Aydin Akyol

With a slate of new and growing initiatives, Dwight Hall’s Outreach branch is working to bridge the gap between Yale students and New Haven community partners.

Formed only about six years ago, Outreach is one of Dwight Hall’s youngest branches, said Outreach Coordinator Abigail Cipparone ’19. The branch acts as a bridge between the institution and both on-campus partners — including the cultural centers, Greek life organizations, extracurricular groups, residential colleges and graduate students — and New Haven–based community partners.

In addition to continuing to cultivate partnerships, the branch has recently shifted its focus toward creating more efficient systems and finding new ways to fill community needs. For instance, the branch recently introduced a new inventory system to store information about community partners and is considering creating a “volunteer corps,” separate from member groups, that could engage in one-time commitments when New Haven nonprofits need volunteers for specific tasks.

“Outreach is probably the fastest growing part of Dwight Hall right now,” Cipparone said.

To deal with problems of “institutional memory,” she said, Dwight Hall has recently begun forming a community partner inventory using SalesForce, a community-resource-management tool. In the past, outreach coordinators cultivated personal relationships with community partners, but yearly turnover in that role meant the branch couldn’t “start getting to work until a few months into school,” she said.

Under the new system, Dwight Hall members can store information about and conversations with community partners, allowing for easy access in the future and eliminating the need for drawn-out introductions resulting from personnel turnover, Cipparone said.

“Because we have that now, and because we’re creating a better relationship with our community partners, we just have a lot better capacity to serve the community because we know what they need,” she said.

Still, Anya Gersoff, an Economic Equity Americorps VISTA whom Dwight Hall is hosting, said that, while SalesForce does “very well” in providing a technological solution to maintaining community partnerships, it is still crucial to consider the importance of “people-to-people relationships.”

“It’s a question of balancing that sort of technology with the relationships we’re building and figuring out how we can use both to have the most sustainable relationships possible,” Gersoff said.

In another effort to better respond to community partner needs, Outreach is also considering forming a “volunteer corps.” But Cipparone said the organization is not sure whether it currently has the capacity to set up such a team.

“We’re worried that the Yale population is a little too small to fill all of the needs that potential nonprofits would have in the community,” she said.

According to Cipparone, Dwight Hall and the Graduate Student Assembly are testing out this model in a “very small pilot program.”

Grant Mandigora GRD’18, a member of the service subcommittee in the assembly, said that some members of the assembly reached out to Dwight Hall to create a structure that would make it easier for graduate students to get involved in service. Working with Dwight Hall, the assembly began this initiative by forming a “skills matrix” to document the skills of students in the assembly itself, as well as those in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as a whole. With this information, leaders of the program can individually reach out to students with skills that fit the particular needs of a community organization.

“I think that there’s just a huge need in New Haven,” Mandigora said. “It’s such a shame when you look at the kind of organizations that are there and the stuff that they struggle with, and you think, ‘But wait — why are they struggling with this when there are so many students that are capable?’”

While he acknowledged that graduate student involvement is not going to increase “quickly,” he said he is “confident” the new program can make a difference.

Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator-At-Large Tony Liu ’20 said the recent initiatives are part of a broader shift in the way Dwight Hall approaches its work.

“In the last couple years, [the executive committee] has kind of been consolidating and clarifying the role that we want to have as a place to support service being done in the community, as well as to be a voice box for social justice in the community,” Liu said. “We’re really trying to allow Dwight Hall to be a voice box for service groups at Yale, as well as for groups in New Haven, and that latter part is what these projects are contributing to.”

Dwight Hall was founded in 1886.

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu