It's early fall and Guy Kroll of the Lands at Hillside Farms in Kingston Township, Pa., is waiting to welcome 50 members of Misericordia University's freshman class for a morning of service work at the historic nonprofit educational dairy farm nestled among the mountains and streams of the Back Mountain.
With roosters crowing and goats grazing in the background, Kroll explains how he coordinates efforts to restore the sustainable living farm to its former glory in the 19th century. On this day, he plans for Misericordia students to remove old soil and plants from the greenhouses and resoil them in preparation for the next growing season and the planting of lettuce. Members of the football team are busy splitting and stacking wood, while other students clean the community house and the museum.
'The Lands at Hillside Farms wouldn't exist (without community volunteers),' Kroll says, explaining how important Misericordia's efforts are to the community asset. 'This runs on volunteers. We have an excellent core of established volunteers. They fill in the blanks wherever we need it.'
More than 600 students, faculty and staff participated in Misericordia University's second annual Orientation Day of Service in which transfer students and members of the freshman transfer class provide their time and talent for the betterment of the greater community. Misericordia volunteers worked at Camp Orchard Hill, Mercy Center, the Back Mountain Trail, Meadows Nursing Center, Frances Slocum State Park, Blue Chip Farms, Commission on Economic Opportunity, Adventures in Learning, Back Mountain Recreation Center, Luzerne County Fairgrounds and the Lands at Hillside Farms.
The Orientation Day of Service introduces incoming students to the communities surrounding campus, and gives them the opportunity to give back to the community as well. 'I think it's good for everyone because it will teach us something new, and all these places are by the University so we will get to know the surroundings better,' says Kinnelon, N.J.-native, Cara Marzullo, shortly after she pushed a wheelbarrow full of debris to a compost pile at the Lands at Hillside Farms.
'It helps us feel more a part of the community since we are not home with our families,'' adds Nicole Noss of Millville, Pa., a medical imaging major. 'It helps us have a better sense of what we're coming into.''
A few hundred yards away, members of the Misericordia University football team are selecting and carrying stumps to be split and stacked in a shed for storage. Teammates form a line, so they can easily hand the split wood off to each other until it reaches the shed, while other players take turns splitting wood in the unseasonably humid weather.
'We're helping out the community,'' says Dean Lucchesi, a tight end football recruit from Hamilton, N.J. who pauses to take a break from splitting wood. 'It's pretty fun. You've got to get involved. It's interesting to learn new things about the farm. We're all having fun making the world a better place.''
Jesse Baker, II, a football recruit from Allenwood, Pa., is part of the supply chain that hands the split wood off to another teammate. 'It's really fun,' says the biology major. 'I'm glad I'm able to help out, not only with the team, but with my class. It's great we're able to help and we will help out where we can.'
A few miles away, Misericordia students are helping to prepare for the annual Luzerne County Fair in the fall. Teams of students are cleaning the main section of the grounds, while others are setting fence posts around the perimeter of the grounds. 'It's nice to be out here helping,'' says Kurt Gildea of Ottsville, Pa., a pre-med major. 'My parents raised me that way. We've always been giving back to the community. We help them and they help us.''
'It actually makes me feel real good,'' adds Sean Weg of Parsippany, N.J., a Government, Law & National Security major. 'The community does a lot for the school. It's a good thing to give back to the community. It's important to keep things equal – just one big happy family.''
Freshman Sarah Boehnlein of Lewisburg, Pa., says she understands Misericordia's service-oriented mission and the need to help others. Boehnlein says she was glad for the opportunity to give her time to her new community. The nursing major was one of 80 students who dug ditches, installed a memorial bench, and painted weather coating on new wooden stairs and railings along the Back Mountain Trail, a seven-mile rails-to-trails project near campus. They completed projects organizers say would have taken months to finish without the students' help.
Freshman Ross Baver of Bernville, Pa., says one of reasons he chose Misericordia was for the community atmosphere he found there and he was happy to take part in the Orientation Day of Service. Looking ahead to a career where he will help others, Baver plans to earn his undergraduate degree in psychology and his graduate degree in Misericordia's Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. Painting alongside Adam Candelori of Clarks Summit, Pa., at the Back Mountain Trail, the two agreed that it was important and rewarding to help the community. 'I think it is great that we get out here to do this before we get too involved in our classes, sports and other activities,' Candelori says.
Many of the Misericordia freshmen brought with them a history of service. Speech-language pathology (SLP) major Kimberly Koot of Marydel, Del., attended Catholic Heart Work Camp in Charleston, S.C., during high school, and knows the personal satisfaction that comes from helping others. 'This is a really great thing we are doing here,' says Koot, while painting at the Back Mountain Trail site. 'I plan on getting involved in more service projects while I am here.'
Koot and fellow SLP major Jenna Marcus of East Windsor, N.J., said the service work at the Back Mountain Trail gave them a change to get to know one another before the start of classes. 'I never thought about anything like this (service) before,' adds Marcus, a recruit for the Cougar's women's basketball team. 'I am really glad to be here doing this.'
'I was a member of the National Honor Society in high school, so I am used to helping out,' says Courtney Cecco of Elysburg, Pa. Also majoring in SLP, Cecco is a member of the women's soccer team and was among a contingent of students who spent the morning wearing florescent orange vests while picking up trash along a quarter-mile stretch of highway adjacent to Frances Slocum State Park, located about five miles from campus. 'This day of service was a great way to help the community, get to know people and meet others in your major,' Cecco adds. 'This has been fun. I am definitely looking forward to joining service clubs on campus.'
'This (day of service) brought us together and it makes us better people,' freshman Barry Fitzgerald of Marlton, N.J., believes. A goalkeeper on the men's soccer team, Fitzgerald is also a philosophy major who also plans to earn his graduate degree in the Misericordia Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. 'Orientation is different at Misericordia than it is at other schools. Being a four-day program, it gives us a chance to meet others we normally wouldn't have a chance to interact with,' he adds. 'We're here for a common goal and even something as simple as picking up trash feels good. I know we have accomplished something.'
Freshman Alexis Cosgrove of Scranton, Pa., also volunteered at the state park. She says the activity not only gave her a chance to help the community, but she got an up-close look at the 1,035-acre park, that includes a lake, a boat launch, picnic groves and a swimming pool. 'There are a lot of opportunities to do service here. It is also a great place to picnic,' Cosgrove says. 'I am glad to know it is here. I would love to come back.'
Both Eric Wojciechowski of Hunlock Creek, Pa., and Ryan Dorosh of Garnet Valley, Pa., had similar thoughts after spending a morning at the Blue Chip Farms Animal Refuge, a non-profit sanctuary where stray, abandoned, and abused animals are housed and offered for adoption. The refuge had more than 100 cats and dogs, numerous horses, rabbits, and an abused pot-bellied pig on-site. The students walked dogs, cleaned cages, repaired fencing, and worked in the feed room.
'This sure opened my eyes to all that they do just because they care about the animals,' says Wojciechowski, a graduate of Lake Lehman High School who is majoring in sport management. 'They have so many animals in such a small place. I would be glad to come out here and help again and get others to come.'
A recruit for the Misericordia baseball team, Dorosh said that his placement at the animal refuge was a good fit for him. He spent the morning repairing fences and would be glad to come back and help out in his free time. 'It is amazing to me how much help they need. I know our students could really make a difference here.'
Mark Albrecht, president of the Back Mountain Trail Council, said he was thrilled for the help of the Misericordia students. 'We have had a great working relationship with Misericordia since the 1990s. We look forward to having their students come out every year. Last year, working in the pouring rain of Hurricane Irene, they dug ditches at times by hand, that saved portions of the trail from flooding. The weather-proofing and digging work they are doing in one day this year, would take council members months to complete.'
'Having this large number of students here at one time is a tremendous help and allows us to tackle needs that we don't have time to do on a daily basis,' said Marge Bart, president and founder of Blue Chip Farms Animal Rescue. 'No matter what they were doing, walking dogs, cleaning cages, cutting the grass or building fences, they were polite and courteous, and always looking for more to do. We are thankful that there were here.'
'We are glad to be able to introduce the new students from the campus to the park,' said Adam Cartwright, park maintenance supervisor at Frances Slocum State Park. 'They are hard workers and always do a great job for us. They cleaned a quarter mile of highway, planted shrubs and helped beautify our entrance signs. We hope they will be back to enjoy the park's amenities.
The 2012 freshman class is the largest in the University's history. Along with the 513 freshmen, 127 transfer students and campus chaperones participated in the annual Day of Service. The new students arrived on campus on Thursday, Aug. 23 and started classes with the entire campus community on Monday, Aug. 27.
For more information about Misericordia University, please call (570) 674-6400 or log on to www.misericordia.edu. Founded and Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy in 1924, Misericordia University is Luzerne County's first four-year college and offers 37 academic programs on the graduate and undergraduate levels in full and part-time formats.