KEUKA PARK — Volunteers spread out across Yates County on Sunday for the 22nd annual Celebrate Service…Celebrate Yates community service project.
More than 250 volunteers — including scores of Keuka College students, staff, alumni, and friends — bundled up against temperatures that started the day in the 30s to perform community service projects at more than two dozen locations.
The projects may have been varied but the enthusiasm was uniform.
“I love that this opportunity to give back is here,” said Keuka College sophomore Riley Wiegand as she did maintenance work at the Arts Center of Yates County’s Sunny Point facility. “I get to expand the home and life I’ve made for myself, and it lets me explore more of the area.”
Working alongside her was Keuka College junior Mackenzie Ormsby.
“Giving back offers me a chance to learn about parts of the community I didn’t know existed, and find hidden gems, like Sunny Point,” she said. “It also is a way for me to meet new people, and see how they give back.”
At the Keuka Park cemetery, tucked into the woods off a path from Cherry Street, local residents Melissa Martisch and Jared Walters were raking and picking up debris around the headstones with their son, Ryder, and other volunteers.
“You don’t realize how much needs to be done ’til you jump in to do it,” said Melissa. “I was surprised to see how many people came out, but just seeing the students, and some of these young children, too — the collaboration is awesome.”
Over at St. Michael’s Church in Penn Yan, a group of volunteers, many of them members of Keuka College’s Circle K club, was assisting in cleanup of the large fellowship hall on the lower level of the building.
According to Patty Larazelere, a member of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community who was on hand to supervise, the hall serves many in the community by providing space for events such as Habitat for Humanity pancake meals, sewing circles for the Yates Christmas project, and weekly gymnastics for schoolchildren of St. Michael’s school, a stone’s throw away.
“We only have one janitor, and she has the responsibility of the cemetery too, so it’s hard to get to everything,” Patty said. “We really appreciate their help today!”
Following a complimentary brunch in Keuka College’s Dahlstrom Student Center, College Chaplain Eric Detar spoke during a kickoff ceremony, placing the day of service in the context of recent incidents attacking communities of faith.
“In the last two months, there have been six incidents that have happened in houses of worship throughout the world, which caused people great pain,” said Rev. Detar, citing incidents in Christchurch, New Zealand; Louisiana; Henrietta; Sri Lanka; and at a synagogue in California on Saturday. “These senseless acts of violence threaten to tear us apart. Celebrate Service…Celebrate Yates is a wonderful demonstration of community, and the power and peace that is experienced when we come and work together. An event like this gives us hope.”
Through the years, Celebrate Service…Celebrate Yates has brought together more than 5,000 volunteers donating thousands of collective hours of community service.
And for many volunteers, “community” is the key word.
“We are always looking for ways to give back to the community,” said Jessica Mullins, a 2006 and 2012 Keuka College graduate and branch manager of Lyons National Bank in Penn Yan. “This is a perfect way to give back.”
That sentiment was echoed by Kris Pearson, executive director of the Arts Center of Yates County.
“This community has a really strong sense of social responsibility and volunteer component,” she said. “Volunteers are what keep most of the not-for-profits running. We have a culture of taking care of each other, and CSCY is a way to help pass the idea of giving back to a younger generation.”
CSCY is organized by a team from Keuka College, the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, and community members. This year’s event again included the Bundle Up Yates collection drive, which gathered winter wear including coats, hats, and mittens to be distributed to local families in need come the fall.
Local merchants and companies that make CSCY possible through donations or in-kind goods and services include AVI Fresh, Bank of the Finger Lakes, Coach and Equipment, Camp Good Days and Special Times, Graphic Connections, Hampton Inn — Penn Yan, Keuka College Community Associates Board, Keuka College Office of Community Relations & Events, Knapp & Schlappi Lumber, Lyons National Bank, Moose Club of Penn Yan, Paw Print Services, Penn Yan Elks Lodge, Penn Yan Plumbing & Heating, Seneca Farms, Stork Insurance, and the Tony Collins Celebrity Golf Classic.