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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • H'heads firefighter graduates CCC debt-free under FASNY program

  • The Horseheads Fire Department had to specially order Nicole Wright Campos Serejo's gear from a resale distributor in Maryland. The uniform, which displays the letters of a Maryland-based fire department instead of HFD, still looks bulky on her 5-foot, 100-pound frame, but her size doesn't diminish her work ethic.
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  • The Horseheads Fire Department had to specially order Nicole Wright Campos Serejo's gear from a resale distributor in Maryland. The uniform, which displays the letters of a Maryland-based fire department instead of HFD, still looks bulky on her 5-foot, 100-pound frame, but her size doesn't diminish her work ethic.
    Serejo, of Horseheads, recently began her third and final semester at Corning Community College. For the average student, three semesters at CCC would cost approximately $6,100; Serejo is only paying $99.
    The 19-year-old student's barely-there tuition bill is due to her participation in the Fireman's Association of the State of New York's Higher Education Learning Plan (FASNY HELP), a tuition reimbursement program for volunteer firefighters.
    The program, which debuted in 2011, is funded by a $4.2 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.
    State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, has been promoting the program since its inception. Palmesano hopes the program will combat the decline of volunteer emergency workers in recent years.
    "This program is one of the latest that came out to promote and encourage more people to participate as volunteer firefighters and emergency personnel workers," Palmesano said. "It's a very good way to get people to improve their education or get an education, while at the same time, being able to serve the rural community."
    Through the program, student-volunteers who haven't already earned a college degree or taken more than 80 college credits can have up to 100 percent of their tuition reimbursed in exchange for maintaining good grades and fulfilling service requirements.
    For Serejo, the money may be a nice incentive, but it's not the main reason for her participation in the program. Having been a volunteer firefighter since July 2012, the program was a natural fit.
    "I was already a firefighter and I was going to CCC, so my mom suggested it to me," Serejo said. "I'm really kind of against just doing it to get the free college."
    Serejo has earned the respect of her Environmental Chemistry professor at CCC, Dr. William Jarvis.
    "With all her duties as a college student, Nicole has been able to find time for life-saving volunteer work, and from what I hear, even more than that," Jarvis said. "She's the kind of student that every professor wishes they had more of."
    With nine credits left until she earns her associate degree, Serejo plans to attend Elmira College in the fall to study premed or anthropology.
    She says being a volunteer firefighter has given her a new perspective.
    "Before I joined, I hadn't worked a day in my life, I just went to school," Serejo said. Firefighting has put things into perspective for me. It taught me hard work always pays off."
    The FASNY HELP program will be available for student-volunteers until the SAFER grant expires in 2015.
    Page 2 of 2 - In the 2013 fall semester alone, nearly 200 student-volunteers benefited from the program. The deadline to apply for the spring 2014 semester is Feb. 3. For more information on the program and how to apply, visit the FASNY website at www.fasny.com or email HELP@fasny.com.
    Serejo says the FASNY HELP program was the right choice both financially and professionally. She's committed to several years of volunteer service after graduating from CCC, but she doesn't have any plans to leave the Horseheads Fire Department anyway.
    "My advice is, if you already had an interest, or you might be interested, I really recommend it because it really helped me out," Serejo said. "I don't think firefighting's for everyone, but I really think it's awesome; I don't have plans on quitting yet."

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