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Anthropology, Architecture, and Giving Back

Sarah and Nicholas Ohly
Photo courtesy of Sara Huntington Ohly

The Nicholas D. Ohly & Sara Huntington Ohly Fund reflects the Ohlys’ passion and commitment to community.

Anthropology is defined as the study of humankind, through time and space, in relation to environment and culture.

Dr. Sara Huntington Ohly is an anthropologist who has focused on social culture and how it intersects with the environment, particularly in urban settings and for migrant populations.

Her husband Nicholas Ohly was also an anthropologist of sorts, recording all aspects of life as he experienced it. An architect by trade, he was also a sculptor, painter, photographer, and all-around enthusiast of the arts.

"He sketched daily life, ideas for sculptures, theater sets, anything that caught his eye," Sara says. "In the 1980s he started drawing in charcoal and ink and painting watercolors."

When Nicholas Ohly died suddenly in 2007, his bequests included an establishing gift for a fund at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Sara chose to establish a donor-advised fund so that she could continue to support the organizations Nicholas loved as well as the nonprofits with which she had become involved.

"We had a division of labor on donations: he mainly gave to the arts and I to social and environmental causes," Sara explains. "For the last six years, I have invested most in refugee aid as the crises have grown worse in Syria and Iraq."

It's a familiar topic for her, she adds, having earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Yale University in 1994, because it seemed the most "inclusive, multi-disciplinary" way to study the lives of Muslim migrants in Europe.

"I knew what it was like for me as a non-Muslim living in Turkey and wanted to know how it was for Turks to live in a non-Muslim country," she says. "I love fieldwork, listening and learning how people cope with the often-difficult experience of living in a very different culture."

Sara has volunteered her time teaching English to clients at Integrated Refugee and Reintegration Services. But she has been giving back to her community in several other ways for more than 15 years.

"When I stopped teaching in 2000, I found myself needing to give back to the community I have enjoyed in Wooster Square for 46 years," she says. "I want to pass on that commitment to community, to social and political activism, to friends and family, the love of music, theater, trees, parks, and children."

Sara has been an active volunteer and Board member for both Urban Resources Initiative and the New Haven Land Trust. She also volunteered at Liberty Community Services' Sunrise Café at St. Paul and St. James Church Episcopal Church. She says the Nicholas D. Ohly & Sara Huntington Ohly Fund helps her to fulfill that commitment to community in ways her time can't.

"We must do much more for those who have suffered the consequences of war and take climate change seriously so that future generations can survive and thrive," she says. "When I make the donations through the fund, I feel the satisfaction that I am doing what I can to make life better in New Haven and the world."


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