Dwight Hall held its annual Spring Day of Service on Saturday, sending Yale students to take part in 13 community service projects across New Haven.
The Spring Day of Service is Dwight Hall’s third and final service day of the academic year, following the Freshmen Day of Service in the fall and the Martin Luther King Day of Service in the winter. Around 40 student volunteers arrived in Dwight Chapel for registration and breakfast at 9 a.m. and packed lunches before leaving campus to serve New Haven until the early afternoon. Saturday’s service day included 13 projects in partnership with various community organizations — including a Goodwill and a city parks group — located in the greater New Haven area.
“I think as a Yale student you can get so caught up in the so-called Yale bubble,” said Abby Troy ’18, the Dwight Hall institutional service coordinator. “Sometimes it’s hard to see that we’re part of this larger community, and I think Dwight Hall is a reminder of that. It’s a reminder that there are some things bigger than what we’re doing here at Yale, and something that’s really important to do is to serve our community.”
Troy connects students with community partners, such as nonprofit organizations, and leads the programming for Dwight Hall’s three days of service. According to Troy, this year’s Spring Day of Service saw a noticeably lower number of sign-ups than previous years. In addition to a dip in sign-ups, Troy noted a disparity between the number of sign-ups and the number of actual attendees contributed to a turnout that was much lower than in past service days.
“We had around 115 sign-ups,” she said. “But there’s always a disparity between sign-ups and actual turnout, which is a thing we deal with every year … It is definitely a bit disappointing. I think this year reflected that trend as well.”
She added that one of the biggest challenges in her role at Dwight Hall is figuring out how to encourage students to overlook the daily demands of Yale by volunteering. Despite an intensified level of outreach and recruiting efforts from Dwight Hall this spring, of the 115 students who signed up, only around 35 percent participated in volunteer work Saturday. By comparison, Freshman Day of Service in September saw around 150 sign-ups and 100 attendees, and last year’s Spring Day of Service reflected similar numbers.
Still, despite the low student turnout, Dwight Hall followed through with Saturday’s service projects, which were diverse in purpose and location. Due to the pleasant spring weather, a majority of the projects took place outdoors. Some students volunteered with the Urban Resources Initiative to clean up Scantlebury Park and others worked with Elm City Parks Conservancy to prepare a garden at Griswold Park for planting.
According to Lorena Ortega-Guerrero ’20, who volunteered with Town Green Special Services to clean up a street near Union Station, it was enriching to meet the full-time TGSS employees because most people take clean streets for granted without thinking about the work that goes into their maintenance. Ortega-Guerrero, who will be one of four students leading Dwight Hall’s program Freshmen in Service in the fall, said she thinks Yale students often do not fully appreciate the importance of local, direct action in producing change. She noted that in aspiring to high positions and influential careers, students can lose sight of the impact that small-scale action can have.
“I think going outside of Yale and into New Haven in itself is really rewarding,” she said. “Even though we’re Yale students, we’re also New Haven residents, so we should be engaged in our community. Even if a lot of us don’t leave campus very often, there is still a contribution we can make.”
Haley Hegefeld ’20, who volunteered with New Reach to do outdoor cleaning at Life Haven Shelter on Ferry Street, also emphasized the importance of contributing to the community. The project Hegefeld volunteered for was unique among the Dwight Hall partner programs because the four Yale students worked alongside Quinnipiac University students.
“Even though I didn’t directly help people — I didn’t get any face-to-face time — the actions that I did still have an impact and help them out in ways that you might not know,” Hegefeld said.
Other students partnered with the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen to help with a food drive at the North Haven Stop & Shop, while still more collaborated with Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership to organize a local library, among other indoor projects.
Kalen Beacham ’20, who volunteered at the Eli Whitney Museum preparing and packing projects for students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes, said he enjoyed being able to give back to a field that is important to him.
“Right now I’m looking into architecture and computer science,” Beacham said. “Because I’m interested in STEM, I wanted to give back in a way that focuses on students who are also interested in STEM.”
Dwight Hall’s next service day will be the annual Freshman Day of Service in September.