Among those making a difference are Sara Woo (art), Simone Policano (lower left), and Tara Falcone (lower right).

The spread of the novel coronavirus has closed schools, shuttered restaurants, and left much of the world sequestered in their homes. The cascading series of events has altered nearly every aspect of everyday life, creating a need that is being filled with increasing urgency – and efficacy – by a host of Yale alumni eager to make a difference.

In the past few weeks Yale alums have stepped up time and again, across the country and around the world, whether to assist students, reach out to classmates, or support their local communities. Projects and programs include a community Instagram account set up by Sarah Woo ’06 where parents can submit their kids’ artwork while social distancing, an offer from Teach for America alumna Arielle Miller ’16 to assist fellow teachers in online instruction, and spontaneous acts of kindness to take care of the sick or at-risk.

“Yale has a legacy of service to those in need," said Weili Cheng ’77, executive director of the Yale Alumni Association, "and I am thrilled and proud to see alumni continuing this tradition in large and small ways around the world."

In New York City, Simone Policano ’16 and Liam Elkind ’21 teamed up to found Invisible Hands, which recruits volunteers to deliver food, medicine, and more to at-risk city residents who cannot travel due to COVID-19 concerns. The name of the group came from the concept that volunteers will do the shopping and drop off at doorsteps, never coming into contact with those they’re working to help.

“We came up with the idea on a Thursday and got the website live on Saturday,” said Policano. “Mostly, I was sitting and thinking, we have so many young people here who can help. So, how do we help, how do we make this happen?”

Shortly after the website went live, Policano and Elkind doubled the group’s executive board, adding a pair of NYU counterparts, Mimi Aboubaker and Healy Chait, who reached out when they came across the site online. By Thursday, just five days after its launch, Invisible Hands already had 2,400 volunteers from across the New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey, meaning there was a willing and able volunteer ready to move fast to address nearly any and every request.

“These are very chaotic times that require all hands on deck,” Policano said. “We wanted to create a way for able-bodied, healthy people with time on their hands to take care of people who are at risk. Obviously, ideally, no one would go outside right now. But if anyone should, it should be young, healthy people who can bring food right to your door.”

Giving back has taken many forms among Yale alumni, all unique to the talents of the organizer. For Tara Falcone ’11, it meant connecting students with alumni who could help them stay on their feet during this uncertain time.

As the founder of ReisUP, which educates young people about financial planning, Falcone has been a frequent visitor back to campus, making connections with students through a series of workshops and talks. So, she said, it was a natural fit to address students’ income woes by utilizing the Yale network to connect students with remote, freelance, and project-based jobs.

“As a first-generation, low-income student who had to financially support myself through Yale, I am deeply empathetic to the financial crisis that students are currently facing,” Falcone said. “The least I can do is encourage the Yale community to be there for students in ways that it has been there for me.

“The student-alumni connection is so central to Yale. If we're able to create mutually beneficial relationships, then we’re taking concrete steps to help each other navigate these turbulent times. Even if this initiative only impacts a small number of Yalies, it can make a meaningful difference in their lives now and into the future.”

“These are chaotic times that require all hands on deck. Ideally, no one would go outside right now. But if anyone should, it should be young, healthy people who can bring food right to your door.” - Simone Policano '16

To many alumni who have been active in service for years, the recent outpouring is an extension of the enduring Yale ethos to give back.

“There are many ways Yale alumni serve every day across the world,” said Paul Broholm ’78, alumni co-chair of the annual Yale Day of Service. “What we’re seeing now is an extension of that willingness and that drive to make a difference.”

Yale Day of Service is scheduled to be celebrated on May 9 this year, a date now uncertain – as much is – due to the coronavirus fallout and recommendations to maintain social distancing perhaps into May or June. Still, Broholm’s Day of Service co-chair Betsy Sullivan ’74, ’76 MA was quick to note that Yale Day of Service is a celebration of service in general, not a fixed point on a yearly calendar.

“We’re reminding everyone that now, more than ever, is a time that any day of service can be a Yale Day of Service,” Sullivan said.

It is a call to action being taken up by the Yale alumni community. Whether it’s for Yale Day of Service, a student in need, parents looking to entertain home-bound children, or a neighbor at risk, Yalies of all stripes – and in all places – are showing their willingness and desire to serve.


Photo images (clockwise from top left): Work submitted to Sara Woo's '06 Instagram community art project; Yale Day of Service co-chairs Paul Broholm '78 and Betsy Sullivan ’74, ’76 MA (in separate photos, both wearing Day of Service T-shirts); an Invisible Hands delivery; Tara Falcone '11; more Instagram art; Simone Policano '16.

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