Office of Disability Services Student Club Volunteers at SIKC Dog Show

Stephanie Pietropaolo enjoys her time as a volunteer at the SIKC Dog Show.

While the Staten Island Kennel Club (SIKC) proudly paraded their pups at its 106th annual Dog Show, which was held at the College of Staten Island, the Office of Disability Services at CSI had something else to be proud of.

For the second year in a row, the Office’s student organization, the ALPHA Club (Academics, Leadership, Public Service, Honor, & Acceptance) came out to help with the event on June 25 and 26, 2011. About 12 ALPHA volunteers did everything from setting up canine agility courses to assisting in scorekeeping.

“Thanks to the members of ALPHA, we were able to volunteer and show support to the community. It was great to see how we all worked as a team to help make this event successful,” noted Kelyn Potes, ALPHA Club President. “I’m proud of all our members for their hard work in the blazing sun. They are continually giving of their time to help others, and that is what makes ALPHA such a wonderful club,” added Marybeth Melendez, Club Adviser and former Club President.

The ALPHA Club is certainly making their mark, both at CSI and in the Staten Island community. They have raised and donated over $1,500 to the American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti and also volunteer to make, donate, and distribute food, as well as hold recreational workshops for children at Project Hospitality.

The Club was the recipient of CSI’s Philanthropic Club Award for two years in a row (2010-2011) and also received the Ellen Krieger Service Award for its “Peanut Butter & Jelly Jam” program, in which students made hundreds of sandwiches and bagged lunches for the homeless.

The Office of Disability Services is a part of the Division of Student Affairs. For more information regarding the diverse and comprehensive services available to CSI students, please visit the Student Affairs website.

Students Enlist in National Latino Oral History Project

Rodolfo Rivera and Érika Valdez participated in the StoryCorps Historias project last week.

Students of Hispanic descent at the College of Staten Island had the rare opportunity to participate in the StoryCorps Historias project last week.

The project, according to a StoryCorps statement “is a groundbreaking initiative in partnership with the Latino Public Radio Consortium, Latino USA, and the U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project, to record and preserve the diverse stories and life experiences of Latinos in the United States.”

Last Thursday, nine CSI students had the chance to interview their relatives and fellow classmates for the project. The overall attitude from the participants was one of enthusiasm and pride.

Érika Valdez, a junior who is double-majoring in Spanish and English, said, “It was fun. I honestly enjoyed it.” 

Érika interviewed Rodolfo Rivera, a senior who is also a double-major in Spanish and English. He walked over the U.S. border over 20 years ago with a ninth-grade education and no clear plans for the future. Since then, he worked to get his documents, go back to school, and become a pastor on Staten Island. He eventually hopes to become a teacher “to give back whatever I can.”

Érika shared her feelings regarding the importance of her interview with Rodolfo. “I believe it’s important because there are many others standing in [Rodolfo’s] shoes who don’t have the ability to succeed, and he has mastered it. He serves as an example that although you are an immigrant and many might discriminate against you, you are no different than anybody else.”

Rodolfo agreed with Érika, when discussing his take on participating in the project. “I feel privileged because I’m being the voice of many who may never have the chance to voice their opinions.”

Kelyn Potes, a sophomore Spanish major, interviewed her father, Ramiro, who came to the United States from Colombia. She also appreciated the experience because “we get to speak about our experiences and let other people know about them.”

Constance Vélez, a junior who is majoring in Spanish, stressed the social significance of the project for the Hispanic community and beyond. “It’s a great way to show others the way we view each other and how, sometimes, we criticize each other instead of actually being able to understand one another–where we come from, what we do with our lives, and how we grew up, based on what we learned.”

The StoryCorps Historias project at CSI was coordinated by Dr. Sarah Pollack, an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the College. Dr. Pollack reported that “Gabriel Higuera, the Senior Coordinator of the Historias project within StoryCorps contacted CSI Anthropology Professor Ismael García-Colón because his research includes interviewing Hispanic migrant workers…Ismael, in turn, contacted a couple of us who have been involved in the creation of the Certificate in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latina/o Studies (CLACLS). He did not have time to pursue the project, but I was very interested in following through and involving the students from my SPN 455 class (Contemporary Latin American Novel).”

Students in Dr. Pollack’s SPN 455 class have been examining Latin American fiction written during the last 15 years that explores the current state of politics, history, and social issues in the region. Several of these works are based on testimonials and the final novel they read focuses on immigration to the U.S.

In addition, Dr. Pollack noted that “the students in SPN 455 are all of Hispanic background, either the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. They come from Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The opportunity to record their own stories or to interview someone seemed to complement perfectly the material we were studying. I asked students from the class if either they would be interested in being interviewed or knew someone they would like to interview, whose story otherwise might not get told.”

Now that this initial StoryCorps project has concluded, Dr. Pollack commented that other CSI students have expressed interest in doing interviews. She will be working with StoryCorps to see if the College of Staten Island can become a community partner. She added, “The opportunity to tell one’s story for posterity is empowering. Having a public record of the experiences and lives of Staten Island’s Hispanic population is a way for a more inclusive story of New York City to be told. This is a project that speaks to our diverse backgrounds, struggles, and accomplishments – all things that should be celebrated.”

For more information visit the StoryCorps Historias Website.

ALPHA Club Hosts Red Cross Presentation on Haiti, Presents Contribution to Relief Effort

Last week, ALPHA Club members, as well as representatives of the CSI Office of Disability Services and Office of Student Life, hosted a presentation by Denise Bloise, Director of the Brooklyn and Staten Island Chapter of the American Red Cross, not only to present Ms. Bloise with over $1,000 that students had collected for Haitian relief, but also to discuss the current Red Cross efforts in Haiti, and encourage CSI students to get involved to help others in need.

As for the student relief efforts, back in the cold and snowy days of February, members of the ALPHA (Academics, Leadership, Public Service, Humility, and Acceptance) Club (formerly known as the Organization of Unique Individuals) mobilized CSI students, staff, and faculty members, as well as Staten Island businesses, in a two-day effort to raise urgently needed funds to assist victims of the Haitian earthquake that devastated the island nation on January 12, 2010.

The event’s host, Christopher Cruz Cullari, Interim Director of the Office of Disability Services, underscoring the importance of service, noted that the February fundraiser was an example of “good promoting good.” The club’s effort assisted the people of Haiti, and it also brought together people at CSI and in the surrounding community. Further, the fundraiser’s success brought the Red Cross to campus and is now inspiring people to do further good.

ALPHA Club members Marybeth Melendez and Kelyn Potes discussed the reasons for the fundraiser, and the success that they achieved, despite the challenging weather.

Debi Kee, Associate Director of Student Life, commended the ALPHA Club for their efforts and provided other examples of how students can volunteer their time.

The keynote speaker, Ms. Bloise, presented facts and statistics regarding the Red Cross’s massive relief efforts in Haiti and presented examples of what typical monetary donations will provide. She also mentioned that many Haitian Americans from New York City volunteered to go to the stricken island to provide crucial translation services to help Red Cross representatives better help those in need. The presentation concluded with a brief video outlining the services that the Red Cross offers local citizens who have encountered disasters and other adversities.

For more information on the Red Cross Haitian relief, or to volunteer at the local level, go to the Red Cross Website.

CSI Students Unite to Help Haiti

The OUI Club (The Organization of Unique Individuals, The Students with Disabilities), supported by the Gay-Straight Alliance, the Christian Club, the Emerging Leaders, Student Government, and CSI staff members, took on last week’s snowy weather and this week’s cold to hold a two-day fundraiser, “A Little Love on Campus,” for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, raising over $1,000.

Marybeth Melendez, president of the OUI Club, said “I am proud to know that our work, even if in a small way, will help to rebuild a nation, but I’m just as equally proud to report that the OUI Club and the Office of Disability Services helped lead and pave the way…We knocked on doors and our message of collaboration, integration, acceptance, and working together is a message that was not only well heard, but well received.”

The event was initially scheduled only for Thursday, February 11, as a pre-Valentine’s Day celebration, but last week’s heavy snow caused a delayed opening of the school and created problems in obtaining the baked goods, flowers, and balloons that were to be sold. Regardless, the group had baked goods that had been donated by CSI students and they soldiered on, setting up tables in the Library and the Campus Center, and trudging through the snow to offer their wares in person to staff in College offices. Melendez reported that the response was fantastic, regardless of the weather and reduced numbers of people on campus.

After the February 11 sale, the group decided to hold the originally planned event in its entirety, yesterday in the Campus Center. Once again, students offered baked goods, and also flowers and balloons, and raffle chances to win a gift basket that included all the trimmings for a romantic evening, such as dinner passes, movie tickets, and a bottle of sparkling cider. Local businesses who provided saleable items included Shop-Rite, Chock full o’Nuts, Party City, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, Alfonso Pastry Shoppe, Renato’s Pastry Shoppe, Li Greci’s Staaten, United Artist’s,and CSI’s Food Service.

Commenting on the success of “A Little Love on Campus,” Sara Gaither, OUI Club Adviser, commented, “I am so proud of the OUI club for their tremendous efforts in raising over $1,000 for Haiti. It was particularly inspiring for me to observe our members working together with such intensity, purpose, and camaraderie. Look out because this club is really going to do some amazing things this year!”

Christopher Cruz Cullari, Interim Director of the Office of Disability Services, said, “Our students continue to achieve at higher and higher levels in the classroom and in their co-curricular endeavors. Students are applying what they’ve learned in their general education classes and in training offered by our office regarding community service and being active, engaged members of a community. They make me proud and I continue to learn as much from them as I hope they learn from me.”

These sales are the beginning of the OUI Club’s efforts to unite the College community to help the people of Haiti. Melendez reported that they will be working with the American Red Cross throughout the spring semester, including an upcoming colloquium, presented by the Director of the Red Cross’s Staten Island Chapter, to inform the campus community of the situation in the ravaged island nation, but also to encourage them to help.

By Terry Mares