First year students at Lake Erie College had a chance to make a difference in their local community in Fall 2021 thanks to Community Engagement Projects in their HU 110, First Year Experience classes. Each course section worked together to develop a plan to donate time, money, supplies or all three to their community. Their chosen projects involved a local school system, homeless shelter, rehabilitation center, and their own campus community.
The HU 110 course is titled Introducing the Pathway to Empowerment and gets students started with LEC’s signature Pathway to Empowerment (P2E) program. P2E consists of four phases: self-discovery, developing strong personal attributes, creative problem solving and balancing personal and professional goals with the needs of others. Throughout the course, students participated in activities corresponding to each of the four phases. This final project related to Phase 4, Community Engagement. There were ten sections of HU110 this fall semester and each section carried out their own projects with the goal of positively impacting the community.
The students of Section A, taught by Dean of Student Academic Success, Brent Robinson, organized a school supply drive for the students at Fairport McKinley Elementary. They got in touch with two LEC alumni at the school, Principal Heidi Elmore and Literacy Coach/IBS coordinator Candace Vahcic, and confirmed that winter is a time when school children especially need to restock supplies and the donations were greatly appreciated.
The group initially planned a presentation and carnival for the students to talk about sports and healthy living. With limited time for the project, they adjusted their idea to still be able to reach out to local students. Evelyn Murrillo ’25, an Accounting major in charge of videography for the project, credits their marketing and communication group for an amazing job communicating with the school to get approval for the supply drive and schedule a date and time.
“Once we decided on what we wanted and talked to the school, we only had about two weeks to make money and shop for the supplies,” said Brenna Walker ’25, special education major. “Without the people who donated this could have never happened.”
The LEC students still had a chance to connect with McKinley students during their supply drop off. They enjoyed playing kickball outside together, practicing and learning about good sportsmanship. The elementary school students took the opportunity to ask about college sports.
“The most satisfying part of executing this project was seeing the joy in the kids' faces while they were playing outside with my peers,” Murrillo said. “When they were in the cafeteria they had the chance to ask about what sports we each played.”
In Section B, taught by Eric Evans, Director of Career Development and Experiential Learning and Study Abroad, the students chose to reach out in a personal way. Anthony Sagaris ’25 has a connection at the Mentor Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center, as his Nan is there.
Sagaris got the class in contact with Jennifer Mason-Gambitta at Mentor Ridge and arranged a visit to bring Christmas cheer to the residents. The event included Christmas cookies, cards and caroling. The residents, family members and staff all got to enjoy the efforts of the student project.
“The most satisfying part of the project was getting to see the smiles on the residents’ faces as we walked around the facility singing Christmas songs and handing out cards and cookies,” said Karly Loparco ’25, an Equine Facility Management major. “Everyone opened their doors and came out to listen.”
Section C of the First Year Experience course, taught by Coordinator of Academic and Co-Curricular Engagement, Annalise Gatautis, chose to focus on the community closest to them, organizing an on-campus event the week of finals. The students worked with the Lake Erie College School of Equestrian Studies to host a visit from Stormy, the miniature pony.
Mackenzie Johnson ‘25, intervention specialist major and a part of the executing team, explained that their main goal was to provide a chance for students to de-stress as they headed into finals.
“We chose Stormy because he was close and he does this sort of thing often. I like to call him the welcome pony of the barn,” Johnson said. “My favorite part was watching everyone interact with Stormy. You could easily see how happy it made them.”
Business Administration Major Jasmine Gonzales ‘25, part of the videography team for the project, reported success from Stormy’s visit. She heard from several classmates and friends about how the miniature pony improved their day and relieved some finals week stress. Many said they would love to do it again.
Hoping to reach out locally in a different way than the other HU 110 sections, Section E taught by President’s Office Manager and Secretary to the Board of Directors, Leah Jackson got in contact with Project Hope for the Homeless. They knew their donations could be delivered immediately and positively impact the local community. Ryan Tolmasoff ’25, an English and History major, and member of the executing committee for the group, enjoyed being a part of the delivery.
“The most satisfying part of the project was physically delivering all of the donations we received,” Tolmasoff said. “I was able to see the people who were going to distribute the food and medicine to those who needed it.”
Tolmasoff recommends that anyone who would like to help with Project Hope should prepare a community donation with clear instructions on what to donate. You can call Project Hope to request a list of desired items. You can also call Mentor Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center for details on volunteering or planning events. For Fairport Elementary, Walker says she would gladly reach out to deliver more supplies if anyone is interested in donating.