Awards honor Yalies, city residents

Four years ago, Eli Bildner ’10 and Samuel Purdy ’10, who grew up together in Montclair, N.J., and have known each other for 14 years, were surprised when they were both admitted to Yale College. They were even more surprised when they were both randomly selected to live in Davenport College, and both went on to hold leadership positions for local nonprofits. Now, Bildner and Purdy have been named among the recipients of the 2010 Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Award.

At the award ceremony honoring the winners in Woolsey Hall on Tuesday afternoon, Bruce Alexander ’65, University vice president for New Haven and State Affairs and campus development, and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. presented 13 Yale students and local residents, as well as one organization, with the awards, which recognized their contributions to New Haven and Yale’s town-gown relationship.

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“One of my goals coming into Yale was really to integrate myself as much as possible into the New Haven community, and this feels like a culmination to some degree of that,” said Bildner, formerly the CEO of the Elmseed Enterprise Fund, a campus start-up that provides small local businesses access to low-interest loans.

Two types of awards were distributed at the ceremony. The Elm Awards, named after the tree New Haven is famous for, are given to members of the New Haven community. The Ivy Awards, named for the Ivy League, are given to Yale faculty, staff and students.

“The awards celebrate and inspire,” said University Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, whose office selects the recipients. “They underscore the fact that our partnership works because of the vision and persistence of so many creative people.”

This year, recipients of the two awards ranged from New Haven Public Schools employees to city administrators for the Elm Awards, and from Yale professors to four students for the Ivy Awards. Some, such as Eleanor Willis, the librarian and media specialist of the New Co-operative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School on College Street, were recognized for creating public school programs, including one that brought in Yale students to tutor. Others, such as David Heiser, the head of education and outreach at the Peabody Museum, were acknowledged for bringing local residents to various campus events and programs.

Purdy, who served as a co-director of the education non-profit Ulysses S. Grant Foundation Program during his sophomore year, said he was not sure he would pursue teaching as a career until he became involved with the organization. After he graduates, Purdy said he will move to south Texas to work for Teach for America. (Bildner said he is not sure what he will do this summer.) Other student recipients are Allison Mak ’10 of Yale Athletics Outreach and Justin Freiberg FES ’10 of the Yale Farm and Yale Sustainable Food Project.

Bun Lai, the owner of Miya’s Sushi on Howe Street who received an Elm Award, said he was “super happy” when he found out last month that he would receive the award, which he was given for donating food and money to Yale programs and various non-profits both in New Haven and around the country. Lai, who immigrated from Japan to America in the late 1970s, has donated about $100,000 in gift certificates to various fundraisers over the last year. He added that Yale and New Haven have allowed him to make lifelong friends. For instance, he said, he is meeting Thursday with a former Miya’s waiter, who will help him write two sorts of cookbooks — one focusing on vegetarian dishes and the other on sustainable seafood.

The ceremony also honored two members of the Yale faculty. Alison Daley NUR ’94 received an award because she helped to improve New Haven youth health programs in part by starting a primary care clinic with the Hill Regional Career High School at 140 Legion Ave. and co-chairing the city’s Task Force on Teen Pregnancy Prevention.

Yale law lecturer Robin Golden ’79 LAW ’98 was recognize for providing more than $250,000 worth of pro-bono legal work to New Haven community organizations such as the Greater Dwight Development Corporation. As the director of the Yale Law School’s Community and Economic Development Clinic, Golden said she has been involved with the refinancing of the Dwight Place — where Shaw’s supermarket formerly operated — and is currently helping to find a replacement buyer.

“One of the most rewarding things about engaging with the New Haven community is that it is a city that is large enough to have all the challenges of a major urban center but small enough that you can see the impact of your work,” Golden said.

The first Elm and Ivy awards were presented in 1980, and since then 402 individuals have been honored.

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