Living Life to the Fullest at Chapel Haven

Chapel Haven, the internationally recognized school for adults with developmental and social disabilities plans to expand.

Chapel Haven residents and staff celebrate Halloween.

Over four decades, Chapel Haven has gained an international reputation for running innovative programs that teach adults with developmental and social disabilities how to live independent lives. Now the pioneering school is building on that success with an expansion of its campus in New Haven's Westville neighborhood.

"It is amazing how the community embraces our adults," says Chapel Haven Vice President Julia Isenberg. "When our adults go to the store, they get hugs across the counter. It's a really beautiful relationship."

What began in a single home with about a dozen clients has grown into a full-scale residential school and living program for more than 150 adults who have disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and Down Syndrome.

Chapel Haven staff teaches life skills, assists with housing, and organizes trips and outings. Classes are individualized based on the needs of the adult and encompass topics including nutrition, shopping, and exercise. Some of the adults help run a campus café. Others are placed at jobs off-campus. Most importantly, Chapel Haven provides a warm supportive environment.

"We give our adults a full life here. It's not an institution or a group home," says Isenberg.
Many of Chapel Haven's adults live in nearby apartments, so their lives are fully integrated with the school.

"The community network is what is helping them succeed," says Isenberg. "They support each other. They throw dinner parties together. They are incredibly busy."

As Chapel Haven grew, it bought up old houses and retrofitted them for its programming. The current expansion, part of the multi-year campaign, "Chapel Haven: Continuing the Commitment," will allow the organization to put a masterplan into a place that better accommodates its aging population and those with more significant medical needs. Plans include a new, 32,500-square foot building and upgrades across the campus.

In 1984 the Chapel Haven Graduate Fund was established at The Community Foundation to help provide job counseling, daily living, and recreational support services to graduates of Chapel Haven.

For more information about Chapel Haven, visit its profile on

Did you know?

Chapel Haven West opened in 2008 in Tucson, AZ, and provides residential transition and lifelong supports for adults 18+ with autism spectrum disorders and related social disabilities.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.