State Office of Early Childhood Welcomes Bye with $8.5 Million from Feds

The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) has announced what amounts to a welcome gift for its incoming leader, former State Senator Beth Bye, named by Gov. Lamont two weeks ago to head the state agency.  Just days ahead of Lamont’s inauguration, OEC said it had been awarded an $8,591,087 federal grant - funds intended to enable the state to design and launch better, more cost-effective systems serving families with young children. The most anticipated federal early childhood initiative in years, according to OEC officials, the new Preschool Development Grant program was highly competitive. Connecticut is a national leader among states in both grant size and per capita funding, officials indicated. 

“This new grant will allow Connecticut to build on our nation-leading efforts, giving OEC new resources to work across agencies and increase impact for children and families,” former Gov. Dannel Malloy said as the grant was announced, in the final days of his administration. Connecticut was selected to receive one of the nation’s largest awards by the two federal agencies administering the grant, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. Among the largest state recipients, no state received more funding per target family than Connecticut.

Bye will begin serving as the Commissioner-designate later this month. Her nomination will be sent to the General Assembly for confirmation.  Earlier in her career, Bye was director of the University of Saint Joseph School for Young Children and Trinity College Community Child Center preschools, and was early childhood director at the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), where she supervised the birth to three program for CREC, and also helped to open two early childhood magnet schools.  She was later elected to the Board of Education in West Hartford, then to the State House and State Senate.  Reelected last fall, she did not take the oath of office last week in order to accept Lamont’s offer to lead the agency.

“Beth Bye has devoted her entire professional career to helping to build a more progressive and equitable early childhood system in which all children, regardless of their parent’s socioeconomic status, can grow, learn and develop,” said Lamont. “It’s clear that the formative early childhood years are key to providing children a solid educational base and platform, and I know Beth is the best person to take helm of this critical agency.”

Her soon-to-be-predecessor, David Wilkinson, said “Connecticut punched well above its weight on this grant. That’s because its goals are in our DNA. OEC’s enabling legislation calls on us to be data driven, to be outcomes accountable, and to support the whole family by working across government silos. We’ve been delivering on that mission, but no agency can do those things alone. What’s exciting here is that these resources will allow the next administration to build a smart, collaborative infrastructure across agencies – one that better supports young children and families, reducing redundancies and focusing on shared goals for family success.”

Unlike a previous iteration of this federal grant program – which focused on expanding preschool for four year-olds – the new grant focuses on child success from to zero to five, with an emphasis on infants and toddlers. Further, officials said, it calls on states to look beyond the classroom to broader measures of child and family success, including mental and physical health, family stability, and parental employment. Because such considerations involve multiple agencies, it calls on states to advance a cross-system data and performance infrastructure, asking them to cost-effectively implement new solutions with an emphasis on measurable outcomes.

With this new grant, federal authorities call on states to improve measurable outcomes for children and families and to more efficiently use federal and state resources. The grant program asks states to do this by planning and building more coordinated systems, deploying resources to:

  • Better link families to the full range of services they need, aligning and improving coordination among existing agencies and programs while blending and braiding funds for better efficiencies
  • Advance an infrastructure for data sharing across the silos of government to better support families
  • Design and implement a performance management approach focused on measurable child and family outcomes
  • Develop and implement evidence-based practices to cost effectively improve child and family outcomes
  • Investing in the cross agency, digital infrastructure to support all of the above

Established in 2014 with bi-partisan support and at the urging of Gov. Malloy, Sen. Bye and colleagues, the  Connecticut  Office  of  Early  Childhood  advances  a  family-centered  approach  to support young children  and families. Integrating early childhood programming formerly administered by five separate state agencies, OEC serves children each year through programs including child care, preschool, home visiting, health and safety assurance, early intervention and parenting supports.

Credit Union Branch Inside High School Encourages Financial Literacy

Getting banking business done – or being introduced to an array of personal financial services for the first time – has become easier than ever for students attending Rocky Hill High School.  That’s because they don’t even need to leave the confines of high school to visit a Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union branch – it’s just steps away from their school cafeteria. Credit union branches located inside high schools are not common.  In fact, this might be the first of its kind in Connecticut. The branch is a new step for the credit union and focuses on preparing students for their financial future. It features tablets, an ATM, and (coming soon) a self-service kiosk to be used by students and faculty for transactions such as account transfers, loan payments, and check and cash deposits or withdrawals.

Nutmeg State FCU President and CEO John Holt says his enthusiasm and the support from Rocky Hill High Schools administrators and teachers is matched by the student response.

“We want to give students first-hand knowledge and experience,” Holt explains, “to help them better understand banking and prepare them for smart decision-making in the future.”

The staff includes three Rocky Hill High School students who are specially trained not only in technology but in terminology, so they can pass along that combination of know-how and understanding to their peers. For many, understanding the differences between a credit union and a bank is an unexpected first lesson. And students are often intrigued by the credit union structure, including that it is a non-profit institution which allows them to become members (and therefore part owners of the credit union).

If the initial weeks are any indication, there is a receptive audience of students, very supportive teachers and administrators, and parents looking on approvingly from the sidelines. More than 100 accounts have been opened at the branch in the first few months of operation, and there have been many more conversations providing insight for high school students into the products and services a financial institution offers – plus some tips on how to manage money effectively.

“The need for financial literacy education has never been greater,” said Jeremy Race, President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, an organization with a strong classroom presence focused on financial education and entrepreneurship. “According to a recent Forbes article, 44% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency and 33% of adults have $0 saved for retirement.  This is staggering evidence that clearly demonstrates the critical need for young people to learn financial responsibility and financial ‘smarts’ at a young age.”

Because the technology is intuitive for most students, their transaction time can be used to talk about subjects they may be less familiar with – such as balancing a checkbook, how debit cards and account balances relate to each other, loans and interest rates, and what a credit score is all about.  Not the typical teen conversation, but Holt indicates that students have been quite interested in learning more.

“The younger generation has a passion for community,” Holt has observed, “and they see the practical value. This has really opened their eyes.”

Some of the lessons are already being integrated into the school’s business classes – which seem “real” with a financial institution’s branch office just down the hall.  The branch is open during lunch periods, study halls, and other times convenient to students, teachers and staff, without being a distraction from more traditional school curricula.

Outgoing Connecticut State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, a longstanding proponent of financial literacy, has stressed that “Financial education is important during all stages of life, because economic opportunity can be a catalyst for change and enduring success,” adding that “information and training can help them build a better future.”

With the program off to a solid start, Holt said that Nutmeg State FCU would be interested in a similar initiative in another high school near one of their 11 credit union branches in Connecticut. They are headquartered in Rocky Hill, having been chartered in 1936. In addition to Rocky Hill, they’re located in Manchester, New Britain, Hartford, Glastonbury, West Hartford, Cromwell, Orange, Stratford, Milford and North Haven.

The Connecticut-based credit union also reaches out to local communities in other distinctive ways. In Milford and North Haven, they have added “DMV Express” services in conjunction with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and three locations are within retail stores – the Walmart in Cromwell, and the ShopRite supermarkets in Stratford and Orange. To learn more about Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, visit www.nutmegstatefcu.org.

Photos:  (Top right) - Rocky Hill High School Student Alisha Chhabra conveniently accesses the new Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union branch at her school.  (Midde left) - Rocky Hill High School recently celebrated the opening of its first on-site Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union branch. From left: Chuck Zettergren Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Mark Zito Superintendent, Mike Petti Vice Chairman, John Holt President & CEO, Ben Lukens Student, Alisha Chhabra Student, Michael Patano Student, Muhammed Bilal Student, Cynthia Latina Business Education Teacher, Timothy Bifolck Business Education Teacher, Mario Almeida Principal. (Bottom right) Nutmeg State FCU President and CEO John Holt.

Connecticut Ranks Third in U.S. in Preventing Youth Homelessness; Grant to Support Efforts

Washington, Massachusetts, and Connecticut are the most successful states at preventing youth homelessness, with Connecticut ranking third in the nation, according to the 2018 State Index on Youth Homelessness.  The report, by the True Colors Fund in partnership with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, analyzed 61 metrics in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Homelessness is defined as experiences of sleeping in places not meant for living, staying in shelters, or temporarily staying with others while lacking a safe and stable alternative living arrangement. Alabama, South Carolina, Wyoming, and Arkansas were the least successful states at preventing youth homelessness.

In recent weeks, it was announced that Connecticut will use $6.5 million in federal grants to provide housing opportunities for homeless youth, building on its successful track-record. The grants will fund new, innovative housing assistance programs for young adults as part of a coordinated housing continuum that assures those in need can quickly obtain permanent housing and necessary supports, according to state officials.

The grants were allocated as part of a competitive process through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) new Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP). To date, Connecticut has been awarded the largest grant of any jurisdiction in the country.

Building off the state’s nationally recognized progress in ending homelessness under the Malloy administration – which includes being the first state in the nation certified for ending chronic veteran homelessness, being one of only three states certified for ending general veteran homelessness, and matching all chronically homelessness individuals to housing – the state has set a goal of ending both youth and family homelessness by the end of 2020.

Speaking last week before a legislative working group, Gov. Malloy said “Nothing I suspect is more shattering as a child than to find oneself homeless – or even as a young adult – so I’m particularly happy over this past year that we’ve been able to fund a number of units designed specifically to meet the needs of younger homeless individuals.”

Overall, at the start of the year, homelessness in Connecticut was at a record low, according to a report from The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.  It found that homelessness in the state has decreased for a fifth consecutive year and was at its lowest level to date. The report found that, as of Jan. 2018, roughly 3,300 people were homeless in Connecticut.  The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness states that overall homelessness in the state is down 25 percent from 2007.

Since 2011, the state Department of Housing and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority have created, rehabilitated, or committed funding for nearly 25,000 units of housing – approximately 22,000 of which are affordable to low and moderate income individuals and families, officials point out. This represents a state investment of more than $1.42 billion, which has been matched by over $2.45 billion from other financial sources, including the private sector.

 

Marijuana Sales Begin Tuesday in MA; CT Expected to Consider Legalization in 2019

Massachusetts begins the sale of recreational marijuana on Tuesday, in Northampton and Leicester, as Connecticut looks ahead to a new Governor and new legislature, taking office in six weeks, with the addition of recreational sales on the agenda to complement a thriving medical marijuana program. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.  The District of Columbia and 10 states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to Governing magazine.  The Massachusetts law was approved two years ago, but retail sales have not begun - until this week.

Governor-elect Ned Lamont told Connecticut Public Radio listeners, just a few days prior to his election, that “I think legalizing marijuana is an idea whose time has come…and I’m gonna push it in the first year” of the new administration.  He added that “maybe we should tax this, regulate it in a serious way, put some of that money toward opioid treatment.”

Most recently, Michigan voters approved a ballot measure permitting adults age 21 and over to purchase and possess recreational-use marijuana. Vermont became the first state earlier this year to legalize marijuana for recreational use through the legislative process, rather than via a ballot measure. Vermont's law allows for adults age 21 and over to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis. However, it does not permit the sale of nonmedical cannabis. Some other state laws similarly decriminalized marijuana, but did not initially legalize retail sales.

The Connecticut General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee agreed last week that chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders is eligible for treatment with the drug, adding that to the list of approved conditions.  There are now 31 conditions that have been approved for adults and eight for patients under 18 that can be treated with medical marijuana. Minors can be treated for eight conditions.

There are currently 29,543 patients in Connecticut's medical marijuana program and 1,000 certifying physicians, according to published reports. In recent months, DCP has launched a database listing medical marijuana brands registered with the state and added eight new conditions to the program. The eight new conditions for adults added this summer include: Spasticity, or neuropathic pain associated with fibromyalgia; Severe rheumatoid arthritis; Postherpetic neuralgia; Hydrocephalus with intractable headache;  Intractable headache syndromes; Neuropathic facial pain; Muscular dystrophy; and Osteogenesis imperfecta.

Connecticut’s nine dispensaries and four growers are reportedly discussing adding more storefronts and growers in light of an increasing patient count.

Last month, Rhode Island’s Department of Health this week approved medical marijuana use for people who suffer from some severe manifestations of autism, most of whom are children.  But before doctors can recommend marijuana, the health department has implemented several safeguards "to ensure that patients are being treated safely." Seven other states have made autism a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, according to advocacy group #cannabis4autism: Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

At the University of Connecticut, Professor Gerald Berkowitz will teach students about marijuana growing, a burgeoning industry as more states legalize cannabis use for medical and/or recreational purposes. The UConn class — called "Horticulture of Cannabis: from seed to harvest" — is a lecture course, and it's attracted about 270 students who will begin studies in January, Hartford Business Journal reported this month.

In Colorado, the adult-use marijuana market continues to surge nearly five years after the launch of recreational sales in the state, according to a recent news report.  Through August 2018 – the most recent data available from the Colorado Department of Revenue – recreational marijuana sales topped $800 million and the state is on pace to surpass $1.2 billion by the end of the year. That would represent a 12 percent increase over total sales in 2017. As of August 2017, 498 recreational stores were licensed throughout the state; that number grew to 541 by September 1, 2018 – a 9 percent increase

Girls With Impact, Girl Scouts Collaborate to Increase Entrepreneurship Among Teen Girls

In an effort to get girls career-ready, Connecticut-based Girls With Impact, the nation’s only tech-enabled entrepreneurship program for teen girls, is launching a partnership with Girl Scouts of Connecticut to enable girls to parlay their cookies experience into their own businesses. “Entrepreneurship is one of the four programmatic pillars that comprise the Girl Scout Leadership Experience,” said Mary Barneby, CEO for Girl Scouts of Connecticut. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with Girls With Impact to provide our older Girl Scouts with a ‘virtual MBA’ in developing their own business plans. We are creating the next generation of female leaders and programs like this give our girls a real edge and help them become more confident and career-ready.”

Girls With Impact CEO Jennifer Openshaw says her goal is to train 10,000 young women as entrepreneurs, equipping them with the skills to start businesses or serve as innovators within corporate America.

Girl Scouts members will be entitled to participate in the Girls With Impact Academy – a 12-week “mini-MBA” program, valued at $2,000, that equips girls with business skills. The program, now in its third year, has helped some past participants to earn full scholarships at top colleges. Sessions are offered throughout the year, with various schedules. The reduced fee for Girl Scouts will be just $450, and scholarships are available.

It is both a skills-builder and confidence builder, critical for teenage girls as they navigate their teens and look forward to careers.  Openshaw points out that only 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and just 36 percent of entrepreneurs are women.  Those are statistics she hopes to change.  The after-school, extra-curricular program has seen exceptional results in confidence, empowerment, college prep and career readiness, including STEM areas.

“Girl Scouts is one of our nation’s most powerful leadership training grounds for young women,” said Openshaw. “We’re thrilled to support Girl Scouts as it seeks to modernize and remain relevant for young women in the new global economy.”

Girl Scouts of Connecticut serves over 26,000 girls and over 12,000 adults giving girls the skills they need to empower themselves for life. Through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, the largest girl-led entrepreneurial program in the world, Girl Scouts learn five essential skills that they will carry with them for a lifetime: goal setting, decision making, business skills, money management, and people skills.

Through the Digital Cookie® platform, Girl Scouts are able to take their cookie businesses online, using their own personal website to reach customers across the country, experiencing true enterprise. Barneby called on girls to bring a friend to Girls With Impact and “build your network for tomorrow.” She says the tech delivery enables girls to connect with others nationwide and build that support system so critical to career success.

Girls With Impact, a nonprofit, is the nation’s only entrepreneurship program just for teen girls, delivered live from the home or road. Applications are accepted at  www.girlswithimpact.com.

Accelerating Efforts to Prevent Suicide in CT as Numbers Climb

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report this year which indicated that suicide rates nationally jumped by 25 percent since 1999, a finding that “shocked” even experts who believed the rate had been flat. Each year, more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind their friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of loss, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Connecticut's rate, 9.7 deaths per 100,000, rose 20 percent during that time, and 49 states saw an increase, according to the CDC. Connecticut’s suicide rate, is ranked number 46 in the country.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. with one occurring on average every 13.3 minutes.

For every suicide, there are 30 people who made the attempt, Dr. James F. O'Dea, vice president of the Behavior Health Network of Hartford Healthcare, recently told the Meriden Record-Journal.  The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration reports that “approximately 45% of suicide victims had contact with primary care providers within 1 month of suicide.”

“Connecticut suicide rates may have not have increased as much in comparison to other states, but isn’t the real question, ‘Why is it increasing at all?’” Luis Perez, president and CEO of Mental Health Connecticut, told The Hartford Courant earlier this year.

“It’s been well-researched that most people who die by suicide do so because they want the pain to stop — and they don’t see any other way,” Perez said. “Prevention is critical. Knowing the safe and right way to talk to someone who may have thoughts of suicide and letting people know they are not alone, that millions of people struggle with suicide ideation is key.”

According to the state Department of Public Health, approximately 31 percent of victims had a history of treatment for mental illness and 42 percent had previously attempted or thought about suicide or disclosed their intent to commit suicide. The CDC offers 5 steps to help someone at risk: 1. Ask. 2. Keep them safe. 3. Be there. 4. Help them connect. 5. Follow up.

The U.S. government’s anti-bullying website, stopbullying.com, points out that “many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.”  The site indicates that “this risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.”

Matt Riley, Chief Operating Officer of the Connecticut-based Jordan Porco Foundation, recently told WTNH-TV that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 24. One in ten college students and one in five high school students consider suicide. Young people considering suicide are most likely to talk to peers, so the Jordan Porco Foundation focuses on peer-to-peer outreach and awareness, with a series of successful program initiatives on college campuses in Connecticut and across the country.

In recent years, a new student-driven primary prevention program was piloted to help high school students develop positive coping skills and enhance protective factors in preparation for life beyond high school. Schools and organizations participating included Manchester High School, Immaculate High School in Danbury, Enfield Public Schools, Capital Preparatory High School in Hartford, Institute of Living in Hartford, Jewish Family Services in West Hartford, Wilton High School, Boys & Girls Club of Bristol, and Guilford Youth & Family Services.

Numerous organizations across Connecticut offer Mental Health First Aid, an 8-hour training to teach participants how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The evidence behind the program demonstrates that it helps trainees identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.  The course is often offered to participants free of charge.

https://youtu.be/jl87bmuCTdM

https://youtu.be/TT_HLG5FkKA