Earlier this month, three service-minded Yalies were honored for their contributions to the New Haven community.
On Nov. 9, Ashton Gores SPH ’18, along with Rayan Semery-Palumbo ’19 and Ady Barkan LAW ’10, won the Yale Jefferson Award, a prize for three Yalies — one Yale College student, one graduate student and one alumnus — who have served their communities in extraordinary ways. The national Jefferson Awards, which were designed to be a “Nobel Prize for public service,” were founded in 1972 by Sen. Robert Taft Jr. ’39, R-OH, Sam Beard ’61 and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 2012, the Jefferson Award Foundation partnered with Yale to start the Yale Jefferson Awards “to cast a spotlight on members of the university community who embody Yale’s commitment to public service.”
“Every year we receive dozens of nominations of people who have done remarkable things,” said Steve Blum, senior director of strategic initiatives at the Association of Yale Alumni. “However, if there is a unifying factor of the winners this year it is that they all focus on the disenfranchised.”
Gores was awarded for her organization, “Poverty Alleviation through Washing Soles,” which seeks to improve foot hygiene and to provide new socks and shoes to New Haven’s homeless. Last month, the organization, which is known by its acronym PAWS, gave away over 200 pairs of brand new socks and shoes to New Haven’s homeless population.
“I am extremely humbled and honored to receive the Yale Jefferson award [as I] know well that there are many outstanding and deserving individuals within the Yale community that are doing more each day to serve those around them,” she told the News in an email. “Mostly, however, I feel the same as I did before winning the award. My mission is to serve.”
Gores went on to explain that since receiving the award earlier this month, various news outlets have shed a new spotlight on her organization. From that attention, PAWS has received requests from individuals and companies interested in volunteering or providing financial assistance. Most recently, PAWS has partnered with Bombas Socks through a Yale graduate who works at the company, Ben Wescoe ’10.
Gores, who is at medical school in Oklahoma, told the News that she hopes to use her team of public health students and undergraduates in New Haven to expand to different locations around the city.
Barkan, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2016, started two programs at the Center for Popular Democracy, a national advocacy group that promotes progressive political groups. The programs include “Fed Up,” a pro-worker policy group, and “Local Progress,” a network of progressive politicians. For oneof his projects, “Be a Hero,” Barkan traveled across a country in a wheelchair-accessible RV to campaign for political candidates who will “stand for” families so that “health care benefits [families have] paid for [will be] there for them when they most need it,” according to the campaign’s website.
“I very much appreciate the recognition that the Yale alumni have given me,” he said. “Knowing that my work is meaningful to other people helps motivate me to keep going, even when it is difficult. My work is about building collective power, for collective liberation, and I only to do it if it is part of a broader movement.”
While he said he could not be sure what the upcoming year holds, he will continue his progressive projects to hold President Donald Trump “accountable” while planning how to defeat the President and Republicans in 2020.
Blum, who spent 45 minutes with Barkan before the ceremony on Nov. 9, said that Barkan had difficulty talking due to his ailment. However, he did say that Barkan made it clear that he “uses his condition as a way of energizing those around him.”
Alseimery, who also won the Rhodes Scholarship this month, won the award for his work to provide greater inclusion and support for first-generation college students. He co-chaired the first 1vyG conference at Yale, which aims to give first-generation, low-income students the tools to make higher education more accessible to other students who have shared the same experiences. The conference brought together 340 students from 18 colleges.
Blum explained that Alseimery, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, is the third Yale student in five years to win both the Jefferson Award and the Rhodes Scholarship.
The awardees were honored during the Association of Yale Alumni Assembly and the Alumni Fund Convocation on Nov. 9.
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