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Urban League of Greater Hartford Hires New President


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Urban League of Greater Hartford has a new president: David J. Hopkins.

Hopkins, a primary care executive from Pittsburgh, was selected after a nationwide search. His first day was Jan. 15.

Urban League Board Chair Paul Dworkin said the search committee was fortunate to have recruited Hopkins from a large and extremely talented pool of national and local candidates.

“All who met with him were impressed by his leadership qualities and experience, his knowledge and educational background, his personal qualities and interpersonal skills and his passion and vision. We look forward to introducing David to our community.”

Hopkins is the former CEO of Primary Care Health Services, Inc, which is based in Pittsburgh, PA. At PCHS, he managed a $12 million budget and a staff of 150. He also worked as Senior Vice President at PNC Bank, where he financed projects for public entities.

He received his BA in Economics from Guilford College and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Pittsburgh’s Point Park University, where he is majoring in community engagement, advocacy and policy.

Hopkins said he was “humbled and honored to have been selected.”

“For more than 100 years, the Urban League has been esteemed for promoting economic, political and social equity, while boldly advocating for the empowerment, inclusion and interests of African Americans. I am excited to be a part of this work and look forward to joining the staff, partners and stakeholders in fulfilling our mission to reduce economic disparities in Greater Hartford.”

Hopkins replaced Adrienne Cochrane who served the League from 2010 t0 2018.

 

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Hartford Land Bank Receives $175K Grant to Address Blight


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Blighted properties in Hartford are scheduled to get some much needed attention.

Thanks to a $175,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The grant will help the Hartford Land Bank to assess about 400 vacant and abandoned properties in the city.

“The Hartford Foundation is proud to support this collaborative community effort that will help to revitalize the City of Hartford to improve the quality of life for residents, attract new businesses and create jobs,” said Hartford Foundation President Jay Williams.

The Land Bank is a new arm of city hall that has the power to buy, manage and dispose of blighted properties in an effort to revitalize the city. It was created in 2017 with the help of a $5 million state grant.  The Land Bank is also a resource to assist vulnerable property owners, including the elderly, by providing resources they need to maintain their properties.

Laura Settlemyer is the enforcement director for the Blight Remediation Team that works with the Land Bank. The remediation team already consists of inspectors and enforcement officers. However, the city plans to hire national experts to survey properties in the city.  They will collaborate with the city’s Office of Community Engagement, Hartford GIS Services and the Hartford Youth Service Corps.

At a town hall meeting in October 2018, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the city has been looking at how it can be more effective in dealing with blight in the city.

Blight is a public health issue. According to a 2017 study by the Urban Institute, families living near vacant homes, abandoned buildings and vacant lots saw lower literacy scores for pre-k children and higher rates of chronic illness, stunted brain and physical development.

Other social impact include decreased property values and increased crime.

“Blighted properties have plagued our neighborhoods for decades, and that’s why we made it a priority from the very beginning to combat blight in an aggressive and systematic way,” Bronin said. “The Land Bank will help us accelerate that work and this generous funding will give us and all of our partners a more detailed roadmap for the entire city.”

Since 2017, 137 of blighted properties have been fixed up, officials said. The plan, they said, is to “use every tool we can.”

Bronin said the team is willing to work with property owners.

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Hartford Stage Hires its First Female Director: Melia Bensussen


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Stage has hired a new artistic director: Melia Bensussen.

Bensussen, an award winning director based in Boston, will be Hartford Stage’s sixth director effective June. She will be the first woman to serve in that role.

Hartford Stage President David R. Jimenez announced the news on Wednesday.

“Melia is accomplished, talented and well-recognized in the theatre world,” said Jimenez in a statement. “I am thrilled that she will be joining Hartford Stage, and I have full confidence she will continue to build on the theatre’s history of artistic excellence and acclaim.”

Bensussen has directed several productions since 1984 at theaters, including New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Baltimore Center Stage and New York Shakespeare Festival.

She won several awards such as the Obie Award in 1999 for the production of “The Turn of the Screw.”

The Massachusetts based director was raised in Mexico City. She will succeed Darko Tresnjak, who was director for eight years. Her appointment comes after a 10-month search.

“It’s an exciting time at Hartford Stage, building on a record of success. It can evolve even further in its international profile, its community engagement and its educational programming,” Bensussen said.” At a time when the country most needs healthy discourse across ideologies and beliefs, the theatre can provide a haven and a forum for a multiplicity of views, beliefs, languages and cultures. I’m excited to work with this region’s diverse population to continue the artistic excellence that has won Hartford Stage its rightful renown, as well as expanding the range of stories on its stage and the faces in its audience.”

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Hartford Native Shawn Wooden Sworn in as State Treasurer


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford native and former City Council Chairman Shawn Wooden was sworn in as Connecticut’s 83rd State Treasurer, pledging to use his office to protect worker’s retirement security while spurring improvements in the state’s economy, infrastructure and educational system.

The Hartford resident was among several elected state officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont, who took the oath of office on Wednesday at the William A. O’Neill State Armory. Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson administered the oath of office.

Wooden showed gratitude for the path that led him to his new position.

“I’m honored beyond works that the people of Connecticut have placed their confidence in me by electing me state treasurer,” Wooden said in a statement. “Having oversight of more than $60 billion in state assets is an enormous responsibility. I assure the taxpayers of this state that every investment and decision I make will be geared towards maximizing returns and moving Connecticut forward.”

Democrat Wooden succeeds Denise Nappier, another Hartford resident, who served as state treasurer for 20 years. Nappier elected not to seek another term.

Wooden, 49, was an investment attorney at Day Pitney, specializing in public pension plans for 21 years.

Before that, he worked for the former Hartford Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry and then as Connecticut Director of Project Vote, a national voter registration and education program. He was also served as a key aide for the Connecticut Commissioner of Social Services.

Raised in the North End of Hartford, Wooden said his is an unlikely journey. The youngest of six children, he participated in Project Concern desegregation busing program and attended Manchester Public Schools, where he graduated with honors. He then went to Trinity College and New York Law School.

Besides his work in the private sector, Wooden served as President of Hartford City Council from 2012 to 2015, leading efforts to close budget deficits, protect the city’s pension system and boost economic development.

His work in the state treasurer’s office is an extension of those efforts, he said.

“Connecticut is facing some enormous fiscal challenges right now, as well as some very exciting opportunities for growth,” Wooden said. “I look forward to using my extensive experience in government and as an investment attorney to take on the very serious work ahead of us.”

Featured Photo: Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden is sworn in by Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson as his sons Senai, 13, (L) and Isaias, 16, (R) hold the Bible.

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If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours


A new data analysis by ProPublica and the Urban Institute shows more than half of older U.S. workers are pushed out of longtime jobs before they choose to retire, suffering financial damage that is often irreversible.

By Peter Gosselin

Tom Steckel hunched over a laptop in the overheated basement of the state Capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota, early last week, trying to figure out how a newly awarded benefit claims contract will make it easier for him do his job.

Steckel is South Dakota’s director of employee benefits. His department administers programs that help the state’s 13,500 public employees pay for health care and prepare for retirement.

It’s steady work and, for that, Steckel, 62, is grateful. After turning 50, he was laid off three times before landing his current position in 2014, weathering unemployment stints of up to eight months.

When he started, his $90,000-a-year salary was only 60 percent of what he made at his highest-paying job. Even with a subsequent raise, he’s nowhere close to matching his peak earnings.

Money is hardly the only trade-off Steckel has made to hang onto the South Dakota post.

He spends three weeks of every four away from his wife, Mary, and the couple’s three children, who live 700 miles away in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in a house the family was unable to sell for most of the last decade.

Steckel keeps photos of his wife, Mary, and their three children on the mantel at his rented place in Pierre. (Ackerman + Gruber, special to ProPublica)

With Christmas approaching, he set off late on Dec. 18 for the 11-hour drive home. When the holiday is over, he’ll drive back to Pierre.

“I’m glad to be employed,” he said, “but this isn’t what I would have planned for this point in my life.”

Many Americans assume that by the time they reach their 50s they’ll have steady work, time to save and the right to make their own decisions about when to retire.

But as Steckel’s situation suggests, that’s no longer the reality for many — indeed, most — people.

ProPublica and the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study, or HRS, the premier source of quantitative information about aging in America. Since 1992, the study has followed a nationally representative sample of about 20,000 people from the time they turn 50 through the rest of their lives.

Through 2016, our analysis found that between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.

Only one in 10 of these workers ever again earns as much as they did before their employment setbacks, our analysis showed. Even years afterward, the household incomes of over half of those who experience such work disruptions remain substantially below those of workers who don’t.

“This isn’t how most people think they’re going to finish out their work lives,” said Richard Johnson, an Urban Institute economist and veteran scholar of the older labor force who worked on the analysis. “For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought.”

The HRS is based on employee surveys, not employer records, so it can’t definitively identify what’s behind every setback, but it includes detailed information about the circumstances under which workers leave jobs and the consequences of these departures.

We focused on workers who enter their 50s with stable, full-time jobs and who’ve been with the same employer for at least five years — those who HRS data and other economic studies show are least likely to encounter employment problems. We considered only separations that result in at least six months of unemployment or at least a 50 percent drop in earnings from pre-separation levels.

Then, we sorted job departures into voluntary and involuntary and, among involuntary departures, distinguished between those likely driven by employers and those resulting from personal issues, such as poor health or family problems. (See the full analysis here.)

We found that 28 percent of stable, longtime employees sustain at least one damaging layoff by their employers between turning 50 and leaving work for retirement.

“We’ve known that some workers get a nudge from their employers to exit the work force and some get a great big kick,” said Gary Burtless, a prominent labor economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “What these results suggest is that a whole lot more are getting the great big kick.”

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Hartford Public Library Receives Grant to Address Opioid Overdose


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Public Library recently received a grant to arm staff with a lifesaving opioid reversal drug: naloxone.

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation. The grant comes amid a spike in opioid-related deaths in the state. According to officials, more people are dying of accidental overdose of opioid than from homicide, suicide and motor vehicle crashes.

In 2017, 1038 people across the state died from opioid overdose. Hartford had the highest number of fatalities, 58.

Library officials took steps to join other city workers, including firefighters and police officers, to combat the problem. Police officers and firefighters are already armed with naloxone, which reverses the effect of opioid overdose.

“As a public institution, we see that our entire community is impacted by the opioid crisis; it was clear that a rapid and robust response to the problems caused by opioid drug crisis was imperative,” said HPL CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey in a statement. “Hartford police, fire and ambulance personnel have been wonderful in helping us deal with overdose situations, but we also want to be ready for instances when emergency services cannot arrive in time.”

The money will help train staff and provide naloxone and CPR supplies. Library officials said they will also provide opioid abuse awareness materials in all libraries across the city. They will also work with the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition to host workshops and forums.

“Libraries like HPL are increasingly innovating around health education. We are proud to support this potentially life-saving initiative and commend HPL for its efforts to battle substance use disorders in our communities,” said Mary Engvall, executive director of the Cigna Foundation.

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Sen. Beth Bye to Resign to Join Ned Lamont’s Administration


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — State Sen. Beth Bye will resign to take a job with Gov. elect Ned Lamont’s administration.

Lamont picked Bye to lead Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood, which was created in 2013. She will help to develop a cohesive early childhood care and educational system.

“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 parents’ socio-economic status, can grow, learn and develop,” Lamont said. “It’s clear that the formative early childhood years are jey to providing children a solid educational base and platform, and I know Beth is the best person to take the helm of this critical agency.”

Bye is a Democrat who represents the 5th Senate District, which includes West Hartford, Bloomfield, Burlington and Farmington. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007 and then moved to the Senate in 2011. There will be a special election to fill Bye’s seat because she was reelected in November.

Currently, Bye is the executive director of Auerfarm, a Bloomfield-based community farm that hosts 15,000 student trips annually. Prior to that, Bye led Great by 8, a community partnership to develop a program that supports optimal health and educational outcomes for children ages birth to eight. She also worked as Early Childhood Director at the Capitol Region Education Council and was Director at Trinity College Community Child Center and the University of St. Joseph School for Young Children.

She will earn $155,000 in her new job.

“I am grateful to begin this next chapter in my career, leading an agency I helped to spearhead and create,” said Bye. “Connecticut’s children—all of them—represent  the future of our state, and deserve to have the tools and support necessary to develop, grow and thrive.”

 

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Ned Lamont Picks James Rovella for Commissioner


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD —  Gov. elect Ned Lamont has nominated a former Hartford Police Chief to be a commissioner.

Lamont tapped James Rovella, 60, to be the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection’s Commissioner.

Rovella has selected Regina Rush-Kittle of the Middletown Police as Deputy Commissioner for Emergency Management and Stavros Mellekas of the Connecticut State Police as State Police Colonel.

“James, Regina and Stavros are experienced law enforcement officers, having dedicated their lives to keeping our streets and communities safe in Connecticut,” Lamont said in a statement to the press. “I am proud to welcome these three dedicated public servants to my administration’s leadership team.”

Rovella began as a patrol officer with the Hartford Police Department. He was then promoted to homicide detective before he served 12 years for the office of the chief state’s attorney, where he became chief inspector and oversaw all medicaid fraud, financial and statewide criminal cases. In 2012, Rovella returned to Hartford to become its interim chief of police. He was then appointed permanent chief in August 2012. Rovella retired in February 2018.

“I thank Gov. elect Lamont for the trust he has placed in me to lead the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection,” Rovella said. “My decades in public safety have been guided by a commitment to building trust between law enforcement personnel and the local communities in which they serve. That priority will remain a focus as I work to make this state a safer home for all of our residents.”

Rovella will begin his duties on Jan. 9 and will make $183, 340. His nomination will be sent to the General Assembly for consent.

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Ebony Horsewomen Secures Grant for Cowboy Museum


HARTFORD — Ebony Horsewoman Inc. of Hartford is among a dozen cultural organizations to receive grants from the state.

The Department of Economic and Community Development’s Good to Great initiative funds projects that link art, history and tourism in ways that enable cultural and historical sites to enhance visitors’ experience. The funding is targeted for small to medium-size cultural organizations.

The list of $3 million in grants includes $50,000 to Ebony Horsewomen to build a barn and create a mini Black Cowboy Museum.

The funding can be used for a variety of needs, including construction, exhibit design and installation, planning and marketing. Recipients must provide a 25 percent cash match.

Other recipients include the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol with $150,000 to install a new energy efficient, air handling system with humidity control to protect the museum’s collection and improve visitors’ experience. The Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor also received $50,000 to complete its restoration.

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Hartford Delta Sigma Theta Announces MLK Breakfast Speaker


HARTFORD — The Hartford Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has announced its keynote speaker for its annual Martin Luther King Breakfast to be held Jan. 21.

The event will feature Shavon Arline-Bradley, a founding principal of R.E.A.C.H.  Beyond Solutions LLC, a public health policy and faith advocate. She is also the co-founder of The Health Equity Cypher Group, a collaborative of nationally recognized health equity experts designed to expand the work of health, equity, diversity and inclusion in all sectors.

Bradley also held the position of Director of External Engagement and senior advisor in the Office of the United States Surgeon General and served as the Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning & Partnership for the national NAACP.

The breakfast, which helps to keep King’s legacy alive, is the premier scholarship fundraising event for the Deltas and one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Connecticut.

More than 140 Greater Hartford high school girls have been awarded more than $355,000 in scholarship funds.

The Hartford Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was founded in 1947 and is a private, non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide services and programs to promote human welfare. Since its inception, the chapter has placed a priority on providing monetary contributions to deserving young girls to further their education.

The breakfast is open to the public. Tickets are $55. For more information, visit www.dsthartford.com.

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