Surbhi Bharadwaj

In lieu of a “Day of Service,” the Yale Alumni Association will coordinate a “Year of Service” — reflecting both the public health risks of large gatherings and the increased demand for volunteers.

The annual Yale Day of Service, which usually takes place on a Saturday in early May, brings together alumni to volunteer in their local communities. But next month, in recognition of social distancing and lockdown measures due to the spread of coronavirus, the global Day of Service will no longer happen as originally planned. According to YAA co-chairs Paul Broholm ’78 and Betsy Sullivan ’74 GRD ’76A, their group will encourage alumni to instead participate in a “Year of Service” in recognition of exceptionally high demand for volunteer contributions. The Yale Day of Service website now features a list of virtual volunteer programs, like Meals on Wheels America, a meal delivery service, and Love for the Elderly, a letter-writing nonprofit. In addition to the yearlong effort, the Yale Alumni Association also plans to convene volunteers on May 9 in a virtual gathering.

“Since it’s unlikely most people can do a traditional day of service, we’ll be supporting service projects all year long and not just for the few months surrounding the actual date of service on May 9,” Sullivan said.

The Yale Day of Service is organized each year by the Yale Alumni Association, and volunteers can formally register for service projects beginning in March. Last year, Yalies worked with refugees in London, tutored local students in New Haven and brought blind New Yorkers on tandem bike rides.

But this year, many service opportunities the alumni chapters and clubs had originally planned have been cancelled. Other projects will take place virtually or have been delayed. Each local organizer has the responsibility to judge whether a volunteer initiative can be conducted safely.

“We are also looking to do some virtual events on May 9, related to COVID-19, perhaps supporting local restaurants by donating meals to first responders,” said Gail Saracco ’87, who coordinates Yale Day of Service operations in Chicago.

Saracco added that one of the events, the PAWS 5K walk, has been postponed until Oct. 31.

According to Connecticut coordinator Christina Coffin ’74, alumni of Yale’s schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health have been involved with emergency efforts in hospitals and the state Department of Health.

“I hope we can find a vehicle for non-medical Connecticut alumni to contribute to the ongoing public health effort that will be needed in communities for the rest of the year, whether it be support for the elderly and vulnerable, food supply to the needy, or even support for testing efforts,” Coffin wrote in an email to the News.

While many projects have been placed on hiatus, Yalies have recognized the critical need to lend their services to impacted communities.

Liam Elkind ’21 and Simone Policano ’16 began Invisible Hands, a grocery delivery service for high-risk and elderly people, that has since drawn over 10,000 volunteers. Several Yale students, like Michael Gancz ’21 and Chloe Adda ’22, have made offers to tutor other students. Since posting a message offering free tutoring and college advising on her social media, Adda has received over 150 requests — a number that led her to encourage other classmates to assist. 

“Probably the most substantial way Yale students have helped is in empathy, leaning into those aspects of social responsibility. … We have responsibilities to one another,” Adda said.

Although Day of Service organizers have faced unexpected hurdles preparing for formerly in-person events on May 9, the chairs suggested that the redirection of the initiative also introduces more opportunities to serve.

“In a truly ironic way, this has all happened in the midst of a broader discussion about how to make service projects more accessible and year-round or ongoing for our one Yale community, and I think it will accelerate that thinking,” Sullivan said. 

The Yale Day of Service was created in 2009.


Emily Tian |