BUFFALO, N.Y. -- This week, 2 On Your Side is introducing you to a woman who went to college in Buffalo, left, and came back. Laura Hill Rao is this week’s City Shaper.
Rao is busy passing her passion for community service along to a new generation.
"Our student population is wanting to really make a connection, and understand social issues, and work to make a difference," says Rao.
Rao has served as SUNY Buffalo State's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center Coordinator for more than 13 years. In that time, students, staff, and faculty have provided hundreds of thousands of hours of community service across Western New York.
"Have you always had a passion for helping others?" asked 2 On Your Side’s Kelly Dudzik.
"I graduated from UB, and I was a good student, but I didn't really find a passion for learning until I was able to kind of apply everything that I learned in the classroom to real world experiences," says Rao.
Rao’s grad school program exposed her to community service opportunities which eventually led her to Buff State where she connects students with volunteer opportunities of their own.
"It's rewarding, it's important, and it helps to meet the college mission, as well as the goal of this democracy that we live in and how we all play a role in that democracy," says Rao.
Rao still finds time to juggle many community service activities herself. Right now, she's mentoring a woman who recently arrived in the United States from the Congo through the Jericho Road Community Health Center Priscilla Project. It helps refugees who are pregnant deliver healthy babies.
"I've taken her to a number of doctors’ appointments, and out and around town, and made sure that she has everything that she needed to get that baby home and healthy. We spent a lot of time figuring out car seats because that was something brand new to her. All of the buckles and snaps," explains Rao.
With four children of her own, Rao makes sure they, too, share her sense of compassion.
Her efforts do not go unnoticed.
"Often times, when I'm out and about in the community, what they will know best about us is the work that some of our students have performed in the community, and that's because Laura is able to connect people to so many different projects," says SUNY Buffalo State President Kate Conway-Turner.
SUNY Buffalo State has received national recognition for its service activities.
Rao says if you want to volunteer, it's easy.
"Finding that issue area that you connect with is really the place to start. Is it health? Is it nutrition? Is it environment?" she says. "Whether it's a short-term opportunity or a long-term commitment, it all matter and it all makes a difference."
If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity in Western New York, you can contact the Service Collaborative of WNY.
If you'd like to nominate someone to be a City Shaper, contact Kelly.