Yale alumni service expands

Based on the success of its first domestic service trip last year to West Virginia to help high school students from underserved areas in their college search, Yale Alumni Service Corps (YASC) is now in the process of expanding its program in the United States.

YASC — which started as a service opportunity for alumni, families and friends in 2008 — has organized mission trips to international locations including Nicaragua, Ghana, China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Alumni and student volunteers engage in projects such as teaching local women about domestic violence and self-defense and bringing medical equipment to treat cervical cancer and kidney failure. The service trips not only allow alumni and undergraduates to develop relationships with each country’s local population, but also with one another. Professions of alumni volunteers include movie producers, judges, educators and business experts. Now, YASC is turning its eye toward programs within America.

Last year, YASC collaborated with College Summit, an organization founded by Yale-Jefferson Public Service Award winner J.B. Schramm ’86 that works with high school students from underserved areas to mentor them in their college search and application process. The trip sold out within 24 hours of opening registration.

“We hadn’t been able to find a good ground partner in the U.S. until we partnered with College Summit. It was an extremely popular and successful trip, and we are expanding this year to go back to West Virginia and add California and potentially New Haven for 2014,” said Constance Spencer, chair of YASC and the producer and leader of several YASC programs.

Within the program, 30 writing coaches and 10 college counselors were trained to mentor high school students. Volunteers lived in college dorms during the four-day program. Each volunteer worked with a small group of students to evaluate their personal situations to find a best-fit college and encourage them to seek available educational resources.

But challenges to expanding the domestic program include establishing strategic locations that have connections with Yale, as well as keeping the program costs affordable. College Summit, one of the organizations to which President Barack Obama donated his Nobel Peace Prize, offers free housing for volunteers. If a domestic program were costly, according to Spencer, volunteers would rather go to an international location.

Former volunteers expressed gratitude for their inspiring experiences on YASC’s mission trips. Natalia Khosla ’14 volunteered in the poverty-stricken village of Trohilo, Nicaragua last spring break with a medical group, and later on a different trip led activities including hosting a series of dance workshops. According to Khosla, one of her favorite parts of volunteering was connecting with alumni, fellow students and the local population.

“In one of our trips, there was a little girl about eleven years old who walked five kilometers from her home by herself. She thought she wanted to become a doctor, and wanted to see if someone in our group could help her achieve her dream,” Spencer said.

Timothy Harkness ’87 volunteered in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic with his son and even kept a blog of his experiences.

Harkness called the experience “transformative.”

“The people we met and were serving were really inspirational. They had hard lives but they still are upbeat and are trying to support their family,” he said.

Roughly one-third of YASC’s volunteers are returning volunteers, and those who took international service trips have expressed their enthusiasm for the domestic program. Emily Chen, a Rutgers University junior and previous YASC volunteer, said that because her college application process was important to her, she wanted high school students from marginalized backgrounds to have the same opportunities.

Khosla mentioned that domestic volunteer service trips are an excellent idea because it is a common misconception that help is only needed in remote locations far from home.

Yale undergraduates interviewed were generally not aware of YASC’s service trips. One student said she would be interested if there were domestic trips available in New Haven, and another commented favorably on the duration of the program, which is long enough to make an impact on high school students but short enough to have time over spring and summer break to engage in other activities.

YASC service trips are open to both alumni and undergraduate students and have opened registration for their trips to Nicaragua and India.

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