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She’s New Haven, To The Corps

Daviya Green grew up in the Hill, right up the street from Long Wharf. The oldest of four, she remembers a full house, with one or two cousins crashing with their family at all times. Which “was fun when I was younger,” she recalled, “but mostly because I didn’t realize the poverty and things that were going on around me.”

As she got older, she started to recognize “that things were not as sweet as they looked. It was an experience to see how impoverished the city really was.”

A student at Metropolitan Business Academy with high hopes for doing her undergraduate studies in social work, Green made a pact with herself by the time she was in her early teens: None of the obstacles in her life would encroach on her ability to do good. If the opportunity presented, she would give back to the city with everything she had.

Green, now an AmeriCorps VISTA Member working with City Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor in City Hall, told that story Tuesday morning surrounded by around 100 of her peers in City Hall’s grand second-floor atrium. The occasion was the fourth annual Mayor’s Day of Recognition for National Service, which celebrates several thousand corps members nationally and 650 locally for their service positions in city government, literacy and learning organizations, schools, community-based not-for-profits and more. (Americorps volunteers receive a stipend while on year-long community-service assignments.) In attendance Tuesday were New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, former State Rep. Bill Dyson, Corporation for National and Community Service State Director Anne Ostberg, Morris Cove Alder Sal DeCola and Ted Surh, president and CEO of the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut. “Every day ought to be a recognition of volunteer service,” said Harp, who served herself as a VISTA volunteer when she graduated from college, and has seen an “added boost” to City Hall since five AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers came on last year. “I don’t know how New Haven would get by without the remarkable commitment of volunteer service providers. These members have played an important role in the city’s transformation plan ... bridging the gap to help the city meet its vision of a new generation of partnerships among public agencies and not-for-profit providers.”

That message has long resonated with corps members like Green, who has used her time at City Hall to assist in the creation of Connect New Haven, a program that partners with the United Way of Greater New Haven and the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC). While attending Metropolitan Business Academy for high school, she spent hours listening to her peers complain about New Haven without taking action. Her choice to stop complaining and start serving, she said Tuesday, has been harder, but it’s also more rewarding. In addition to marrying her friend and longtime sweetheart Henry Green — himself anadvocate for change in New Haven — she’s studying social work as a part-time student. She plans to remain in New Haven as a community social worker after she has finished her degree.

“I grew up here literally all my life,” said Green. “I see people who grow up in New Haven, and they end up either leaving or they stay and they don’t do much to change the city, but complain about things that are going on. I figured: Why not help the city instead of complain about it?”

“I was willing to put the work in wherever I was,” she added of the importance of serving, and her mutual respect for the other corps members serving around the city. “It [service] has further enhanced the empathy that I had as a characteristic. It helped me to see people in a more human way ... It helped me connect with them.”

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