Members of the Geneseo family have built community and supported others in creative ways during the pandemic.
By Kris Dreessen
When the novel coronavirus became a worldwide crisis, Noah Chichester ’18 was working in A Coruña, Spain, helping adult learners improve their English. Confined to a high-rise apartment for months, he left only to buy groceries or take out the trash.
He embraced and built community despite the circumstances.
One night, as Chichester and his neighbors gathered at their windows to applaud healthcare workers, they also sang a Galician anthem and neighbors admired Chichester’s voice.
After that, several times a week, Chichester sang songs to lift his neighbors’ spirits and provide comfort, holding impromptu concerts out his window. His next-door neighbor provided speakers and a microphone, playing accompanying music from her apartment.
“It was something to look forward to, and for a few minutes, we forgot what was going on,” says Chichester. “Even though we were not able to see each other in person, it made me feel like I am part of this community.”
Members of the Geneseo family have reached out and offered support during the pandemic — from Geneseo faculty quickly adapting to remote learning, to members of Geneseo First Response offering assistance in hard-hit Rockland County, N.Y., to students volunteering at home or online.
“This is exactly the character and spirit of our students, faculty, staff and alumni, to address needs and be responsive,” says Garth Freeman, coordinator of student leadership, volunteerism and service. “Their creativity has been amazing.”
Students quickly shifted service events from in-person to virtual. The Hillel student group created Good Deeds Day, and interns with the Office of Student Volunteerism and Community Engagement rebranded a community volunteer event into Geneseo Cares. Both offered ways for students to volunteer for organizations online or perform small acts of kindness. A hashtag let the community follow along online.
“We had a great turnout,” says Jenna Madison ’20. “Geneseo Cares united Geneseo students even when they could not be together.”
Geneseo’s Alpha Phi Omega (APO) co-ed service fraternity organized their annual Day of Service online. Activities included walking, jogging or dancing to raise money for charities, writing thank-you letters to outstanding Geneseo faculty, reaching out to members of other APO chapters to offer friendship, and challenging participants to complete 15 acts of kindness in an hour.
“Our mission is to give back to the campus, local and national community,” says APO President Jose Romero ’22.
Within the local community, members of Livingston County CARES, which runs volunteer trips to disaster areas, created the COVID-19 Front Line Workers Appreciation Fund, delivering meals and other items to local healthcare workers.
In addition to assisting in their communities, many alumni also contributed to the One Knight Student Aid Fund, which supports students experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. As of June, gifts totaled more than $74,000, plus an anonymous matching gift of $50,000.
Physical separation didn’t prevent people from creating celebrations. Dozens of faculty, staff and alumni contributed videos and good wishes for a “Senior Send-Off: A Tribute to the Class of 2020,” which has been viewed nearly 8,000 times.
Many of those offering congratulations and words of support were faculty, who diligently worked through an extraordinary spring semester to provide the instruction and mentoring for which Geneseo is known.
“Geneseo faculty offered exceptional support to our students during the transition to remote learning. They responded with care and compassion, innovation and dedication,” says Stacey Robertson, provost and vice president of academic affairs. “They put students first and ensured that Geneseo-quality learning continued despite the challenges of the pandemic.”
Watch Noah Chichester ’18 sing two songs for his neighbors: