History

The Beginning of the

Children’s Zone®

The Harlem Children’s Zone® has always been driven by the belief that the success of our children and the strength of the community go hand in hand.  Their needs are inseparable and must be addressed together in order to break the cycle of generational poverty and give our kids a real shot at the American dream.

Aimed at providing comprehensive, critical support to children and families and reweaving the very fabric of community life, the HCZ® Project began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s. With bold ambition, careful planning, and a strong infrastructure, we set out to address not just some, but all of the issues children and families were facing within a finite geographic area: crumbling apartments, rampant drug use, failing schools, violent crime, and chronic health problems.

Building on the success of this early initiative, we launched a 10-year strategic plan in 2000, steadily and systematically expanding the depth and breadth of our programming to encompass 24 blocks, then 60 blocks, and ultimately 97 blocks.  Today, the Children’s Zone® serves more than 10,700 youth and nearly 8,000 adults and our organization as a whole serves over 12,300 youth and 12,400 adults.

With 70% of children in the Zone engaged in our pipeline of programs each year and thousands of youth well on their way to achieving the ultimate goal of college graduation, we have not only reached the tipping point, but also have become a national model and thought leader in the fields of education, youth and community development, and the fight against poverty.

What has enabled us to achieve such unprecedented success is our steadfast application of five core principles:

  1. Serve an entire neighborhood comprehensively and at scale to create a “tipping point” and definitively shift the culture of the community
  2. Create a pipeline of coordinated, best-practice programs to give our children and families seamless support from birth through college and maximize their outcomes
  3. Build community among residents, institutions, and stakeholders in order to create a healthy, positive environment where our children can thrive
  4. Evaluate program outcomes and create a feedback loop to provide managers with real-time data and strengthen services
  5. Cultivate an organizational culture of success rooted in passion, accountability, leadership, and teamwork
1997

The Harlem Children’s Zone Project begins with

24 blocks

2007

The Harlem Children’s Zone Project encompasses almost

100 blocks

A History of Innovation

From the start, innovation has been pivotal to our success—even before we officially became HCZ.  When the organization began in 1970 as the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families, we were New York City’s first truancy-prevention program.  Then, in 1991, Rheedlen was among the first organizations in the City to open a Beacon center, turning PS 194 into the Countee Cullen Community Center after school, on weekends, and during summers, offering high-quality programming and a safe destination to local children and families.

Since our launch, HCZ has developed a series of groundbreaking programs designed to address the needs of our children and community.  In 2000, we began offering The Baby College® parenting workshops.  In 2001, we introduced the Harlem Gems® pre-school program and, in 2004, we opened our first Promise Academy® Charter School.  Most recently, in 2012, we began implementing Healthy Harlem, a cross-site initiative to combat obesity and foster healthy habits throughout the Zone.

Under the visionary leadership of our President, Geoffrey Canada, and our CEO, Anne Williams-Isom, HCZ continues to foster innovation and refine our programs to ensure that we are at once fulfilling our mission to revitalize Central Harlem and carving a path for communities across this great nation who share our passion and perseverance.  For our kids, our community, and our country, the best is truly yet to come.