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Student group earns national service award

The Binghamton University chapter of Alpha Phi Omega has spent the past two years working on community-service projects such as cleaning up the local riverbank, helping build stairs at The Nature Preserve, ushering at Tri-Cities Opera shows and assisting Girls Scouts on Badge Day.

That generosity has resulted in the chapter, Theta Kappa, receiving the Dean Arno Nowotny National Service Award. The honor is presented every other year to the chapter judged to have the best overall service program in the country. The four areas of service are campus, community, fraternity and nation.

“We were excited just to have a nomination submission, because it’s a great record,” said Linda Torricelli, a member of the co-ed service fraternity who led the application committee and accepted the award at the APO national convention in Boston on Dec. 30. “It’s going to be great to have at (general interest meetings) and to show pledges and alumni.”

Binghamton was one of nine schools considered for the award. APO has more than 350 chapters.

Group members were encouraged by advisers to enter the competition last spring and spent most of the fall semester working on the application, Torricelli said. The 40-page application featured summaries of campus and community events the group worked on, complete with personal descriptions of each event from members. The application also includes statements of support from officials who worked with Theta Kappa, such as Al Vos, Hinman College faculty master, and Laurie Hubik of the American Red Cross.

“We had seen a nomination submission from 2004 from another school,” Torricelli said. “It just wasn’t personal. We wanted to make sure our packet had a lot of personality. We also thought it would make our nomination stronger if we had not only students and alumni, but also people who we volunteered for.”

Service logs also were part of the application. An average of 38 members per semester completed more than 2,600 hours of community service over the past two years.

Group members submitted the application at the Boston convention and received the award at a banquet on the final night.

“We had seats in the back, so we had to walk all the way to the front of the room in front of 1,200 people!” Torricelli said.

Joe Picalila, head adviser of Theta Kappa, said having students win a national service award is significant for the University.

“It’s a big award,” said Picalila, of AmericaCorps VISTA and the Binghamton Scholars Program. “Binghamton is producing quality students who are civically- and service-minded.”

Torricelli and fellow member Martine Kercelin said two projects have carried additional significance. Kercelin pointed to the riverbank cleanups of the past three years, as the group has focused on Sandy Beach Park in Binghamton. The area was initially damaged after the floods of 2006 and it has been meaningful to be able to restore the park and help children play, she said. About 385 pounds of garage was collected during the fall 2007 effort.

For Torricelli, working last spring with chapters from Syracuse, Cornell and Cortland on the Discovery Center’s Story Garden was special.

“You saw the difference by the end of the day,” she said. “We were able to help the Discovery Center and bond with people from other chapters. It was a well-rounded effort.”

The award represents the progress Theta Kappa has made, Kercelin said.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to do service in all different aspects — with children, elderly, animals and the environment,” she said. “The award shows that we’re out there and always willing to help. We’re looking for more events to do and more people to help us do events.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08