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Vassar Reaches Out to the Community for the HolidaysAthletes, Coaches, Tutors, Many Others Find Ways to Spread Cheer

A big bevy of toys for migrant children. Books, school supplies, hats, and mittens for youngsters in City of Poughkeepsie schools. A day of caroling and gifts for people in local hospitals and nursing homes. Contributions of food to a local soup kitchen. And a blood drive at a time of year when it’s needed the most. These are just some of the ways Vassar students, faculty, and staff reached out this year to folks in the Poughkeepsie area who need a boost during the holiday season.

Lisa Kaul (left), Director of the Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL), and Ruth Faircloth, Outreach Coordinator for Rural and Migrant Ministry, celebrate OCEL’s annual toy drive.Photo: Karl Rabe

“It’s really been gratifying to see all the toys pouring into our office over the last couple of weeks,” said Amanda Goodman, administrative assistant in the Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL). Goodman was chief organizer of OCEL’s 30th annual toy drive for children served by Rural and Migrant Ministry (RMM), a local agency that provides services to migrant families throughout the Hudson Valley. She said she was grateful to the dozens of people in the Vassar community who make sure the toy drive is a success ever year.

Left to right: Munro Faircloth, partnership volunteer for Rural and Migrant Ministry, OCEL Director Lisa Kaul, OCEL interns Claire Kendrick ’20 and Thomas Tomikawa ’21, RMM volunteer Bishop Max Faircloth, OCEL Administrative Assistant Amanda Goodman and Ruth Faircloth, RMM Outreach CoordinatorPhoto: Karl rabe

As she arrived on campus with family members to pick up the toys, RMM Outreach Coordinator Ruth Faircloth said distributing them is always an emotional experience. “I was a migrant child myself,” Faircloth said, “so doing this isn’t just part of my job. It’s wonderful to see everyone at Vassar collaborating with us to let our kids just be kids.”

VELLOP Volunteers Provide Some Cheer for Their Young Students

VELLOP tutors Marta Candelas ’23 (left) and Naima Nader ’23 (center) are joined by field hockey player Dara Studnitzer ’21 (right) as part of VELLOP’s gift-wrapping brigade.Photo: Karl Rabe

Marta Candelas ’23, of Puerto Rico, said she too felt a special bond with the children who received gifts from her and other members of the Vassar English Language Learners Outreach Program (VELLOP). The group, an arm of the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative, provides tutoring and mentoring for young Hispanic children in the Poughkeepsie City School District. VELLOP members distributed the gifts to students at the Poughkeepsie Early Learning Center in early December.

“I missed being part of my family’s culture back home when I got to Vassar, so volunteering with VELLOP has been a fulfilling experience for me,” Candelas said. “My family has always promoted the act of giving, so it’s really been rewarding to see how many people in the Vassar community have responded by making donations.”

Soccer and Golf Teams Become ‘Elves’ for a Day

Members of the men’s and women’s soccer teams and the women’s golf team get ready to hand out presents and sing holiday songs at Thompson House, a nursing home in Rhinebeck.Photo: Courtesy of the soccer team.

Every holiday season for more than two decades, the Flowers family of Poughkeepsie has undertaken a community-wide effort to ensure that folks in local hospitals and nursing homes get a generous helping of the holiday spirit. The Vassar soccer and golf teams have been part of this effort almost since its inception. This year, the players and coaches made several stops on December 7, donning holiday garb, singing carols (not always precisely in tune), and handing out presents.

Men’s soccer coach Andy Jennings and Mattie Mrlik ’20 enjoying the festivities at Thompson HousePhoto: Courtesy of the soccer team.

Jonathan Bow ’21, a forward on the men’s soccer team, said he was grateful for the opportunity to become a “Flowers elf” for the day. “The John Flowers event is a special time when everyone on the team brings some joy to the elderly in the community,” Bow said. “Visiting these homes every year makes me appreciate and show gratitude to the elderly people in my own life.”

Catherine Slaybaugh ’23, a midfielder and defender on the women’s team, agreed. “I was grateful to be a part of something that simply helps others,” Slaybaugh said. “The experience was genuinely fulfilling.”

Baseball Team Helps Local Agency Help Those in Need

(Left to right) Cameron Skudin ’22, Brent Shimoda ’21 and Matt McGannon ’21 make sandwiches for a local soup kitchen.Photo: Courtesy of the baseball team.

Vassar Head Baseball Coach Matthew Righter said the spirit of giving back to those who need help was instilled in him by his parents when he was a child. So when he came to Vassar in 2017, he asked the team to choose a theme for a series of community service projects that would begin at the start of each fall semester.

“We chose homelessness and food insecurity,” Righter said. “We helped to harvest some crops at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project earlier in the semester, and recently, we made sandwiches for the Lunch Box (a local soup kitchen) and helped sort winter coats that had been donated to Dutchess Outreach (the agency that runs the soup kitchen).”

Vassar baseball players Billy Mathiesen ’20 (left) and Mitchell Mullock ’20 and some of their teammates spent several hours sorting winter coats that had been donated to Dutchess Outreach, a local nonprofit organization.Photo: Courtesy of the baseball team.

The team also raised $4,000 at an intra-squad game for the Gift of Life Foundation, which arranges for bone marrow donations and transplants. “That experience was particularly gratifying because we were able to pay for bone marrow surgery for a child in the area,” Righter said.

Fencing Team’s Annual Blood Drive Comes at Just the Right Time

Left to right: Women’s fencing Co-Captain Nicoletta Dinelli ’21, Coach Bruce Gillman and men’s fencing Co-Captain Noe Berger ’20 at the teams’ annual holiday blood drive at Walker Field House.Photo: Bennett Fort '23

The day after classes ended for the fall semester, members of the men’s and women’s fencing teams devoted a few hours helping Coach Bruce Gillman meet and greet blood donors at Walker Field House. Launched in 2012, the blood drive has become a tradition. “Coach Gillman often tells us we spend a lot of time talking about the problems of the world,” said Co-Captain Noe Berger ’20, “and this is something tangible that saves lives and that we can all take part in.”

Co-Captain Nicoletta Dinelli ’21 said the team chose the end of the fall semester for the event in part because it fit well into the team’s schedule. But she added that officials at the New York Blood Center, which provides the technicians and equipment for the blood drive, told her the holiday season is an ideal time for such an event. “People are busy during the holidays and don’t have time to think about giving blood,” she said, “so there’s often a shortage this time of year.”

Gillman said he chose the blood drive as the team’s annual project because he saw the importance of the availability of blood when his father had open-heart surgery. “Without these donations of blood, people like my dad would die in situations like that,” he said.