Courtesy of Yale Alumni Association

The Yale Alumni Association announced last week the two newly selected honorary alumni chairs — Brenda Penner NUR ’76 and Juan Carlos Salinas DRA ’03 — who will lead the upcoming Yale Day of Service.

Set to take place on May 9, the Yale Day of Service will coordinate community outreach projects for alumni across the world. The two honorary chairs have both created successful projects for the Day of Service in the past. For example, Salinas’ project, Y Tu También, seeks to help high school students — specifically low-income and first-generation — through the college process and offers mentorship during university and beyond. Elizabeth Sullivan, one of the co-chairs of Yale Day of Service, wrote in an email to the News that Penner and Salinas were “examples of how a single day of service event can have enduring impact.”

“Their projects illustrate how working with many types of alums, shared-interest and community groups enhance the impact of all our service projects,” Sullivan said.

Brenda Penner, who lives in the northwest corner of Oregon, “about as far away from New Haven in the continental United States as possible,” saw Day of Service as an opportunity for alumni all around the world to give back to their communities, she said. She added that the effort was especially important for those who do not have a Yale Club membership or other means of easy access to the University community through which they can form meaningful relationships with other alumni. Moving forward, Penner said she hopes alumni will become involved in more states and countries all around the world.

Penner’s project, entitled “Newborns in Need,” was an idea initially conceived by her graduate school classmate and friend, Tina Burke, who did a similar project at the University of Colorado at Denver Hospital. The goal of the project was to provide new mothers lacking basic supplies with newborn care packages.

“The people who are now benefitting are grandchildren of people I delivered 40 years ago,” Penner said.  “I knew we had an immediate effect on the population.”

Burke died in 2015 due to pancreatic cancer, and Penner considers the project to be a tribute to her friend and the fulfillment of personal goals, such as bringing alumni together and implementing a meaningful program in New Haven.

Juan Carlos Salinas, the other honorary co-chair, said his upbringing in Rio Grande City, Texas — which he described as one of the poorest counties in the nation — makes him recognize the importance of the Day of Service.

“It wasn’t until I got to Yale that I saw what other resources kids have throughout the country, which was a really eye-opening experience,” he told the News. “When you’re Hispanic, you get the sense that you don’t belong at certain institutions.” He initiated his project, Y Tu También, which translates to “and you can too” in English, to try to bridge this opportunity gap.

The project’s idea was that a student’s college application would not be an individual project but rather a communal effort. In line with that vision, the program pairs students — primarily FGLI but open to all — with college alumni, current college students or Salinas himself.

Together, the pairs work on all parts of the college application process, from financial aid to interview preparation, in an effort to giving kids as many resources as possible. The project, which initially started with 20 to 30 students, now has expanded to over 200 each year. He said he wants Yalies to realize they have the “power to change people’s lives” everyday.

He also hopes that Yale students transcend the transactional mindset that governs so many interactions.

“Sometimes you just help for the sake of helping, because it’s a good thing to do.”

The Yale Day of Service hosted programs in 17 different countries in 2019.

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu