Dan Rubins ’16 meets Zippy, 13-year-old songwriter of "Noodles!," an ode to pasta, in Philadelphia.

Each year, hundreds of Yale alumni, students, staff, family, and friends take part in Yale Day of Service, giving back to local communities across the country and around the world. In this series, we’ll be spotlighting a few of those Yalies, who discuss how they got involved and what service means to them.

This week, we feature Dan Rubins ’16, who co-founded Hear Your Song as a student organization during his time as an undergrad, and at the start of the pandemic, expanded the program to a national nonprofit. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

[Related: For sick children, hope, healing, and friendship comes with a song]

How did you become part of Yale’s alumni service community?

As a sophomore at Yale, I was looking for ways to bring all of the disparate undergraduate musical communities together to pool our talents and use our music for good. Along with Rebecca Brudner ’16, I founded Hear Your Song, a student organization with the mission of helping kids living with serious illnesses to make their voices heard through collaborative songwriting. We led bedside sessions at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, helping pediatric patients write lyrics about anything they wanted and come up with ideas for melody, musical style, instrumentation, etc., that we’d take back to campus so that our dozens of volunteers to bring the song to life exactly as the child imagined it.

Six years later, at the start of the pandemic, Rebecca and I decided to expand Hear Your Song into a national organization, one that could serve kids wherever they are through virtual and, when possible, in-person programming. Since then, we’ve supported over 250 children and teens with a range of health needs, including both physical and mental health diagnoses, to write their own songs through our many partnerships with children’s hospitals, camp programs, and diagnosis-specific nonprofits around the country and some beyond!

In addition to our Yale undergraduate chapter, we have student-led communities partnering with local hospitals and producing kids’ songs at Arizona State University, CUNY Hunter, Dartmouth, Smith, Wellesley, and hundreds of volunteers composing music, recording on tracks, and leading songwriting sessions.

If you want to see what a Yale alumni community dedicated to service looks like in action, you can check out Hear Your Song’s upcoming benefit concert 54 Celebrates Hear Your Song: Broadway Stars Sing Song By Kids!, both live-streaming and in-person in NYC at 54 Below on Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m. ET. The concert will feature a roster of Broadway stars (including Henry Gottfried ’18 and Tony nominee Liz Callaway) performing songs written by kids through our programming they’ll be joined by some of the kids themselves and a host of Hear Your Song leaders and volunteers, including lots of Yale alumni composers, singers, and instrumentalists!

Tell us a story that exemplifies service for you. Or perhaps a favorite Yale Day of Service memory.

Through our partnership with Camp Oasis, a summer program run by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, we met Elliot and Charlotte, two preteen songwriters who became instant best friends after they met in a group songwriting session. They live halfway across the country from each other, but they’ve shared each other’s songs Charlotte’s pop anthem “Heartbreak and Healing” and Elliot’s duet “Invincible” about living with an invisible illness with their communities at home. Now, they’re almost done recording a song they wrote collaboratively all about how Hear Your Song brought them together. They wrote the words and music, both sing on it, plus Charlotte plays piano and Elliot plays flute, and they’re producing a music video!

We didn’t go into that initial songwriting session with the specific goal of fostering a long-distance best friendship, but somehow, along with our organizational partners, we have created spaces where new communities are able to grow.

To me, service is about laying the groundwork for the people you serve to feel empowered to make connections and make art and make their voices heard beyond our songwriting sessions. Charlotte and Elliot's friendship and collaborative artistic flourishing exemplifies the potential of how a simple act of service can have a long-lasting ripple effect.

Why is service through Yale a priority for you?

When I conduct alumni interviews with prospective Yale students, I always tell them that Hear Your Song was only possible because of Yalies’ distinctive generosity and eagerness to jump into new creative and collaborative experiences and to strive to build the better worlds they envision.

As Hear Your Song has grown far beyond Yale, our connections with the Yale community have only strengthened and expanded. It’s one of my greatest joys as the leader of Hear Your Song to be able to support current undergraduates in carrying our mission forward and to see them grow as musicians, leaders, and mentors for the kids whose stories they help bring to life through song.

The Yale alumni community does so much to support young alumni in service, too. Our second full-time programs fellow funded by the Yale Glee Club Associates’ Service Through Music fellowship will be starting with us this summer!

What would you say to a fellow alum about meaningful reasons to get involved in Yale service activities?

My four years as an undergraduate only introduced me to a snapshot of the Yale community. As an alum, through my work with Hear Your Song, I’ve gotten to connect and become close with so many Yalies who were before and after my time on campus.

We’re always looking for more volunteers musicians, composers, songwriting session leaders, lyric video makers, graphic designers, and fans who want to share meaningful feedback with kids on their songs. So please, visit hearyoursong.org/connect to get in touch!

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For more, you can follow Hear Your Song at @HearYourSongHYS and subscribe to their YouTube channel! Donations to further their mission on empowering more kids and engaging more undergraduate communities, you can donate at hearyoursong.org/donation.

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To find a service project near you, visit our 2022 Yale Day of Service project page.

And visit our Spotlight on Service page to see all the service spotlight conversations.