Day of Service leads Elis to volunteer

Three volunteers with the Urban Resources Initiative plant a tree at the intersection of Derby Avenue and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard on Saturday as part of the Yale Day of Service.
Three volunteers with the Urban Resources Initiative plant a tree at the intersection of Derby Avenue and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard on Saturday as part of the Yale Day of Service. Photo by John Fitzpatrick.

Yalies stepped off campus this weekend to plant an orchard, paint rooms, clean a school and volunteer with other projects in the Elm City.

Nearly 200 Yale students, faculty members and staff gathered Saturday morning to participate in a local Yale Day of Service sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Participants traveled to locations around New Haven to spend three to four hours working with volunteer organizations at 17 sites around the city, engaging in activities from weeding and cleaning trails to composing kits for educational programs. Though undergraduates interviewed said they enjoyed participating in the day’s events, some added that they wished more of their peers had known about the activities.

Deirdre Shannon GRD ’12, one of the McDougal Public Service Fellows that also sponsored the event, said in a Monday email that the September day of service complements other volunteering opportunities that meet throughout the year, and helps unite those interested in community service across campus.

But Emma Schmidt ’15 said that advertising for the service day should have targeted undergraduates more. Schmidt said she thought the program’s emphasis on introducing students to the Elm City would draw a crowd of predominately freshmen and sophomores, but that she found the group of volunteers instead comprised primarily of graduate students.

“It wasn’t well publicized,” she said. “Most people didn’t really hear about it, or didn’t really know it was happening.”

The day of service ran from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., allowing even busy students to return to their Yale lives by lunchtime. The events were advertised as providing a taste of community service life in New Haven, and let students sample work at organizations such as the Town Green District, the Edgerton Park Conservancy, the Ronald McDonald House of Connecticut and Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry.

Five students interviewed said that they liked actively taking part in the community without having to commit to a particular organization.

“It’s much more attractive to say that I’ll put in these hours on Saturday as a way of beginning getting involved, as opposed to making a long-term commitment to something that I don’t know I can always do,” Max Gordon ’15 said.

Participants also said that they found the day of service rewarding, as it gave them a chance to make a difference outside of the “Yale bubble.”

“At the end of one of the trails was a big pile of trash and we decided to take all the trash and clear it out: old shag carpets, a bunch of beer cans, part of car hubcaps,” Gordon said. “After an hour or so, it felt good to see all the trash we cleaned up and to see the trees and all the bushes that were now coming out.”

Although the volunteers only worked for three hours, they said this was more than enough time to make a sizeable difference with multiple people helping. Eric Stern ’15, who helped a small group of local workers remove trees that had been knocked down in a park during Hurricane Irene, said that what took the Yale volunteers a few hours could have taken several days without their help.

In addition to Graduate School, Dwight Hall and the Office of New Haven and State Affairs were among 10 organizations that sponsored the event.

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