Gift from Jonah Shacknai '78 a trove for COVE

Back to All Stories

For almost a year, Griffin O’Shea ’13 has been planning an alternative spring break trip to Kenya. Sponsored through the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education, eight Colgate undergraduates will spend May 17-31 with orphans and vulnerable children at the Caroline Wambui Mungai Foundation school in Wangige, located northwest of Nairobi.

But there has always been a nagging question: How could the center cover travel, room, and board for volunteers in need? Jonah Shacknai ’78 has provided the answer, stepping forward with a gift to fund the university’s African expedition and bolster budgets for the COVE’s other 2011 adventures.

Colgate’s working vacationsWinter
Disaster Relief trip to Louisiana — Ten students and two staff members rehabilitate and restore homes in New Orleans

Habitat for Humanity Build, Danville, Virginia — Twelve students and two staff members build affordable housing for families in need.

Dominican Republic — Ten students and two staff members return to the community of Neyba to promote adolescent health.

Pine Ridge Native American Reservation, South Dakota — Eleven students and one staff member help repair and build homes while learning about Lakota culture.

Kuala Lumpur and Botswana — The debate team takes a 22-day trip to participate in international competitions.

Israel — Seven students take a Birthright Israel educational trip.

Around the country — More than 50 students shadow alumni in their workplaces during the annual Day in the Life career-prep program.

Chile — Students accompany Professor Karen Harpp to study five volcanoes and prepare online learning guides.

Uganda — Six AMS students travel with professors Ellen Kraly and Peter Scull to participate in public health and education programs.

Pathfinder Village, Edmeston, NY — Six students and one staff member spend a week working with individuals with Down Syndrome.

Wangige, Kenya — Eight students and two staff members educate and empower disadvantaged children.

With Shacknai’s investment, the center has already sent students and their faculty advisors to Louisiana, Virginia, and the Dominican Republic this January. It will transport groups to South Dakota, rural New York, and Kenya in the spring. Because the gift provides travel and living expenses, the COVE has attracted a remarkably diverse pool of applicants who are now able to participate in these life-changing experiences regardless of financial background.

The COVE’s need-blind selection process will open the eyes of 57 undergraduates, exposing them to pressing social challenges while honing the skills they will need to tackle the world’s problems fulltime after graduation. Travelers will build and repair homes, promote public health, and learn to communicate with perfect strangers. They will collect experiences and insights to share with peers back in Hamilton.

Shacknai’s generosity has had a ripple effect — university funds that were originally committed to travel have been shifted to expand community partnerships. “The gift lets us use a new level of creativity in planning our programs,” said Krista Saleet, COVE director and team advisor.

Creativity has been a hallmark of Shacknai’s philanthropic efforts on campus and across the country. Even as he has built Medicis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and made his mark on health policy as a legislative staffer and attorney, he has served as president of the Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation. The ranch, located in Payson, Ariz., introduces children who have special needs to animals who have been rescued from injury, illness, or harmful homes.

Shacknai repeatedly helps the underdog. Now, the former soccer player and political science major is reaching out to the broadest spectrum of the university family. “It’s hard to believe that this trip is actually becoming a reality,” said O’Shea. “Mr. Shacknai has given me an unbelievable opportunity as well as an understanding of what the Colgate community really is.”