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UAlbany Doctoral Students Make a Difference in the Dominican Republic

Children receiving toys for Three Kings Day.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 08, 2011) -- Lissette Acosta-Corniel grew up poor, and at age 12, she and her family left their hometown of Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic, for the U.S. Now, the University at Albany graduate student devotes time and energy to helping the children and families still living in her hometown. Her community service and academic achievements were recognized last year by the Dominican government's Ministry of Youth, which nominated her to receive the Young Outstanding Dominican Abroad Award.

A doctoral student in Latin American, Caribbean & U.S. Latino Studies, Acosta-Corniel first began organizing assistance for her home country in 1997. Most recently, she returned this holiday season armed with clothing, blankets and food. Joining her on the trip was Gabriel Guadalupe, a doctoral student in Spanish linguistics.

At left, UAlbany grad students Lissette Acosta-Corniel and Gabriel Guadalupe in the Dominican Republic

From left, UAlbany grad students Lissette Acosta-Corniel and Gabriel Guadalupe with volunteer and event sponsor Danilsa Beltre and Emiliana Burdiez, director of the social center where gifts were delivered. 

Guadalupe joined the trip to find out more about Fundacion Alegria Gri-Gri, the not-for-profit organization begun by Acosta-Corniel after she earned a bachelor's degree. "I started the organization because I wanted to give back to a community that helped my family out when we needed it," she said.

Together, they delivered clothing to hundreds of people, food baskets to 62 families, and toys to 125 children in the Dominican Republic. They also provided a Christmas Day dinner for children, and blankets and mattresses for poor families.

"While we did a lot on our trip, the most rewarding thing for me was our short trip to Bonao to distribute gifts to children for Three Kings Day (Jan. 6). When the children saw those toys, they went wild and were very happy to see us," said Guadalupe.

Prior to each trip, Acosta-Corniel sends an e-mail to friends listing the supplies she needs and the shipping cost. She and Guadalupe paid their own airfare and found sponsors in the Dominican Republic to help with items that could be shipped ahead of time.

"People get motivated when I show pictures of what I do," said Acosta-Corniel, whose grandmother and childhood friends still live in the Dominican Republic. "People should not take for granted the things we have. The people we help cannot count on some of the basics we don't even think about, such as shampoo, toothpaste, and having a meal three or two times a day."

In 1989, her family, including two sisters and a brother, moved to Passaic, N.J. She graduated from William Paterson University with bachelor's and master's degrees in education before joining the doctoral program at UAlbany. "I would like to be a professor and historian," said Acosta-Corniel.

Volunteering to help children abroad is just one of the many ways UAlbany faculty, staff, and students make a difference. To learn more about how the UAlbany community is making a World of Difference, visit UAlbany's Community Connections.