SRU orientation ambassadors blanket campus and community

Orientation Ambassadors blanket project

SRU orientation ambassadors with the handmade tie blankets the group crafted for patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

June 24, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When it comes to serving as emissaries of Slippery Rock University, those students that log time as orientation ambassadors are not only committed to the betterment of incoming freshman and transfer students, but to that of the community as well.

"Our group doesn't just serve orientation guests and incoming students and then call it a day," said Robert Lagnese, associate director of admissions and director of orientation. "We train our orientation ambassadors to be great leaders on campus with the goal of extending our reach far beyond the perimeters of the University."

While the on-campus roles of SRU orientation ambassadors can include such things as facilitating small group sessions with students regarding campus life and academic advisement; conducting campus walking and bus tours and serving as academic liaisons for faculty during the advisement/registration process, it is the off-campus endeavors of the group that are especially noteworthy.

While previous years have seen the ambassadors organize food drives and visit nursing and retirement homes, this year's group is taking a much more hands-on approach to community outreach, having handcrafted 20 tie blankets for young patients at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

The undertaking that led up to the June 22 delivery of those blankets involved two months of preparation on the part of the 15 orientation ambassadors, as well as reaching into their own pockets to make it happen.

"We've never done anything like this before," said Kaila Hazinakis, a senior political science major and orientation ambassador project leader. "In the past, the services we provided cost only our time, but this year we all pitched in to buy the materials and make the blankets. I think this approach has made the project even more special and personal for all of us."

Hazinakis, who first proposed the project to the group in April, said that both her co-ambassadors and Lagnese jumped at the idea, which quickly became much more than just a charitable cause.

"We just wanted to see the kids smile and let their parents know that someone has been thinking about them and their child," said Hazinakis. "For many of us, this project hit very close to home."

Domenica Manno, a junior early childhood/special education major and orientation ambassador from Allison Park, felt a special connection with the project. As she tied blankets and designed cards for the patients, she recalled how her brother, Ryan, could have been a recipient.

"When (Ryan) was about 2 years old, he suffered from extremely low oxygen levels and on one occasion was rushed to Children's (Hospital)," said Manno. "That day, our family nearly stopped breathing too."

Ryan Manno was quickly diagnosed by hospital specialists with respiratory syncytial virus, a disease caused by inhalation or contact with airborne droplets after an ill person blows their nose, coughs or sneezes. Once infected, exposure to even a common cold can lead to bronchitis, asthma or lung failure. RSV can be very serious among infants and toddlers with treatments that are often complicated and costly, requiring frequent hospitalization and the constant possibility of further episodes.

"We didn't think Ryan would ever be able to leave hospital care until the doctors offered us a machine that would provide my brother's treatments at home," said Manno. "Not only did they give us hope, but between their generosity and a little insurance coverage, they also gave us the solution that cost our family nothing."

With the help of Children's Hospital, Ryan Manno's stay was a mere three days in comparison to what could have been a lifetime of prolonged hospital visits.

"I feel like this blanket project is my way of saying thank you to the doctors who saved my brother's life," said Manno. "It is also my way of telling families that they have the support of people they have never even met. Knowing that can change lives ... for years to come."

It's that selfless mentality that Lagnese feels is the true reward for all involved.

"We spend a lot of time training them on the importance of being positive influences not just at our University, but in the community as well," he said. "We stress their roles as leaders by teaching them to serve others, especially those in need. To see them attack it with such fervor is amazing and satisfying."

MEDIA CONTACT: Maizee Zaccone | 724.738.2091 | mxz1016@sru.edu