The CUNY Service Corps launched its 2015-16 year with speakers and panels in Theatre I on BMCC’s main campus at 199 Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan.
Nearly 900 new CUNY Service Corps members—students from BMCC, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lehman College, New York City College of Technology, City College of New York, Medgar Evers College, Queens College and the College of Staten Island—sat in sections of the theatre that erupted with cheers as CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken recognized their respective schools.
Last year, CUNY Service Corps members were paid $12 an hour to work 12 hours a week for 24 weeks, providing on-the-ground support to 125 nonprofit and government agency partners across New York City.
This year’s partner organizations include the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, Center for Court Innovation, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and others in a variety of workforce sectors.
Marking the 14th anniversary of 9/11
The CUNY Service Corps kickoff event was moderated by Rachel Stephenson, University Director of CUNY Service Corps. In addition to Chancellor Milliken, speakers included Allan Dobrin, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor, and CUNY Trustee Freida Foster, who commented on the events of September 11, 2001.
“We found comfort in the service we were able to give,” Foster said of that time, linking what was learned in the City’s recovery after 9/11, to today’s Service Corps mission of service and community.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez introduced a video, Rising From the Ashes, that chronicled BMCC’s role on 9/11 as the only college in the United States to have sustained damaged from a terrorist attack. BMCC’s Fiterman Hall was destroyed when World Trade 7 fell against it, and the campus’s main building became a staging area for emergency operations.
“Darkness cannot be defeated by darkness,” Pérez is filmed as saying to the BMCC community after the attacks. “It will only be overcome by light, and education is all about light.”
Keynote speaker and CUNY Service Corps alumni Damilola Iroko noted that he was in the sixth grade on September 11, 2001, when he and his classmates “saw smoke rising in the distance.” In the weeks that followed, he says, he was struck by the efforts of volunteers cleaning debris from the site, and people opening their homes to displaced workers and residents.
“We saw how New Yorkers can come together and serve the community and unite,” he said, relating that early awareness to the “life-changing effects” of his time with the CUNY Service Corps.
The experience not only instilled the value of giving back, he says, it professionalized his skills; from learning to use Google Docs and proper email etiquette, to leading meetings and coaching others.
BMCC mathematics major Michael Harte responded to Iroko’s encouragement that the new Service Corps members “stand out” as they report to their assigned sites. “I plan to stand out by building professional relationships within my surroundings,” he said, “and by giving myself to the site to help them reach their goals.”
BMCC science major Asad Haidier shared that at BMCC, he felt the support “of every professor, every department … I am joining the Service Corps because of everything it has to offer; so many opportunities to learn, to grow, and the chance to build confidence and communication skills. Most of all, though, I’m joining because CUNY has inspired me, the system has believed in me, and I feel like I owe my service to helping others.”
Fellow BMCC science major Hajra Tariq said, “It’s going to be a great experience. It’s preparing me for thinking about what I could do in the future. It’s going to expose me to a world of choice. I want to help others, and I also want to help myself gain confidence with my skills and with speaking out.”