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School of Public Health Volunteers Give Back to the Community, Celebrate Dean Cleary’s Legacy

May 09, 2016
by Michael Greenwood

More than 130 volunteers from the Yale School of Public Health—faculty, students, alumni and staff—fanned out around New Haven and into nearby towns on Thursday (May 5) to give back to the community and to honor the accomplishments of Dean Paul Cleary, who is stepping down soon after leading the school for 10 years.

The Day of Service Projects ran the gamut, including clearing a hiking trail, gardening, cleaning, packing produce and interviewing and videotaping clients at a center for physical rehabilitation.

It is the second year in a row that the School of Public Health has organized a Day of Service, alongside Yale’s annual Days of Service, which promotes alumni projects around the world.

This year’s event coincided with Cleary’s approaching departure as dean and he asked the school community to volunteer for the Day of Service rather than throw him a traditional party. Cleary is expected to step down as dean when his term ends on June 30, 2016, or when a successor is appointed. He will remain at the school as the Anna M. R. Lauder Professor of Public Health and as the director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

“Giving back to the community is what public health is all about. The enthusiasm and passion for helping others that I saw today was amazing. I couldn’t be more pleased or prouder of the school and our community,” Cleary said.

The school’s Day of Service extended into Wallingford, Shelton and Woodbridge along with six sites throughout New Haven. The projects included:

  • Breaking down a seasonal overflow shelter at the Columbus House on Cedar Street in New Haven.
  • Spring garden preparation at Common Ground High School’s urban farm on Springside Avenue in New Haven.
  • Conducting one-on-one scripted interviews with clients at Leeway to document the role that the organization has played in their lives as well as outdoor spring projects. Leeway is located at Albert Street in New Haven.
  • An assortment of farming chores at New Haven Farms on James Street.
  • Trail work at Solar Youth on Valley Street in New Haven.
  • Cleaning at Stepping Stone Transitional Housing on Winchester Avenue in New Haven.
  • Taking pictures and conducting video interviews at Moving with HOPE on Center Street in Shelton.
  • Sorting non-perishables and fresh produce in the Connecticut Food Bank warehouse and preparing it for delivery and pick up by local soup kitchens. The food bank is located on Research Parkway in Wallingford.
  • Planting a new installation of native plants at the Massaro Community Farm on Ford Road in Woodbridge.

At the Common Ground High School, volunteers endured cooler-than-normal temperatures for early May and toiled in the soil of the school’s expansive garden beds, using shovels and wheelbarrows to spread fresh compost over a large area. The school grows a variety of healthy foods that are served to students or sold to the community at local markets.

“The farm allows students to connect with the land and to learn about food equity and the value of local production,” said Linda Niccolai, associate professor and a volunteer at the site. “ I really enjoyed learning about the farm, helping it prepare for the spring and getting dirty with compost! I look forward to returning in the future.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of New Haven at the Columbus House, a shelter for adult men, School of Public Health volunteers assisted the facilities department in sorting and moving materials and cleaning.

“The volunteers did a thorough job and cleanup from the start. Their kindness and compassionate attitudes were so pleasant and hopefully the Columbus House and the group of Yale volunteers can do this again. On behalf of Columbus House, we extend a wonderful ‘thank you’ for a excellent job,” said Gregory Barnes, who works at the house.

A special T-shirt commemorating Cleary’s tenure was created for the day and worn proudly by the volunteers at the nine work sites. The shirt featured a large number 10 (the years Cleary has been dean), inside of which his many fine qualities were listed—respectful, supportive, thoughtful, fair and caring—among them.

At a schoolwide picnic afterward, Cleary thanked the YSPH community for their efforts earlier in the day and for all they have done over the past decade since he became the school’s dean.

“It was just a fantastic effort by everyone,” he said. “Thank you for a great day, contributing to and furthering our mission. I couldn’t have worked with a better group of people.”

Martin Klein, the school’s associate dean for development and external affairs, said that it was only fitting that on the Day of Service the school should recognize Cleary’s decade of service—announcing the creation of the Paul Cleary Scholarship Fund. “In perpetuity, your name and good deeds can be recognized not only by this generation of students, but by future generations,” Klein said of the newly established fund.

Judith Lichtman, chair of the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, noted that under Cleary’s stewardship, public health at Yale had been elevated from a department to a school. She thanked Cleary for all he has done for public health at Yale and presented him with a gift that commemorated some of the key moments of his deanship.

The day ended with Heidi Richard and Kelly Edwards, both of whom work in the dean’s office, approaching Cleary from behind with a large orange water cooler. It was a flashback to 2014 when Cleary took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and was doused with gallons of freezing water.

The crowd held its collective breathe for a moment. Was there going to be a good-bye soaking on this chilly day in May?

But this time the cooler contained no water—just hundreds of small, lightweight thank you mints, a tribute to Cleary’s 10 years of inspired leadership.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on May 09, 2016