BVU Students Volunteer In Haiti Service Work Over Summer

Yale alumni packed their bags — along with their skills in medicine, construction, business consulting and arts education — and headed to the Dominican Republic during spring break to help impoverished families on the island’s “Frontier.”

The group, known as the Yale Alumni Service Corps (YASC), is visiting the Dominican Republic March 12-19. All told, nearly 100 Yale affiliates are taking part in the volunteer excursion — including graduates of Yale College and six professional schools, as well as 10 current students, and a number of alumni spouses and children. The members hail from more than a dozen U.S. states as well as Canada and Singapore.

Service to society is a tradition at Yale, and each year hundreds of Yale students volunteer in New Haven. Now a growing number of alumni around the country and across the globe are coming together to continue that tradition of service.

One of these is Selby Jacobs ’61 B.A.,’72 M.P.H., for whom the trip to the Dominican Republic is both a return to the country where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer 1966-1968 and a chance to reconnect with other Yale volunteers.

Jacobs has been part of Yale for five decades. He was a student in Calhoun College and went on to earn a public health degree at the School of Medicine; he was also a longtime professor of psychiatry who headed the Connecticut Mental Health Center for 13 years until his retirement in 2009.

According to Jacobs, the YASC program unites the best of Yale. “A Yale education encourages students — and alumni — to recognize that the opportunities we have compel us to give our time and talent to others,” he says. “A university brings the many into one, and it’s a special pleasure to be with a group of people from so many disciplines that includes current students, young alumni, and those who graduated in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Yale calls us to be engaged global citizens. Voluntary service to others in a cross-cultural context is an act of both giving and receiving, for we also learn and renew our sense of humanity and community. Serving in a country close to the United States with such major challenges is particularly vital.”

In the Dominican Republic, the Yale corps is partnering with Cambiando Vidas (“Changing Lives”), a non-profit community-building organization founded in 2007 by Joseu Abreu, a Dominican, and four Americans, including Yale alumnus Chris Goodrich, who had met on non-profit trips to the Dominican Republic. Cambiando Vidas works with volunteer teams to build homes for families with few resources.

The Yale corps is working in Las Charcas de Gabaraito in the western border region near Haiti. Known in the Dominican Republic as the “Frontier” due to its remoteness, the region’s already impoverished circumstances were stretched by waves of Haitian evacuees after last year’s earthquake.

YASC volunteers have an intensive work schedule during their time in Las Charcas, where they will be conducting health clinics, offering sports and arts education, and building homes. The 2011 trip is the second to the Dominican Republic by an alumni corps. There have also been two volunteer delegations in Monterrey, Mexico, and this summer, YASC will have a group in China, in partnership with the Yale-China Teaching Fellowship on its 100th anniversary.

Many of the alumni participants, like Jacobs, were not previously as active with Yale alumni activities. They find the Association of Yale Alumni’s (AYA) growing array of community service programs to be a great way to renew their ties with Yale, meet other Yalies and provide meaningful service, according to Mark Dollhopf, executive director of the AYA.

“The alumni association not only serves alumni — we encourage alumni to serve in their home communities and beyond,” says Dollhopf. “All of us with the benefit of a Yale education have the obligation to give back and to help change lives. A great result is that our own lives are changed for the better; that is part of why we see so many alumni getting newly involved with Yale through community service programs.”

Watch the Yale Daily Bulletin for a report later this month after the Yale Alumni Service Corps returns from the Dominican Republic, as well as information on the third global Yale Day of Service taking place at over 200 sites throughout the United States and around the world on May 14.

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