Greg O’Connell ’64 created an endowment for underserved youth to pursue their goals.

By Carol Marcy

For more than 40 years, Greg O’Connell ’64 has fostered a community-minded approach to development. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, he invested in real estate not to sell but to renovate and rent as businesses and residences. O’Connell’s drive has transformed Red Hook into a dynamic, sustainable neighborhood. He has taken that philosophy and effort to upstate towns, including Mt. Morris, N.Y., where he has rejuvenated storefronts and buildings along Main Street.

O’Connell has been passionate about improving communities since his days as a New York City police officer and detective, work that he says honed his skills for listening to many different people, giving him insight into their needs and shaping his vision for building neighborhoods.

Now O’Connell is focusing on ways he can invest in communities’ underserved youth by providing scholarships for them to pursue their goals at SUNY Geneseo.

“I want to shorten the ripple effect of poverty,” said O’Connell. “The way to pull families and communities out of poverty is to help young people pursue an education.” 

Recently, O’Connell and his family gave SUNY Geneseo more than $1 million to create the Greg ’64 and Elizabeth O’Connell Family Endowment to support underrepresented and underserved students.

The endowment provides scholarships for students with a financial need from the downstate New York area, with a preference for students living in Red Hook. It will also fund Summer Scholars Program scholarships for students participating in the Transitional Opportunity Program — one of Geneseo’s Access Opportunity Programs — for academically talented students from minority, underrepresented or first-generation families.

The family’s endowment also supports several other initiatives, including stipends for student mentors and general support for the College’s student recruitment and engagement efforts. 

Recently, O’Connell met with several Geneseo students in the Access Opportunity Programs to talk about their experiences. 

“Hearing about where these students are going, what they’re dreaming, and what they are going to contribute to the world — it’s very invigorating,” said O’Connell. “They all had a twinkle in their eye.”

Nicholas Garmendiz ’19, a sociology major who plans to enter higher education administration, participated in the Summer Scholars Program before he became a first-year student. 

“It helped out immensely,” said Garmendiz. “You know the campus already because you were here all of July, and you kind of feel like the big man on campus. I also met two of the professors I was going to have in the fall, so I was able to begin building a relationship with them.”

O’Connell hopes these students’ experiences will influence others. “When they go home and talk to their friends,” he said, “they can encourage and show others the importance of an education at SUNY Geneseo.” 

O’Connell attributes his accomplishments to the good foundation he received at Geneseo, something he wants more young people to have the opportunity to experience.