In its second year, Dwight Hall members are seeking to breathe new life into its freshman service program.
Like its predecessor, the new Freshmen in Service Program aims to introduce a select group of freshmen to community service opportunities around the Elm City. Dwight Hall leaders are hopeful that this year’s changes will help them avoid the pitfalls of last year’s program, such as irregular service trips and a lack of connection to Dwight Hall.
“We really want freshmen to get to know New Haven as a home,” Freshman Impact Accelerator co-coordinator Phil Esterman ’17 said. “One of our biggest goals is to connect freshmen with a network of people working on the front lines.”
The coordinators are drawing from their experiences in the service program last year to identify areas for improvement, Esterman said, adding that the restructured Freshmen in Service Program will introduce its members to a more rigorous approach to service. This year, he said, attending service projects will be mandatory and there will be more meetings throughout the semester.
While the former Freshmen in Service Program introduced its members to various service opportunities around New Haven, participants criticized the program for losing steam after the first few weeks.
“It was a little sparse in parts,” Will Ge ’17 said, a former member of the Freshmen in Service Program. “There were some parts that were very unique to the program and some parts that could use some work.”
Dwight Hall was prompted to revisit the structure of the freshman service program after members felt that the first year did not fulfill the original goals to encourage long-term engagement between the program participants and Dwight Hall, said Patricia Okonta ’15, Dwight Hall institutional service coordinator.
Former members of the Freshmen in Service Program echoed concerns that it did not create enough connections between Dwight Hall leaders and freshmen.
“It would have been nice to have met with student leaders of organizations to see how they got things off the ground,” said Ben Jacobs ’17. “That would have given us a clearer road map to see how our interests might have translated into working with an organization within Dwight Hall.”
This year’s program will be structured around a two-phase system, according to Briana Burroughs ’17, co-coordinator for the new freshman service program.
The first phase mirrors last year’s program, bringing freshmen to a new service site each week, she said. This year service projects will be tailored to students’ interests and preceded by a speaker earlier in the week, she added.
“Even though we had a lot of activities, it seemed like not a lot of kids did them and it also seemed like there was not a lot of incentive to do them,” Burroughs said. “They were more like random activities that weren’t based on what people in the program actually wanted to do.”
The second phase of the program will direct freshmen to create their own service projects, Esterman said.
Following a semester of volunteering in various locations, program leaders expect freshmen to form teams and work with an existing community organization to identify a problem and develop an original solution. Program leaders will then connect freshmen with mentors and introduce them to other Dwight Hall members who can help them carry out their projects.
The goal of the second phase is not for freshmen to create a completely new organization, but rather to complement the work of New Haven residents, Esterman said.
“We want them to focus not on which service groups they belong to, but what impact they’re actually making,” Esterman said. “It’s about solving problems, not creating organizations.”
Last year’s freshman service program introduced 11 freshman to four different nonprofit organizations the Elm City.