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Sarah SanGiovanni

Sarah SanGiovanni

Binghamton University senior Sarah SanGiovanni is not an imposing figure. She's thin and smiles easily, but when she stands up, every one of the eight girls around the table at Java Joe's cool-kid coffee house notices.

"Where you going, Sarah?" one asks. "Are you leaving?" another frets.
"No," she responds as she walks over to a nearby countertop and picks up a bag. "I just didn't want to lose my purse."

Over the summer, SanGiovanni connected with these kids (and a few more who couldn't make it that day) as she taught them how to express themselves through writing. She's just handed out a book compiling their work — comic strips, character profiles, poetry, etc. The girls, between the ages of 11 and 16, are taking turns standing up and reading their favorite entries to each other. SanGiovanni returns to the table and shares a chair with one of the kids, even though there are plenty of higher stools around.

"I got to really love those kids," SanGiovanni says later. "I got to know their families and their stories. I was amazed by their stories." SanGiovanni is one of this year's four Harpur Fellows who received up to $4,000 each — supported by donor funds — to pursue a passionate interest by working on self-designed summer projects that better a community. She chose this project because she remembers how hard it was to find a creative outlet at that age.

"It's so important, especially at that age, for them to have the chance to look into themselves and find what they think is worth talking about and then write about it," she says.

McDevitt

Maura McDevitt

Maura McDevitt used her funding to connect with youth through language by reviving a Staten Island library summer reading program, whose budget had been cut to $100 for the entire summer.

With ice cream socials, prizes and raffles to bring children into the library and read on their own, the program attracted more than 250 students. McDevitt got to known some well and loved helping them keep up with their reading between school years.

"Some of the most rewarding moments were when these 6- and 7-year-old kids would come up and give you a hug and be like, 'thank you,'" she says. "That's some of the most sincere forms of gratitude that you can get."

Santino

Santino DeAngelo

Student gratitude struck Santino DeAngelo during his project, too. As a Binghamton-area native, DeAngelo grew up seeing kids too familiar with violence and not familiar enough with art and theater. So he put on a play for them.

Working with Spanish majors, DeAngelo helped translate Federico García Lorca's 1933 Blood Wedding, which is about a groom who takes revenge after his bride runs away with an old flame on their wedding night. DeAngelo then worked with a playwright friend to create an entirely new production. DeAngelo invited local high-school students interested in acting to rehearsals. Two stayed the entire run and became the production's stage left and stage right managers. One of the cast members worked with Upward Bound students to talk about the text before they saw the play during matinees (there were also regular shows for the general public).

After each matinee, Katie Kane, senior assistant director in Binghamton University's Office of Undergraduate Admissions, talked with the students and the cast, exploring how the play dealt with breaking life patterns and how that applied to their own lives.

"We had an incredible discussion," Santino says. "These are kids from 12 to 16, 17, and we had some remarks like, 'I noticed the foreshadowing at the end of Act I.' You have that in mind with the kids the whole time, but when it happens, it takes you by surprise."

Allison Jaekle

Allison Jaekle

Allison Jaekle's project surprised her even before she got started. Having spent time studying in a small Costa Rican village, Jaekle planned to return to install a satellite to connect the town with the larger world — for all the residents, but especially for the children.

Unfortunately, two weeks before she was to leave, the company she was buying the satellite from said one of its distributors went out of business, which meant it would now cost her $4,000. That was her whole budget.

Through persistence, however, Jaekle found a vendor in Costa Rica who charged less for the satellite, and would be available for any necessary repairs, too. So she flew down to supervise the installation and teach the villagers how to use the Internet.

"For some of them, this was completely new," she says. "It was very exciting seeing their reactions and being able to help them log onto the Internet for the first time. For me, this is something I've grown up with, so I got to live through them. Seeing their experience, I kind of got more excited about the Internet myself." The experience also taught her something about herself: "I definitely realized how resourceful I can be. Now I know when I do get under pressure, that I can get out a great product. When everything seemed like it was falling apart, I was very surprised that I was able to pull it off and be that person who was calling every day and being pushy if I had to be and getting the job done."

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Last Updated: 12/10/14