After the Yale Unddergraduate Gospel Choir perfromed a rendition of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” — the poem that graces the base of the Statue of Liberty —  the executive director of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, Chris George, led the countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!

And the runners were off.

On Sunday morning, more than 3,100 runners and walkers took to the East Rock streets for the 12th annual 5K race in support of IRIS. Of those 3,100, Henry Reichard ’19 led the pack with a time of 16 minutes and 45 seconds. More than 380 Yale students entered the road race.

“I decided to run in [the race] partially because a lot of people were racing and also because of its mission,” Reichard, who is also training for the upcoming Savin Rock Half Marathon, wrote in an email to the News. “I take running pretty seriously, though I don’t run with Yale’s varsity team,” he added.

Post-race, participants had an opportunity to enjoy food, drink and fun courtesy of New Haven’s many refugee-owned small businesses, including baklava from Havenly and soup from Green Leaf Tea. Also present at the post-race party were numerous other sponsors like Music Haven and Edible Arrangements. A live band played while participants sampled the assorted food and recovered from the race. More than 200 volunteers worked to make the event possible, per the race website. Those volunteers included cooks, race officials and others.

Run for Refugees, the official name of the 5K, raised more than $100,000 for Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, said Ann O’Brien, director of community engagement for the resettlement agency. According to the race website, the highest individual fundraiser raised more than $2,500, while two Yale residential colleges landed in the top five of group fundraisers. Saybrook students collected $3,970, good for third in the rankings, while Morse students, who nabbed the fifth spot, more than doubled its fundraising output from last year, posting $3,015.

“The response was faster this year,” remarked Morse Head of College Catherine Panter-Brick in regards to the student-led fundraiser. “We are building on the previous success. There is obviously a well of support for [the race].”

In an email to the News, Saybrook Operations Manager Micah Luce said that the event provides some important time away from Yale for students.

“The Run for Refugees provides some much-needed, extracurricular, away-from-Yale time that brings us face to face with those outside our community with whom we can more richly share life,” Luce said. “Many of our students felt passionately about the cause.”

The funds from the event will go towards Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services’ resettlement work for refugees in New Haven and Connecticut as a whole. In addition, the agency extends other opportunities to immigrants in Greater New Haven, like legal and employment services. It and the Yale community collaborate to achieve these goals mostly through the Yale Refugee Project, an undergraduate organization on campus, which provides IRIS with roughly 50–70 student volunteers each year.

But fundraising is not the only reason why IRIS organizes the annual run.

“Welcoming refugees is as American as apple pie,” said George when asked about why IRIS created and hosts the event. At the starting line, George reminded everyone that they had gathered “here to show support for refugees and embrace them.”

In his own brief remarks given at the starting line, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., thanked the crowd for “making me proud of Connecticut” and added that “this is what America looks like.”

Run for Refugees dates back to George’s arrival at IRIS as the organization’s executive director 13 years ago. The first race was hosted the next year. The 5K has grown immensely in the past couple of years, especially the 2017 race, which occurred right after President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries went into effect, according to George.

This year, the event featured the Yale Undergraduate Gospel Choir’s debut at the annual 5K. Also in attendance this year for the first time were a handful of other refugee agency directors from cities across the country, including Houston, Texas and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. George hopes he can “give them a playbook” so they will be able to run their own versions of the race across the country on future Super Bowl Sundays.

IRIS was founded as the Diocesan Refugee Services Committee in 1982.

Jose Davila IV |

Jose Davila currently serves as a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale-New Haven Relations as a staff reporter. He is a junior in Morse College majoring in Global Affairs.