Funding a Harlem Rebound

  • Prosperity
  • 1989

The Harlem Children’s Zone is a massive effort to bring 97 square blocks of the poorest neighborhoods in northern Manhattan to a positive “tipping point.” Beginning in 1989 the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation began to pour money into the expansion of pilot programs that meshed health, parenting, and early-childhood services. Its $34 million investment allowed the “zone” to quadruple in size. Another angel for the program is Stanley Druckenmiller, a hedge-fund founder and philanthropist who was a college friend of HCZ leader Geoffrey Canada. In 2006 Druckenmiller gave the program $25 million, and between 2009 and 2011 he gave twice that much more. Druckenmiller also convinced the Robin Hood Foundation, a major New York City anti-poverty crusader, to get involved in supporting the Harlem Children’s Zone to the tune of multimillions of dollars over the years.

The HCZ program starts with “Baby College”—a series of classes for parents of children under age four. The organization also offers all-day pre-kindergarten, and extended-day schooling for older children is available at its Promise Academy charter schools. Health care, recreation, anti-violence programs, and other social services are also provided. And when students reach college age there are programs to help them get onto campus and stay long enough to earn a degree.

The schools and companion services are funded by a combination of large-scale philanthropy and government grants, with philanthropy providing about seven out of ten dollars during the buildup of the program. About 10,000 youth and 8,000 adults are now served by the effort, which has contributed to the transformation of Harlem from dangerous and economically languishing to one of New York’s fastest rising neighborhoods. The HCZ health and social-service “wraparounds” add heavy expense to the program and get mixed reviews. The clear stars of the Harlem Children’s Zone are the charter schools, which produce results—measured in test scores, graduation rates, and college-attendance levels—much superior to those achieved in other schools in Harlem.