Often, the only thing that many tutors and interns at New Haven Reads have in common is an enormous heart, a love of reading, and a dedication to helping others. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess where they are from, how they found out about the program, what led them to working with young students, and any other personal details. We cherish this diversity of passions, experiences, and personality, and we are continually surprised at the awe-inspiring individuals that join us to help our students.
Piper O’Keefe, an Education Department Intern, continues to amaze us with her depth of experiences and with her drive for helping our organization. Now a graduate student at Yale, Piper graduated from Gettysburg College in 2017 certain that she wanted to give back to others. While studying abroad in Germany and Rwanda, she realized that spending extended time in other countries provides an invaluable perspective.
“You just learn so many new things while living in different areas, and you connect with people you absolutely would not have met otherwise,” Piper explained.
Combining this desire for more time abroad with her dedication to create change in the world, Piper decided to join the Peace Corps.
In the Peace Corps, she taught English in a rural high school in Sierra Leone. After returning to the United States, she received the Coverdell Fellowship, a program for returning Peace Corps Volunteers who wish to continue their service to underserved communities during graduate school.
After reflecting on how much she enjoyed her time teaching English in Sierra Leone, deciding how to continue her service while at Yale couldn’t have been easier.
“New Haven Reads seemed like a perfect chance to apply what I learned in Sierra Leone, and it allowed me to continue working with students during tutoring sessions,” Piper shared.
At New Haven Reads, she supports five students each week through individual tutoring sessions and assists the Education Department with various literacy projects.
Although the differences between the two experiences are clear — a full classroom versus one-on-one sessions, for starters — Piper cherishes her time at New Haven Reads, noting the similarities between her service abroad and in New Haven.
“With teaching you realize how similar students are, no matter what country you’re in,” Piper said. “The same methods to get my students excited in Sierra Leone, I can use with my students here. The same look you can see in a student’s eye when they have a book they love, it’s the same look here as in Sierra Leone. It’s really exciting.”