Heiress Wendy Hamilton — a New Haven resident, former nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Elm City activist — is donating her recent, roughly $1 million inheritance to various causes in the Elm City.
After receiving her late grandmother’s inheritance last year, Hamilton has given $20,000 to the charter New Light High School in Wooster Square and $100,000 to Sunrise Cafe — a volunteer-run program that provides free breakfast to New Haven’s low-income population. In a March interview with the New Haven Independent, Hamilton disclosed that she plans to donate most of her remaining inheritance to the city’s poor. Hamilton, who worked at YNHH from 1984 to 2009, has a track record of activism in the Elm City that includes staging a protest at University President Peter Salovey’s 2013 inauguration for Yale to contribute more money to the city.
“She is seeing it as trying to set an example for people who have the resources and how to use it for the community’s best interest,” said John Bradley ’81, the executive director of Liberty Community Services, which operates Sunrise Cafe. “That is why she is in public about these gifts — to spur other people to donate to the community.”
Bradley added that Hamilton has contributed to the success of the Sunrise Cafe since it opened last March. Hamilton purchased several chairs, as well as table decor for the cafe when it opened. During that time, she also volunteered in the kitchen, Bradley said. He added that before Sunrise Cafe’s opening, Hamilton and Bradley had discussed homeless activism — an issue important to the recent heiress for the past several years, which she spent creating activist groups and speaking out at city hall meetings, Bradley said.
During Sunrise Cafe’s second round of soliciting funds after its pilot year, Hamilton shocked Bradley with a $100,000 donation — which would cover the entirety of 2016 operating costs, he said. The cafe was established through private donations and will continue to solicit them throughout the year, Bradley added. But he said no contribution has ever matched Hamilton’s in size.
“There is a lot of generosity in the community,” he said. “But there has been no gift to really match this for an organization our size. People are generous about homeless issues, but they are balancing that with other interests they might have. Wendy’s primary interest is homeless advocacy and poverty.”
While $100,000 of Hamilton’s inheritance purchased oatmeal, smoothies and fruit for the city’s poor, $20,000 has helped students at New Light High School in her Wooster Square neighborhood for the past several months. Principal of New Light High School Larry Conaway said Hamilton’s donation, though covering a fraction of the school’s yearly operating costs, has helped the school revamp its website, support extracurricular activities and purchase new equipment for the computer lab.
Conaway added that, like Bradley’s relationship with Hamilton, he had known her before she received the inheritance. Hamilton has asked Conaway about volunteer and donation opportunities since the school’s Wooster Square opening in 2014. The school, which was previously located in Dixwell, is a charter school that serves at-risk youth. Before she received her inheritance, Hamilton often donated books to New Light High School’s library.
Several weeks ago, Hamilton added to her original $20,000 donation and gave the high school another sum of money, the total of which Conaway declined to disclose. He added that Hamilton has thoroughly proven her dedication to causes in the Elm City through time and monetary donations. Though her views may be controversial, her intention to be fair is sincere, he said.
“She speaks up when she sees things that are wrong.” Conaway said. “She doesn’t agree with the establishment sometimes. I work for the establishment, so I don’t agree with every with everything that she does. But she is a fair individual who sometimes speaks truth over power.”
As several hundred thousand dollars of Hamilton’s inheritance await donation, New Haven activists hope to catch her attention. President of the New Haven Scholarship Fund Jeffrey Alpert said he seeks to establish contact with the heiress and believes that his foundation’s aim of providing children with an education complements Hamilton’s goal of alleviating poverty in the Elm City.
The Wooster Square neighborhood takes its name from American Revolutionary War hero David Wooster.