Led by Jackson Institute for Global Affairs Lecturer Nathaniel Raymond, more than 50 Yalies are working on various projects in support of New Haven’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a group called Yale Emergency Support-New Haven, or YES-New Haven for short.
The group emerged after Nat McLaughlin SOM ’21, who is an intern at the Mayor’s Office, reached out to his fellow Jackson and School of Management classmates for help as the crisis began to unfold. Since then, the group has grown to include graduate and undergraduate students who have built a volunteer website, collected data for City Hall and assisted in the conversion of Career High School into a temporary shelter for homeless people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. The volunteer website, NewHavenHelpWithCovid.com, matches volunteers from across the University to nonprofits that need them now in specific roles.
“For me, this has been the highlight of my time at Yale without any question,” Raymond, who was an international aid worker before coming to Yale, told the News. “It demonstrates that who we claim to be is who we are, and that students of different backgrounds, of different age groups of different areas of expertise said, ‘Send me,’ and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Many of the student leaders within YES-New Haven have taken classes on humanitarian and aid responses with Raymond. Now, those students lead teams tackling the social problems the pandemic has highlighted. Rachel Xu’s GRD ’21 team, known as the “think tank,” writes short policy memos for City Hall, while Tony Formica’s GRD ’20 team is working on social science data analysis with regards to vulnerable populations. For their part, Jason Lapadula’s SOM ’21 team is augmenting the capabilities of the Community Services Administration.
On March 31, Tiffany Chan’s GRD ’21 team, the Public Service Committee of YES-New Haven, launched NewHavenHelpWithCovid.com, a platform that matches volunteers with local organizations and nonprofits in the New Haven area. Led by Chan and McLaughlin, the committee put together a team of five web developers and created the website within 72 hours. Since then, they have been recruiting students to sign up and reaching out to organizations to post volunteer positions, with jobs from making masks to delivering groceries.
“We want to be mindful that we don’t come off as Yale kids with this brilliant idea so ‘now use it,’” Chan said. “We want to listen to [the organizations’] pain and see how we can work together and how we can best serve them and support them during this difficult time.”
The School of Management, the Law School, and the School of Public Health each had separate spreadsheets for volunteer opportunities, but, at the time, there was no centralized list across schools. “The problem is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen and there’s the potential of overburdening these organizations that are already overburdened,” Chan said. The website exemplifies YES-New Haven’s goals to support ongoing public efforts to confront the virus and to do so in a highly productive and streamlined manner.
Chan also realized that by limiting recruitment to a single school, organizations were only drawing on a small slice of the Yale community. Chan wanted to create a larger pool of people and opportunities, so organizations could find the volunteers they needed and volunteers could find the right job postings.
The site’s homepage features a list of volunteer positions with the option of filtering tasks by “project type,” including healthcare, delivery and policy, or sorting by “skills needed” like driver’s license, languages and web development.
The team has also partnered with Blank Slate Technologies, a learning app, to train volunteers in COVID-related safety guidelines before beginning work. All volunteers can download the app for free and have immediate access to the training materials. Organizations can also update the app with their own organization-specific standards.
Since launching, the website has recruited 374 volunteers and 12 organizations, including Common Ground Farm, Shopping Angels and the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, or DESK.
Among those organizations is Pills2Me, a service connecting elderly and immunocompromised patients with volunteer drivers who pick up their medications and deliver them to patients’ homes. Leslie Asanga SPH ’20, a former pharmacist, had planned to launch a prescription delivery service, but as COVID-19 battered New Haven, he saw an opportunity to help by allowing at-risk patients to skip the line and have prescriptions delivered straight to their doors. Since the website’s launch, Pills2Me has completed six deliveries, but, according to Asanga, they will soon have the capacity for many more. Last Thursday, Asanga received an additional eight volunteers through the website, bringing the total number of drivers to 28 and counting.
Before posting, Asanga recruited most of his drivers through friends and classmates at Yale. But he noted that not every organization has access to Yale’s network. The platform, Asanga said, allows organizations outside the University to draw on the community of students and professionals and share volunteers across projects.
“We all have the same mission to help during the coronavirus so we can share resources like these drivers,” Asanga said. “These drivers are volunteering their time, and I don’t think they care what they’re delivering. What they care about is donating their time to help people.”
Rohan Subramanian ’20 signed up for the site a few days ago after hearing about it from a friend. After classes moved online, he, like many students, found himself with more free time and a desire to do something.
“There are still a lot of students in the area who are young and healthy but because of quarantine regulations, most of them are idle, so a lot of people are interested in helping out,” Subramanian said.
Subramanian also stressed the need for Yale students to get involved and engage with the city and community as much as they can.
“Everyone is hearing news about what is going on and for young, non-immunocompromised people often in positions of privilege, after seeing so much chaos, it feels important for us to do our part,” Subramanian said.
While most volunteers, like Subramanian, are affiliated with Yale, Chan emphasized that anyone can sign up.
“We want to give people a sense that there is something they can do to help the situation even a little bit, because it’s so easy to sit at home and feel so helpless,” Chan said.
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