Surbhi Bharadwaj

112 first years gathered at Dwight Chapel at 9 a.m. on Saturday, ready to hop into cars driven by upperclassmen to lend a helping hand to the New Haven community and explore different parts of the city they will call home for the next four years.

On Dwight Hall’s annual First-Year Day of Service, which took place on Sept. 22 this year, groups of first years spent the morning at one of 11 New Haven non-profit organizations, where they learned about their chosen sites and performed tasks to assist the non-profits. Upper-level students, including peer liaisons from the Asian American Cultural Center, the Native American Cultural Center and the Chaplain’s Office, led the groups. This year’s turnout marked an approximate 10 percent increase in participation from last year’s figure of around 100 students.

Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator Serena Ly ’20 said she believed the increase in participation this year may have been a result of partnerships with other campus groups. In addition to working with the peer liaisons from the AACC, NACC and Chaplain’s Office, Ly said Dwight Hall has been working to engage other groups on campus as well. This included conducting outreach to cultural centers and holding shared events with FOCUS on New Haven and Cultural Connections, two pre-orientation programs, before the semester even started.

“It’s not only building a sense of service in New Haven,” Ly said. “It’s building a sense of service and commitment on campus.”

Kelly Li ’20, Dwight Hall’s Institutional Service Coordinator, said that Dwight Hall plans the Day of Service for September so as to “set the tone” for first-years’ relationship with New Haven while tapping into their remaining “early orientation energy.”

Li highlighted that as a one-time service opportunity, the day is a chance for students to “experience their introduction to New Haven simultaneously with their introduction to Yale.”

Group leader Max Ackerman ’21, whose group volunteered at Common Ground High School Farm located almost three miles from Cross Campus, said he thinks the First-Year Day of Service is a good way to introduce new students to off-campus service opportunities. While he said there are great ways to get involved with on-campus organizations that serve downtown New Haven, Ackerman highlighted that students also have the ability to make a difference outside of the immediate Yale area.

Both Li and Ly stressed that the tasks students perform on the Day of Service provide the support and extra manpower that the organizations need.

“Service isn’t about doing something that’s flashy all the time,” Ly said. “It’s about really doing what the organizations that are asking us to serve really need.”

At the Eli Whitney Museum, one of the 11 service sites, this meant helping to prepare and pack hands-on learning materials for use in Bridgeport and New Haven classrooms. According to museum director Bill Brown, volunteer labor helps cut down costs so that the materials can be more affordable and accessible for under-resourced schools.

According to Ly, Dwight Hall provides service support throughout the year to several of the Day of Service partners through programs such as Urban Fellows and First Years in Service. Ly also noted that some organizations with which Dwight Hall regularly works, such as IRIS and Solar Youth, are not included as sites for one-time service events because they are better served by “constant, continual support.”

Adoma Addo ’22, who volunteered at Common Ground on Saturday, also participated in FOCUS and said she saw the Day of Service as “a good way to get back into service and get back into the community in a way that I haven’t really been able to in my first month here.”

Natasha Ghazli ’22 — also a volunteer at Common Ground — said she was drawn to the event because her friends wanted to participate, but she ended up spending her time with an unfamiliar group of people and enjoyed the experience of meeting first years from other residential colleges.

Other service sites included Ronald McDonald House, New Haven/Leon Sister City Project, Amistad, Beecher Park & Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, the town of Hamden, Columbus House, Fort Wooster, Music Haven and New Haven Farms.

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.