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Meet the 2021 Go the Extra Mile (G.E.M.) Volunteer Award Recipients

For the fourth year, in honor of National Volunteer Week, Queens Public Library has awarded the Go the Extra Mile (G.E.M.) Award to those who go above and beyond in their service and embody the Library’s mission “to transform lives by cultivating personal and intellectual growth and by building strong communities.”  Congratulations to everyone - We are fortunate to partner with you to serve the community and promote lifelong civic engagement.

Learn more about some of this year's recipients...

2021 GEM Volunteer Award Recipient: Bruce Goerlich

2021 GEM Volunteer Award Recipient: St. John's University - Academic Service Learning

2021 GEM Volunteer Award Recipient: Ozanam Scholars Program

Below is our interview with Ozanam Scholars director Carline Bennett and assistant director Fedaling Agwumezie. Learn more about the Ozanam Scholars program.

QPL: Congratulations to you and the St. John's University Ozanam Scholars Program for your 2021 G.E.M. Volunteer Award and thank you on behalf of Queens Public Library for your partnership and helping provide programs and services throughout Queens. What is Saint John's commitment to service?

Fedaling Agwumezie (FA): Working under the mission wing at the University places us in a very integral part of serving communities, connecting with communities, and making sure that we're always asking and answering the question "What might be?". With service, it's really thinking about how we can continue to create sustainable change. What are the outcomes for the impressions and impacts that we're making with individuals and organizations that are seeking to make a change and a long-lasting senior support community? Ultimately, the hope is that we're not going to just step in and play a momentary Band-Aid, but that we're actually wanting to establish something that is going to make a shift in the lives of the people that were connected to.

QPL: What is the Ozanam Scholars Program within St. John’s?

Carline Bennett (CB): We're a program that's really around social justice. Our goal is to provide a platform for students to really critically examine various systemic issues, particularly around poverty, right? We want our students to really take action to advance social justice and we're talking about both locally and globally. We want to make sure this is happening throughout their college career.

We do that in 3 different ways. One of the ways is Vincentian service. That's our freshmen and sophomores going into the communities with community partners for 3 for 6 hours a week. They're looking at issues of homelessness, healthcare, education, poverty, and hunger. We want people to be able to have conversations with people on the ground about what it means from your level to be able to tackle some of these issues.

Another way we really work with our students to understand social justice is through the academic portion. The academic scholarship component is a huge piece. Students take classes and minor in social justice. There's a real academic commitment to saying yes, let's not only talk about social justice and kind of do it by going out there. Let's really look at it academically and examine it.

The 3rd aspect is that global citizenship piece. How can I, as a global citizen, truly understand what it means to help create a just society? What does that look like? Global citizenship doesn't necessarily mean being from a different country. Being a global citizen is having experiences outside of your own lived experience. And how can you better understand and take lessons from what you're learning to apply to your own community or work with them to better understand how to work with them.

QPL:This fall and spring, Ozanam Scholars participated in a 10-week "Introduction to Civic Engagement" seminar conducted by QPL. Can we talk a little about that?

FA: One of the unique things about how they're participating in service during the spring semester is really talking about leadership. How do you start from a shell and creating the seed and then seeing that blossom, and they're having these conversations as freshman today on a local level: what can I do in my community, in my neighborhood, in my locality, on my campus to see and impart change?

QPL: What has been the most challenging part of your work with the Ozanam scholars? What's been the most fulfilling part of that work for you?

FA: The most difficult is easy. It’s not being able to do the direct service and connect in the way that we typically would like our students to connect directly with the community. I think sometimes, in the service that they're in now, it's more about conversing about what could be done. What should be done? What are the strategies in order to really understand community development of social change and social justice? Conversations are one key factor for making change. But the actual key factor, action, is what is missing and I think that is the biggest challenge in the Covid era and the virtual atmosphere.

The most fruitful, though, is that we've continued our partnership. We've continued our collaboration, regardless of what is happening in the world. The foundation of the continued partnership just means that when we are able to come back to doing what we've done before, we're already thinking creatively about how we can continue to expand, and we can really reflect on what we've done. How effective was it and how do we make it better? The continuity of our partnership has been the best part of where we are now. And I'm just excited about how we're going to continue to expand and collaborate in the future.

Congratulations and thank you again to all our 2021 G.E.M. Volunteer Award recipients!