New Haven may not typically be viewed as an ideal city for young urban professionals, but an informal organization called “The Group with No Name” is trying to change that perception.
Founded in 2000, The Group with No Name has grown from a 10-person e-mail list to a Yahoo! Group online forum of about 200 young people working in New Haven. Members of the group get together for monthly happy hours and collaborative events, group founder Janna Wagner ’95 said. Wagner said the idea for the group was inspired by what she perceived as a lack of informal forums for young New Haven professionals to socialize, network and become active residents of the community. When she moved back to New Haven several years after graduating from Yale, Wagner said she was afraid there would not be many people like her in the city.
“I didn’t want to spend all my time with graduate students,” Wagner said. “I wanted to build a community of people with jobs who were like me in New Haven. It just didn’t make sense to me that there were so many people who were doing nonprofit work, teaching, working at Yale, and working in other professions, who weren’t connecting.”
The group meets approximately once a month at Bentara in addition to coordinating activities like soccer, yoga, canoeing with city kids, and house construction with Habitat for Humanity, Wagner said.
“It’s really informal,” Wagner said. “People say to me, ‘Let’s do a soccer match,’ and I say, ‘Great,’ and they set it up. The ideas just really come from the group. People come when they want, they bring people, and they forward e-mails to other folks.”
This social, “grassroots” dynamic is part of the group’s appeal, member Vanessa Herald ’02 said.
“It just seemed like an incredible way to meet a whole bunch of people I wouldn’t have met under other circumstances,” Herald said.
Like Wagner, group member Carmel Paleski said she was looking for a way to get involved with the New Haven community after having left the city for several years, and she found The Group with No Name was “exactly what [she] was looking for.”
“It’s a group of young people who are involved in the city in a variety of ways,” Paleski said. “Many are like me, working for nonprofits or with children, others more traditionally as lawyers or [other professionals]. We have a good time, get to know each other, chat about how great the city is, and hang out. If an issue arises in the city, we talk about it. We do a variety of cool things that young people would be interested in doing.”
Though the group’s members work in a variety of fields, Wagner said they are united by a shared love of New Haven.
“The people live and work in New Haven and are happy to live and work [here],” Wagner said. “They are excited about learning more about each other but are also interested in educating themselves about New Haven politics.”
As it has grown, the organization has taken on the goal of encouraging social interaction for the purpose of ultimately benefiting the city as a whole, Wagner said.
“I really believe that if people have community and fellowship and find people that challenge them and interest them, they are more willing to stay in New Haven and become active in New Haven politics, and that’s always good for the city,” Wagner said. “If people feel connected to each other, the city does better economically [and] socially — We want to keep Yalies here and encourage people who are under 40 to stay in New Haven and make it their home.”
The motivation behind this goal is based in part on Wagner’s personal affection for the city.
“I think New Haven is the perfect place to live and work as a young person,” Wagner said. “There are opportunities for culture, education and community. If you care about being involved in community, active citizenry, politics, or just thoughtful living, New Haven is a great place because it’s small enough to understand the issues and actually be active and make a difference in the city.”
Paleski said the entrepreneurial spirit that inspired the group’s creation is itself another aspect of the city’s strength.
“That’s the great thing about New Haven: if people see something that they want to change, a need for something, people come together and do it,” Paleski said. “I think there was a need for young people to come together and collaborate, and there wasn’t an organization to do it. [The Group with No Name] allows collaboration between a lot of different groups in New Haven that might not meet otherwise.”
The Group with No Name met last Friday for a yoga program at the Connecticut Children’s Museum. The group’s future plans include three-on-three round robin soccer on Nov. 16, hiking on West Rock, and a scavenger hunt in the city.