When they swear me to secrecy, I imagine it’s because I’m about to hear highly sensitive information — talk of illicit deals or citywide conspiracies. I’m sitting on the floor of Laura Snow’s third-floor apartment off Whitney Avenue in East Rock, waiting with bated breath to become complicit in this secret. I should have expected no less from a group so shrouded in mystery that it does not even have a name. Known only as The Group With No Name (TGWNN, pronounced “tigwin”), the organization has worked since 2001 to connect over 1000 young New Havenites to each other through social and community development activities.
Tonight is the third planning meeting of the year for Cluefest 2012, TGWNN’s annual citywide scavenger hunt in which participants scramble around New Haven deciphering rhyming clues and fulfilling the event’s motto, “Get Lost, Find New Haven.” Last year, 60 teams ran relay races outside Frank Pepe Pizzeria, rode tricycles at the Peabody Museum, and shared a community meal of hot wings and pizza at 360 State. Snow, Cluefest CEO and president, is about to reveal the group’s ideas for the surprise they have planned for Cluefest’s 10th anniversary. The ideas are still tentative, but they make it clear to me that nothing about them can be printed lest it dampen the hype surrounding Cluefest. Snow estimates that between 300 and 400 people will participate in the event this July. Miles Lasater ’01, one of the event’s founders, believes the group has stayed true to its original conception. “A few principles have guided us along the way: have fun, learn about New Haven, and keep it free,” he says.
Those principles have also guided the evolution of TGWNN itself. When TGWNN founder Janna Wagner ’95 returned to New Haven in 1999 to start the childcare cooperative All Our Kin, she encountered a vibrant but decentralized community of young people. One night, she and a friend emailed all of the people that they knew about creating a group that could bring that community together. At TGWNN’s inaugural meeting, someone suggested the group host a year of happy hours. Ten people came to the first event and told their friends about the next one, and the word about TGWNN spread.
Today, TGWNN hosts many events throughout the year: happy hours at Bentara, dance parties, Cluefest, and an annual Holiday Party that epitomizes the bridge TGWNN tries to build between fun and service. Last year’s party raised $3000 for New Haven Reads, providing a venue for the literacy organization’s representatives to “talk it up in a relaxed environment,” according to Daisy Abreu, one of the party’s organizers and the Deputy Director in charge of communications for Town Green. TGWNN also advertises other noteworthy events in New Haven, such as shows by New Haven-based theater troupes and panels on the city’s ability to attract young professionals. Each of TGWNN’s 1000 Yahoo! subscribers has an equal say in the events the group hosts — anybody can suggest an activity, be a leader, and attend the events. According to Wagner, “We need dreamers and doers. TGWNN has a good mix.”
The group’s founders see its lack of a name as an appropriate designation for an organization with such open-ended goals. TGWNN’s founders initially planned to think up a name once its purpose became more clearly defined, but the lack of a specified name stuck. “The name reflects the group’s identity,” Wagner says. “It’s really still a group that is defined by who is in it.”
Christine Kim ’99 GRD ’01, a member since 2004, believes TGWNN provides the kind of network that Yalies in particular are used to interacting with. “Going to Yale and then moving to New Haven is such a different experience,” she says. “Yale has such an infrastructure. A lot of us were very involved in school. Coming back here, we wanted that kind of engagement.” TGWNN has given Yale graduates compelling reasons to build a life here after college, whether it be because of discovering a nonprofit to work for through TGWNN, finding a group of friends in a city of unknown faces, or even finding a spouse — there are couples who have met at TGWNN events.
While Wagner initially created TGWNN for what she calls “selfish purposes,” it now provides a service for a much greater network of people. “When people say to me they stayed in New Haven … because of TGWNN, I can’t really believe it. I can’t believe we’ve grown into something that is actually meaningful to people besides ourselves.”