Make a Difference Day only comes once a year, but each one delivers a message that making a difference world-wide starts at home. The two day event, sponsored by USA Weekend, is taking place on Oct. 22 and 24. This marks SUNY New Paltz’s sixth year participating in the national program.
Mike Patterson, director of student activities and union services and co-chair for Make a Difference Day, has run the event for the past three years.
“We are really focusing on servicing the Ulster County community,” said Patterson.
The event begins on Friday, Oct. 22 with collections for the Ulster County-wide program Donations for Dignity, which is in its 12th year. The drive is collecting personal care items such as deodorant, laundry detergent, razors, shampoo, soap, etc.
The collection will be held in Student Union 100 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shifts for volunteers will be held in one-hour intervals. The items collected on Friday will then be delivered on Sunday by volunteers to a yet to be determined service agency in Ulster County. Additionally, volunteers will collect more personal care items and cleaning products from the regional community at Stop & Shop and Shop Rite to go towards Family of New Paltz.
The hands-on service component will take place on Sunday, Oct. 24. Students will depart to their assigned sites at 10 a.m. and return to campus at 2 p.m., with transportation provided.
Alison Ficurilli is a fourth-year adolescent education and English major and a student representative for Make a Difference Day and has been involved all of her years at New Paltz.
“It’s great to know that all over the country other people are doing community service and giving back what they can,” said Ficurilli. “I really like doing community service that you can see making a difference and having a positive impact on the community at large.”
She will serve as a site leader on Sunday and will be setting up a T-Shirt Grab Sale on Friday in Student Union 100 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All used and new shirts will be sold for $1.
Sue O’Driscoll, the previous director of Student Activities and Union Services, brought the program to SUNY New Paltz in 2005 to keep the national tradition alive, and start a new tradition on campus.
In past years, New Paltz has run other collections and programs for Make a Difference Day including toy drives, programs aimed at senior citizens and other various groups.
The collection and hands-on elements allow students the flexibility to serve as little or as much as they want.
“It has always been a two-tier approach where people can give things or they can give their personal time,” Patterson said.
Leslie Green, a fourth-year English major and the student activities manager representative for Make a Difference Day, was a participant in 2007 and 2008. She volunteered at a local nursing home and helped box food donations, respectively.
“Giving back to the community is something that we all can do! It can be as simple as donating food items to a soup kitchen, tutoring a child in need, spending time visiting residents at a nursing home or fundraising for a cause,” said Green.
Numbers for participation have been down in the past three years, Patterson said, because of the conflict they’ve had with Open House weekend. Since being moved to a different date, registration has surpassed last year. They are using this change as an opportunity to focus on Friday’s collection and Sunday’s service day.
Patterson and his team have taken to all media platforms possible to round up volunteers and are also working with campus Greek life, the Student Association, the Emerging Leaders program and recruits from the Volunteer Fair to get people involved.
“There are so many ways to volunteer and Make a Difference Day allows the SUNY New Paltz community to show appreciation to the town and Ulster County for several hours in just one day,” she said. “New Paltz is our ‘home away from home,’ and what better way to say ‘thanks’ and show our appreciation than by volunteering some time to local organizations.”
The coordinators behind Make a Difference Day want the act of doing service to become infectious among students.
“Our hope is that it’s a launch pad for lifelong giving back and that through our service day, our students will have a first experience with community service in a way that’s a positive and easy one,” Patterson said.