Student grant board funds social justice community projects
By Minhchan Nguyen '25
CPFB grantee Veronica Zellers ’24 (second from left) and community partner Professor Bruce Levitt (fifth from left) with Art Beyond Cornell members and supporters at a spring 2023 event
CPFB grantee Veronica Zellers ’24 (second from left) and community partner Professor Bruce Levitt (fifth from left) with Art Beyond Cornell members and supporters at a spring 2023 event

Thirteen student-community projects received grants through the Community Partnership Funding Board’s latest round of funding. While these projects vary widely in their missions, from improving the lives of people with dementia to enhancing healthcare services for those who are uninsured, they all share one goal: to bring social justice to the community.

The Community Partnership Funding Board (CPFB), a student-run program in Cornell’s Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, promotes student leadership and social responsibility. Established in 1992, CPFB supports students in their work against social inequities by providing grants of up to $2,500 to develop grassroots community action projects. CPFB’s spring 2024 grant application deadline is Wednesday, February 28, at 5 p.m.

“We award funding to the most engaging and polished projects which demonstrate strong community partnerships, a high level of student engagement and community impact in addressing an unmet need,” says Adin Choung ’26, co-president of CPFB.

Veronica Zellers ’24, one of the grantees, proposed a project that seeks to shed light on the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals and the challenges they faced before and after incarceration. Titled “Before Time/After Time,” the project will consist of a multi-day lecture, film screening and workshop series revolving around the arts and the issues of incarceration, re- entry and policy reimagination.

While Zellers is the lead proposer of the project, she isn’t carrying out the work alone. As the president of Art Beyond Cornell, an Einhorn Center student-run program that connects with institutionalized youth through art, she will have a lot of support from other members of the program.

Like all CPFB grantees, Zellers will also partner with a representative from a local community organization who will oversee and support the project. Bruce Levitt, a professor in the Performing and Media Arts department at Cornell, serves as the community partner for “Before Time/After Time.”

Levitt is also the projects manager of the Arts, Justice, and Safety Coalition (AJSC), an organization dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system through the arts. His role in AJSC has led him to work closely with Art Beyond Cornell.

Having worked with incarcerated artists for many years, Levitt can attest to the ways the arts create change in the criminal justice system:

“The arts are an important tool for social change because they tell stories in different ways,” he said.

“Before Time/After Time” will end with a screening of a film with the same name. Originally planned as a live theater performance, the film tells the stories of nine formerly incarcerated individuals who reflect on the events that led them to prison and the obstacles they face returning to society.

“It turns out to have been a fortuitous choice because we can circulate those stories much more broadly via film than we can if we were to do it live,” Levitt said.

With this film, its collaborators seek to initiate reform in the criminal justice system by sparking conversations about the challenges that incarcerated individuals face. They hope to screen the film for District Attorney offices across the country, where conversations about changing the criminal justice system can begin.

“We have to change the narrative about the people who end up being impacted by the current legal system because the narrative is very negative,” Levitt said.

The other projects included in CPFB’s latest round of grants are:

Downtown Film Program

  • Student grantee: Joseph Mullen ’24, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community Partner: Destiny Brown-Hernandez, Greater Ithaca Activities Center

GIAC “My Sista’s Narrative” 2024 New York City Educational Experience

  • Student grantee: Ajani Green-Watson ’26, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community partner: Jewlekrystal Fisher, My Sista’s Narrative (Program of Greater Ithaca Activities Center)

Bringing Smiles to Senior Citizens

  • Student grantee: Ju Hee Kim ’23, College of Human Ecology
  • Community partner: Bonnie Brown, Beechtree Center For Rehabilitation & Nursing

Centralizing Care: Implementing a Patient Portal for the Ithaca Free Clinic

  • Student grantee: Gabi Steinberg ’24, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community partner: Robbie Boloix, Ithaca Free Clinic (IFC)

Refugee Scholars in Ithaca: Bridging the Educational Gap

  • Student grantee: Ariella Asllani ’26, Brooks School of Public Policy
  • Community partner: Leigh Bacher, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees (IWR)

Exploring Community-Engaged Archaeology

  • Student grantee: Delina Selam ’25, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community partner: Mrs. Denise Lee, The Science & Mathematics Saturday Academy STEM Program

Onondaga National Medicinal Healing Garden

  • Student grantee: Charlie Hernandez ’26, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Community partner: Principal John Gizzi, Onondaga Nation School

Ithaca Ballet & Books Spring Performance

  • Student grantee: Abra Geiger ’26, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community partner: Kat Savage, Tompkins County Public Library

Cornell University Parole Initiative Care Packages

  • Student grantee: Vienna O’Brien ’24, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community partner: Professor Emeritus Mary Katzenstein, Cornell University Parole Initiative

Project Flushing

  • Student grantee: Jonathan Lam ’27, Industrial and Labor Relations
  • Community partner: Dahee Lee, Minkwon Center

TSM STEM Kits

  • Student grantee: Abra Geiger ’26, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Community partner: Kat Savage, Tompkins County Public Library

BSU Mentorship Program

  • Student grantee: Lemachi Enweremadu ‘25, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Community partner: Daraisi Marte, Southside Community Center