Within two hours of Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry’s mass e-mail to the Yale community, the 150 slots for Dwight Hall’s Martin Luther King Day of Service were filled.
The Day of Service is Dwight Hall’s answer to Dr. King’s challenge to congregate as a community and serve. In recent years, Americans have been turning this January holiday into a community workday, and if Yale is any indication, the trend is catching on. This year’s crowd, according to organizers, was nearly double the size of last year’s turn-out.
At 9 a.m. Monday, students stomped through the snow to get their morning assignments and a pep talk from the coordinators and Gentry.
“You understand this is a day on — not a day off,” said Gentry in his welcome address. “Give yourselves a round of applause.”
Three of the 10 volunteers interviewed said they were encouraged to come by President-elect Barack Obama’s public support for the day of service. Obama has encouraged locals to become more involved with their communities in honor of Dr. King. Obama and his family spent Monday assembling care packages for troops and visiting the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“It was great that Obama publicized the exciting movement,” said Amy Rothschild ’09, one of the coordinators of the event, adding that many Yale volunteers work in the community on a weekly basis anyway.
This event, on the University’s day off, offered the volunteers a chance to gather in service and meet.
“It was about becoming visible to each other,” Rothschild added.
The volunteers were dispatched to 10 New Haven nonprofits across the city, including the Life-Haven Center for Homeless Women, the New Haven Reads Book Bank and an adult daycare center, where volunteers played music for the older members of the center.
One group of volunteers spent the day recording books on tape for the blind through the organization Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, which offers over 91,000 titles to students in kindergarten through postgraduate studies. Students carefully enunciated each word of “The History of the War of 1812” into a microphone.
Fifteen students headed to the Dixwell neighborhood to spread the word about a mural that will depict the history of the Dixwell area. The mural project, led by Mindy Lu ’09, is part of a neighborhood beautification project.
Volunteers who stayed closer to Yale worked in Dwight Hall preparing hospitality kits for low-income patients with AIDS. The pocket-sized bags included soap, hygiene items and hand-drawn cards.
One of the largest groups of volunteers walked to the new Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, a $70 million facility on Temple Street designed by former Yale School of Architecture Dean Cesar Pelli. The school, which houses the arts magnet program for the New Haven Public Schools, holds classes for the first time tomorrow. Yale students, including Nathan Hardesty ’12, Adzua Agyapon ’11, and Blake Zwerling ’12, helped science teachers frantically unpack boxes and organize their classrooms.
“It was really nice rather than sleeping in,” Zwerling said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the Yale bubble.”
Hardesty helped set up plastic dinosaurs in the new glassed shelving.
Meanwhile, the spirit of the day could be heard echoing up and down the halls of Coop: The school’s PA system broadcast Dr. King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech. Perhaps the teachers, who were scrambling to prepare for their first day of school, could relate to Dr. King’s plea regarding “the fierce urgency of now.”