Narrowing the Opportunity Gap

On July 21, 2016, the Foundation hosted an evening at The Bushnell with Dr. Robert Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

The event brought together more than 500 residents and 80 funders from across the state to explore how gaps in income, education and opportunity affects children and families, how it impacts our communities, and how we can work together to close it.


Across Connecticut’s cities and suburbs, the increasing segregation between classes has impeded socio-economic mobility. More and more, there is a widening gap between families with less education and resources, and those with the means to access them. This opportunity gap threatens not only the well-being of our children, but the health and vibrancy of our communities and our state.

The opportunity gap is even more acute for African-American and other minority children.  People often talk about inequality in terms of income, but some families are missing much more than material wealth. They lack the critical opportunities—in the form of experiences and relationships—that would help them overcome hardships and advance.

“The event with Dr. Putnam was very important to the Foundation because the opportunity gap underlies so many of our region’s interconnected issues and points the way to potential collaborative solutions,” shared Nancy Benben, vice president for communications and marketing. “We made it a free and open event so that any resident who was interested in understanding the problem and contributing to change, in large or small ways, could be a part of the conversation.”

“As a lifelong educator, I believe that ‘hope starts here’ at the doors to our schools,” explained Nathan Quesnel, Superintendent of East Hartford Public Schools. “Leaving The Bushnell, I felt inspired, challenged and encouraged to continue the fight for equity and opportunity for my nearly 7,000 East Hartford kids. While the road ahead is, of course, filled with the challenges that change brings, this is the right work, this is the necessary work, and this is the right time!”

The Hartford Foundation is now on the steering committee of the Community Foundation Opportunity Network, a national leadership and action network of over 40 community foundations from every region in the U.S.

The Opportunity Network aims to harness the collective efforts of community foundations across America to deepen awareness of the opportunity gap and build a sustained effort for social change on a national scale.

“Addressing the opportunity gap fully aligns with the Hartford Foundation’s mission to put philanthropy into action, and with our strategies to support family-school-community partnerships and the Career Pathways Initiative,” said Elysa Gordon, senior advisor for organizational impact and public policy. “It also shines a light on critical public policy issues for us, such as supporting Connecticut’s high-quality early childhood system and improving coordination and funding among those responsible for learning, family support and workforce readiness.”

Here in Connecticut and collectively across the U.S., the Hartford Foundation is committed to convening our community to close the opportunity gap and break the cycle poverty, once and for all. It will take time, and it will take business and community leaders, policy makers and parents, and all those willing to be mentors and good neighbors to work together, for the sake of all our kids.

Visit theopportunitygap.com to learn more about the issue and how we can individually and collectively contribute to addressing it.

Explore the Approach section of our website to see how addressing the opportunity gap fully aligns with our priority areas and key strategies.