognition of their efforts.”