Before departing for winter break, Woodrow Wilson School students hosted the School’s annual signature event: a service auction benefitting Isles Youth Institute (IYI), based in Trenton, N.J.
On Dec. 9, 2016, Princeton students, faculty, staff and alumni joined community members as well as leadership and students from IYI for an energetic evening that raised more than $16,000 for the local nonprofit.
Organized by the Woodrow Wilson Action Committee (WWAC), the graduate student government body of the Wilson School, the 9th annual event flooded Robertson Hall’s Bernstein Gallery and Dodds Auditorium with individuals enthusiastically bidding on goods and experiences in both silent and live auctions. Donations ranged from international gifts such as a Syrian handmade box inlaid with rare woods and mother of pearl, to a lunch in New York with Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Professor Eldar Shafir, which sold at the live auction for more than $1,000. In total, 27 local businesses and 117 students, faculty, staff and alumni contributed items for the event.
The Woodrow Wilson Action Committee has selected the IYI to be the beneficiary of the past five auctions, including this year. IYI fosters self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities. With a mission of “self-reliance through education,” the organization engages disconnected youth and helps them work through life challenges while assisting them in meeting their educational and career goals. Students participate in activities such as job shadowing and life skills training.
“There is something beautiful about students reaching out a hand to support their fellow students,” said Julie Whittaker MPA ’17, WWAC Service Committee co-chair. “As students ourselves, we understand and believe in the power of education and mentorship to help these young people as they craft their futures.”
For Isles Youth Institute, the annual auction presents not only an opportunity to raise funds for its cause, but also to expand its sphere of influence in the realm of public policy.
“Isles' job is to repair the damage done by failing urban policies and systems. We think that our work is important and saves lives, but we really want to apply what we're learning to influence policy ‘upstream.’ That's hard to do with scarce resources and enormous local needs,” explained Isles Founder Martin Johnson ’81. “Partnering with the Woodrow Wilson School gives us opportunities to build a larger influence agenda. It gives us the chance to expose future leaders in this policy work – WWS students – to innovative community work and ways they might apply it to their careers.”
In addition to supporting this influence agenda, Isles will apply the funds raised to improve difficult-to-fund services to students, such as improved technology and facilities.
Service Committee co-chairs Yusuf Dahl MPA ’17 and Whittaker, who also volunteered with the 2015 auction, agreed they had a responsibility to improve the annual event in a meaningful way. Following a vision to be “outrageously ambitious” in their service, the committee enjoyed great success in increasing the visibility of the auction and the understanding of its purpose.
“The week before the Service Auction, we took a group of Wilson School students on a tour of Isles, led by Isles' founder, Marty Johnson. Our students met with students from the Isles Youth Institute and learned about Trenton through their eyes,” said Whittaker. “We shared the stories of this trip with our larger community, which helped everyone really feel the connection we have to our neighbors in Trenton and understand the important work Isles is doing to improve their situation.”
Each year, the service auction serves not only to raise funds for an important cause, but also to broaden perspectives among both the University community and IYI.
“This year's service auction felt personal. That feeling raised the bar higher than ever, and totally blew away the IYI kids (and Isles staff) who witnessed it,” noted Johnson. “On the way home from the event, Emmanuel Torres, one of the IYI students, said to IYI’s Stacy Heading, ‘Mr. Stacy, I want to thank you. I never in my life experienced anything like that before’.”
Dahl and Whittaker stressed the ongoing importance of building bridges between the Woodrow Wilson School and the larger New Jersey community to help neighbors in need.
“Princeton is such an amazingly rich intellectual, cultural and social institution, that at times you can get lost in the bubble and forget that just 15 minutes up the road, many of the economic, social and educational issues and disparities that we are wrestling with in the classroom are playing out in real time. It's both a humbling and energizing situation,” said Dahl. “There is so much work that needs to be done, even in Mercer County. Isles is a great partner because of their theory of change and approach to helping the people in the community, which starts from a space of respect and understanding for those they serve.”
In addition to Yusuf Dahl MPA ’17 and Julie Whittaker MPA ’17, the WWAC Service Committee included Mia Newman MPA ’18, Swetha Balachandran MPA ’18, Lance Liu MPA ’17, Madeleine Parker MPA ’18, Amy Li MPA ’18 and Chloe Brown MPA ’18.