Published in the CT Mirror

by Maryam Elahi

The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut welcomes the “119K Commission,” the newly established initiative by the CT Conference of Municipalities (CCM).

We hope it will succeed to coalesce public support thanks to the enthusiastic leadership of Joe DeLong (full disclosure — a Foundation trustee) and a membership of municipal leaders. They understand the heavy cost to our communities of disconnected and at-risk youth (approximated to be 119,000), who are dropping out of school and are unemployed. Bringing together thoughtful, committed people and the state can focus resources, policies and goodwill towards turning around the crisis that is afflicting our youth.

We are grateful to Dalio Education for shining a light on this crucial issue. They have partnered with CCM to identify solutions that can reverse this dangerous trend in the richest (per capita) state in the nation. As Dalio’s leadership states, there is both a moral obligation and economic urgency to address this malady.

[RELATED: CCM and Dalio take next step on disaffected young people in CT]

The question is — can the problem of disaffected and at-risk youth be addressed in isolation? And can solutions be successfully implemented statewide without the state’s participation in this process? We believe that the role of the state is imperative to ensuring success. These are statewide issues and are best addressed in collaboration with the state’s commitment of resources and policies.

The Community Foundation has been deeply committed to programs that uplift, serve and empower children and youth since its establishment in 1983. In more recent years, we started specific initiatives focused on children and youth — including an Eastern Connecticut mentoring collaborative working closely with the Governor’s Prevention Partnership and local nonprofits; a cradle-to-career effort together with New London Public Schools and local nonprofits; an advocacy campaign with some 50 or so nonprofits and donors to end child poverty; and an endowment focused on raising funding to support programs for underserved children and youth. In 2023, our grantmaking directed towards youth in Eastern Connecticut totaled over $2.4 million, including nearly 300 scholarship awards.

As we review the in-depth study on this topic produced by Dalio Education and the Boston Consulting Group, we notice two areas deserving greater attention. First, the recommendations presented by the study are all interventions directed at currently disaffected youth and do not emphasize measures that could be put into place much earlier in childhood. Investing in children’s well-being is likely to be the best preventative approach to minimizing youth struggles. Second, there seems to be no consideration of the state’s role in implementing solutions.

[RELATED: Report: About 19% of CT youth ‘disconnected’ or ‘at risk’ in 2021-22]

To bring about changes that are deep and lasting, one must consider the entirety of factors contributing to family economic security and mental stability: health, housing, transportation, food security and access to essential social services.

Youth don’t exist in a vacuum. To ensure that our youth are not at-risk and disconnected, we need to concomitantly support care for our children. We know that when children and their families have basic services available to them, starting with pregnancy, there is a much greater likelihood that they will thrive. We assume that the 119K Commission will review the recent reports and recommendations of United Way’s Alice report and CT Voices for Children in identifying solutions that can address root causes.

We are hopeful that with the leadership and commitment of CCM and all the people they are bringing to the table at planned convenings, the 119K Commission can identify creative and meaningful solutions. This is an opportunity before us to create thriving communities in Connecticut. We are all in!

Our neighboring state of Massachusetts is embarking on transformative change. Under the leadership of Gov. Maura Healey, close to a billion dollars is proposed in the 2024 and 2025 budgets specifically to invest in early childhood care and education and support for youth. Connecticut can do it as well by prioritizing and investing in our future generation. It requires vision, commitment and inclusion of all who care.

Maryam Elahi is President & CEO of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.