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Cornell University

Flexibility and Virtual Employment Key to Continued Success for the Community Work Study Program

Many of us can only imagine how it must feel to hear a medical diagnosis include the word ‘cancer’.  Having access to an organization that offers support during a difficult time is a great source of comfort to the community.  The Cancer Resource Center of The Finger Lakes (CRCFL) is a unique standalone entity that offers information and support services to individuals, their families and anyone else affected by cancer.  Cornell’s Community Work Study Program (CWSP) provides the possibility for students to use federal work study funds to gain work experience at CRCFL. The Cancer Resource Center of The Finger Lakes has only 2 full time, and 3 part time staff members.  They rely heavily on both student and community member volunteers. CRCFL transitioned to a virtual setting and started using the zoom platform for their group sessions.  Since then, participant numbers have increased due to the convenience of the electronic platform.  Currently all positions are operating remotely, and they look forward to continuing in person support when possible.  Sharon Kaplan, Director of Volunteer Services, is grateful to have the connection to the CWSP and the opportunity to work with students.  Kaplan remarks, “It’s a beautiful thing to see students getting involved in our Ithaca community and having the opportunity to bring that experience with them to their home or next community”.

Alicia Duran ‘21

Alicia Duran ‘21 started her position with CRCFL as an Administrative Assistant in June of 2020.  Duran’s role with the CRCFL provides technical support in transitioning from one database to another, tracking volunteer hours, website review and updates, writing grant proposals, and assisting with large fund-raising efforts.  Kaplan explains that Duran has been an integral part of her team and is organized, efficient, self-directed, and executes with grace and professionalism.   

Recognizing that cancer is a huge burden in New York and the Finger Lakes Region, Duran has been inspired by the dedication she has experienced by the staff at CRCFL.  “When an individual is first diagnosed, it’s overwhelming and it’s a hard process to navigate.  It can be daunting not knowing what the next step is.  If it wasn’t for the Cancer Resource Center, people wouldn’t have the access to knowledge and support in a time of need” says Duran.  The experience solidified her passion for working in the community and made her realize she wants a mission driven career in the future. Duran is a senior majoring in Health Care Policy and just entered the Sloan Program in Health Administration where she will become a graduate student working towards a master's in health administration.  Duran says that “getting into the community is eye opening after being in the ‘bubble’ on campus”. She wishes she had known about the opportunities provided by the Community Work Study Program sooner.   Aleah Thomas ‘22 started her position with CRCFL as a Project Assistant in October 2020.  Thomas’ work at the CRCFL is project based with a focus on community outreach.  She used different avenues to promote CRCFL with a focus on diverse populations, including black and latinx communities.  A key outcome of her work has been a virtual event where she organized and led a community conversation between leaders of faith, the Cancer Resource Center, and Hospicare.  CRCFL stated that Thomas has brought fun, energy, initiative and professionalism to the organization.

Aleah Thomas ‘22


“You have to go in and be a part of the community, form and build relationships before change and growth can happen” says Thomas.  During her time with CRCFL, Thomas has learned the importance of collaboration with established community partnerships and has gained experience in the intervention aspect of health equity.  Thomas is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences majoring in global and public health sciences with a focus on achieving health equity.   

The Community Work Study Program, sponsored by the Cornell Public Service Center (PSC), enables Cornell Federal Work Study students to work for nonprofit organizations, schools, and municipalities mainly in Ithaca and Tompkins County, but also anywhere in the U.S. The work must be designed to improve the quality of life for community residents, particularly low-income individuals, or to solve problems related to their needs. Each academic year the CWSP places an average of 250 students in work study positions in the local community, and another 70 students in the summer. To learn more about the program visit