Community Foundation meeting focuses on the science of helping kids

New London — "We envision an America in which a legacy of economic security and educational success passes from one generation to the next."

This is the vision of the Aspen Institute, and Janice Gruendel feels it aligns with the goals of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.

Gruendel is a senior fellow at the Institute for Child Success, a fellow at the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale, and a former employee of five Connecticut gubernatorial administrations.

And on Wednesday evening, she was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, addressing more than 100 guests at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.

Gruendel gave a presentation titled "From Toxic Stress to Health and Hope: Leading for Change," a talk focused on the interplay between the science of brain development and child outcomes.

The first question she posed was, "How can the science of brain development help us understand challenges?"

She played a short video that discussed how adverse childhood experiences — such as emotional abuse, having a parent in prison or growing up in a household of addiction — increase the likelihood of heart disease, alcohol abuse and premature death.

"I'm a truth-teller, so if you get tired of me, just throw your shoe," Gruendel had joked about the harsh realities she detailed.

But on an optimistic note, she questioned, "What can we do that is better than the best we've done so far?"

Her answer was to listen with humility, support agencies that commit to using a neuroscience-informed approach, invest in mindfulness and focus on social-emotional learning.

"Now that we know that, we can build hope, we can build health, we can build resilience, but only if we do it together," Gruendel said.

Togetherness is a strong focus for the Community Foundation, in its 34th year.

"If we have the capacity to put ourselves in our neighbors' shoes, we understand that a community thrives only when there is kindness, justice, equity and inclusion," said Maryam Elahi, president of the Community Foundation.

She spoke of the Community Foundation's efforts the past year to hold community conversations in safe spaces, address the achievement gap and protect natural habitats.

The 2016 annual report of the Community Foundation, which serves 42 municipalities, stated that it received $9.2 million in contributions last year and established 27 new funds, bringing the total to 470.

Incoming board of trustees Chairman Steve Larcen said the Community Foundation has received more than $8.5 million in donations so far this year.

To remind supporters of the value of arts and culture, the meeting began with a two-song performance from the Eighth Notes, a group of 10 ISAAC eighth-graders singing in front of a backdrop of splatter-paint art.

e.moser@theday.com

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