Dwight Hall’s community service extended through the summer, with several member groups taking the vacation to spearhead new projects.
This summer, two members of the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project helped establish the Connecticut Bail Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting racial and economic justice in the pretrial process. Camp Kesem, a weeklong camp for children who have a family member affected by cancer, welcomed over 20 more campers than it did last year and Yale’s chapter of Volunteers Around the World -— a medical outreach organization that operates mobile clinics in rural communities — sent a member to collect data in the Dominican Republic.
Dwight Hall Summer Fellow Simone Seiver ’17 was one of the two Yale Undergraduate Prison Project board members who co-founded the Connecticut Bail Fund in May. The Fund is a nonprofit organization that posts bail for individuals being held in jail on low-level charges who lack the financial resources to afford their bond payments.
Between May and July, the Fund — a nonprofit that receives support from Dwight Hall and Yale faculty — built partnerships with community and criminal-justice stakeholders, raised money, incorporated its legal standing and applied for professional bondsmen licensing, which allows the organization to pay defendants’ bail. The Fund has an executive staff and a community advisory board, but is also open to accepting student volunteers.
“Our project began with a mutual recognition among the founders that cash bail creates a two-tiered system of justice: Those with means can secure release and resume their lives and seek counsel, while those without means must languish in jail or plead guilty, simply to get out,” Seiver said. “We wanted to do something about this, and founding a bail fund in New Haven — where these issues with pretrial justice are serious and entrenched — seemed constructive toward the ultimate goal of ending cash bail.”
This summer also saw the expansion of Camp Kesem, a student-run weeklong summer camp for children ages six to 16 who have a parent affected by cancer. In its third year, Yale’s chapter of Camp Kesem hosted 96 campers, a large uptick from 74 last year and 34 in its first. This year, 45 Yale students volunteered as counselors.
Camp Kesem’s summer session stood out this year because of camper family involvement, Camp Kesem Co-Director Jessenia Khalyat ’17 said. One camper’s family raised $1,200, collected 700 stuffed animals and made 35 handmade dolls for younger campers, Khalyat said. Coming in on the heels of this summer’s growth, Camp Kesem leaders are now looking toward providing a more sustainable support network.
“Our goal for the coming year is to provide more year-round support since we have so many more campers, and next summer we’d like to be able to accept as many campers as possible through outreach and fundraising efforts,” Khalyat said. “We just want to make sure that any child who could benefit from our camp is able to come.”
Volunteers Around The World also expanded its efforts this summer. Former Yale Chapter President Allison Cheung ’18 traveled to the Dominican Republic to work on one of Volunteers Around the World’s long-term public-health projects, improving the way the organization collects data to better predict which medications to stock in its clinics. In previous years’ trips over spring break, volunteers have travelled to locations in Panama and Peru.
As data entry progressed, the project evolved to include setting up an electronic medical-records system and helping quantify clinics’ impact on local communities, she said.
“What separates us from other similar groups that run spring-break trips is our commitment to long-term impact,” Cheung said. “Some of these long-term projects include developing a health education curriculum for teachers in the countries we work in, improving VAW’s database collection, and sourcing hygiene supplies.”
Dwight Hall has over 90 member groups.