Harlem Children’s Zone is a haven in the middle of the city. Operating since 1970, they have many new plans ahead. “We broke ground on a new school/community center building to be opened in 2012 in the middle of the St. Nicholas Houses (a public housing development),” says HCZ spokesperson Marty Lipp.
“The organization began as Rheedlen, working with young children and their families as the city’s first truancy-prevention program. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the crack epidemic tore through Harlem; in 1991, the agency opened a beacon center. Our Countee Cullen Community Center turned a public school that used to shut its door at the end of the school day into a community center offering a range of services and activities on nights, weekends and summers. They also started a Peacemakers program that began placing AmeriCorps participants in classrooms. Also in the early 1990s, HCZ ran a pilot project that brought a range of support services to a single block. The idea was to address all the problems that poor families were facing from crumbling apartments to failing schools, violent crime to chronic health problems. In 1997, the agency began a network of programs for a 24-block area: the Harlem Children’s Zone Project. In 2007, the Zone project grew to almost 100 blocks. Today the Children’s Zone serves more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults. Overall, the organization serves more than 10,000 children and more than 7,400 adults. All HCZ programs are offered free to the children and families of Harlem,” adds Lipp.
The HCZ has many accomplishments, says Lipp. “We have been in operation since 1970 and we’ve accomplished a lot in that time. Among them: our Promise Academy II scored the best in the district. Our AII charter school earned the highest scores in statewide English and Math exams in District 10 last year. The students erased or significantly narrowed the black-white achievement gap in both subjects compared to white students statewide. Also, more than 600 HCZ students are in college; HCZ announced plans for a school and community center inside the St. Nicholas House. The 130,000-square-foot building will house Promise Academy I charter school children, from kindergarten through 12th grade. An athletics program offering tennis, dance and a variety of other fitness programs will be added to the Academy and our free tax help program returns $8 million to Harlem.”
According to Lipp, the HCZ has been attracting a lot of attention. Last year, a slew of celebrities including former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, sports stars Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson, Prince, Steve Harvey, Mary J. Blige, Rachael Ray, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Russell Simmons checked out the organization.
The HCZ will not rest on its laurels. They are looking to the future. “We will continue to grow next year, reaching more kids and families and will continue to expand our Promise Academy Charter Schools. Each year we add one more grade and will do so until they are K-12,” says Lipp.
Despite all the strides the HCZ has made, Lipp says their work must continue. “The Harlem Children’s Zone is important because it is giving thousands of children a chance to enter and succeed in college, so they can have a better shot at the high-skills job market. Also, it is proving that large numbers of children in poor communities such as Harlem can be successful if the barriers to that success are removed.”