Volunteer Spotlight: Cynthia DeFranco

Sept. 18, 2017

By Laura Reindl

Encouraging literacy in local families

Children throughout Broome County are receiving increased exposure to the powers of literacy and education, thanks in part to the efforts of Binghamton University students like Cynthia DeFranco, a junior majoring in psychology and minoring in education and Spanish. DeFranco is interning for the second semester as the coordinator of the Center for Civic Engagement's (CCE) Bright Green Bookshelf* initiative.

"We started this initiative last semester," says DeFranco. "We put bookshelves out in the community and collect books to put on the shelves so that children can access them who wouldn't otherwise have access to books outside of schools. So it promotes community, it promotes reading outside of the school classroom, and it's just a great way to get kids excited about reading."

So far, the program has distributed around 200 books, although DeFranco says it's hard to know for sure how many books have passed through the shelves, as families are encouraged to take and leave books whenever they like. Currently the shelves are located at the Binghamton University Campus Preschool (pictured above), Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church, the Catholic Charities of Broome County food pantry, the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier (MHAST) and the Mansion at Walnut Street Community Center (pictured right). And while the bookshelves target young children (kindergarten through second grade), other community members enjoy them as well, including the clientele at the MHAST, some of whom are adults who read at an elementary school level. "That was a route we didn't even plan to go," says DeFranco, "and now they look forward to it, too."

Tutoring and mentoring in community schools

DeFranco's work with the Bright Green Bookshelf initiative is hardly her first foray into working with the youth of Broome County. She originally heard about the internship through her involvement with the CCE's Community Schools and Youth Programs initiative, through which she has volunteered for three semesters in two local school districts.

"I've done two semesters as a Union-Endicott math tutor and one semester as a Johnson City Mentor. For the UE math tutoring, I switched between a second-grade class and a fifth-grade class throughout the day. With the second-grade mentorship program at Johnson City I was [helping her with] English skills, so I would take her to remedial English. She also had some difficulty with attention, so I would try to keep her on task, just making sure she didn't get too distracted."

DeFranco's influence extended beyond basic tutoring. The teacher she worked with at Union-Endicott made a point to have her speak to the students about her college experience, instilling positive ideas about higher education in their minds from a young age. "Every week the teacher would have me tell a little story about college, like 'How's the food there?' A lot of them had questions about college. My last day there was an open Q&A for me, so I was more than just the math tutor, which was nice."

Benefits of getting involved

As is often the case, DeFranco feels she has gained a lot personally through her work with area youth and through the various other cocurricular experiences she has sought out during her college career (volunteering with SUNY Kids and the Student Volunteer Center, and even as an RA and a program assistant in the Emerging Leaders Program).

"I get a good feeling from it. I like working with kids, and it's not just something for the resume. I actually love doing it. I want to be an elementary school teacher. It's funny though, I didn't originally do these things because I want to be a teacher, and I kind of realized I want to be a teacher because of these opportunities. I realized I was getting involved with a lot of things with children and tutoring, so I was like, 'Wow, I seem to really like this.' I was aiming toward being a school psychologist, but now I definitely think elementary school teacher."

DeFranco is a strong advocate for getting involved in as many groups and activities as possible, regardless of your interests, and she has a recommendation for students who aren't sure where to start. "The CCE is definitely the place to go — there are so many opportunities in the Service Listings and the newsletter."

And beyond the career direction she's discovered, DeFranco also credits her involvement with the greater sense of belonging she now feels on campus and in the community.

"It makes you feel so involved. I walk around and I feel like I know so many people now. Someone's always saying hi to me, and my friends comment that I'm so popular, but I'm not, really. Not in the way you'd think. It's just because I do so much and I put myself out there. It's not even that I'm an outgoing person, I'm just at the events. It's a great way to know your community, know your campus and get to know more people. As I keep going in my college career, I like it more and more because of all the things I get involved in."

*The Bright Green Bookshelf is based on the Bright Red Bookshelf model, which was created by the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, N.Y.