When Sonsearae Sawyer first came to the Rambuh Family Center on Spring Street in Hartford’s North End, all she wanted was a class to help her earn a GED. She had been working two jobs and was still struggling to make ends meet, so she knew more education and training were keys to getting ahead. When Sonsearae spoke to the staff at Rambuh she was told about a new program called the National External Diploma Program (NEDP). Sonsearae soon became a member of the program’s first graduating class and then began tutoring other students, providing them with the encouragement they needed to complete the program.
Now, Sonsearae is a parent leader at Rambuh, serving as a member of its advisory council. Most recently she served as one of the coordinators of an early literacy project which has distributed over 3,000 books to Family Center families. Her drive hasn’t stopped there; after assisting someone close to her through the recovery process, Sonsearae is now pursuing her dream of obtaining a college degree, specifically in addiction recovery counseling.
The Hartford Foundation recognizes the value of offering services like those that were so helpful to Sonseareae to other families in our communities. In July, the Foundation awarded Hartford’s six Brighter Future Family Centers $570,000 to continue the support that has been so beneficial to residents like Sonsearae.
The Hartford Foundation has supported Brighter Futures Family Centers since 1995. Family Centers are designed to meet neighborhood families’ specific needs and interests, and foster young children’s success in school and beyond in a nurturing and supportive environment. Centers are located in Asylum Hill, Behind the Rocks, Blue Hills, Frog Hollow, Clay Arsenal and Parkville neighborhoods. Numerous community and state organizations provide programs in partnership with the Family Centers, increasing the range and accessibility of services for Hartford families.
Hartford’s neighborhood-based Brighter Future Family Centers have strong institutional support and engagement of three community agencies -- Catholic Charities, Family Life Education and the Village for Families and Children. These organizations provide programs, services and a caring community to support parents and families in these vital roles. Last year, these family centers served more than 1,500 Hartford families.
The $570,000 in grants from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving will help to ensure that Brighter Futures Family Centers have the resources they need to enhance opportunities for all Hartford children to learn and thrive. With their focus on supporting families and creating a broader system of services for young children and families, Brighter Futures Family Centers are a key component to the Foundation’s effort to ensure that all of our region’s children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and prepared to succeed when they graduate from high school.
“Hartford’s Family Centers serve as community hubs,” said Richard Sussman, the Hartford Foundation’s director of early childhood investments. “They are places where families can stay connected long after immediate crises or services have been delivered. The Centers emphasize family development and underscore the vital role families play as their children’s first teachers. They also serve as a place for innovation and delivery of new programs, services and supports being developed by agencies and state and local government.”
Sussman also highlighted the fact that Family Centers are unique because they offer community services that enable local residents to learn new life skills. For example, a group of parents received training to run a “Cooking Matters” cooking and nutrition program. The parents eventually took over all planning, coordination and instruction of the program for other neighborhood residents.
The groundbreaking approach of the Brighter Futures Centers in Hartford is taking place in other communities in Connecticut, as well as beyond our state’s borders. Two centers in Waterbury and New Haven follow this model, as do centers in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Family Center has even contracted with Hartford Family Center parent leaders to assist them in putting the necessary family support and leadership structures in place.
“Family Centers are places people can go to where the staff and families understand what you’re dealing with,” said Sonsearae. “Whatever you need, they have it. They help young parents, especially. If you weren’t taught what it means to be a good parent, you won’t know what to instill in a young child. It helps them understand what it takes to raise a child. I wish we had more of them in the City. If we had more, children would do better in school, they’d have fewer problems and families would be stronger.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated ninety years of grantmaking in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $630 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.
Video: Cooking Matters Class at El Centro Family Center
Video: The Fatherhood Program at Parker Memorial Family Center
Video: The Parkville Family Center leads a community effort to revitalize George Day Park