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Researchers, Clinicians, Communicators By Day; Town Servants By Night

December 04, 2019

Researchers, clinicians, and communicators by day. Town servants by night.

Three members of the Yale Department of Psychiatry are serving as elected members of volunteer boards in their communities, helping to shape policy while prioritizing and tracking spending on behalf of constituents.

Kimberly Yonkers, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases) and of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, was re-elected in November to Redding’s Board of Finance. Yonkers has been on the board since 2010 and was its Chair last year. She will also serve as Chair in the coming year.

In Bethany, Christopher PIttenger, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, has been Chair of the Board of Education since 2015. He was appointed to the school board in 2009, elected in 2011, and re-elected in 2017.

Chris Gardner, the Department of Psychiatry’s Director of Communications, was elected to his first term on Newtown’s Board of Finance in November. Gardner also serves as Senior Burgess for the Borough of Newtown, a 2.3-square-mile area in the central part of Newtown that was incorporated in 1824 and has a separate government from the town.

“Town service is an enriching experience,” said Yonkers, who directs the Division of Psychological Medicine and Center for Wellbeing of Women and Mothers at Yale School of Medicine. “It gives one a full appreciation of the challenges facing the town and the differing opinions among major stakeholders. In this way, training in psychiatry can help address those challenges; mental health workers are trained to be good listeners and mediators, tasks that can help achieve consensus.”

Pittenger got involved in the educational system in Bethany to support his children. “We have four of them, so we’re deeply invested in the success of the local public schools,” he said. His wife, Jenny, serves on the Board of Education of Amity Regional School District No. 5 which oversees the middle and high schools for students in Bethany, Orange, and Woodbridge.

“By working on the boards we can work for the benefit of all children in town, not just our own,” said Pittenger, the department’s Assistant Chair for Translational Research and director of the Yale Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Research Clinic. “I think we’ve had some success over the past decade, which is a source of satisfaction. It’s also been interesting, and somewhat unexpected, the extent to which what I’ve learned from working with the local community is relevant to my day job in the Department of Psychiatry, and vice versa.”

Gardner began his service to the Borough of Newtown six years ago and soon after took over as Newtown’s Keeper of the Flagpole, in charge of maintaining the town’s iconic 100-foot-tall flagpole in the middle of its Main Street. He was asked to run for Newtown’s Board of Finance and saw it as an opportunity to expand his service to the community.

“I grew up in Newtown and with my wife chose to return to raise our family,” he said. “We are very invested in the community and I feel a great sense of responsibility that comes with this new opportunity.”

Yonkers said her service has helped her develop new skills. The Board of Finance oversees town budgeting tasks, including line item vetoes for town expenses and funding mechanisms like bonding.

“We are also responsible for town audits and managing balance sheets, tasks typically outside of a physician’s purview,” she said. “All of these tasks, by necessity, place an individual at the core of town leadership. We all join in the endeavor of making our town as strong as it can be and ensuring that it is a place people want to live. A sense of community is a powerful, positive motivator. I strongly recommend it."

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on December 04, 2019