2020 Yale Day of Service honorary co-chairs Brenda Penner and Juan Carlos Salinas

The Yale Alumni Association’s longstanding Yale Day of Service program has selected its honorary alumni chairs for 2020 – two extraordinary members of the alumni community who will inspire their colleagues, classmates, and peers as they carry out service activities across the world as part of the annual event.

The 2020 Yale Day of Service will be officially celebrated on May 9, with the YAA encouraging alumni to host service projects throughout the spring semester.

The honorary co-chairs for 2020 are Brenda Penner ’76 MSN, creator of the Yale School of Nursing (YSN) “Newborns in Need” program, the highest-attended annual Yale Day of Service event; and Juan Carlos Salinas ’03 MFA, founder of Y Tu También, the Day of Service-inspired program that increases access to higher education for Latinos, first-generation students, minorities, and any student in need.

Brenda Penner (left) at the 2019 Newborns in Need event
Brenda Penner (left) at the 2019 Newborns in Need event

Each year, Newborns in Need collects donates goods and assembles care packages for infants born at New Haven area hospitals. A project that started as a tribute to Penner’s late friend and classmate, Tina Burke ’76 MSN, quickly grew into the largest Yale Day of Service project in the program’s 12-year history. Partnering with campus groups including the Yale Department of Pediatrics, the Yale Child Study Center, the Working Women’s Network, YaleWomen, and the Yale Latino Networking group has helped extend the program’s reach. In total, it has served more than 1,000 infants and mothers since its inception.

“The last four years working on Yale [Day of Service] were some of my most inspirational, surprising, and satisfying,” Penner said. “Meeting and working with multi-generational YSN alumni, students, faculty was what I expected. What I hadn’t anticipated was the networking and collaborative excitement that bubbled up. Networking with our partner groups, which kept expanding each year, brought such joy to our project.

“Working on the common focus of new babies in New Haven allowed us to connect with people all over campus, the Yale-New Haven Health System, and throughout southern Connecticut. Our Day of Service project also helped unite alumni around the country as we encouraged all YSN alumni to participate from afar.”

In a similar fashion of growth, Salinas took his Yale experience and paid it forward as part of the 2010 Yale Day of Service. His project, Y Tu También, hosted 10-15 high school students who came to learn about college readiness from a group of Yale alumni. A decade later, it is now a full-scale nonprofit program hosted by La Unidad Latina Foundation and has helped hundreds of high school students navigate the college admissions process, gaining acceptances to top-tier schools at an extraordinary rate.

Juan Carlos Salinas (fourth from right) poses with Yale alumni mentors.
Juan Carlos Salinas (fourth from right) poses with Yale alumni mentors.

"Big things have small beginnings,” Salinas said. “As Yale alumni, we are always encouraged to create positive change in the world. If someone had told me that a Yale Day of Service project in 2010 would go on to become a nonprofit organization that would be the turning point for over 800 high school students, I'm not sure I would have believed them. But with the support of so many Yale alumni, Y Tu También has grown to become the college access program for the La Unidad Latina Foundation, empowering hundreds of students for the next chapter in their lives.”

In addition, Salinas remarked on the “life cycle” of the students who participate: “Our students who have gone to Yale now come back as alumni to help out at [Yale Day of Service]. There is power in our service.” 

With their newly minted 2020 roles, Penner and Salinas join such previous honorary Yale Day of Service chairs as Presidents Bill Clinton ’73 JD and George H.W. Bush ’48 and George W. Bush ’68, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’79 JD and Secretary of State John Kerry ’66.

All our honorary chairs have demonstrated a commitment to service,” said Day of Service co-chairs Paul Broholm ’78 and Elizabeth Sullivan ’74, ’76 MA. “But this year we wanted to focus on alumni whose ongoing commitment and sustained efforts not only make a difference in the local communities where Yalies live, but also set an example that alumnae and alumni everywhere can strive for and achieve. We couldn’t think of two better exemplars than Brenda and Juan Carlos.”

On the benefits of working to create positive community impacts, Penner tells fellow alumni: “Connecting with enormous resources of talent, common research, interest areas, and friendship are only some of the rewards. I encourage you to think beyond the box to work with a project that benefits your community and allows you to show your community what Yale can do. What you give to it will come back tenfold.”

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Registration for service projects is now open for all members of the Yale community at yaledayofservice.org. Inquiries can be directed to Mara Balk at the Yale Alumni Association.