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Engaged in the CommunityThe Vassar community and local agency leaders gather to celebrate their collaboration

Vassar students, faculty and administrators gathered with representatives of dozens of local not-for-profit organizations recently to celebrate their collaborative efforts to improve the quality of life for families and individuals in the Poughkeepsie area. 

The event, held April 30 in the Villard Room, was co-sponsored by the Vassar Student Association, the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative and the Office of Community-Engaged Learning. Lisa Kaul, director of the Office of Community-Engaged Learning, told the more than 150 in attendance that 400 students, mentored by 125 faculty members, had been active in community projects during the school year.

Five students were honored for their ongoing community-service work. Maya Sterling ’20, Dasanae Davis ’20 and Janrey Serapio ’20 were named recipients of the Wendy Rae Breslau Award, given annually to sophomores who have “exhibited outstanding concern for the welfare and well-being of their fellow human beings and society in general." Two others, Lily Kitfield-Vernon ’18 and Patrick DeYoung ’18 were co-recipients of the Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award, which recognizes students who have “made significant contributions as volunteers in the community beyond Vassar’s gates.”

Lisa Kaul, Director of Vassar’s Office of Community-Engaged Learning, praises students and representatives of community-based organizations for their work.

VSA President Anish Kanoria ’18 presented the awards. Kanoria, who was active in Vassar’s efforts to aid refugees who are settling in the region, said the satisfying work he did with Vassar Refugee Solidarity illustrates that the rewards of doing community service go both ways. “Hundreds of other students have benefited the community and have benefited by what they are doing,” he said.

President Elizabeth Bradley addresses students, faculty, administrators and members of local not-for-profit agencies at a reception in the Villard Room.

Kaul praised the leaders of the organizations that provided opportunities for the students. “In this age of instant information, our students don’t come to college just for the content,” she said. “They come to learn how to think, how to analyze that information and to learn how to solve problems. What better way to do that but to engage in real world problems, and that’s what you do.”

Kay Bishop, nurse-midwife at Hudson River Health Care, a clinic for low-income residents in Poughkeepsie, said her organization had benefited from the services of six Vassar interns. “In the current political climate, the clients we serve need a lot of help, and we are thankful for the interns that Vassar has provided us,” Bishop said.

Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley also thanked the representatives of the local agencies for giving the students an opportunity to serve. “You are the right model,” Bradley told them. “The kind of work you’re doing extends our students’ learning beyond the classroom, showing them ways to change the world forever. It’s not easy work, but it transforms lives.”

Roger Vera ’18, a Computer Science major from Kearney, NJ who served as a mentor for teens, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, in rural communities about 20 miles east of Poughkeepsie, said the experience had been life-changing. “To be part of something beyond Vassar’s walls and to have had an impact on these young people’s lives is something I’ll always be grateful for,” Vera said.

About The Award Recipients

Maya Sterling ’20 is an International Studies major from Chevy Chase, MD. She served as a community development intern at Hudson River Housing, Inc., a Poughkeepsie not-for-profit agency that builds and maintains housing for low-income families and individuals.

— Dasanae Davis ’20 is a Neuroscience and Behavior major from Pontiac, MI. As a student leader of the ALANA Center, Davis facilitates volunteer opportunities for Vassar students. She was a principal organizer of Vassar’s participation in National Volunteer Week projects in Poughkeepsie this spring.

Janrey Serapio ’20 is a Political Science major from Roselle Park NJ. She is a volunteer for the Vassar College Education Initiative’s Exploring College program, which helps local high shool students prepare for college. Serapio is also a Language Justice intern at Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, working with Spanish-speaking members of the Poughkeepsie not-for-profit organization.

President Bradley with Wendy Rae Breslau Award winners Janrey Serapio, Desanae Davis and Maya Sterling

Lily Kitfield-Vernon ’18 is a Mathematics and Science Technology and Society major from Northfield, MA. She was a leader of the Vassar chapter of the Hunger Action Network, which provides food and other services for low-income families, and she served on the fundraising team of Nobody leaves Mid-Hudson, a local nonprofit organization that addresses issues involving education, immigration, and racism. She has also tutored Poughkeepsie High School students as a member of the Association of Women in Mathematics.

Patrick DeYoung ’18 is a Political Science major from Philadelphia. He was coordinator of refugee settlement efforts for Vassar Refugee Solidarity, spearheading fund drives and other support for refugee families in Poughkeepsie and the Capitol District of New York.

Bradley with Frances Aaron Hess ’53 Award winners Lily Kitfield-Vernon and Patrick DeYoung