From the Start: ConnCAT

Transforming lives through market relevant training and a supportive community.

ConnCAT's medical coding program graduates. Photo credit: ConnCAT

In the 1970s, as Pittsburgh's steel industry went into steep decline, a young Bill Strickland founded the Manchester Bidwell Corporation. Strickland took inspiration from a high school ceramics teacher to create arts programs for young people and vocational programs for displaced and disadvantaged workers. For nearly 30 years, Manchester Bidwell has been a national model for education, training — and hope. Inspired by this success, The Foundation invited Strickland in the early 2000s to New Haven to share his lessons.

Around the same time, members of The Community Foundation Board and community leaders traveled to Pittsburgh to see first-hand the acclaimed training center. From that point, The Foundation would have to wait until 2008 to initiate a market and feasibility study, committing $80,000 of its own resources and raising an additional $70,000 in capital from local institutions like United Illuminating Company and the Graustein Memorial Fund. The process drew out local employers who helped identify the vocational skills and training needs necessary to join their workforce and The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) was one step closer to becoming a reality.

In 2011, The Foundation made an unprecedented $1 million, four-year investment that provided the necessary capital for ConnCAT to open its doors one year later at Science Park. ConnCAT continues to be one of The Foundation's largest grant recipients, receiving over half-a-million dollars in multi-year support for its last grant. A project the magnitude of ConnCAT needs both champions and leaders; if The Foundation was ConnCAT's early champion, its leader has become local businessman and philanthropist Carlton Highsmith. Working together with ConnCAT's President Erik Clemmons, The Foundation and Highsmith have grown the list of institutional allies to include Key Bank, Yale New Haven Hospital and private foundations.

ConnCAT is grounded in the belief that people are born into the world as assets, not liabilities. Its job-training programs give unemployed and under-employed adults the skills they need to secure meaningful, well-paying jobs in health sciences and culinary professions. In addition, it provides the academic support required for success in those programs. ConnCAT also provides programming to help youth succeed. Its Entrepreneurial Academy aims to reach New Haven youth and adults who show promise and drive, without focusing solely on academic measures. Over the course of a school year, students foster a business idea, learn the steps to move the concept to reality, and gain an understanding of how to market the new business. Students gain experience in presentation skills, business leadership, marketing, writing a business plan, and understanding business financials. Youth students travel to the New York Stock Exchange and regional businesses as exposure to the business world, while adult learners attend weekly thematic sessions.

Since opening, ConnCAT has provided affordable industry-specific job training to adult learners who might not otherwise have opportunity or access to such life-changing programs and gainful employment. By working with companies to make sure the training programs are market relevant and meet an immediate need, ConnCAT is setting its program participants up for success.

ConnCAT President Erik Clemons reports, "In a rather short amount of time, ConnCAT has transformed the lives of many."

Did you know?

The latest statistics show employment in the healthcare sector is expected to grow, largely due to the aging population. As a result, the demand for healthcare workers will increase. Source: Greater New Haven Community Index

This article is part of a series of stories celebrating The Community Foundation's 90th Anniversary.