“I don’t drop a lot of Yalies off here,” the taxi driver said as he pulled up to the intersection of Winchester Avenue and Starr Street. “Be careful.”
A number of Yale students teamed up Saturday afternoon with members of the community in the Newhallville neighborhood for a community sweep sponsored by the non-profit Obama Works. Founded in February by David Manners-Weber ’10 and Justin Kosslyn ’09, the organization aims to harness the momentum associated with the Obama campaign and direct it into a new method of campaigning: community service in Obama’s name.
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For the Oct. 18 event, organized locally by undergraduates Scott Nelson ’10 and James Cersonsky ’11, volunteers raked and bagged fallen leaves and collected broken bottles and roadside trash.
The enthusiasm was palpable, despite the garbage.
At 1:00 p.m. Saturday, over 30 volunteers met at the intersection of Winchester Avenue and Starr Street. From there, they branched off in small groups that cleaned a total of 10 blocks among Winchester Avenue, Starr Street and Sheffield Avenue. As the volunteers swept the streets, Ward 19 Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards actively recruited new volunteers and conducted voter registration.
“We’re doing what we can,” she said.
The volunteers represented many different groups and included Yale students and residents of Hamden and New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood, in addition to those from Newhallville. Some sweepers wore Obama shirts; others carried signs.
As volunteer and Obama Works charter member Paul Selker ’08 put it, “We’re trying to combine service and politics. We think it’s ultimately the same thing.”
The sweep drew both help and support from local residents. Passersby even complimented the team on their hard work. One area resident, Carla Thompson, saw the group working outside her house and decided to help.
“They’re right outside our house,” she said. “It wouldn’t be right to stay inside.”
According to Gary Winfield, a Democratic candidate for the Connecticut House of Representatives who was volunteering, Saturday’s event drew an unusually high number of volunteers compared with sweeps in March and April of this year, something he attributed to the Obama name.
One volunteer, 12-year-old Cherry Grear, a local resident and middle-school mentee of Yale’s Science and Math Achiever Team, decided to join the group when her father was too busy to help.
“After all, it is my community, so I should clean it up,” she said.
She said she enjoyed working with the group, but felt left out of conversations.
“There’s a whole bunch of tall people, and I’m really short,” she said. “It’d be easier if there were children.”
Another volunteer, Alexandra Brodsky ’12, heard about the project from Nelson.
“I think that it’s very easy to have heated debates about Yale-New Haven politics when you’re sitting in a gated residential college dining hall, but actually going out and interacting with the community is really necessary for practical progression,” she said.
The group is planning another sweep on Saturday, Oct. 25 at the intersection of Orchard and Henry streets in the Dixwell neighborhood of the city.
When asked if she would be willing to participate again, Grear was upbeat.
“I’d rather do this than homework,” she said. “It’s kind of fun.”