Citizens and leaders who build university-community collaboration saluted

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Yale University President Richard C. Levin presented nine individuals and two groups with Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Awards at a ceremony on campus on April 24, a date that also marks the 375th anniversary of New Haven’s establishment by Puritan settlers. This year’s award ceremony included special Elm-Ivy Awards to DeStefano and Levin, both of whom will leave office later this year after 20 years of service in their positions.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Yale University President Richard C. Levin presented nine individuals and two groups with Yale University Seton Elm-Ivy Awards at a ceremony on campus on April 24, a date that also marks the 375th anniversary of New Haven’s establishment by Puritan settlers.

This year’s award ceremony included special Elm-Ivy Awards to DeStefano and Levin, both of whom will leave office later this year after 20 years of service in their positions.

The Elm-Ivy Awards honor people whose efforts support the collaboration of Yale and its hometown – a collaboration that has been a focus for the City and the University alike over the last two decades and that has received national recognition. The Atlantic Cities magazine online reported in September that “The ‘New Haven Renaissance’ is real,” crediting Levin and DeStefano’s work together as the foundation for the community’s prosperity. New Haven and Yale have found “common ground” since Levin was selected as president and DeStefano elected as mayor in 1993, said The New York Times,

In their remarks at the event, both DeStefano and Levin said that this partnership between “Town and Gown” was effective because of the work of people throughout New Haven and Yale, as exemplified by the hundreds who have been honored in the annual Seton Elm-Ivy Award ceremonies, which were established at Yale in 1979 by the late Fenmore R. Seton ’38 and his wife, Phyllis. Since that time, nearly 400 individuals and organizations have received recognition through the awards.

Elm Awards are given to members of the New Haven community beyond Yale, and Ivy Awards are given to Yale faculty, staff, and students. This year’s Elm Awards were given to Rosemarie Lemley, executive assistant to the mayor of New Haven; Rick Fontana, deputy director of emergency management for the City of New Haven; and Daisy Abreu, deputy director of the Town Green Special Services District.

Ivy Awards were given to Regina Starolis, executive assistant to the president of Yale University; Maria Bouffard, director of emergency management at Yale; Leif Mitchell, assistant director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS; Jane Levin, director of undergraduate studies in the Directed Studies Program of Yale College; Dr. Ayana Jordan, a resident in psychiatry; and Molly Gibbons, a Yale junior and coordinator of the Yale Coop Dance Collaborative.

Special Elm-Ivy Awards are given only occasionally to recognize those who leadership has had broad impact over many years, such as DeStefano and Levin. They join a roster of 10 other individuals who have received such special awards since 1979.

The citations for this year’s honorees follow.

Daisy Abreu

New Haven has plenty to shout about and Daisy Abreu makes sure that people listen. Daisy is the deputy director of the Town Green Special Services District, an organization that works with the City of New Haven and is responsible for the marketing and general upkeep of the city’s downtown area. With responsibilities covering communications and community relations, Daisy is a key downtown player who personally knows and actively connects merchants, property owners, cultural institutions, city officials and Yale representatives to keep downtown humming.

Daisy works actively with Yale to create successful holiday and promotional events that draw visitors to New Haven. Long after her day job is over, Daisy can always be relied upon to host these events while spreading her New Haven cheer. One such event is Flights of Fancy, which attracts visitors and shoppers to enjoy an evening of wine tasting and shopping at the various downtown stores.

Daisy works closely with Market New Haven to actively market New Haven’s assets including providing connections to Yale’s cultural amenities, retail, and dining offerings that contribute to our great city. Most recently, she was actively involved in reshaping and relaunching the new Infonewhaven website.

Daisy is recognized everywhere she goes, a testament to just how well respected she and the Town Green Special Services District have become. Daisy is a true champion of New Haven, who lives, works and plays here. In addition to her role at Town Green, she serves on the boards of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and the Institute Library.

In recognition of Daisy’s tireless efforts on behalf of promoting and maintaining New Haven’s downtown core in partnership with Yale University, Mayor DeStefano and President Levin will present Daisy Abreu with an Elm Award.

Rick Fontana

Neither rain nor snow stops Rick Fontana, although they’ve certainly been putting his skills to the test. When unwanted guests bearing names such as Irene, Sandy, and Nemo visit our shores, it is Rick Fontana, deputy director of the City of New Haven’s Office of Emergency Management, who works tirelessly to protect our city. Rick leads with strength and is guided by his strong sense of collaboration and partnership.

Rick has consistently been a proponent of fostering dialogue and communication between the City and Yale University in order to provide increased responsiveness during emergency situations. During times of crisis, communication is critical and Rick carves out time to actively participate in Yale Emergency Operations conference calls and provide valuable operational updates.

During times of “peace” Rick focuses on implementing partnerships that will enable better outcomes during these emergencies. He regularly participates in the Yale Emergency Operations Team monthly meetings, and has facilitated and championed the request and application of a joint Yale and New Haven FEMA training program. This training will bring partners from the city, region and state together and enable all parties to further enhance the ability to respond to emergencies.

Rick also collaborated on the development and acquisition of a virtual emergency operation center Web-based application, purchased in partnership by New Haven and the Yale Emergency Management departments. With the center fully activated and operational during Hurricane Sandy and Blizzard Nemo, the Yale Emergency Operations Team was able to see real-time updates of the road conditions and recovery operations in New Haven — evidence of the benefits of clear communication during citywide emergencies.

Rick Fontana is a partner to Yale University and Yale Emergency Management. His support has enhanced Yale’s ability to respond to emergencies on campus. His professional ability, sense of humor, dedication, and ease support a very open and candid relationship that is both productive and collaborative.

Rosemarie Lemley

Politics and government are not for the faint-of-heart, and the second floor of 165 Church Street is the focus of all the action locally. There, at the center of City Hall, Rosemarie Lemley has since 1996 been the calm amidst any and all storms as the executive assistant to the mayor.

A lifelong New Havener, Rosemarie has unparalleled love for her hometown. With roots in Wooster Square, she has for decades supported cultural, historic, and civic activities including the historical society and the revived Columbus Day Celebrations. A peacemaker who listens well to all, she was an early pioneer with Community Mediation.

It’s no surprise that she has survived and thrived as the City’s human hard drive, switchboard, and conductor, a witness and participant to all that has happened in town for nearly two decades. She has been there to help celebrate civic triumph and she has been there to help navigate when crisis occurs. She gets other to act because she works hard and people listen because she listens to them.

People who work with Rosemarie universally report she is “unflappable,” “on point,” “firm but fair,” “full of an engaging, wry sense of humor,” and “authentic.” She is, as one person has said, “the Italian-American mother we all should be blessed to have.” In other words, Rosemarie Lemley is the real deal. Thanks to her, City Hall has been accessible and humane in its dealings with New Haven’s citizens.

Maria Bouffard

If a violent ice storm, electricity outage or flu pandemic were to hit campus, Maria Bouffard will have planned Yale’s response. The University’s first director of emergency management services, Maria is in charge of making sure that Yale is prepared if disaster strikes. Maria, however, goes beyond her role of protecting the University and focuses on protecting New Haven as well. From her years working with the American Red Cross, Maria knows that any strong disaster preparedness plan is dependent on collaboration, communication and coordination.

Maria, a talented consensus builder and team player, has built a strong network of relationships across Yale and the City. Her inclusive monthly team meetings incorporate both Elm and Ivy professionals. When disasters strike, Maria is constantly asking the question, “What can the University do to help out the City?” and finding ways to provide additional support. She was also instrumental in the joint development and purchase with the City of a shared virtual emergency operation center web based application.

Maria is a dedicated team player, nothing stops her, and certainly not snow. Maria walked through two miles of waist-deep snow to get to the emergency operations center so that she could help coordinate Yale and New Haven’s response to the latest storm. No matter the emergency, Maria can be counted on to work with City and University officials to see us through to safety.

Jane Levin

For more than four decades, Jane Levin has had many roles and titles around the Yale campus and its hometown: wife, mother, scholar, counselor, first lady, and lecturer among them. Throughout, with her trademark passion and persistence, she has played another role: active citizen in, and cheerleader for, New Haven.

Her loving partnership with University President Richard C. Levin has become legend and inspiration around campus. As he noted to a campus reporter once, “She is my conscience, and she always has been for 40 years.” The University’s many civic contributions over the last two decades thus bear her imprint, as well as his. But Jane Levin’s love and engagement with New Haven is more than an official duty: It is an abiding personal commitment. She has served the Neighborhood Music School, for example, as a volunteer and board member. It is but one of New Haven’s civic anchors that have benefitted from her time and talents, with organizations such as the New Haven Free Public Library, and the Hopkins School among the many she aided.

In recent years, she has devoted countless hours in service to the Amistad Academy public charter school, helping it build a firm foundation and grow to support the development of New Haven’s next generation of leaders.

Leif Mitchell

A New Haven resident and assistant director for the Community Research Core in the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) at the Yale School of Public Health, Leif Mitchell is a consummate “boundary spanner.” Leif has done yeomen’s work to cultivate and sustain effective partnerships between Yale University, the City of New Haven, and the broader New Haven community in the interest of improving community health and with a particular focus on people disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Leif’s persistent and skillful advocacy and education on HIV/AIDS and related issues has had a tremendous impact over the years, garnering well deserved respect from his colleagues and from community members. As a longstanding member of the Mayor’s Task Force on AIDS, Leif has been an influential and steadfast figure in local initiatives to advance prevention and care policy and services. He has effectively facilitated the University’s involvement in events such as the annual New Haven AIDS Walk and World AIDS Day program. This year he organized a screening in New Haven of the film “How to Survive a Plague,” uniting multiple Yale and community organizations for a local showing of this critically acclaimed documentary on the AIDS epidemic and the phenomenal effort of AIDS activists.

Leif’s work has fostered a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the critical role of scientific evidence in reducing HIV and its consequences, with direct and positive implications for New Haven residents who are living with and/or impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. His skillful leadership on CIRA’s Community Research Partnership Program has provided continual opportunities for CIRA scientists and community agencies in New Haven to collaborate on relevant local HIV research projects. He is a true consensus builder, who respectfully considers diverse perspectives, bringing a unique impartiality that can transcend special interests.

Regina Starolis

Untold numbers of nighttime passersby on the Hewitt Quadrangle have looked into the first floor of Woodbridge Hall and had their eyes delighted by a warm view of East Rock as they enjoy a large-scale portrait of that New Haven treasure painted in 1906 by John Ferguson Weir. Legions of people have been able to enjoy his painting because Regina Starolis makes sure to keep the lights on.

Taking such care and illuminating the joys of Yale and New Haven are typical of Regina and the work she has done since coming to the Elm City in July 1973 to work as secretary to then-Yale President Kingman Brewster Jr. For four decades she has been at the center of the University. Most vitally, she has been a heart and soul for the University throughout.

Ask anyone who knows her and they will use similar words to describe Regina: “warm,” “caring,” “funny,” “gregarious,” “helpful,” “patient,” “she puts me at ease,” “unflappable.” What may be most remarkable is that she treats everyone with such spirit — the many high-profile, VIP guests and callers, but also the freshest newcomer to campus, staff at all levels, students, and anyone who makes their way to the President’s Office in person, on the phone, or through email, and whether from Town or Gown.

Never seeking the spotlight or personal acclaim, Regina Starolis has enabled others to shine and succeed in ways they never could working alone. Her care and attention to detail have played a key role in Yale’s renewal and renaissance, including its vibrant partnership with the City and citizens of New Haven.

Molly Gibbons

A longtime dancer, including three years as a ballerina with the Nashville Ballet, Molly Gibbons has spent years dedicating herself to the practice of her art. Yet, in between plies and standing en pointe, Molly always found time to stand with local youth and share her passion for dance through community outreach. It is no surprise, therefore, that upon Molly’s arrival at Yale University, she immediately sought out opportunities to work with New Haven youth and soon became president of the Yale & Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School Dance Collaborative.

Molly makes an immediate impression when you first meet her: Her enthusiasm, kindness, and brilliance are contagious. In her work with New Haven public high school students, Molly has come to be known by students and teachers alike as a truly dependable, creative individual. With years of experience with ballet and dance under her belt, Molly has helped to grow a fledgling after-school program, The Yale Co-Op Dance Collaborative, into an intergenerational community of high school and college dancers. Each week, Yale students work with students from the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, teaching dance skills and choreography, while also helping to build self-esteem, community, and diversity awareness. Students from both campuses perform in a culminating show on the Co-Op stage, bringing together audiences from both communities to enjoy the artistry and hard work of New Haven’s youth.

In addition to running the Yale Co-Op Dance Collaborative program, Molly serves as an outstanding role model for Co-Op High school’s students. Ninety percent of the students who participate in the Yale Co-Op Dance Collaborative report having an increased interest in going to college and cite mentors like Molly by name as a fabulous, accessible example of a successful, engaged college student.

Dr. Ayana Jordan

As part of the curriculum in psychiatry residency, Yale residents spend one day in their second year visiting local shelters and shadowing homeless outreach teams. For many, this is a great opportunity to gain real life exposure and understanding to a significant issue facing our society. To Ayana Jordan, a second-year resident in psychiatry at Yale, this was an opportunity to do more.

Spurred on by what she witnessed that day at the shelter, Ayana, through her extraordinary leadership skills and commitment to the New Haven community, led her fellow Yale residents to not only provide additional support to the shelter, but simultaneously engage in providing mentorships for students from a local New Haven public high school.

Ayana began by coordinating internship opportunities for these students at a local restaurant. The students spent up to 20 hours interning at the restaurant, learning about food, good nutrition, and how to cook. The restaurant then dedicated a night where the students prepped, cooked, and served as waitstaff. The Yale residents provided ongoing mentoring advice to the students throughout this process.

This fundraiser, named “Good Food, Good Friends, Good Cause,” raised money and winter clothes to benefit the homeless. The project was so successful that the internship and fundraiser process will be repeated 3–4 times a year with proceeds continuing to support the shelter. Ayana is also working with the high school to create additional mentorship opportunities so that she and other residents will be able to continue to work with our local youth.

Ayana’s efforts benefited the shelter, the students, and illustrate the impact of bringing resources together to make our city stronger.

John DeStefano Jr.

Born in New Haven and raised in the East Shore neighborhood, the son of a city police officer, John DeStefano Jr. has devoted his life to public service. First elected in 1993, after an early career in city administration, he is the longest-serving chief executive in New Haven’s history, with a record that has received national recognition, including his selection by his peers as president of the National League of Cities, the oldest and largest organization representing America’s cities and towns.

As he has said many times, Yale stood apart from New Haven in the days when he was raised, while these days Yale is a part of New Haven, a welcomed and contributing part. That transformation, like the transformation and renaissance of New Haven overall, has happened in no small part because of the vision John DeStefano has had and the leadership he has offered as mayor.

John has recognized the vital role that higher education, science, and medicine play in economic growth for New Haven and job creation for local residents, so he has encouraged the development and expansion of the University itself and the development of bioscience. He knows that a dynamic downtown supports jobs and taxes for the whole community, so he has joined with the University and other local institutions to found Market New Haven, celebrate the arts, and foster new restaurants, hotels, retail, and residences in the center city. He understands the value of neighborhoods, so he has spurred more homeownership, rebuilt parks, and improved public safety through community policing — always finding ways for Yale as an institution and as a community of scholars to participate.

Most notably, John has rebuilt the New Haven Public School buildings and now leads one of the nation’s most ambitious school reform initiatives. As he prepares for the next chapter of his life and career, his beloved New Haven has more promise than ever, including the New Haven Promise program he has built with Yale, the Community Foundation, and other partners.

New Haven enters its 376th year much greater than the sum of its parts because Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has summoned everyone to be a part of making New Haven’s promise real for the present and future generations.

Richard C. Levin

Born and raised in San Francisco, educated in Palo Alto and Oxford before transplanting himself to New Haven for doctoral studies, Richard C. Levin has grown deep Elm City roots and become a true and trusted townie.

His participation in civic life well predates his presidency. Whether as a Little League coach, trustee of the Hopkins School, or an active citizen overall, he has long known that New Haven is a great place to live, to raise a family, and to go to school. A great teacher and leader, he has shared that knowledge with colleagues, students, alumni, and neighbors, fostering a true renaissance on campus and in the community during his two decades as president of Yale University.

The institution he was chosen to lead in 1993 faced important challenges. A New York Times headline in late 1991 had asked, “Can Yale, with budget troubles, still be great?” and chronicled difficulties from a budget deficit to a crumbling physical plant, tensions with New Haven and with labor unions, and low morale at all levels. Rick Levin, an economist by training and an optimist by nature, took the helm undaunted and ready to lead.

His Inaugural Address, “Beyond the Ivy Walls: Our University in the Wider World,” set forth a vision that has been executed tirelessly and embraced widely within the extended Yale family. Among the core and abiding tenets of this vision for a greater Yale was a robust renewal of the University’s ties with its hometown. From the stage of Woolsey Hall, he summoned the University community to a renewed sense of civic engagement:

“As we seek to educate leaders and citizens for the world, as our discoveries spread enlightenment and material benefits far beyond our walls, we must remember that we have important responsibilities here at home. We contribute much to the cultural life of New Haven, to the health of its citizens and to the education of its children. But we must do more. Pragmatism alone compels this conclusion … But our responsibility to our city transcends pragmatism … Freedom for all requires that those without privilege have both access to opportunity and the knowledge to make use of it. We must help our society become what we aspire to be inside our walls — a place where human potential can be fully realized.”

His vision for a renewed Yale has contributed enormously to a renewed New Haven, with numbers to cheer any economist: over 1,000 new homeowners through the Yale Homebuyer Program; 50 new bioscience and other start-up companies in the city and region; dozens of new restaurants and retail establishments throughout downtown; renovation of 75% of all Yale academic facilities and construction of more than 2 million new square feet of space; thousands of New Haven school children participating in on-campus academic and recreation programs every year — these are just a few of the many measures of the lasting accomplishments Rick Levin has achieved.

This success has come through leadership and teamwork, with President Levin encouraging and catalyzing all parts of Yale and the people of Yale to find ways that they can contribute to a stronger New Haven. As he prepares to step down as president, the Yale he has led is one where the whole University is engaged with the New Haven community. Now, The New York Times no longer asks if Yale can still be great; rather, the Times, along with others, report on the New Haven renaissance and herald how the University and its hometown have found common ground.

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