Category: In the News
Seeking Partners’ Input into Plans for Future Service

Achieve Hartford is at the beginning of our strategic visioning and planning process, and we’re at a crossroads. In the coming weeks, we’ll be reaching out to ALL IN! Coalition partners for their input on our future role.

The ALL IN! Coalition action teams that have scaled into full-fledged programs across six communities in partnership with Capital and Manchester community colleges may expand even further, while the Coalition work focused on systems-change in Hartford is approaching five-years old.

In Hartford, with all the players, programs and institutions focusing on post-secondary enrollment and career pathways, it’s time for us to ask the question: What’s our role going forward? In April, we’ll be seeking to interview or survey you, and we would like very much to hear your voice.

  • We have served as the backbone organization to the ALL IN! Coalition’s steering committee, funder advisory committee, the post-secondary supports network and multiple action teams and projects. 
  • We have relished this role over the last four years – driving collaboration, coordination and communication between and among partners and sectors.
  • We seek to learn: 
    • Is there a need for us to play our current role going forward? 
    • Is there another area of systems-change focus for us to address? 
    • Should we expand our direct support to community college students to drive degree completion beyond Hartford County? 
    • Should we merge with another non-profit and seek leaner and more efficient operations?

We need to hear from you. Be on the lookout for a request from us, and know we truly appreciate your voice in helping us answer these tough questions. We hope to continue being a service to you, whether you’re a public-sector, philanthropic, corporate or nonprofit leader. Please help us determine how we can best serve the underserved going forward.

Community Colleges’ Staff Do More Than Teach

The national statistics about who attends community colleges tell part of the story: among students entering college in the fall of 202, 39% of community college students had experienced food insecurity in the past year; 48% of the over 195,000 college students surveyed experience housing  insecurity; and 14% were affected by homelessness, according to the 2021 #RealCollege Survey, by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Overall, 13% had lost a loved one to COVID, with Latinx students more than twice as likely as White students to lose a loved one, the survey found. 

“The pandemic didn’t stop the need [because campus was closed down.] It exacerbated it in a lot of ways,” says T.J. Barber, campus associate dean of student development, Manchester Community College (MCC). The pandemic “highlighted just how critical it is for the College and other institutions to be aware of what is out there to help our students.”

Community colleges offer a host of services to address basic needs, including food pantries, emergency aid and laptop loans. The need just increased during the pandemic, Barber says. While the campus was shut down, Barber and another MCC staff member drove repeatedly to Rentschler Field in East Hartford to get boxes of groceries distributed by Foodshare to give to students, since students didn’t have cars and couldn’t bring the food home by bus without it spoiling during the three-hour trip. 

With classes converting to remote only in March of 2020, students needed laptops and hotspots since many couldn’t afford home internet service or computers. The MCC library loaned out about eight laptops for two-day loans prior to the pandemic, and, when campus closed, the MCC Foundation funded an additional 20 laptops for a semester-long loan, says Debbie Herman, director of library and educational technology, MCC. Through CARES Act funds, the college purchased 60 more laptops to lend out through the Library, as well as 18 hotspots, she says. 

“The library has always been a haven for students who need a quiet place to study or a printer or computer,” she says. “When we had to close down in March 2020, it was devastating not to be able to provide students with that space.”

Some students found themselves out of work when the pandemic hit, so they were able to get emergency funds to pay an abnormally high utility bill or for an unexpected car repair, food assistance, and, when campus reopened, help completing applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Barber says. According to the #RealCollege Survey, more than half of respondents reported having at least moderate anxiety, and staff like Barber and his team try to encourage students to take advantage of the mental health counseling and academic support services.  

This is why, Barber says, he never turns down a donation or an offer to volunteer: The “Career Clothing Closet” holds a lot more than business attire, since students’ basic needs must be met to be ready to learn. It also includes baby clothes, sweatpants, pots, pans, dishes and furniture.

HPS Seniors Share Their Stories

Three seniors in the Hartford Public Schools system from different countries of origin and family circumstances share at least three qualities – having grown up feeling loved, appreciation for their teachers and ambition for their futures. They’re students at Hope Academy, an alternative high school inside the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford for 11th and 12th graders who need support to stay on track for graduation and benefit from smaller classes taught by HPS teachers. These students agreed to share their stories to give a window into their lives to the adults who work to help students like them reach their potential.

When Patrick Munoz moved to Hartford with his mother, step-father and brothers as a first-grader from Puerto Rico, he didn’t speak English, but felt fluent by second grade. Now 19, he’s grateful to his mother for helping him transfer to the smaller, more personal high school when he was a sophomore. 

While a student at Hartford High, “I was slacking off a lot, not doing what I needed to do,” says Munoz. He likes the quieter classrooms and a schedule that allows him to work weeknight shifts at a store near Westfarms. He gives his mom, who works as a store manager for Michaels crafts, money for gas to drive him to work and for Internet service, he says. His mother and step-father divorced when he was in eighth grade, but he’s still in touch with his step-father. 

Munoz is thinking of going to technical school to learn how to fix electronics, but he’s not so sure about college. “My mom, she tries to influence me to go to college. I’m edgy about it,” he says. In addition to her retail job, his mother has a cake making business and makes jewelry, and tells him she wishes she had gone to college. 


Samira Pena wants to become a veterinarian, and plans to start at Capital Community College after graduating this spring, transfer after two years to Central Connecticut State University, followed by “whatever veterinarian college accepts me,” she says. “Animals have always been my passion” and math and science are her favorite subjects, she says. 

She has lived in Hartford, East Hartford and Florida. Pena, 19, remembers as a child, while living with her mother, going hungry at the end of the month when the food stamps ran out. Her mother is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 10 years, she says, and relies on public assistance. Pena describes her father as a functioning alcoholic who is able to work. She lived with him in Florida from aged 14 to 16, she says, then moved back to Hartford to live with her grandmother. 

Regardless of her parents’ struggles, she says, “I did feel loved no matter what.” Her parents didn’t try to poison her against each other, and her grandmother cared for her when she lived with her. 

Pena works for a cleaning company up to 20 hours a week and says she appreciates the attentive environment at Hope Academy. “I really turned it around when I came here. I love it,” she says. “They give you an opportunity to work at your own pace.” 


Jefar McPherson likes learning and his favorite subjects are science and English. He has several career interests and hasn’t decided yet which one to pursue – going into the Airforce to work on airplane engines or become a pilot, becoming a lawyer because he likes debating or a real estate agent like one of his relatives because “it’s one of the best ways or safest ways to accumulate wealth without having a college degree.”

His parents want him to go to college, he says. His mother cares for elderly people and his father works for the U.S. Postal Service, but neither went to college and they want more for him. His family moved to the area from Jamaica when he was 11. 

McPherson, 19, works at Family Dollar after school until closing, but hopes to soon get a job at Amazon because it pays $3.50 an hour more and is directly on a bus route, he says. Without a car, he says, he has the choice between “wasting money on an Uber or a 40-minute bus ride home” from Downtown Hartford.

As the youngest child and only son, he says, “I probably got loved a little too much. My mom wanted a boy.” 

Contact Us

Achieve Hartford!
1429 Park St., Unit 114
Hartford, CT 06106


(860) 244-3333


[email protected]


Support Us