Catalyst Endowment Fund Continues Exploration of “Breaking the Cycle: Juvenile Justice”

Approximately 90 members and guests attended the second meeting of the 2019 Catalyst Endowment Fund at Goodwin College to continue the group’s exploration of this year’s theme, “Breaking the Cycle: Juvenile Justice.” 

About 25 early guests were treated to a tour of Goodwin College and an overview of the history and programming of the college, not to mention the amazing views overlooking the Connecticut River.  Goodwin College President and Founder Mark Scheinberg also provided welcoming remarks to the entire group and expressed his appreciation for Catalyst’s efforts to address challenges faced by youth in the juvenile justice system. Kathleen Costello, Catalyst Endowment Fund steering committee chair, offered a brief review of the March Catalyst meeting and shared a membership update; because of the generosity of donors, the Catalyst Endowment Fund now has a balance of over $1.5 million, allowing the members to recommend up to $58,000 in grants this year.  Hartford Foundation Senior Community Investments Officer Megan Burke discussed that after the first meeting on Juvenile Justice, many Catalyst members wanted to hear directly from residents who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system, and wanted to know what their experiences have been like.  What support and opportunities helped them the most and what support would they like to have had? She shared that the evening’s speakers are the real experts and will be able to answer these questions based on what they have lived.

Burke encouraged the audience to consider a framework of how Catalyst might group potential interventions or programs to target Catalyst’s grantmaking. Potential interventions include:

  • Prevention programs which include a large number of programs that target at-risk youth, ranging from recreational and youth development programs, interventions to address basic human needs such as food or housing, as well as behavioral health and educational supports
  • Diversion programs such as a juvenile review board that offer an alternative to incarceration for first-time misdemeanor offenders age 17 and younger, often incorporating restorative justice practices and connecting these offenders with a range of optional or required social supports (many of which overlap with prevention programs)
  • Incarceration, a practice that has been significantly reduced since reforms were introduced,but there are still detention centers where juvenile offenders are held
  • Reentry, where previously incarcerated juveniles are returning to their communities and need support services for themselves and their families

Iran Nazario, Founder and CEO of Peace Center of Connecticut, was the next speaker and the moderator of the panel discussion featuring three young community members with experience in the juvenile justice system. Nazario shared his own experience as a child growing up in a household and community filled with violence, fear and instability. He discussed how these experiences resulted in his developing tendencies to resort to violence when dealing with conflicts, which ultimately led to his being in and out of the juvenile justice and criminal justice system several times. Nazario discussed the fact that he never received access to counseling or mental health services until he was in his late 20s. He eventually dedicated his life to working toward peace and support youth development to help young people avoid some of the pitfalls that affected his own life.

Nazario then focused the group’s attention on to the three “Voices of Experience” panelists: Rayshawn, Kamari and Vanessa. Each of these young people shared their own experiences, including a lack of positive adult influences and mentors, issues related to family substance abuse, poverty, housing instability and other challenges, and how these created significant obstacles for themselves and their families. Each one shared how important it has been for each of them to have a support system made up of caring adults, friends and family members as positive influences in their lives. They also shared examples of positive programs and interventions that have positively impacted their lives.

Members of Catalyst had an opportunity to pose questions to the panelists largely focused on what the young people felt could be done to better support youth. Among the ideas discussed was the need to have more programs embedded in schools, including programs for younger children who could learn from their older peers. The need for a more coordinated system of services including health, housing, food, educational enrichment, arts and recreation would better ensure that all of the needs of youth and their families and caregivers are met.

All members of the Catalyst Endowment Fund are invited to attend the next meeting of the Steering Committee at the Hartford Foundation on July 16 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. to review and discuss the Juvenile Justice request for proposals. Catalyst members are also invited to attend a site visit at the Hartford Reentry Welcome Center on September 25 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. The Catalyst Endowment Fund’s grant decision meeting will take place on October 16.


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