The premise of a Dalio Education report that found that 119,000 young adults in Connecticut who are at-risk of not graduating from high school or are disconnected from post-secondary education or employment, is that when more people know about the crisis, then more people will care, and more people will act.
“We have a crisis in Connecticut impacting every town,” Andrew Ferguson, co-CEO of Dalio Education, said. “it’s not well known despite being a statewide crisis.”
A former New Haven educator, Ferguson has been working with Barbara Dalio, the wife of billionaire Ray Dalio, whose life’s passion has been shining a spotlight on these kids often described as an “invisible” population.
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Part of bringing attention to this issue has been a series of panel discussions with leaders from organizations that serve this population. The panel discussions have been streamed live on Facebook and Tuesday night’s discussion, the second in the series, happened in Wethersfield.
Hector Rivera, CEO of Our Piece of the Pie, said “we’ve been seeing this crisis first-hand for a long time.” The report, he says, creates a booster shot for what we’ve been saying for many years.
He said what has to happen now if that providers have to use the report and the stories to move the conversation forward.
“We have to take a different approach,” Rivera said.
But he said the state also needs to follow through with resources to help make that happen.
Chris Brechlin, of COMPASS Youth Collaborative, said he might be new to working with this population, but the problem has persisted over a long period of time.
“I’m shocked at the stories we hear about how folks fall between the cracks,” Brechlin said.
He said that’s why it’s taken so long to measure this population because these kids drop out of school and maybe enroll in a new school, but their transcript doesn’t follow them. Or maybe they received services in the past, but the new service provider doesn’t have any information.
Everyone on the panel seemed to agree that the system is broken, but admitted there are things that could help fix it.
Ben Dubow of Forge City Works said the system seems to have given up on these kids and they know it.
“The failure is not on these kids, it’s on us,” Dubow said.
Joel Hicks-Rivera of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, said Connecticut has many rural towns where there is poverty so while poverty is part of the problem, “we have to be honest about the challenges, and we haven’t done enough.”
Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy, said she’s often critical of funders who say they will give funding for a limited period of time for this population because it’s about relationship building and those things don’t happen in six or even 12 months.
She said they need to redesign high school and offer more support to ninth graders. She also asked why Connecticut only offers funding for summer youth employment.
“What’s wrong with Spring, Fall and Winter?” Stone asked.
Emily Pallin of RISE said the worst thing they can do is assign blame.
She said Connecticut is a small state, but it’s so “hyper-localized.” She said these nonprofits should be working together and exchanging ideas about what’s working.
“We need to really push the envelope,” Pallin added.
Dalio is hoping to create a “moral imperative” for people to care about this population.
Joe DeLong, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Dalio would be doing this work whether she had the resources or not because she feels passionately about it.