There was a time when all Allison Guzman-Martinez had was hope. She and her two sisters, brother and mother had left Long Island because they could no longer afford to live there. They wound up in downtown Syracuse in the Salvation Army’s Emergency Family Shelter where they would live for one month. Guzman-Martinez was a junior in high school. Every morning she would board a Centro bus to get to school. Survival was the goal. “At the time I didn’t see myself being successful in college. I want people to know you don’t have to start in a good place to end up with a bright and successful future.”
After graduating from Westhill High School in 2017 Guzman-Martinez came to OCC. Today her future is bright. Later this month on the morning of September 25, she’ll walk into room 210 in the Whitney Applied Technology Center and sit at a long table in the center of the room along with Onondaga Community College’s Board of Trustees. As the new Student Trustee she will sit side-by-side with bank presidents, school superintendents and other high-powered local executives as she debates and votes on resolutions critical to the future of the college. “I’m excited as a woman and as a Latina to really come forth and be a representative for our students on campus. It’s an opportunity to bring diversity and a new perspective, I’m hoping students can see me as a beacon of hope and an inspiration and know they can succeed too.”
Guzman-Martinez’s parents are natives of Honduras. Spanish was always and still is today the language of choice at home. Her ability to speak two languages fluently led to her working as a translator for Spanish speaking patients at SUNY Upstate Medical University Hospital. “I liked helping the Latino community because patients do come in to the hospital scared. We’re there to comfort them, to defend the patient, to protect their rights and to make sure they’re not violated. We’re the bridge between doctor and patient. It’s been a blessing to have that job and opportunity.” Guzman-Martinez entered OCC as a Humanities major but her time as a translator changed everything. “Working with patients opened me up to the medical field. I decided to major in Mathematics & Science because I want to be a doctor.”
Guzman-Martinez admits when she graduated from high school, OCC was her only option. She’s made the most of her time here. Guzman-Martinez has served the campus community as president of Spanish Club and as a member of the Basic (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) Club. Now she is adding Student Trustee and Diversity Council to the list. “I’m proud to be part of this school. This is a building block and foundation for where I’m going to go. Onondaga Community College will always be the place that led to wherever I go.”
OCC students and employees spent a day giving back to the community as part of the annual Onondaga Day of Service. More than 70 students chose to volunteer off campus by assisting at Salvation Army, Rescue Mission, Samaritan Center, Van Duyn Center and Jubilee Homes Southwest Community Learning Farm. There was also an opportunity for students to volunteer time on campus by making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Samaritan Center, Thanksgiving Cards for Meals on Wheels recipients, Thank You cards for Veterans and by making dog toys. Onondaga’s 2017 Day of Service enjoyed record participation. A total of 178 students, faculty and staff volunteers chose to donate their time to the community. While much of their work off campus couldn’t be quantified, on campus outputs included:
184 Thank You cards for veterans
283 Thanksgiving cards for Meals on Wheels recipients
60 dog toys for Helping Hounds dog rescue
160 PB&J sandwiches to be distributed by the Samaritan Center.
A committee of College employees organized the event including Meghan Peryea, La’Kesa Allen, Mike Borsz, Liz Goldschein and Maria Malagisi, Assistant Director of Service-Learning. “We are so proud of everyone who was willing to come together and make a difference as a collective unit,” said Malagisi. “The word ‘community’ is our middle name. We are always willing to do what we can for our neighbors.”
Nina James discovered her passion while working as a property manager on East Fayette Street in Syracuse. “I used to see a lot of kids there who should have been in school. I would tell them they needed their education to be successful. It got me thinking that instead of working for the housing complex and overseeing the adults I should be working with children.”
Those conversations led James to where she is today. The 55-year-old mother of four is director of the Salvation Army’s Cab Horse Commons Child Care Center on South Salina Street. The facility can accommodate up to 95 children between the ages of six months and five-years-old. James is responsible for their daily care and her 13 employees who administer it.
Caregivers at the center are required to have nine college credits in Early Childhood Education to work there. That’s where Onondaga Community College comes in. As part of the Early Childhood Career Advancement Ladder II (ECCAL II) the College began offering nine credits of introductory courses at the Salvation Army’s Cab Horse Commons and the Head Start Summer School site. The courses are offered at one-third the regular tuition for practitioners already working with young children in child care or Head Start.
James was part of the first class of employees who enrolled when the program began in 2014. “When we started I wasn’t sure how I was going to juggle work, home and college. What we all found out was that the school work was much easier when we worked in groups and had discussions together. We were able to solve problems and encourage each other.”
The courses James and her co-workers take can be used as the education component for the Child Development Credential (CDA) which is the first of the professional credentials needed. Other credentials students can earn include the Early Child Care Certificate and the Early Childhood A.A.S. degree. The ECCAL II program includes a mentor who works closely with students and a textbook loan component.
Dr. Patricia Martin is Chair of OCC’s Human Services and Teacher Education program and an Early Childhood Education Professor. She’s seen the program play a vital role in the professional growth of the child care center’s employees. “These teachers provide quality early childhood education every day that directly affects young children, their families and their futures. We are thrilled to be able to bring them the courses they need to advance their careers.”
James is now just 23 credits away from getting her bachelor’s degree. In the summer she’ll begin taking classes at SUNY Empire State College. She’s looking forward to her future but occasionally thinks about those children she tried to give advice to many years ago when she was working as a property manager. “Some of them listened and some didn’t,” she recalls. “Sometimes I would run into one of the children who listened and hear, ‘Thank you Miss Nina for telling me I should have been in school.’ It was very rewarding.”
Students in OCC’s Nursing program spent the holiday season thousands of miles from home helping others. Nine students and two faculty members packed up suitcases filled with medical supplies and traveled to Guatemala. Their service learning adventure brought medical care and knowledge to people who desperately needed it. “This trip was the single most meaningful thing I’ve ever done,” said Nursing student Joshua McGinley (Whitesboro High School).
While in Guatemala, McGinley and his fellow students held community health presentations on a variety of topics:
Oral hygiene for children
The importance of vaccinations
The importance of good nutrition while pregnant and breastfeeding
Students also went into homes and brought medical care to people. “The personal home visits and informational meetings we held were very rewarding. People were so thankful for what we were doing,” said Shelbie Pidkaminy (Solvay High School).
Students also helped build fuel-efficient stoves in homes which vented to the outside. Residents were used to cooking inside over an open flame without any ventilation, blackening walls and lungs with damaging particles which contribute to significant respiratory problems. “We worked with a mason who only spoke Spanish. Over time we were able to work through the language barrier. The families watched us work and were very thankful,” said Amanda Pezzulo (Burnt Hills High School).
The trip was coordinated by Assistant Professor Lee Berg. When she was a student she took a similar trip to Vietnam and found it to be invaluable. This was the second year in a row she brought students from OCC to Guatemala. “It was another wonderful experience. We believe generations from now people in Guatemala will be living healthier lives because of the lessons our students taught them,” Berg said.
Along with Berg’s leadership and the assistance of Assistant Professor Dianna Lewis Brewster who accompanied her, the trip would not have been possible without the generosity of numerous businesses and organizations:
Welch Allyn contributed lightweight medical equipment such as digital thermometers, otoscopes, headlamps, and blood pressure cuffs which were all very useful during home visits. They also donated two bags filled with beanie babies which the children of Guatemala loved.
M&T Bank donated $5,000 toward the trip and also brought our trip to the attention of Northern Safety which donated first-aid kits and replacement supplies for the kits. Students used several ice packs, antiseptic wipes and dressing change supplies on the trip.
Johnson & Johnson gave coloring books in Spanish for the children of Guatemala.
Wegmans contributed $1,000 which was used to purchase over the counter medicines, vitamins, first-aid supplies and toothpaste.
Salvation Army hosted the first fundraiser for the trip and also donated toys for the children of Guatemala.
The OCC Foundation, Nursing Department and entire Campus Community also contributed in various meaningful ways.
The upcoming semester break will provide OCC’s nursing students with an opportunity to learn the power of helping others. Students will be going to Guatemala to teach residents about community health topics such as oral hygiene, lice prevention, reproductive health and prevention and treatment of malnutrition, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
The service learning trip costs approximately $2,000 per student. Nursing students make ends meet through numerous fundraisers. In the last weekend of October they held a spaghetti dinner at the Salvation Army Onondaga Tabernacle in Liverpool. The Salvation Army generously donated its facility and helped set up themed tables for the event.
Berg brought nursing students to Guatemala during the previous academic year and is coordinating the fundraisers and the upcoming trip. “The nursing students and I are very grateful for the wonderful support we have received from our college community and from our many family and friends. The benefit of these service learning trips is remarkable. People in Guatemala will share what they learn with their families and friends, and generations from now people may still be living healthier lives because of what our students taught.”
When you support Onondaga Community College, you are making a statement that you believe in the importance of quality affordable education for everyone. You are creating new opportunities and new beginnings for students and our greater community.