Students unite for second Interfaith Day of Service

When it comes to reaching out to the community, sometimes a game of Scrabble can make all the difference.

Friday, the Yale Chaplain’s Office hosted the second Interfaith Day of Service, during which students of different faiths reach out to members of the New Haven community. At the first, which was held in October, 30 students were divided among six different local service agencies. This month, organizers said they organized the projects on a smaller scale to match volunteer interest, planning for just two sites in hopes of sustaining the event on a monthly basis.

“The numbers we’ve been getting have been exceeding our expectations,” said Altaf Saadi ’08, the Yale Chaplain’s Office Woodbridge Fellow and a co-organizer of the event. “We are going to narrow the scope of the service down a little for each month … . In the end, it depends on student feedback.”

This month the projects have included cooking a meal and playing Scrabble with patients at Fellowship Place, a center dedicated to aiding adults recovering from mental illnesses, and filing medical records at the AIDS Interfaith Network, a program that supports people with HIV/AIDS.

Saadi said Fellowship Place and the AIDS Interfaith Network were chosen because they do not currently have support from Yale student groups.

“We want students to get out of the Yale bubble and realize there’s a lot that can be done, even in a three-hour time slot,” she added.

Although the program aimed to reduce the number of worksites it offered by half, Saadi said, there were only enough volunteers this month to work at two of the three originally planned locations. The low turnout — the event attracted around 12 volunteers this month — led to a cancellation of activities at New Haven Reads, a free tutoring center and distributor of free books, which was one of the planned sites.

Ben Chaidell ’11, a first-time participant, said he learned of the service day through his connection to the Chaplain’s Office as a Multifaith Council board member. Chaidell said he spent his three hours of service time playing Scrabble and helping a patient look up a Rolling Stones song on YouTube.

“I would love to see, if we get enough people, to branch out from the places we did this time,” Chaidell said of the Interfaith Day of Service. “But personally, I would love to go back to Fellowship Place and develop relationships with the people there.”

The service day differs from others offered by Yale groups because it encourages discourse on service and faith during the walk to and from the project area, Saadi said.

“We want to have a space for people to have conversations and talk about how their faith brings them to do the work they do,”Saadi said. “We try to get people of different faiths together who are dedicated to improving the community.”

While most of the advertising was done by e-mail, Chaidell said they could have reached a wider audience if they had expanded their efforts.

The next Interfaith Day of Service is scheduled for Dec. 5.

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