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Students, staff have 'Spirit of Service'
2/12/14

Student Miguel Torres De León and Nancy Kohler, director of the Alfred University (AU) Equestrian Program, and her staff, are the University’s 2014 Alfred Community Coalition’s Spirit of Service Award recipients for their “outstanding” contributions to the greater Alfred community.

They are joined by three additional awardees: Alfred State College (ASC) student Josh Stellrecht, ASC faculty member Dr. Brian Quinn, and community member John Ninos.

Award winners and award nominees were recognized at the 4th Annual Celebration of Service on Jan. 23 at the Village of Alfred Hall. Alfred Mayor Justin Grigg, who is also an environmental studies/GIS specialist at Alfred University, was keynote speaker. The program was a part of Dream Week, a collaborative effort between AU and ASC to honor the life and service of Martin Luther King, Jr. The annual awards are given to members of the Alfred community who best exemplify a strong commitment to serving their neighbors. Inspired by Dr. King, the award was initiated to honor people whose actions best portray ideals of equality, social justice, community, and service.

Craig Arno, AU’s coordinator of diversity programming, nominated De León, a sophomore business administration major from Holyoke, MA, for his passion to organize community-building events for students through the Institute for Cultural Unity at the University. Activities he’s organized include late-night game events and a lock-in for over 60 students. He has also participated in the AIDS Charity Basketball Game, Make a Difference Day, Take Back the Night, and Transgender Awareness Week among others. De León, has become widely known amongst his peers as a leader and genuine supporter of their passions and projects. 

“Miguel truly cares about the success of the events and projects that his peers are organizing, and I think that authentic interest is why he is so trusted to be a part of the many things his fellow students are passionate about,” Arno wrote in his nomination letter. “Miguel never seeks recognition for the leadership he so graciously puts forth into the events. He truly cares about seeing the community together and is invested in making it stronger and more vibrant. Miguel embodies Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s spirit of service. Not only is he able to share his passions for inclusion, equality, and community with his peers, but he so eagerly assists them to propel their own greatness into our community.”

Kohler’s equestrian staff members are required to provide at least 12 hours of service per semester, with at least 20 percent of the performed out of the barn and away from the horses. The team as a whole is also strongly encouraged to put on a larger service project each semester. At one event, called Riding with the Stars, attendees voted for faculty and staff members to ride a horse in exchange for charity donations. Other Equestrian Center projects have included village clean-up days, food drives, and “Lil Pink,” an event to raise funds for breast cancer research and awareness. In addition to their community service promotions, the Equestrian Center staff has been essential to the new presence of a live mascot for AU and has participated in community events that involve the draft horse and carriage.

“The commitment to service from our riders and staff, spearheaded by Director Nancy Kohler, has made a significant impact on our local and regional community,” wrote Kathy Woughter, vice president for Student Affairs at Alfred University, in her nomination letter. “Of course, the biggest impact is on our riders, who we hope will go and serve the communities they will move to when they leave AU.”

Ninos was nominated by Deb Mayes, Technology Services, Alfred State College, for his “constant thinking about ways to improve the quality of life in the community and for his ability to immediately set to work strategizing about how to recreate his business, The Collegiate, following a fire in 2009. Ninos, a landlord sensitive to the village’s needs, understands that college students are a part of the community and want to be treated as such. Beyond being a business and community minded person, he is also a neighbor and friend who has been known to clear driveways of snow without seeking recognition,” wrote Mayes.

“Many people know John Ninos as the owner of the Jet, the coffee shop (The Terra Cotta), or as their landlord,” wrote Mayes in her nomination letter. “The John I know is constantly thinking about ways to improve the quality of life in our small-town Alfred community. He is indispensable to our community including the students at Alfred State and AU.”

Three Alfred University students and three faculty members received Spirit of Service Award nominations: Danielle Mastropierro, a senior interdisciplinary art major from Randolf, NJ, for her work with Make a Difference Day this past October; Ari Daniels, a senior psychology major from Cheektowaga, for the ways in which she fights for equality and educates her peers; and Scott DeFranco-Norton, a senior biomedical materials engineering science major from Salisbury Mills, nominated not only for his own involvement in the community, but for using his leadership skills to encourage other students, faculty, and community members to become involved as well.

Three faculty/staff members also received recognition for their community efforts: Men’s Basketball Coach Dale Wellman, cited for his team’s involvement with Make a Difference Day; Dr. Nancy Furlong, for her contributions to her community in numerous ways through her teaching, service to the University, her work in various clubs and organizations, and her absolute commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of the people in the entire area, including Alfred State and all of Allegany County; and Athletic Director Paul Vecchio for his commitment to community service and for inspiring all of the athletics teams at AU to get involved as well.