Buffalo State comes together for Bengals Dare to Care Day


Lloyd Huff Jr./The Record

Over 500 people filled the Sports Arena Saturday to volunteer for Bengals Dare to Care Day, including President Katherine Conway-Turner and USG President Derek Jorden.

Lloyd Huff Jr., Staff Writer

The Sports Arena at SUNY Buffalo State filled with 550 people on Saturday Sept. 19 for the first annual “Bengals Dare to Care Day.”

The event surpassed last year’s “Buffalo State Day of Service” by 100 participants. “Bengals Dare to Care” provided an opportunity for Buffalo State students, faculty, staff, friends, and families to give back to the greater Buffalo community through a day of service.

Volunteers were given the opportunity to select from no fewer than 16 community based projects ranging in scope from cleaning up Scajaquada Creek, to assembling toiletry kits for the homeless, or getting their hands dirty at one of several urban community gardens.

While this was the first “Bengals Dare to Care Day,” it was hardly the first community service event to be held by Buffalo State. According to Service-Learning Center Coordinator and primary coordinator of the day Laura Rao, “Bengals Dare to Care Day” owes its roots to an event (Buffalo State Day of Service) started 25 years ago by now retired faculty member, Fred Howe.

According to Vice President of the Volunteer and Service Learning Center, Hal Payne, “Bengals Dare to Care Day” is the product of combining the school’s “United Way Day of Caring” and “Buffalo State Day of Service” under one banner, as a result of Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner’s desire to implement a single annual day of service.

In an interview the day prior, President Conway-Turner said, “There’s community work being done by people at this campus every day, but I think there is something really powerful about all of us coming together on one day and giving back to the community.”

On Saturday morning, many volunteers arrived early, trickling into the arena, meeting friends, and colleagues, and making their way to one of the many project sign-up booths of their choosing. The atmosphere in the arena felt casual and congenial. But that didn’t keep the event from beginning as promised at 9:15 a.m. with an explanation of the day from Coordinator Rao, and a speech from President Conway-Turner.

“It’s great to see everyone out here in force, in my favorite color orange…Thank you all for participating, for coming out to be a part of this very important day. Buffalo State College is not just located in the city of Buffalo but we’re really part and parcel to Buffalo. This is our opportunity to go out and show that we care about the community we live in,” President Conway-Turner said. “Now go Buffalo, let’s get out there and work!”

By 9:45 a.m., waves of volunteers were headed out the arena doors to one of seven waiting buses, or on foot to nearby projects. The morning sky was an array of pink-gray clouds, a hint of sun, and an inconsistent westerly wind that offered connotations of rain, but that would otherwise make for a good day to get outside and volunteer.

According to Rose Coates, an assistant at the Career Development Center, the day started off well despite a minor delay caused when one of the buses became over-capacity.

“Things are going pretty well, just a little chaos with the buses, but we’re getting all the students on the buses, so it’s going pretty well,” Coates said.


Inside the Sports Arena, volunteers quietly listened as Outdoor Homeless Ministries Coordinator Bill Marcie, of Grace Point Church, explained the importance of the toiletry kits they would be assembling. According to Marcie, as a result of the numerous agencies that cooperate under Project Homeless Connect, of the 4,500 to 5,000 people in Erie County that experience homelessness annually, about 3,000 get housed in a year; 1,500 are in a shelter.

Volunteers quickly got to work putting together the kits containing items such as shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, tampons, and even socks and underwear, to be given to homeless individuals after they see service providers at “The 7th Annual Project Homeless Connect Buffalo” on Tuesday, Sept. 22, at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

“It’s great to see that this is going on, and that all these kids are volunteering, and that we have a lot of support,” Buffalo State freshman Kim Williams said.

According to Marcie, donations for the kits came from a number of churches, Catholic Charities, New York Electric and Gas, and from all across the state of New York, and even Connecticut.

Meanwhile, at Five Loaves Farm, Director of Student Life Sarah Young and her son, along with Career Development Center Associate Director Jessie Lombardo and her children, were shoveling away; lifting heaps of fresh compost to be taken across the street and laid in the community-centered Five Loaves garden, where Matt Kauffman and three part-time employees grow fresh fruits and vegetables, and raise chickens.

“This is a good place to feel like you’re getting your hands dirty and doing something, literally,” Young said. “For me it’s about seeing the city and getting back into Buffalo. I’m new to the position and I’ve just come back to Buffalo after 20 years. And my son is learning the difference between being a good person and being a good citizen; the difference between being nice and doing community service, which means actually taking action.”

According to Kauffman, Five Loaves Farm provides fresh produce to Tapestry Charter School, Vera Pizzeria on Elmwood, and the Gourmet Store on Pearl Street, as well as to 12 local families.

Over at the Broadway Market, volunteers that were artistically inclined – and not so artistically inclined, worked on an aesthetic project for the roof-top market’s roof-top garden. The project used recycled tires, often littered around the neighborhood, to create Black, Asian, Polish and Muslim statues inspired by Nesting Dolls, and representative of the diverse Broadway neighborhood.

On the top floor of the Broadway Market parking garage, Buffalo State freshman Autumn Jenks and Eric Guo, son of Professor Ruth Guo, among others, were busily dipping the ends of plastic water bottles into paint, and applying them to the tires to create a floral pattern around the tire-dress of the Asian doll.

“We’re learning. We started off kind of messy. But we’re getting better. We’re trying to do our best,” Jenks said, who, being a commuter, also said that the day was a nice way to get involved and meet new people.

A few feet away, President Conway-Turner’s Chief of Staff Bonita Durand, family friend Polly Ray, and Vice President for Institutional Advancement Susie Bair were painting what would be the back of the heads for the dolls.

“This is a really fun project and it’s worthwhile. As long as I don’t have to create (the painting); I just have to follow somebody else’s template, I’m alright,” Durand said.

At 995 Sycamore Street, the day was going excellent according to the “None Like You, We Care Outreach” founder, Mrs. Elizabeth Triggs.

“There’s no rain till four o’clock,” Triggs said. “Everybody’s working and we’re really cleaning up. We want to get all the lots cleaned up, the whole area cleaned up, and hopefully people will keep it that way.”

Buffalo State volunteers participated with several other groups to beautify the area and help further the 26 year outreach program’s agenda of building a better Buffalo, with a particular emphasis on the East Side.

Like many volunteers, Buffalo State sophomore and site coordinator Cheyanne Smith picked the project she would help with at random.

“I wanted to do something new. My freshmen year I did volunteer work that was all gardening. Today we repainted benches, hedged bushes, laid new garden soil, pulled weeds, and worked in a greenhouse area,” Smith said. “I plan to come back here. I really liked being able to paint and garden and do different stuff.”

“We Care” board member Virginia Golden was pleased with the day’s events.

“This is going great. This is the product of what this group has been doing for 26 years. We’re reclaiming Buffalo, and there’s enough room for all of us to live in peace and harmony. A good diverse community is a stable community and that leads to progress,” Golden said.

The day culminated at the Sports Arena with an informal hot lunch paid for by the president’s office. While there, the volunteers reflected on the day’s events; over and over, volunteers noted how rewarding the experience was for them personally, and how members of the community appreciated their efforts; often thanking them as they walked by, and in some cases even honking their horns in appreciation.

Some gratitude is also due to M&T Bank. According to Coordinator Laura Rao, the company has been a prominent sponsor of Buffalo State’s volunteer events for the past 15 to 20 years.

Towards the end of lunch, Rao summed up her feelings about the day, echoed by so many.

“It was a fabulous day,” she said, “it couldn’t have gone better.”