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Day of Service: Yalies lay down the mulch

In New Orleans, tending a city park.

“We’d still be out there if it wasn’t for you guys,” Charles “Chip” Goodyear ’80 told ten-year-old Lexie Toshav. Along with some 16 other alumni and their children, they had just laid a half-mile of fresh mulch on a trail in Couturie Forest, in the venerable New Orleans City Park.

Goodyear, a Yale trustee, has participated in the Day of Service the previous two years. Rebecca Friedman ’98—mother of Lexie and her seven-year-old brother, Eli—was taking part for the first time. “Eli embraced the pitchfork and wheelbarrow and made new friends,” she said. (The kids were so cooperative that she was “somewhat surprised.”)

At the annual meeting of the Louisiana Yale club, Sarah Gorham Hunter ’91 had suggested planning a Day of Service that included children. She volunteered to become the activity coordinator as a result. But she showed no regrets: “It was fun. If they don’t kick me out, I’ll do it again next year.”

Established in 1854, the 1,300-acre City Park is one of the oldest urban parks in the country. Couturie Forest, a popular birdwatching spot, occupies 60 acres of native trees inside the park. The forest includes the highest point of elevation in New Orleans: 43 feet above sea level. It’s maintained in large part by volunteers.

The trail the Yalies mulched, one of many weaving through the peaceful forest, skirts the bayou. “We were basically moving mulch,” said Beau Babst ’08, with a laugh. He spent a lot of time in City Park playing soccer and baseball when he was growing up in New Orleans, but he had never been to Couturie Forest. Neither had many of the other volunteers, and watching the trail grow as they worked had been a visible reward, said Friedman.

Babst has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, a wetlands restoration, and other projects, but he found working with the kids more fun. He also liked the fact that the project continues the civic engagement that began after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “People are still doing things that matter and improve the city,” he said. “It feels like it’s a sustainable kind of effort that will continue.” In City Park alone, more than 45,000 volunteers have logged 200,000-plus hours.

And there was the Blue connection. “New Orleans can feel like a remote outpost when it comes to Yale,” said Friedman. “It was good to feel connected to the broader Yale community, doing something around the country and the world, plugged in to something bigger.”

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