The Hartford Community Coalition began in 2014 in response to the tragic loss of three young people to suicide in one summer. In the face of such tragedy, members of the greater Hartford community stepped forward and created a grassroots organization. The main mission of the Hartford Community Coalition is a simple but powerful intention to create the time and space needed to facilitate community-wide conversations and action. The Coalition has evolved in only two years into a network of partnerships with organizations already present in the community to help community members seeking to create solutions.
The organizational structure, events and partnerships speak to the Coalition’s focus and commitment. Four committees make up the Hartford Community Coalition: Substance Misuse, Treatment & Recovery; Safe & Healthy Environment; Nutrition & Exercise; and Mental Health & Wellness. Members of the community play the most essential role in the open meetings held every month by each of the four committees. This past January the committees came together for an open forum that was dedicated to determining the Coalition’s priorities for the year ahead. Each committee has a calendar and contact information listed on the Hartford Community Coalition’s website hartfordcommunitycoalition.org. The standing invitation to anyone with a concern, opinion or desire to lend a hand underscores the value of community members that is at the heart of the Coalition’s mission.
This past March and April the Coalition organized just such an open forum about poverty and homelessness in Hartford. The panel of community members involved includes participants from The Bugbee Senior Center located White River Junction, VT, and The Family Place, located in Norwich, VT, to help identify where gaps in assistance may occur for individuals, families and even senior adults who might find themselves in a housing crisis. The panel-led meetings facilitate conversations and relationships between community members and those in the community with the professional ability or knowledge to offer advice and strategies to help. Importantly the discussions seek to identify “do-able” action items that the Coalition can then hand over to the appropriate committee for continued attention and effort. Community-identified needs are the only goals and focus areas of the Hartford Community Coalition. One such action item is the Take a Bite out of Hunger summer meals program (in its second year in Hartford), which has served more than 8,000 breakfasts and lunches to children and adults in Hartford.
Students getting involved
Victoria Stevenson is a 17-year-old resident of West Hartford who attended The Ottauquechee School when she was younger. Victoria has been an active student at Hartford High as a member of the student council and Environmental Studies Club. Despite being a busy teenager, Victoria helped organize the Hartford Community Coalition’s first annual block party last year and was involved again this year sounding excited about learning how to coordinate community events:
“I think community is extremely important and even crucial when trying to create change or support systems in any given area, so the idea of having a coalition open to any resident of Hartford seems like a wonderful place to start. The coalition, in my opinion, is going about change and progress in the right way. We have subcommittees so that if you want to help but only with a specific area you can join the subcommittee, along with community forums where we can all join together on certain topics.”
This past spring the coalition organized an open forum that was held at Hartford High School. The open screening of the award winning documentary The Other Side of Cannabis — Negative Effects of Marijuana on Our Youth helped start a discussion between high school students and community members about the drug’s presence in people’s lives. Victoria admits that she’d like to see even more young adults involved with the Hartford Community Coalition saying, “I am understanding to the fact that our lives (teenagers) seem busy but there should always be room for community. Our community is what we are built from, and we are the ones coming up to take the torch, leading into new, hopefully better changes for all community members. When I speak at a meeting I am heard…I appreciate the fact that I am respected even though I am a teen; and they feel comfortable giving me responsibilities.”
Hopefully the Hartford Community Coalition is a name you’ve seen out and about somewhere in the Hartford villages despite still being such a new organization. The second annual block party of Hartford took place in June. Victoria says it’s a great way to celebrate community and the coalition’s mission even if you haven’t been involved yourself. Visit the website at hartfordcommunitycoalition.org, or just keep your eyes open around the villages to find out more information about the work being done by the coalition.