“Practicing What We Preach” — Students Give Back to Isles Youth Institute
“The Woo is a community that is constantly thinking about how to create a better world. And, as we all think about complex global problems in varying fields, there is something to be said about working for the local community around Princeton and reflecting upon the inequalities that exist so close by,” said Swetha Balachandran MPA ’18.
Earlier this academic year, Swetha Balachandran MPA ’18 and fellow graduate students continued the Woodrow Wilson School’s close service relationship with Isles Youth Institute, a nonprofit based in Trenton, New Jersey, which supports at-risk youth so they can complete their educations and become self-reliant. Balachandran and Alexander Brockwehl MPA ’18, co-chairs of the community service subcommittee of the Woodrow Wilson Action Committee, organized the 10th annual service auction, “WWAC Gives Back.” Meeting an ambitious goal set by the pair, the event raised more than $20,000 for Isles in December 2017.
Brockwehl, who studies international relations and intends to work on human rights, governance, and U.S. foreign policy after graduating, expressed the importance of local service work.
“Though my professional interests have led me to look globally, I’ve also felt an acute sense of responsibility to support and serve the community where I’m living, whether in D.C., where I lived for four years after college, or here in Princeton and the surrounding area. The Isles Youth Institute helps students overcome challenging financial, familial and educational circumstances and get back on track, opening opportunities to realize their potential,” Brockwehl said. “Supporting Isles is a form of practicing what we preach at the Wilson School and living out our collective commitment to public service.”
Balachandran and Brockwehl oversaw a team of nine first-year MPA volunteers to prepare for the service auction, and received valuable support from members of the Graduate Program Office. The group focused on early and frequent public messaging, which resulted in a record number of donated items.
According to Brockwehl, the annual event brings together the Woo community in a fun, inclusive way that not only celebrates a shared commitment to public service but also showcases the many talents and immense generosity of the faculty, staff and students. The event combined a silent auction — featuring more than 20 student-cooked meals, and fine wines selected by Professor Andrew Moravcsik — with a live auction — featuring items such as a tour of Trenton with Isles’ founder Marty Johnson ’81, and a day at the range with Naval Special Warfare Operator Abraham Trindle MPP ’18.
Balachandran and Brockwehl also hosted a community service day at the start of the academic year to acquaint Woos with Isles. Events such as these help busy students in the “Princeton bubble” to connect with the spirit of public service in a grounded way, noted Balachandran.
“Swetha and I held a community service day in September in which nearly half of the MPA students participated in a service outing with Isles, at Isles’ Mill One. The group not only put in some serious manual labor hours, but they also got to meet Marty Johnson and become acquainted with the work of Isles,” Brockwehl said. “This set us up well for the service auction in that many students seemed to feel more personally invested in the auction’s success because they knew firsthand about the importance of Isles’ work.”
More than 70 MPA, MPP and Ph.D. students participated in the September service day, completing tasks such as painting, moving lumber and cleaning in order to get the mill ready for occupation.
Isles’ goal of empowering youth spoke powerfully to Balachandran, who studies international development and specializes in urban policy.
“I believe that Isles is doing extremely important work in Trenton. I personally aspire to reduce social and economic inequalities in India and believe that education and empowering the youth is an integral part of this mission. To know that we can contribute to the Isles Youth Institute and be part of this process is both humbling and empowering to me,” she said.
In addition to Balachandran and Brockwehl, community service committee members include the following MPA1 students: Chris Austin, Jennifer Bulley, Kevan Christensen, Ileana Cruz-Marden, Amn Nasir, Tiffany Peterson, William Willoughby, Zack Zappone, Mitik Zegeye.