2011 AYA Leadership Award Recipient Bios

Andy Block ’61
Andy Block’s efforts as the Class of 1961 Reunion Chair ushered in a wave of excitement about the class’s 50th Reunion. Andy began his work three years before the June 2011 date, working tirelessly to bring the 50th reunion attendance to an almost-unrivaled fifty percent of the class. This incredible turnout was largely due to Andy’s efforts to find contact information for many classmates, moving the percentage of classmates with an email on file with Yale from 61 to 82 percent. He then used all those email addresses to send warm and welcoming messages to his classmates about coming back to New Haven.  His valiant effort has since been recognized and imitated by other Yale College classes.

In addition to maximizing reunion attendance, Andy helped turn his 50th Reunion into an iconic event. The Class of ’61’s Reunion included a special procession into Woolsey Hall before President Richard Levin’s University update. Classmates also shared their stories in a ninety-minute documentary that premiered at the reunion and was given to all reunion attendees and many of those who could not make it to New Haven. Andy’s work demonstrates the possibilities classes have to make reunions representative and special to each class.

John W. Boak II ’70
John Boak’s time as President of the Colorado Yale Association (CYA) has demonstrated his ability to conquer the difficulties faced by large regional groups. John’s leadership has enabled the association to engage more alumni across the state, beyond the Denver area. By identifying new volunteer leaders, John ensured the 2011 Day of Service had sites in Boulder, and Vail as well as Denver. Additionally, the Alumni Schools Committee has extended its reach to interviews students outside of the Denver area.

John is also a technological pioneer. He successfully utilized social media to engage volunteers and community service groups. He created a Facebook page titled “Colorado Yale Association Service Opportunities” where Yale alumni can post volunteer opportunities open to other alumni. To support the expanding work of the CYA, John maintains an outstanding Club newsletter and website.

Jongnic Bontemps ’96
After attending a 2009 AYA Leadership Forum for SIG volunteers, Jongnic “JB” Bontemps has become one of the Yale Black Alumni Association’s most engaged volunteers, inspiring other alumni with his vision.

For years JB had been dismayed by the lack of music and arts programming in many public schools nationwide, and he joined with Brian Hodge ’96 and Nicholas Roman Lewis ’93, AYA Senior Director for SIGs, to create the Summer Institute of the Arts (SIA). JB demonstrated his commitment to the SIA by commuting between California, where he lives, and New Haven for multiple planning sessions, even taking a three-week leave of absence to oversee the first program in the Bronx. His efforts have proven tremendously successful. Not only has the SIA since expanded to include schools in both the Bronx and Los Angeles, but it has also received national attention, having been featured on the White House blog in August 2011.

Sheryl Negash ’82
Sheryl Negash shares her leadership across a wide range of Yale alumni activities. She is an inaugural member of the Yale Black Alumni Association National Board and an active member of the Yale Club of Los Angeles. Her service extends to the Yale Day of Service, where she served as the Regional Director for Southern California in 2011. She helped the clubs in her region increase the number of sites from seven to fifteen. The number of Day of Service participants in area also rose from 150 to 250.

Beyond Sheryl’s work with the Day of Service, she has created an opportunity for Yale students to become involved with young people in foster care though the Yale Black Alumni Association’s Summer Service Project (SSP). Started in the Los Angeles area in 2009, and later moved to Chicago, the SSP is focused on educating current Yale students about children’s advocacy in the social sector, and teaching at-risk youth about the value of higher education. In its inaugural year, eight of the students went on to community college, and one to a four-year University of California program. To date SSP has served over 250 at-risk youth, encouraging them to pursue higher education goals.

Magda Vergara ’82
Magda Vergara’s alumni leadership began with the Yale Club of South Florida, where she collaborated with David Sanchez ’84 MA, ’84 MPhil to revitalize the club, which had been inactive for some time. When the Yale Day of Service began in 2009, she helped coordinate one of the local sites. Because of her passion for the Day of Service program and evident leadership skills, she was recruited to be the Regional Director for South Florida in 2010. Through her efforts, three new clubs in the area became sponsors of the Yale Day of Service and participation in the program increased from 44 volunteers in 2009 to 121 in 2011.

Magda is also involved with Yale Latino Alumni Association (YLAA), and she uses her role with YLAA to mentor affiliates of regional YLAA Yale Day of Service sites. Her mentorship focuses on creating partnerships: the sites she helped YLAA create in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have been sponsored by governmental and non-profit organizations respectively.

Magda’s record of service was recognized last spring with election to a term on the AYA Board of Governors.