Starting this semester, the Yale College Democrats are extending their influence in New Haven through community service.
For the past few years, the Dems have focused primarily on political organizing and legislative activities. But at the start of this semester, the political group has renewed its interest in community service activities through a variety of New Haven-based organizations.
The group’s first activity, a volunteer effort with New Haven Reads, was cancelled last week due to inclement weather, but the organization plans to begin regularly partnering with other Dwight Hall Member and independent organizations.
“We see our larger goal as being involved in the community, and as an organization that tries to work for progress, we see community service as part of that,” said Becca Ellison ’15, president of the Yale College Democrats. “I do see political activism and community service as the same thing. It’s all part of a larger goal.”
While the Dems are not seeking to politicize their volunteer work, Ellison said the organization’s community service and political activism are not mutually exclusive. Since most of the Dems’ work has been legislative, volunteer work will give members more opportunities to continue public service, she said.
Discussions about incorporating volunteer work into the Dems’ activities began at the end of last semester after the 2013 elections, when several members expressed interest in community service, said Ray Noonan ’15, vice president of the Yale College Democrats.
The Dems conducted a survey earlier this month to gauge broader interest, and the results indicated members were eager to increase their involvement with community service activities, said Lily Sawyer-Kaplan ’17, communications director for the Dems.
Years ago, community service played a more prominent role in the Dems’ weekly activities. The political group worked with students at Wilbur Cross High School to engage students in local politics. But the program, called YPEP, left the Dems’ hands when it became a Dwight Hall member organization in the late 2000s, Noonan said.
After nearly a six-year hiatus from service activity, members of the Dems would like to make community service a permanent part of the organization, Noonan said. Because their last effort at organizing a service project with New Haven Reads was limited to only five members, those spearheading the community service efforts are trying to organize service projects that are available to a larger portion of the Dems’ members.
It is not uncommon for student political organizations to engage in social work, especially after an election cycle, said Tyler Carlisle ’15, vice president of communications for the Yale Political Union.
“There are a lot of different social groups on campus, and it’s important for the various political groups to remain relevant even when there aren’t political elections happening,” Carlisle said.
The Yale College Democrats comprises over 150 active members.