July 21, 2014 | By Jake Weber
Nick Cucinella, '01, says his current "career" started with a billboard he saw while on vacation to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. "It said, 'Children are not tourist attractions; think before you visit an orphanage.' I had no idea what the harm was," he says. A concierge explained the distressing problem of "unsavory opportunists using orphanages as a front to get money from tourists," Cucinella recalls. "I told him I wanted to help."
Three years later, Cucinella is volunteering in Siem Reap, Cambodia, as a board member and on-site special assistant of Countryside Children Organization (CCO). The nongovernmental organization began with "a single middle-aged Cambodian woman named 'Mom,' who was too strong to allow children to be abused or left behind in this area," Cucinella explains. He has helped Mom establish CCO as a nongovernmental organization that today includes a fully functional safe home and school for some 44 children and single mothers who need a second chance.
Recently, Cucinella spearheaded a drive for CCO that netted some 60 secondhand laptops, donated by a mix of friends and corporations. The laptops will be used by CCO's school and the numerous extracurricular activities offered by CCO. "Most of these children have never been inside a car, let alone used a computer. The fastest way to bridge the skills gap and prepare our students for meaningful employment is to empower them with technology," Cucinella explains. "Teaching someone to fish allows a person to survive; teaching a student to write code will allow her to thrive."
Since graduating magna cum laude with a philosophy degree from Albion, Cucinella has been a featured trombonist with The Temptations, The O'Jays and Aretha Franklin; was an executive with CareerBuilder.com; and even served as executive producer for This Is Martin Bonner, which won the 2013 "Best of NEXT" Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
"I plan to stay retired from traditional work for a while," says Cucinella, with no trace of irony. "Right now the goal is getting CCO completely self-sufficient so we don't need to fundraise or allow any day-tripping tourists. Privacy is a human right we want to protect.
"I learn as much from the children as they learn from me," Cucinella concludes. "I've challenged each student with the obligation that when they graduate from CCO they will dedicate a portion of their life to helping those less advantaged, protecting the environment and spreading joy."
Cucinella has been working with numerous community groups, including the Self Help Community Centre, which received a portion of the laptops from Operation: Laptops for Life. For more information, visit shcccambodia.org and facebook.com/ncucinella.