Twice a year, Cornellians gather to do acts of service through Cornell Cares. The spirit of service unites Cornellians across the United States, from San Francisco to Boston, Dallas to Chicago, and Denver to Charlotte—and even crosses international borders with the Cornell Club of Singapore hosting a coastal cleanup in winter 2023.
The event began in the early 2000s when a few Cornell regional clubs partnered with the Public Service Center (now combined with the Office of Engagement Initiatives to form the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement) to set aside a day in January for volunteer service. Cornell Cares ‘Day’ grew into a week, and ultimately into a biannual opportunity in January and July for Cornellians of all ages to work together and make a difference in their hometowns.
“Cornell Cares unites Cornellians around a common purpose—to do the greatest good,” says Michelle J. Vaeth ’98, associate vice president for alumni affairs. “Doing good is what inspired Ezra Cornell to found the university, and this same spirit motivates Cornellians to jump in and lend a hand. By showing up at Cornell Cares, we connect with one another and with community members to contribute to the places where we live and work.”
The Cornell Cares summer edition launched last year to take advantage of warm weather and summer breaks to welcome more Big Red alumni, current students, and families to take part in volunteer activities.
This summer’s activities ranged from park cleanups in Pittsburgh, to painting a youth center in Denver, to helping out local food banks in Chicago. Cornell regional clubs across the country organized 21 projects in January 2023 and 17 more in July, engaging about 500 people in acts of service. Many alumni enjoy bringing their entire family—with grandparents, parents, and young kids working alongside community partners.
Clubs connect with community partners and volunteer opportunities organically, in ways that are unique to each region. In Maryland, club president Jenn Taylor ’99, MAT ’00 was inspired by her child’s school service project to enhance public art in the city of Baltimore. Members of the Alumni Association of Charlotte volunteered with the Carolina Raptor Center to help rehabilitate birds of prey and educate the community about these important keystone species. Cornell Club of Chicago members teamed up with a past partner, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and expanded to a second location at the Northern Illinois Food Bank to serve a larger area of their city.
The event brings together longtime Cornell volunteers with newcomers. “We’ve seen alumni volunteers from the Class of ’56 and ’25 working side-by-side,” says Erika Axe ’18, assistant director of alumni affairs for the Northeast Corridor Regional Office, who helps coordinate Cornell Cares.
Staff in the Einhorn Center help the Cornell Clubs with holistic pre- and post-event planning. “We help event organizers really think about how we’re impacting communities in ways that can also establish trust and build long-term partnerships,” Erika explains. “Einhorn Center staff also facilitate a post-event reflection opportunity for volunteers to dig deeper into their personal experience giving back,” she adds.
“I loved spending the morning with my fellow Cornellians, meeting community-minded Denverites, and working up a bit of a sweat,” says Emily Hunter MRP ’12, who volunteered with the Colorado Cornell Club to brighten up a room at the Sun Valley Youth Center in Denver with a fresh coat of paint. “Uniting with local initiatives that support the health of our communities is 100% in line with the ethos I learned as an MRP student at Cornell,” she adds.
Public service has been part of Cornell’s DNA since its founding and is enshrined in the university’s mission: “to enhance the lives of students, the people of New York, and others around the world.”
Steven Wolhandler JD ’84, who led the volunteer paint crew, was impressed with his Big Red team. “The time flew by. In addition to feeling grateful to have helped in a small way the Sun Valley Youth Center, I also feel grateful for having met Emily, Monique, and Beth—each an honor to Cornell,” he says.
Bravo for all our hardworking Cornell Cares summer 2023 volunteers!