This post is the last in a mini-series highlighting ways planners have continued to strengthen support for Duke and our communities through virtual events. 

Whether Duke Alumni live just a few hours from Durham, around the country or across the globe, regional events are great ways to connect, celebrate and collaborate with Duke friends.  One of the signature regional programs is Duke Alums Engage, inspired by the same values at the core of the DukeEngage undergraduate service-learning program. Duke Alums Engage helps alumni tap into the spirit of knowledge in service to society – to change their world in a uniquely Duke way. 

Like so many programs, Duke Alums Engage evolved after face to face events were suspended in March 2020. Reading and tutorial programs at elementary schools were put on hold, and instead, book drives were organized. Volunteer energy for preparing and serving meals at soup kitchens was channeled into food drives. Community work days at local non-profits became supply drives. These virtual activities focus on providing goods and supplies, rather than cash donations, because as a policy, Duke Alums Engage does not raise money to donate to other non-profits. But by supporting these drives and the many charity partners, Duke Alumni have continued to make a collective, positive impact in their communities. 

Many of the successful drives this past year grew out of existing partnerships and annual events. Duke Baltimore continued their ongoing relationship with My Sister’s Place, the city’s longest serving day shelter for women and children experiencing homelessness and poverty. In September and November 2020 and April 2021, alumni supported shelter food drives with direct donations of prepared casseroles and nonperishables though contactless drop off locations. 

The spirit of the holiday season has traditionally inspired outreach and community engagement, and that has remained true during COVID. Each year, Duke Alums Engage NYC raises money to purchase holiday gifts for the children at the Dunleavy Milbank Center which serves at-risk youth in Harlem.  In Connecticut, P2P (Person to Person) organized a Virtual Holiday Toy Drive. Duke alumni collected funds to buy gift bundles which included a gift card, age-appropriate book, and family board game, and these bundles were distributed to families via a magical drive-thru Winter Wonderland. The Children’s Crisis Treatment Center in Philadelphia has an annual drive for Thanksgiving Food baskets. Thanks to the generosity of the alumni, Duke Philadelphia was able to provide 75 boxes in 2020, more than double the number from the previous year. 

While the pandemic has amplified existing needs and revealed new challenges to communities, there have also been new collaborations and partnerships. With the leadership of alumna Susan Fisher A.B.’76, P’13, who is also the volunteer chair at Project Cicero, DUHLAA NY (Duke University Hispanic Latino Alumni Association) and Duke Alums Engage joined forces in a book drive. Purchasing from an Amazon wish list, alumni were able to help under-resourced public schools in New York City during a particularly challenging year. 

One of the most creative virtual community service events organized this year engaged alumni communities in two states, nearly 1200 miles apart! One evening in late May, the Duke Colorado and Duke Nashville regional groups fielded teams for a virtual “Trivia Showdown.” The collected optional donations went to fund the winning teams’ Duke Alums Engage community projects. The first-place winners, team “Gnashville”, played on behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, and the second-place team “Blue Sky Devils” from Colorado, chose to support the Denver Zoo. 

The impact of Alums Engage can also be felt much closer to home, thanks to the active volunteers with Duke Triangle, and their support of the GPSG (Graduate and Professional Student Government) Community Pantry. This student-led initiative provides basic resources for all Graduate and Professional students at Duke University. Their mission to combat food insecurity among these students and their families helps ensure that the students can focus on their education. Students can access non-perishable foods, baby and child care items, personal hygiene products, school supplies, gently used professional clothing and household items from the Community Pantry free of charge. Because of the visibility generated through the partnership with Duke Triangle, local alumni have donated pantry supplies, local grocery store gift cards and purchases from the Amazon wish list.  In recent months, following strict COVID guidelines, they have added opportunities to volunteer in person. Whether you are an alumnus or not, if you are interested in supporting the GPSG Community Pantry, please visit their website. 

Kudos to the entire regional team at Duke Alumni Engagement and Development, with special thanks to Nicole Silvanic, Erica Berg Gavin and Ann-Louise Aguilar for their contributions to this article.