The organization began 1970 as Rheedlen, working with young children and their families as the city's first truancy-prevention program.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the crack epidemic tore through Harlem; open-air drug markets flourished while families disintegrated. While many inside and outside Harlem gave up hope, HCZ's staff believed that new approaches were necessary.
In 1991, the agency was among the first in the city to open 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.
In the 1990s, to help keep local schools safe, the Peacemakers program began placing AmeriCorps participants in classrooms. These young people were a welcome presence assisting teachers during the school day and then running programs after school.
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, from violent crime to chronic health problems.
HCZ created a 10-year business plan, then to ensure its best-practice programs were operating as planned, HCZ was in the vanguard of nonprofits that began carefully evaluating and tracking the results of their work. Those evaluation results enabled staff to see if programs were achieving their objectives and to take corrective actions if they were not.
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. The FY 2010 budget for the agency overall is over $75 million.
Over the years, the agency introduced several ground-breaking efforts: in 2000, The Baby College® parenting workshops; in 2001, the Harlem Gems® pre-school program; also in 2001, the HCZ Asthma Initiative, which teaches families to better manage the disease; in 2004, the Promise Academy, a high-quality public charter school; and in 2006, an obesity program to help children stay healthy.
Under the visionary leadership of its President and CEO, Geoffrey Canada, HCZ continues to offer innovative, efficiently run programs that are aimed at doing nothing less than breaking the cycle of generational poverty for the thousands of children and families it serves.more » « less