Elegant piano music spilled from the banquet room into the hallways of the Kean Hall Building on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. The 5th annual Community Service Award Breakfast, hosted by the Center for Leadership and Service (CLS) was about to begin.
It is 10:30 a.m. and students and faculty invited to the celebration of service were signing in at a table in the hallway and making their way to their seats.
The theme color is yellow, as seen by the napkins and flowers decorating each table as well as the attire of the service staff members. The center pieces for each table were triangular photo displays, depicting images of the students being recognized in their volunteer endeavors.
Programs were placed at each seat providing a schedule of the awards presentation and photos of each volunteer being honored at the ceremony.
As students and faculty entered the space and found their seats, a slideshow was continuously playing of photos from the service events throughout the fall 2016 ad spring 2017 semesters. Photos from the Community FoodBank, Atria Senior Living, Habitat for Humanity, Alternative Spring Break and Adopt-A-Park service trips were being displayed.
The piano music continued, creating a very elegant atmosphere. Students were talking among their peers and watching as their faces made an appearance on the slideshow.
By 11 a.m., more tables were filled with guests and Assistant Director of the CLS Sue Figueroa provided a welcome and introduction.
She revealed that this event has been held annually since April of 2012, making this the fifth official celebration of service event the CLS hosted. Figueroa also recognized community partners and representatives from non-profit organizations that were present. She continued to thank the students and professional staff members.
"Teamwork makes the dream work," Figueroa said.
She then welcomed Director of the CLS Scott Snowden to the podium.
"There are lots of reasons why you do what you do, many more than we could possibly explain, but those reasons aren't because you were required to, those reasons aren't because you wanted to be sitting here right now, you do it not for applause, you do it for a cause," Snowden said. "And today I want to make sure we are celebrating you and recognizing you."
He then introduced the student performer playing the piano, Mark Celis, who is a music major graduating in May of 2017.
Breakfast was then served buffet style and ranged from bagels and pastries to scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. Once guests had time to enjoy their breakfast, the awards ceremony began.
Coordinator for Community Engagement Natalie Siedhof began by talking about the 5th annual Alternative Spring Break trip and introducing those who were involved in it. The trip was five days long and the students collaborated with the non-profit organization A Future With Hope.
The five-day service event was especially important to Siedhof as it was her first big trip as a staff member for the CLS. It was very special to her.
Jailene Burgos, a The Cougar's Byte creative media specialist, who was a guest at the banquet for her participation in Alternative Spring Break, created a recap video of the trip. The video was presented and had the guests smiling and laughing.
Siedhof then introduced the participant awards to the following students:
Service Specialist Janelle Shepard described the blood drives that the CLS has hosted. Since those who donate blood have to wait 56 days before donating again, individuals can only donate blood up to six times a year.
Farheen Abbasi and Alida Abeigon were recognized for having donated blood five times this year.
Shepard also recognized the Pre-Physicians Assistant Club for co-sponsoring two blood drives this year.
Senior Service Specialist Sabrina Hamilton spoke about her personal favorite volunteering opportunity, which is Raphael's Life House. Raphael's Life House is a non-profit organization that serves as a transitional space for homeless women who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
Hamilton introduced the students who participated every Monday in taking care of the infants and donating their time to Raphael's Life House:
Gwen Belotti provided an introduction to the Transition to Kean Program (T2K) and announced Kiara Ramirez as the freshman student honored with the most community service hours. She also announced the General Education Mentor (GEM) with the most service hours, Alyssa Peterson, followed by runner ups Gregory Burke and Kayla Olson.
Figueroa then recognized the coordinators and those involved with the community service Federal Work Study and thanked all those who have contributed and helped to make all of their efforts possible and successful.
She recognized Carina Grajales, the Volunteer Coordinator for Bernice's Place and Gina Miseo, the Jumpstart Senior Site Manager.
She thanked Sally Mathan and Sarah Carrero of the Office of Financial Aid and Ken Kimble and Susan Langan of facilities.
Figueroa continued to thank the drivers who make sure students arrive at their volunteer events on time and make sure the transportation process always runs smoothly.
She recognized Honorable Mention student Hannah Brown, of Kean Ocean, who is involved in community service.
Service Specialist Gabby Lapointe introduced the awards for the students who took part in over 50 hours of community service within the past year:
Hamilton introduced the students who have donated over 75 hours to community service. Along with an award, these students also received a $300 scholarship:
Service Specialist Kristin Failla introduced the Presidential Service Award for those students who achieved over 100 hours of community service. This is the third year that Kean students have been presented this award. Along with the award, the two recipients also received a scholarship:
Figueroa introduced the Volunteer of the Year award, who would receive a $1,000 scholarship. Michael Gonzalez was the recipient, who also won the honor last year.
"I love volunteering, I love giving back to others," Gonzalez said. "I think that it's an incredible experience to help others. I think that spiritually it benefits everybody, because I think that we don't help each other enough in the world. And just giving back a little bit will actually make a big difference in the world."
Gonzalez's favorite volunteer trips are the N.J. FoodBank and Habitat for Humanity because he likes how they are very very active.
Figueroa then invited Vice President of Student Affairs Janice Murray-Laury to the podium to provide the closing remarks for the ceremony.
At 12:15 p.m. the ceremony concluded. Music began playing and award recipients gathered to take photos with their plaques and peers and then slowly began clearing out the space.
The event was a celebration of those students who donate their time at their own will to help others and make a difference. Snowden could not have said it any better:
"And then there's you -- the people who wake up at seven o'clock in the morning on a Saturday to go to Habitat for Humanity; the people who wait hours, literally hours to donate blood because there's such a long line; the people who give up their Friday mornings or their Saturday mornings or their Sunday mornings to go to the FoodBank or go to Atria; the people who regularly give up their time to volunteer at Raphael's Life House -- that's you. You aren't the people who point out the problem, you're the people that work to fix the problem."