3 Things that Happen When We “FOCUS on New Haven”


 Since 1991 FOCUS has been introducing rising Yale sophomores and transfer students to the city of New Haven through a unique programming mix of guest speakers, guided discussions, and community service. FOCUS encourages student participants to engage with the broader New Haven community through daily service with partner sites; to grow and think critically of their role as students in service through guided discussions with their peers; and to broaden their perspectives through a guest speaker series.  You can read more about FOCUS and the exciting new turn it took this year at the end of the article, but first, it is time to explore what happens when we FOCUS on New Haven!

#1: FOCUS enables students to engage in New Haven

“I loved working at my service site and getting to know the staff there. I even loved walking to and from the service site because it gave my group the opportunity to engage in conversation about so many important things, and I learned so much from my peers as well as the staff of Amistad.”

Imagine a first year student rolling out of bed earlier than 6:30 am before classes have even begun. That is exactly what Yale’s Class of 2020 FOCUS participants did in order to serve at Sunrise Café

Students serving breakfast at Sunrise Cafe

Serving breakfast to community members in a restaurant like fashion, FOCUS participants were able to engage with people from “  all walks of life,” hear stories from other perspectives, and learn that there are people who are much better at dancing than they are.

For students who have been in New Haven for less than a week to be treated with kindness at their site had students “starting to think of New Haven as home.” 

“Direct contact with people makes you fall in love with service and makes you love New Haven more” are words from brand new Yalies waking up to an early alarm, ready to engage in a city they are learning to call their own.

Freshman Service Sites

Sophomore Service Sites

Sunrise Café

New Haven Reads

Chapel Haven

Urban Resource Initiative

Neighborhood Housing Services

Amistad Catholic Worker


Unidad Latina En Accion   


#2: FOCUS helps build relationships that last

“I was extremely nervous about making friends at Yale, and my FOCUS family is a community of friends I will always have around!”

Each day of FOCUS, students either packed into Dwight Hall cars or walked to their service site; ready to be challenged and ready to grow.

 Through various group activities, like Olympics, service site families were able to interact with each other, share experiences, and bond. As parents to their families, student leaders were able to create a tight-knit community, which allowed students the space to engage in discussion topics, share personal stories through hometowns, and gain additional perspectives from one another.

Student volunteers from Chapel Haven making funny faces

After serving a week at Chapel Haven crafting bracelets, making t-shirts, and brushing up on Zumba skills, the Chapel Haven family had no problem squishing into the camera frame to take their #FocusFamilyPhoto, complete with funny faces that convey the comfort level they have with each other.

“My best friendships have been with people who are involved in service,” offered one participant when asked why she chose FOCUS over other pre-orientation programs. With a few Chapel Haven members agreeing that they want to go back to Chapel Haven together during the year, it seems that theme will continue.

#3: FOCUS shows students that there is so much more to do

“The exposure to a multitude of opportunities to serve in New Haven, ranging from Sunrise Cafe to Urban Fellows to Emerge, laid the groundwork for a service oriented college experience, which I loved.”

After a non-stop week, FOCUS culminated with a Community Banquet, bringing together sites and students for dinner under Dwight Hall’s roof where each service site family was able share reflections from the week with one-another. 

Students outside of Dwight Hall before Community Banquet

Amistad Catholic Worker staff shared how the students became family, laughing over a cake gone wrong resulting in some kind of half vanilla and half lemon dessert. When it was time for the students to express their experience at Amistad Catholic Worker, they portrayed the “lifestyle of service and dedication” they observed and ended with the powerful words that “if everyone lived like that the world would be a beautiful place.”

The buzzword of the night was “humbling,” with students echoing each other’s promises to go back, to continue to serve, and to delve deeper into what it means to be a part of New Haven.  

Throughout the week, sophomores had down time to adventure on their own and immerse themselves in service and New Haven through other avenues ranging from attending protests to checking out a cause-related apartment event.

Another layer of FOCUS that expanded the way students view social justice and public service topics were the post-dinner speakers. From definitions of social justice and service, to the Yale-New Haven relationship and students’ role, to working within structures to improve outcomes, students were challenged to examine topics past the surface level and were able to see just how much more there is to do. 

Freshman Speaker Series

Sophomore Speaker Series

Peter Crumlish, Executive Director of Dwight Hall

John Bradley, Associate Master of Branford College and Executive Director of Liberty Community Services

Jeanette Morrison, Alderwoman Ward 22

John DeStefano, Former Mayor of New Haven

Annie Harper, Associate Research Scientist in Psychiatry

Unidad Latina en Accion

Dwight Hall Executive Committee

Peter Crumlish, Executive Director of Dwight Hall

More on FOCUS

FOCUS on New Haven aligns with Dwight Hall’s values and contributes to the mission of inspiring students to serve. Through FOCUS, Dwight Hall is able to provide students who have a passion for public service and social justice the opportunity to engage and grow, not only before the semester begins, but continuing long after the Community Banquet has ended. 

Historically, FOCUS has been for sophomores and transfer students, but Dwight Hall recognizes the importance of engaging students who are dedicated to service and social justice early on in their Yale career, which is why, for the first time in the program’s history, FOCUS included a freshman branch.

This exciting opportunity continued to allow sophomores to immerse themselves into the community they have spent a year in, while also providing a service oriented program for incoming freshman students unfamiliar with New Haven.  

By the Numbers

Of the 33 participants who responded to an evaluative survey:

Engaging in New Haven

  • 100% feel they have a better understanding of New Haven
  • 100% feel they have a better understanding of their role in the community
  • 79% feel they were able to engage in valuable discussions with members of the extended community

Building relationships that last

  • 97% feel they were able to form meaningful personal connections with other FOCUS participants
  • 94% feel they were able to engage in meaningful discussions with their peers
  • 89% view their FOCUS leaders as mentors they can reach out to throughout the year

Seeing there is so much more to do

  • 100% are more motivated to be involved in service activities while at Yale
  • 97% believe their view of service as an important part of their Yale experience was strengthened
  • 97% feel they were part of a collaborative and effective team  


  • 100% agree that FOCUS met their expectations
  • 100% of participants would recommend FOCUS to an incoming freshman, sophomore, or transfer student

Check out what Yale Daily News had to say about FOCUS!

For more stories, check out the Voices and Stories Archive page.