WILKES-BARRE — It was break time at the Habitat for Humanity of Wyoming Valley’s single-family project along Carey Avenue. King’s College freshman Mike Paniccia wiped sweat from his brow and downed a bottle of water with two newly made friends, also first-year students.
Freshmen and transfer students swarmed Luzerne County on Friday to help the area’s volunteer and human service organizations. CitySERVE, as they call the volunteerism blitz, is part of the first-year orientation that had about 500 students working at 16 different sites.
They did things such as boxing meals for senior citizens at the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s Weinberg Food Bank, cleaning barns at The Lands at Hillside Farms and pulling weeds outside the Volunteers in Medicine clinic on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It’s a good way for us to get to know each other,” said King’s freshman Craig Lowman, a participant at the Habitat project. Lowman, of Maryland and Paniccia, of Connecticut, met Thursday when new students moved onto campus and stitched together their friendship a little more as they raked topsoil and hung insulation.
At the VA Hospital in Plains Township, about a dozen freshmen led veterans at the Community Living Center in a game of bingo.
Hospital public affairs officer Gail Ziegler said the veterans’ eyes lit up when the college kids arrived. They struck up conversation right away, she said.
Inter-generational interaction is good for students and the veterans, said VA recreational therapist Amie Omalia. The older generation gets to share their experiences with the youngsters and students get first-hand tales about what happened during the wars.
Heather Danishanko, a secondary education student, experienced that give-and-take when she sat next to a veteran of the Vietnam War during bingo. As other students helped veterans in wheelchairs get back to their rooms, Danishanko stopped for a minute with a few fellow freshmen to recount their volunteer experiences.
Danishanko said a thoughtful elderly soldier told her about his love for the French language and, during deployment in Vietnam, he taught French to wealthy Vietnamese who paid him $30 an hour for his tutoring — an exorbitant mid-century wage. The conversation was enlightening to her, she said, because she never considered that part of history.
King’s College spokesman John McAndrew said the mandatory first-year volunteerism, a part of orientation since 1999, works two-fold. “We feel it’s a good way for the students to get to know the area and get to know the commitment King’s has to the community,” he said.