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    Saturday, May 25, 2024

    Panel of municipal CEOs aims to assist Connecticut’s at-risk youths

    The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities on Wednesday launched a new commission aimed at marshaling expert resources to assist the troubling number of youths in the state without clear educational or career options.

    Members of CCM’s 119K Commission on At-Risk and Disconnected Youth, including New London Mayor Michael Passero and Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough, are developing recommendations to support the 56,000 at-risk and 63,000 disconnected youths adrift in Connecticut.

    “This is a little different for us,” CCM Executive Director and CEO Joseph DeLong said on Tuesday. “But no has really put their arms around what’s a real crisis right in our backyards and there’s no standard manual to address this problem.”

    The commission’s “119K” moniker references the number of Connecticut young people ― 119,000 ― the group hopes to aid.

    CCM defines “disconnected” youths as those aged 14-26 who are not on-track for gainful employment. Of that group, 51,000 are characterized as moderately disconnected, or high school diploma holders who are not working nor in a post-secondary education program. Another 12,000 in that demographic are not employed, do not possess a high school diploma holder or are incarcerated.

    The “at-risk” group, or those 56,000 high school students at risk of not graduating, includes 28,000 kids deemed “off-track” or do not meet state state credit attainment requirements.

    DeLong said the impetus for the commission was a series of regional “listening tours” hosted by CCM last year and an October report commissioned by the Dalio Education group.

    That “Connecticut’s Unspoken Crisis” report compiled by the Boston Consulting Group ― which will continue working with the commission thanks to a Dalio grant ― took a deep dive into demographics and the various socioeconomic issues associated with the problem.

    The report found "meaningful” pockets of at-risk and disconnected youths in every Connecticut municipality, though most were concentrated in the state’s largest cities and rural towns.

    The commission is slated to meet monthly through October at several cities and town, including Colchester, New London and Hartford, beginning March 26.

    Each three-hour meeting, which will include expert presentations and time for public comment, will focus on a specific cause of youth disconnection, including poverty and homelessness; child welfare and the justice system; school truancy; and systematic education issues.

    By October, commission members are expected to present a strategy plan offering practical ways to get young people refocused on school and work.

    “That’s doesn’t mean the strategy won’t evolve and it’s not a marker that we’ve done everything we need to do. It’s about having more defined actions on how to coordinate the system better,” DeLong said.

    In addition to providing information on the group’s progress, the commission website, 119Kcommission.org, will also allow community members and national experts to weigh in on specific youth issues.

    Marshaling resources

    The commission’s strategy report is expected to be data-driven with measurable goals marked by implementation plans and pragmatic goals. DeLong said some recommendations may be flagged to the General Assembly for review with others hopefully tackled by local non-profits or school boards.

    New London Director of Human Services Jeanne Milstein, who represented Passero at the commission’s Wednesday announcement in Hartford, said the group’s makeup is as crucial as its mission.

    “It’s the first gathering of these municipal leaders which gives them an opportunity to learn from each other,” Milstein said on Tuesday. “They’re the ones living with these issues every day; it’s on their front steps and they’ll be able to identify and direct concrete action steps.”

    Milstein said the youth disconnection issue doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    “A community is only as strong as its most at-risk members,” she said. “And to be successful, a community needs to focus on health, safety, learning and earning.”

    Chesebrough, who has a background in social work, said that while she doesn’t presume to think the commission’s work will “fix everything,” she’s confident that members’ diverse expertise will put a dent in the problem.

    “We do that by bringing together these leaders and then connecting with stakeholders to figure out best practices,” she said. “That could mean highlighting the employment needs at Electric Boat or engaging our superintendents on new school offerings.”

    “There’s no way we can’t do it. Look at me.”

    Josh Brown, co-chairman of the new commission and member of the Stamford-based Domus youth service provider agency, knows firsthand how easy it is for a Connecticut child to fall through the cracks.

    A series of events, including the death of his father when he was 7, meant 14 years of sleeping in cars, in shelters, abandoned apartments and “trap houses,” those abodes where drug-dealing was the rule, not the exception.

    “And mine isn’t an uncommon story,” said Brown, a former retail banking vice-president who works as a job developer. “Imagine going to school in the morning not knowing if you’re going to eat that night or where you’re going to sleep.”

    Brown, 35, said he was able to raise himself up with the help of Domus and other advocacy groups and his own desire to move forward.

    “It takes great ambition to meet those goals,” he said. “I was able to buy a house and pay off that mortgage – I told myself I’d never be homeless again.”

    Brown said he’s optimistic about the 119K commission’s goal of providing practical assistance and direction to the thousands of “other Josh Browns” in the state.

    “They want to engage 60,000 of our state’s at-risk youths and get them back on track, but my goal is to reach 80,000 in five years,” he said. “It’s possible to pay a living wage and educate youths in a state like ours that has so many resources. There’s no way we can’t do it. Look at me.”

    j.penney@theday.com

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