By Kyle Adams
Fifteen incoming first-year students started at Saint Rose with an immersion experience with issues surrounding the Albany community. These issues included as poverty and homelessness, immigration and refugees, childhood incarceration, STD prevention and life with HIV/ AIDS, state government, public transportation and environmental justice. This opportunity, called Urban Launch, is one of the four options for the Pathways Programs that Saint Rose offers at the beginning of every academic year .
This year the Urban Launch program was unique because for the first time in its history it was open to all students who participated in the program in the past. Anyone who had participated before could come back and be a leader for the program, which was a change from years past when only a chosen few were selected. This year there were fifteen first-year students, eight sophomore leaders, four juniors, one senior, and two graduate students/assistants. The group of thirty students was led by Ken Scott, Director of Community Service.
“Urban launch has helped define my college career by helping me form friendships with my best friends and current roommates,” said Lexi Ginder, a junior majoring in psychology.
On the first day of Urban Launch the incoming students, nicknamed Launchers, were led by their leaders on a CDTA bus trip to the Empire State Plaza. Learning how to use public transportation in Albany is a keystone in the program every year. The following morning the Launchers were introduced to an Albany community icon, Willie White, who led a tour around A-Village in downtown Albany. White introduced the new students to the Radix Center, an ecological sustainability farm and garden, right in the heart of the city. White and the Launchers also helped clean up a park and planted flowers in the Children’s Community Garden.
After a pause to view the solar eclipse, the Launchers toured Habitat for Humanity at Sheridan Hollow , followed with a trip to the Albany Damien Center for a presentation on the struggles of life with HIV/ Aids from the staff who devote their lives to helping those in those circumstances. Immediately after the Damien Center visit, the Launchers went on a visit to the Saint Anne’s Institute. A former Launcher, Dayana Pichardo, led the tour. St. Anne’s is often the step before juvenile detention for young women. It is a program that allows those young women to get on the right track, without going into the corrections system. Launchers interacted with the residents of St. Anne’s and encountered a completely different life, despite being close in age to many of the young women.
The following morning the group met at the New York State Capitol, hosted by former Launcher Whitney Griffin, who works with the Women’s Caucus. Later on they met in the NYS Assembly chambers with Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, who discussed issues surrounding higher education and the NYS budget, as well as the current political climate. She encouraged everyone to get involved in issues that they are passionate about. Another activity the Launchers participated in involved making lunches at homeless shelters across Albany. Later on in the day they played with refugee children, who came to the United States to escape wars and terrorism in the middle-east. Later on in the evening Launchers got a chance to sit down and reflect with their leaders, as well as hear about the Alternative Spring Break trips that several leaders had gone on.
On the final morning of Urban Launch, the day most other freshman were moving into their residence halls, the Launchers were busy planting trees. Right across the street from the Events and Athletic Center the group planted four trees, which adds to the number of over 100 trees that Launchers have planted in the program’s history. The closing ceremony involved answering some difficult questions from Joan Horgan, the director of Campus Ministry and organizer for Reach Out Saint Rose, as a reflection on the program’s completion. After the reflection, first year students received letters from their sophomore leaders, and the sophomore leaders received letters from the junior and senior leaders.
The fifteen first-year students gave up four days of their summer to come to college early and be thrown completely out of their comfort zone to do community service and learn about hardships that millions of people face across the country. The leaders know exactly what they’re getting into, and they choose to do it all again – some for a third or fourth time.
“Without urban launch I wouldn’t have been as compelled to get involved on campus and around Albany,” said Ginder. “ I wouldn’t have been able to figure out what I want to do with my major, which is helping other people. I wouldn’t have gone to New Orleans on an Alternative Spring Break if Urban Launch hadn’t helped show me how much I love helping others and how important it is to help those around us.”