Mount Hope Cemetery and the Friends of Mount Hope do tours — which, even if you were at the Community Engagement Fair in iZone on Thursday, you may not have known about. Juniors Peri Mutaroghlu and Thanothii Ganesh certainly didn’t.
“I said that and it broke the lady’s heart,” Ganesh confessed after speaking to the people tabling for Friends of Mount Hope. For Ganesh, events like this are one of the only ways to be informed about what happens in the greater Rochester community that isn’t a party or a collaboration with the University.
She’s always been interested in getting involved in community service, but according to Ganesh, it’s never worked with her schedule — or seemed to provide the type of work experience she would need as a Computer Science major. A lot of UR students, especially those with intensive degree plans, may feel similarly.
Enter junior and SA Secretary of Student Engagement Hannah Witkin. She helped plan and execute the Fair, which brought over 20 different Rochester organizations to iZone to inform students about their initiatives.
The featured organizations ranged from the Willow Domestic Violence Center to the formerly-mentioned Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, and science-based activism efforts such as the Climate Solutions Accelerator of the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region.
“We have a vibrant community outside, and we have a vibrant community here,” said Witkin. “We wanted to facilitate one-to-one contact, and it’s just good to know that people are out here doing the work.”
Witkin is also a recent Urban Fellow, which she completed during a summer program through the University and Americorps. Urban Fellows connects UR students with local nonprofits and public agencies, and holds weekly, community-engaged seminars to learn more about the Rochester community and its needs at large.
In addition, students from the Rochester Youth Year VISTA program (which is similar to Urban Fellows, but for recent graduates — not all from UR — who hold year-long positions with Rochester public aid-facing businesses) held presentations about their work over the past couple of months.
Edan Lambright ’22, a Youth Year participant working with Taproot Collective, is a devoted member of this organization as well as City Roots Community Lands Trust. Taproot supports urban greenspaces and programming focusing on environmental justice, community building, and youth employment through nonprofit positions like grant writing and acquiring community garden permits.
Lambright wanted to become increasingly engaged in the community and chose to apply for the Youth Year program as a result of taking “The Politics of Nature: Race, Gender, and Environment”, a class that became her all-time favorite.
Currently, Lambright is able to give back to her community through a genuine passion of hers, but for on-campus students like her, being involved in community service is difficult without being in a club due to the University’s lack of accessible transportation. “At UR, it’s hard to get away and get involved in your community,” she noted. “I used to volunteer at the Rochester Animal Shelter freshman year, but not having a car, and taking the bus… I just gave up.”
In hopes of retaining members in the University community, the fair’s marketing strategies shifted to engage students beyond those interested in volunteer activities, according to Witkin. “[The fair is] just about knowing what’s out there in the community,” she said. “We wanted to make it more holistic than just volunteering because community engagement is so much more than that.”
If you’re looking to become more involved in the greater Rochester community, you can visit the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) website for information on upcoming events and opportunities.