Verrazzano Honors Program Students Lend Their Efforts to Habitat for Humanity

From L-R: Thomas McCullough, Matthew Dodge, Mahjazee Ruiz, Sheryar Choudhry, Gianna Liantonio, Cynthia Palumbo, Cheryl Craddock (seated), Anila Fecanji.

Students in the College of Staten Island’s Verrazzano Honors Program are no strangers to community service, and the school recently added to their list of community partners by lending their efforts to Habitat for Humanity, aiding in the non-profit’s efforts to build homes, community, and hope to those less fortunate.

According to Associate Director Cheryl Craddock, the partnership is a new one, but one that the program is hoping to be a part of for the long haul. “It is a brand new partnership, but we’ve been in touch to start to think about helping other projects in the spring,” she said.  “If we can build some momentum, perhaps we’ll look into forming a College Chapter at CSI with Habitat for Humanity.  I know the students who participated had a great time. Many of them had never heard of the organization, and so that experience was great. There is something about seeing concrete progress on a project that’s really gratifying.”

A total of six Verrazzano students lent themselves to the effort, along with two recent alumni, and two staffers.  The team started their work in Livingston, N.J., doing such projects as paint prep, back yard leveling, and the laying of weed-resistant cloth to the home’s exterior. 

Students that are taking part in the effort are excited to lend themselves to a great cause, while also enjoying their time with peers outside of the classroom.  “It has been an enriching experience working with Habitat for Humanity,” said CSI student Thomas McCullough. “We met a few wonderful people that frequent the program, including the homeowner, and it’s allowed me to make new friends. With the pandemic, it’s been very difficult to make new academic connections, so something like this is a perfect opportunity to create some new friendships. It’s the same with the staff of Verrazzano. It’s been close to two years since we had seen one another in person, so working with Habitat for Humanity was a great opportunity to reconnect.”

The Verrazzano team will be working alongside Habitat for Humanity all semester, and already has plans to work on another project soon in Newark.  “Science tells us that volunteering is good for the volunteer, so we’re motivated by that,” Craddock said.  “It’s great to try to help bright, motivated students to develop the habit of volunteering. Many of our students volunteer in areas relevant to their career goals, and with libraries, youth sports, food pantries, soup kitchens, or with vulnerable and neurodiverse populations. In addition to service, students really learn about their communities and the challenges that people face. We hope this helps build not only camaraderie but a connection to the community.”

Community service has become one of the hallmarks of the Verrazzano Honors Program.  All Verrazzano students complete 40 hours of community service, according to Craddock, with a majority of students doing far more.  Between 2015-2020, Verrazzano students logged over 20,000 hours of community service.  Events in the past have ranged from working the NYC Marathon, Kayak Staten Island, Project Hospitality, Richmondtown events, and individual volunteer endeavors with local libraries, schools, hospitals, and senior centers.

“We’d like to develop more,” said Craddock enthusiastically. “Many of our relationships are built through the students themselves. For example, we’ve had a number of volunteers with the good people at Freshkills Parks. Our students are so enthusiastic and reliable, personnel from the park have met with us to make sure lines of communication remain open and that we know about their events. Likewise, we’re developing great connections with Historic Richmondtown because our students do such a great job, and turn out. Every time I meet someone who works in the non-profit sector, I let them know we have a group of students looking for opportunities to help. While the majority of service happens because students seek out individual opportunities, we’re always looking for ways to create connections as a program.”

In addition to the partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the Verrazzano Honors Program has volunteered with Pumpkin Picking at Decker Farms this semester, The Richmond County Fair, a Fresh Kills Park cleanup effort, and various efforts on the CSI campus as well.

“I became an Eagle Scout when I was younger so the world of volunteering has always been familiar to me,” commented McCullough. “It’s an easy and important way to help your community. It gives you another perspective on your community. Allowing you to help return the favor for all that has been given to you in your life.”

To find out more about the Verrazzano Honors Program, visit their Website, or follow them on Instagram.

By David Pizzuto