Public service saluted in third annual Yale-Jefferson Public Service Awards

The Yale-Jefferson Award is given to alumni who have distinguished themselves through public service. Andrew Klaber founded Even Ground an organization that provide schooling , health care and nutrition in Africa to children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.

Alumnus Andrew Klaber ’04, Yale College student Leah Sarna ’14, and doctoral student Leanne Gilbertson were honored with Yale-Jefferson Public Service Awards at a luncheon during the annual Yale alumni association assembly on Nov. 14.

Read more about the AYA Assembly LXXIV

Since 2012, the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), Students and Alumni of Yale, and the Jefferson Awards for Public Service have presented the Yale-Jefferson Awards to alumni who inspire the Yale community through innovative and sustained contributions in service to society. Beginning last year, awards have also been given to a Yale undergraduate student and to a graduate or professional school student.

Andrew Klaber

Andrew Klaber with Sam Beard ’61, co-founder of the Jefferson Awards

During his sophomore year at Yale, Klaber founded an organization to assist orphans in Africa who were at risk of contracting AIDS. Since then, Even Ground has expanded and now provides services to more than 700 orphans aged 24 and younger in Uganda and South Africa, addressing issues of health care, malnutrition, education, and family networks. Long after he founded it, Klaber remains dedicated to Even Ground and serves as its key advisor and mentor. Even Ground has inspired others by hosting Yale students and alumni during the Yale Day of Service at Even Ground’s New York office. There, Yale’s Day of Service volunteers help with projects aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty in Africa. Klaber’s dedication to these issues led to his being named a Goldman Sachs Global Leader. He has also served on the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Orphaned and Vulnerable Children.

Reflecting on his time as a student, Klaber said, “Yale challenged me to adopt a service and values-based leadership approach. During my years in New Haven I had outstanding role models, and I was encouraged to incorporate outreach to many aspects of my experience — whether founding a non-profit with the support of faculty mentors, the university’s non-profit law clinic, and alumni who served on our board of directors, or as a member of the Yale lightweight crew, which would row on Cross Campus for 12 hours to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and taught the sport to New Haven children of diverse ethnic and socio-economic demographics through the Yale Community Rowing Program.”

Leah Sarna

Leah Sarns and Beard

Sarna dedicated much of her time at Yale working with Dwight Hall on countless projects that also inspired other Yale students to engage with the New Haven community. She served as a one of the co-directors of Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP), a student organization with over 120 volunteers serving low-income, unemployed, and homeless people through its soup kitchen, tax services, case management agency, and other YHHAP programs. During her time as co-director, Sarna not only nurtured existing programs, but also spearheaded a new and ongoing YHHAP initiative, KeepSafe, which provides a storage facility that holds items for the homeless so that they can apply for jobs, work, or move about freely without putting their belongings at risk. Sarna also served on the Dwight Hall Executive Committee.

Sarna credits Dwight Hall and Yale for the opportunities available for students to engage and serve the community. “As a freshman, with Dwight Hall sitting in the middle of old campus, you get the distinct impression that this is an organization that one simply must be involved in. I love that Yale makes that statement. I chose Yale because of that statement,” she said. “Dwight Hall has nearly 100 different service organizations these days, and it provides tremendous opportunity and empowerment for students looking to serve New Haven and the world. My experiences with the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project were life-changing.”

Leanne Gilbertson

Leanne Gilbertson and Beard

Gilberston serves as an advocate for, and a dedicated educator of, young people interested in science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) fields. For the past 10 years, she has inspired others by tutoring students in college chemistry and working as a high school chemistry teacher. Since coming to Yale in 2009 in pursuit of a doctoral degree from the School of Engineering & Applied Science, Gilbertson continued to promote STEM outreach through her work with Pathways to Science, a Yale initiative that works with local public school students.

Leanne initiated an annual Pathways to Engineering Day to bring local middle school and high school students from New Haven to Yale’s engineering department so that they could meet graduate students, tour labs, and learn more about engineering. Gilbertson has also had a key role in S.C.H.O.L.A.R., Yale’s summer STEM program for New Haven public high school students. According to her, “Yale and the surrounding New Haven community provide an abundance of opportunities for impactful outreach in the area of STEM given the established infrastructure, namely the Pathways to Science and S.C.H.O.L.A.R programs, resources, and support from faculty and administrators who embraced my goal to make science and engineering fun, challenging, and accessible to all students.”