Won Jung ’20 and His Public Service Journey to Rwanda

In 2020, Dwight Hall alumnus Won Jung started the time-honored tradition for second-semester college seniors:  he began looking for a job, specifically one working in community relations for a sports team, a position Won says combined his interest in sports with his dedication to public service. A year after his graduation, following a global pandemic and a fellowship postponed more than a few times, Won has remained dedicated to public service, working with the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven to create pandemic relief programming to accommodate New Haven remote learning. As Won prepares to leave for Rwanda, where he will work with a basketball nonprofit to promote community building and youth engagement, Dwight Hall caught up with Won about his relationship to the Hall, his dedication to public service, and the next steps in his public service career.

Won smiles at the boys and girls club
Won at the Boys and Girls Club in New Haven

Won developed his interest in sports and public service as a Yale undergraduate with the sports news stories he wrote for the Yale Daily News and the work he did as an administrative office assistant in Dwight Hall. There came a point, however, when Won shifted his lens away from sports writing to public service: “I wrote for the Yale Daily News for a long time, and that was great and something I loved doing, but I found myself sitting at the games worrying about making sure I was sending out an accurate live tweet about the score, when I really wanted to be down there with the students where they were taking active stands.” In response, Won quit the News and began working even more with the Hall. “I hadn’t been involved with Dwight Hall before the position, but I knew the organization was involved with social justice. I worked in the Hall pretty much the rest of my Yale career.”

On his time at the Hall, Won reflected on the people he got to meet and the dedication to so many different initiatives that he observed. As Won worked in the office, making copies, managing the Dwight Hall car reservations, and researching nonprofits in his spare time, Won said, “I got to know some really amazing staff, and I came across a lot of really dedicated students. It’s the kindest slice of people I’d met at Yale. All the people there are voluntarily giving up hours from their busy schedules to go help other people.”

Constantly being surrounded by people dedicated to serving the community influenced Won to consider his own future career in a community-oriented position. “I always had a passion for connecting people and building community, and that’s something Dwight Hall excels at. It puts people in positions to do that. I was always seeing Dwight Hall students working with community youth, teaching classes or working with refugee families. It showed me that a lot of kids were doing this and that I didn’t have to do a pre-professional track.” Won found his internship with the Boys and Girls Club through a Dwight Hall community opportunities list. The Dwight Hall Community Response Fellowship provided summer funding for Won’s unpaid internship, and the organization’s student employment opportunities enabled him to make use of his federal work study in a meaningful way. “There were a lot of possibilities to make Dwight Hall accessible to first-generation low-income students,” Won said.

Before Won was able to pursue a career in public relations, the beginning of the pandemic ended his job search in the interview phase, as companies across the world instituted a hiring freeze and transitioned to a remote context as much as possible.  Won transitioned, too. After learning of the Shooting Touch Fellowship from an NBA player who had participated in the program, Won shifted his focus and applied to work in the Rwanda chapter of the organization. According to its website, “Shooting Touch is a global sport-for-development organization whose mission is to use the mobilizing power of basketball to bridge health and opportunity gaps for youth and women facing racial, gender, and economic inequalities.” After ultimately being accepted to the fellowship, Won prepared to leave for Rwanda to serve in Shooting Touch communities for a year. Once there, Won would construct basketball courts, build teams, and train coaches to run Rwanda’s first and only free youth league for girls and boys.

Each month the pandemic continued, Won’s start date in Rwanda was pushed back further and further. Of the experience, Won said, “they told me, ‘you’ll go in June,’ then ‘you’ll go in August,’ and ‘you’ll go in October.’” After switching to remote work for the foundation, Won ultimately decided to postpone his Rwanda trip for the 2021 summer. He began working at the New Haven Boys and Girls Club chapter, where he served as director of programs and administration and helped facilitate the club’s learning hubs, places where children could go to complete remote class while their parents or care-givers went to work each day. Won noted the challenges of this work:  “We did eight-to-five [AM to PM] learning hubs. All the kids went to different schools and had different schedules; it was a giant headache. But it was an essential service.” Without Won’s and the other Club employees’ dedication, many of New Haven’s youth might not have had a place to continue their online learning.

In March 2021, Won was one of the employees at the Club who helped prepare for Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit. He and the other employees are now gearing up for summer camp. Won intends to leave New Haven at the end of August and head to Rwanda to finally begin his fellowship.

On Dwight Hall itself, Won said, “There’s been a lot of talk recently of Yale’s impact on New Haven and how that impact can be more positive and bigger. Dwight Hall has already been the center of that conversation on the student-facing side…. When I think of Dwight Hall, I think of a bridge to the community.”  Dwight Hall celebrates Won’s achievements and persistent dedication to public service, despite the challenges that a remote and constantly shifting pandemic placed in his path. The Hall hopes to continue inspiring people like Won to serve the community and promote social change. 

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