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New Haven leader shares vision for at-risk youth with Rancho Santa Fe Rotary

Doreen Quinn, CEO of New Haven, with RSF Rotary President Susan Callahan.
(Karen Billing)

On April 5, the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary hosted Doreen Quinn, the CEO of New Haven Youth and Family Services. At New Haven, they work to transform the lives of at-risk adolescent boys through an academic and emotional education model that develops life and work skills in a healthy environment.

“She’s changing lives like you wouldn’t believe,” said Rancho Santa Fe Rotarian Robin Chappelow. “She’s taking these kids and turning their lives around, giving them hope and helping them to believe in themselves.”

New Haven has been helping youth and their families in Southern California since 1967. Quinn began at New Haven as a social worker in 1987, believing all kids can learn and be engaged in education when relevant and when facilitated by a caring teacher. Quinn led the effort to open New Haven’s Vista campus in 1989 and has also overseen the opening of two other schools, including North County Trade Tech High School, a charter school in Vista.

In addition to the day student curriculum and residential treatment programs, New Haven offers community-based therapeutic behavior services programs, and has outpatient and mental health offices in San Diego and Riverside Counties.

Many of the boys come to New Haven as the last step — they have been labeled “at-risk” as the result of difficult behavior problems. Many have come through the educational system and have been identified as having a mental illness that can be traced back to childhood trauma. All have gone through multiple foster home placement failures, psychiatric hospitalizations and are unable to remain in their homes or in the public school system. For many, Quinn said the alternative to New Haven is jail or an out-of-state locked facility.

“We work very hard at creating a home-like, safe environment,” Quinn said, noting that they first work on teaching the boys to self-regulate and self-soothe to get back on track and prevent them from acting out. “Once they feel safe, it’s about engaging them, and we knew we needed to do it fundamentally different than wherever they’ve been because they didn’t make it there. Our approach in education is really hands-on, project-based and vocational education.”

At New Haven, the boys can participate in a vocational culinary arts program where they learn how to work in a kitchen and even run their own catering business. The RSF Rotary was interested in possibly having the school cater their Cinco De Mayo party. Another vocational program at New Haven is woodcrafting. The student-run business allows them to learn a trade and sell their hardwood cutting boards, Adirondack chairs, dog houses and more. At the RSF Rotary meeting, Quinn raffled off several items made by the talented boys.

“We’re really trying to engage them and equip them with the life skills and with the employability skills which are going to help them sustain and survive after they leave New Haven after about 10 months,” Quinn said. “We’re really about restoring hope, by caring and creating a safe environment and engaging and equipping them.”

The Welcome Home Project is a fundraising campaign aimed at raising $1 million to revitalize New Haven’s aging campus. To learn more about the campaign, purchase woodworking crafts or learn about the catering services, visit newhavenfs.org.


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