The Dalio Foundation names COMPASS Youth Collaborative a founding member of the Connecticut Opportunity Project, an initiative to unleash the untapped potential of youth.
Part 1: The Power of One
At the age of thirteen, Angel Cotto returned to Hartford.
His homecoming was an achievement unto itself, an overcoming of more challenges than most experience in a lifetime.
He and his siblings moved four times during his childhood. Staying one step ahead of struggle meant stints living in Florida, Indiana, and Puerto Rico.
At one point, it all got to be too much. His mother wanted a better life for her children, she explained, at least until she could provide one on her own.
Angel remembers these periods of separation as particularly difficult. He missed a lot of school, but found respite when he could in the local libraries. At every opportunity, he and his younger brother and sister read until the lights flickered for closing time; when the librarians gently sent them on their way.
As his mom got back on her feet, she called them back to Hartford. It was a place he remembered and a place he dreamed about; it was a reunion he longed for. It also brought with it a new milestone – high school – and a chance to shape his future.
Angel enrolled as a freshman in a high school downtown. A security guard suggested he join COMPASS Peacebuilders as a way to make friends. Angel felt unsure. He didn’t necessarily identify with the kids in the program, but he instantly identified with Will McClendon, one of the COMPASS Peacebuilders.
In Will, he saw someone who successfully navigated similar circumstances. It was hard to ignore Will’s enthusiasm or his constant encouragement. Angel joined the Peacebuilders life-skills class. He quickly flourished, became a youth leader, and won a student research position at a local research institute.
Stories like Angel’s are a hallmark of the COMPASS Peacebuilders program, an innovative model for reaching in-risk youth and building peace within the community. Youth receive individualized case management and attend life-skills classes. The COMPASS Peacebuilders staff form strong and lasting bonds because they are credible mentors: they reside within the community, are on-call 24/7, and stay with their mentees for up to three years.
To the youth they serve, the COMPASS Peacebuilders are a lifeline. To Angel, this program is much more than all that. To join Peacebuilders, he says, is to gain a family.
As Angel found his footing in Hartford, a woman named Barbara Dalio began volunteering at an alternative school in Norwalk, Connecticut. As a co-founder and director of her family’s foundation, Barbara felt a particular affinity for causes that affected children, and developed a strong passion for supporting public education in her family’s home state of Connecticut.
What she found in volunteering at the school was both inspiring and deeply confounding. She witnessed the dedication of teachers and school leaders working hard to support their students with love and compassion. She experienced the joy of becoming part of the school’s community. She saw the inherent potential in every student, and the efforts they made to pursue their passions and goals. And yet, she often worried about their futures. For those that didn’t attain a diploma, due to a variety of social pressures and barriers, what would become of them? What opportunities would they have to achieve their dreams?
She also worried about the broader societal implications. The situation of the school’s students could hardly be considered an isolated struggle, but rather a microcosm of struggle, one that plays out in communities across the country. As she drove each week to Norwalk, Barbara wondered just how big the problem in Connecticut was.
Part 2: The Forgotten Half
Education emerges as an issue in every election cycle, and almost every modern president and governor takes a run at trying to fix it – naming an education czar, implementing policies, building a narrative to generate a shared sense of urgency, and funneling tax dollars and using the court system, when necessary, to work toward educational equity.
Wedged between the tectonic plates of federal and state power, nonprofit and philanthropic resources have grown exponentially, aimed at narrowing the achievement gap, leveling the opportunity gap, tempering the rising inequity, and addressing what has become the critical civil rights issue of our time. Perhaps no one embodies this dynamic quite like Dr. Harold Howe II.
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson hired Howe to engineer the desegregation of America’s schools.