A real human connection

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photo_page_9Le Moyne student nominated for national award

By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor

Andrew Lunetta, a junior studying Peace and Global Studies at Le Moyne, has been nominated for a national award that acknowledges college students working to address environmental and social challenges in their communities.

The winner of the Students in Service Award will receive a $5,000 academic service scholarship. A runner-up will receive $2,500. Voters can also go online to choose a “fan favorite” who will also receive $2,500.

To vote for Lunetta, visit
http://www.serviceawards.org and select his name from the “Your Top 50 Nominees” drop-down box on the right.

The winners will be announced on March 15.

Lunetta was chosen for the award because of the program he started at Le Moyne which makes sandwiches to deliver to those in need at the Samaritan Center.

A group of 12 to 15 Le Moyne students meet each Monday and Wednesday evening to put together sandwiches which Lunetta delivers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Lunetta said he loves working at the Samaritan Center, but what he finds most rewarding are the opportunities to sit and talk with the guests there.

“What I’ve found is that they really appreciate that, too, because often there are not really any opportunities for them to have a meaningful conversation with someone with no strings attached,” Lunetta said. “It’s an opportunity for a real human connection.”

Last May Lunetta was named one of 19 regional honorees of the Sodexo STOP Hunger grant. He earned a $1,000 donation to the organization of his choice. It wasn’t a tough choice: “The Samaritan Center,” Lunetta said, laughing.

But Lunetta has extended his service beyond the Syracuse community as well. He spent the summer in Central Mexico teaching English and reporting on a literacy program there.

Lunetta then travelled to the border town of Nogales, Mexico to spend the fall semester. There, he worked at the Kino Border Initiative, an organization that provides assistance to people who have been deported from the U.S. There is a shelter for displaced women and children and a soup kitchen for all who are in need.

“There really weren’t services for the people in terms of food, in terms of clothes, in terms of medical care,” Lunetta said.

The soup kitchen served around 250 deported migrants a day, Lunetta said. “It was a safe space where they could have a good, hearty meal.”

Despite the distance between the two, there were some key similarities between the work Lunetta did at the Kino Initiative and the work he does at the Samaritan Center. “I think what I learned most about was the importance of the human connection, how important it is to let one express oneself.”

To that end, Lunetta started a small bulletin entitled “A Stop in the Road: By the Deported, For the Deported.” The bulletin features information on migrants’ rights as well as some of the stories of those who were deported. Lunetta said he was surprised at how eager people were to share their stories.

“So many people wanted to share their stories because no one had ever asked them before,” he said. The migrants would write their tales on slips of paper and Lunetta would type them up on the computer and print them out to share with others at the Kino Initiative. He also e-mailed the stories to Spanish classes at Le Moyne so they could practice translating them into English.

Lunetta returned from Mexico at the end of December. Since then, he’s started a Drop-in Center at the Brady Faith Center. “It’s every Monday and Friday and we offer coffee, board games, Bible study and art classes to the guys at the Oxford Street Inn,” he said. The homeless shelters usually do not allow men to stay in the buildings during the day, and this offers a safe, clean place to stay warm, have some conversation and maybe even engage in some creativity. The Drop-in Center is open from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays.

Although the center only opened about a month ago, Lunetta’s pleased with the reaction it’s gotten. Now he’s thinking about maybe chartering a bus to take the men to basketball games or on camping trips.

Lunetta said he’s hoping people in the community might be willing to help out with the Drop-in Center. He’s looking in particular for people willing to teach painting classes or to lead a book group. He’s also looking for donations of coffee, board games, art supplies and several copies of one book so the men can read together. For more information on how to help out, see the box that accompanies this story.

While Lunetta is waiting to hear the outcome of the Students in Service Award, he’ll go on serving those in need in the Syracuse community and planning his own course in life.

“I’m definitely excited for the future,” Lunetta said. He’s considering applying for a Fulbright scholarship which would give him the opportunity to do more study and service abroad. “But I also feel called to stay here in Syracuse working with the people I’ve really grown close to,” Lunetta said. “I’ve met so many good people because of this path I’ve chosen.”

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