Helping to Break the Cycle of Violence and Poverty in North Hartford

Adapted with persmission from Connecticut Children's


Connecticut Children’s is leading a five-year, multi-partner, cross-sector effort designed to improve the lives of children in North Hartford under a new $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Wheeler is one of nearly 20 community partners in the effort.

Connecticut Children’s was selected as one of seven grantees across the country in the latest round of funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Program. Connecticut Children’s will receive $6 million in the first year of the grant period to begin this important work that will ensure every child in Hartford’s Promise Zone has access to the tools and education for a successful career path. In addition, partners involved in the project plan to contribute $36 million in matching funds over the five year period, bringing the total investment in North Hartford to $66 million.

Under the grant, Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health will lead an effort to design, implement, and evaluate the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline, in collaboration with the city of Hartford and additional partners. The pipeline will serve as a comprehensive prenatal through career effort designed to help children in North Hartford reach their full potential by improving academic outcomes, developmental trajectories, long-term well-being, and quality of life.

"Hartford’s Promise Zone grant will provide much support to our work with children and families receiving pediatric primary care services at our Hartford Family Health and Wellness Center," says Melissa Mendez, LCSW, IMH-E, director of early childhood programs at Wheeler. "This includes hundreds of children ages 0-5 who are currently being served at our 43 Woodland Street site. These children, and their families, receive comprehensive screening, linkage to referrals, and consultation support when needed through Wheeler’s implementation of the Healthy Steps primary pediatric care model."

Healthy Steps is an evidence-based pediatric primary care model, involves a Healthy Steps Specialist working full-time and onsite with the pediatricians, APRNs, and medical team to ensure that families with young children receive the supports and services that they need. Wheeler’s Healthy Steps Specialist, Heidi Levitz, MFT, is a key support person for the children and families, linking them to services that are available in the community.

"Our work can now expand with partners to better identify and fill the service gaps in the target communities on the North End and to also better respond to the unique needs of very young children and their families living in these communities," Mendez says. "We are excited to work with partners to improve the systems of care for young children in the identified communities in ways that buffer and mitigate the impact of environmental stress and adversity.  We all know that the earlier we can build strong supports for children, the better for their health, their growth and development."

“We are honored to receive this funding from the Promise Neighborhoods program,” said James E. Shmerling, DHA, FACHE, president and chief executive officer of Connecticut Children’s. “As a critical community resource, Connecticut Children’s is committed to enhancing the well-being of children in Hartford beyond the medical care we provide. This is a great opportunity to work with our community partners to make a tremendous difference in the lives of Hartford children and strengthen our community.”

The Promise Neighborhoods Program focuses on significantly improving the academic and developmental outcomes of children living in some of the most economically challenged communities across the country. It strives to ensure school readiness, high school graduation, and family access to high-quality community-based services.

“We are so grateful for the confidence expressed by the U.S. Department of Education in our capacity to design and advance the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline,” said Paul H. Dworkin, MD, Connecticut Children’s executive vice president for community child health and director of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health. “Through our work with the city of Hartford and many community partners, we will address families’ priorities and needs and enable them to promote their children's optimal health, development, and well-being. Our collective focus on strengthening families, developmental promotion, and community system building will all contribute to achieving our ambitious goals."

In applying for the grant, Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health organized key partners in a months-long effort to develop the cross-sector proposal. The Office is nationally recognized for its work in collaborating with partners across sectors to build stronger child serving systems and strengthen families to support their children’s optimal well-being.

This grant, including the required local matching funds, represents a public-private partnership in which 45% of the $66 million total investment over five years will come from the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, 26% of the $66 million total investment ($17 million) will come from non-governmental sources.

“This massive federal commitment will help break vicious cycles— of poverty, violence and isolation— opening instead a virtuous cycle of opportunity,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “The $30 million investment is vital in this historic scope and scale, because zip code shouldn’t dictate destiny. The barriers to upward mobility, felt across generations, must be broken. Hartford’s North End needs and deserves exactly these kinds of services to gain good jobs, better housing and health care, and much more.”

In addition to Wheeler, Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health will work with nearly twenty community partners in designing and implementing the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline.

“We are thrilled at the opportunity to again partner alongside Connecticut Children’s, the City of Hartford, Hartford Public Schools, and the many other community organizations to invest in the well-being of children and families of North Hartford,” said Paula S. Gilberto, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. “The ‘cradle to career’ pipeline aligns with our vision of a community where opportunities are available for children to succeed in school and for families to achieve financial security. Most important, families are co-creators of this project, ensuring its value to them. I join my colleagues and partners in congratulating Connecticut Children’s for its leadership and the entire community team in seeing the promise of local families and the value of collaboration.”


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