More than 100 students volunteered at service sites in and around New Haven on Saturday as part of Dwight Hall’s Spring Day of Service — a dramatic increase in turnout from last spring.

The 108 volunteers assisted 11 community organizations, including the Eli Whitney Museum, New Haven Farms and Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven. The service event was sponsored by the Asian American Cultural Center and the First-Year Class Council, which offered bonus points in Saturday’s First-Year Olympics to residential colleges with students who chose to volunteer.

“These partnerships encouraged people to take this opportunity to strengthen community within on-campus groups — within their residential colleges or cultural communities — while building new relationships within our greater community of New Haven,” Dwight Hall Institutional Service Coordinator Kelly Li ’20 said. “I believe this played a substantial role in increasing turnout.”

First years made up the majority of Day of Service participants, comprising 65 percent of the volunteer base. First-Year Class Council President and staff reporter for the News Grace Kang ’21 said the council advertised the one-time service opportunity by notifying First-Year Olympics team captains, sending emails to panlists and adding the event to the First-Year Handbook.

In addition to the cohorts of first years earning points for their colleges, the AACC sent groups of students to service sites.

Ananya Indwar ’20, Dwight Hall’s social justice network coordinator who acted as a site leader for a group of students volunteering in the town of Hamden, said she liked that her group included a diverse mixture of volunteers, including many students from the AACC.

“I feel like a lot of the time, we get a lot of people who are already involved with Dwight Hall,” Indwar said. “So it’s nice seeing a more diverse group of people who come from varied backgrounds and varied organizations.”

Other smaller campus groups, such as the Yale College Democrats, brought groups of members to service sites to participate in team-building and community engagement activities, Li said.

To best serve the community through the one-time service project, Dwight Hall worked with local nonprofits to plan tasks that students could perform to best fill the organizations’ needs, Li said. These tasks ranged from cleaning Fort Wooster Park with Friends of Fort Wooster to vacuuming and cleaning toys at the Ronald McDonald House.

“A message that we try to emphasize is that we are offering our time and support to do whatever task is asked of us,” she said. “Whether that ends up being picking up trash, cleaning facilities, moving furniture or other seemingly small tasks. I think it’s important to understand that while this may not seem as high-level or directly impactful, it’s most important that we are helping to fulfill whatever support is asked of us, because these organizations know their own needs, and we cannot presume to.”

In interviews with the News, organizers and participants spoke about the value of the Day of Service to Yale, the New Haven community and the Yale–New Haven relationship.

Li stressed that the goal of the service day is to strengthen the connection between Yale students and New Haven — not to offer “charity” or approach organizations “from any sort of position of superiority.”

At the Hamden site — a 15-minute drive from New Haven — a local police officer explained to the volunteers the importance of picking up litter and the example it sets for children in the community.

“We got more out of it and understood what we were doing better because we had a community member with us talking to us the entire time. [Rather] than us just going there ourselves and not getting a more nuanced opinion about what it was that we were doing,” said Nafeesa Abuwala ’19, who volunteered at the Hamden service site.

Nadia Irwanto ’20, a site leader at Ronald McDonald House, said that while the service performed at the service sites was “definitely not the most impactful or crucial,” it was a valuable symbolic gesture.

“This Day of Service shows New Haven residents that at least for one day, there are students who will turn up to show that there are a good number of people who do care about giving back to the community,” she said.

Other service sites included Amistad, Beecher Park–Mitchell Library, New Haven/Leon Sister City Project, Common Ground and AIDS Walk New Haven.

Asha Prihar |

Asha Prihar served as managing editor of the News during the 2019-20 academic year. Before that, she covered community service, Yale's professional schools and undergraduate student life as a staff reporter. She is a senior in Silliman College studying political science.