Charter Oak Cultural Center Honors Overmyer-Velázquez, Scheinberg, Young

When supporters of the Charter Oak Cultural Center come together Monday night to celebrate community-centered achievements, reinvigorate efforts to advance an array of successful programs, and honor three long-serving community leaders, it will be in the midst of a sustained effort to save from imminent collapse the 143-year-old Rose Window, the centerpiece of the historic structure’s former sanctuary.

Charter Oak Cultural Center, a historic landmark and vibrant non-profit multi-cultural arts center, was built as Connecticut’s first synagogue in the mid-19th century.  The building was nearly knocked down after the congregation relocated in the 1970’s, but instead became home to a cultural arts center driven by advancing positive social change.  It is perhaps known best for programs that reach out to the homeless, putting many on the path to education, and a vibrant youth arts program. 

Three individuals will be honored at the annual event: 

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Mark Scheinberg will receive the Vision Award for Jewish Heritage.  He is the founding president of Goodwin College in East Hartford.  In this role, he has provided the leadership and financial support to convert a private career school into a nonprofit, four-year collegiate institution that he calls one for “the undiscovered student”. Goodwin’s innovative programs and services include a Summer Bridge program, concierge services for students, and flexible scheduling including blended and online coursework. The College does its best to accommodate its busy students through services such as a food pantry and diaper bank for those in need, counseling and advising, and academic support.

In recent years, the College has extended its mission by developing a magnet high school on its campus devoted to environmental science – the Connecticut River Academy. A second magnet school, The Goodwin College Early Childhood Magnet School, opened in September 2013, providing pre-kindergarten and kindergarten instruction to children in the Greater Hartford region, free of charge to the families served.

Joe Young will receive the Vision Award for Arts & Education.  He is a nationally recognized African-American cartoonist, filmmaker, producer, writer, and educator, who runs the Hartford Animation & Film Institute (HAFI). He is president of Joe Young Studios, a 17 year old multimedia agency based in Hartford, which provides arts programming to businesses and organizations.

JYS produces community art programs, books, videos, animated projects, graphic art, and conducts workshops in the performing arts.  Young is the creator of the 1990s Scruples comic strip. He is the writer and executive producer of Hartford’s first major homegrown book-to-film project, Diamond Ruff, nationally distributed in 2015 by Cinedigm Entertainment.

Dr. Mark Overmyer-Velázquez will receive the Vision Award for Social Justice.  The son of a Mexican immigrant and a scholar of Chinese religion and philosophy, Dr. Overmyer-Velázquez is Professor of History and Latinx Studies and the 11th Campus Director of the University of Connecticut-Hartford. At UConn Hartford, he works to build bridges between our academic and city communities to support collaborative, engaged learning.

The founding Director of UConn’s El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean & Latin American Studies, he trained at Yale University as a historian of Latin America and U.S. Latinos and has dedicated his research, teaching, and community activism to these intersecting fields. His latest book analyzes the historical experiences of people from Latin America and the Caribbean in their hemispheric and global diasporas. Global Latin(o) Americanos: Transoceanic Diasporas and Regional Migrations, emerges from his work as a Fulbright Scholar examining the history of Peruvian migrants in Chile.


Efforts to save the historic Rose Window, begun at the start of the year, are continuing.  The eight-petaled, flower-shaped window features the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Executive Director Donna Berman told the Hartford Courant earlier this year that the window was slipping out of its frame and was in danger of collapsing.  “It isn’t reinforced enough to hold the weight of the window because of gravity and weather.  It’s buckling out and falling in on itself.”

“Today, the window symbolizes our need for light during dark times, our moral imperative to serve everyone in our community, and as a reminder of the colorful spirit of the arts,” the GoFundMe page states.