Our History & Zone Map

Ours is a story of relentless evolution in the name of a revolution.

Our History

Ours is a story of relentless evolution in the name of a revolution—to innovate a series of place-based services, designed to systematically break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

The HCZ Project began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s. Then and still today, we exist to provide comprehensive, critical support to children and families in order to re-weave the very fabric of community life. 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 faced—crumbling apartments, rampant drug use, failing schools, violent crime, and chronic health problems—within a finite geographic area:

Black-and-white photo of Harlem’s first Block Party

We have always believed that success was not an option, it was a must. To bring our bold vision to life, we knew that the same old attempts to solve for poverty were not going to work. Even before we officially became HCZ, we were doing pioneering work in the field.

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. We turned PS 194 into the Countee Cullen Community Center, where we offered high-quality programming and a safe destination for local children and families to come together after school, on weekends, and during summers.

Harlem Children’s Zone headquarters in the evening, time-lapsed

Building on the success of this early initiative, we launched a 10-year strategic plan in 2000, in which we committed to steadily and systematically expanding the depth and breadth of our programming to encompass 24 blocks, then 60 blocks, and ultimately 97 blocks. Today, our organization as a whole serves more than 14,000 youth and 14,000 adults—and counting.


Harlem Children’s Zone Project begins with 24 blocks


Harlem Children’s Zone Project encompasses almost 100 blocks

Twenty years after launching our first strategic plan in 2000, HCZ is fulfilling its vision in and beyond Harlem. With thousands of young people well on their way towards college graduation and promising careers, we are humbled by the countless people who helped deliver us to this point in our story. As we reflect on the first twenty years of HCZ, we are humbled by the children and families who joined our community and, today, are pillars of hope and unlimited potential across Central Harlem HCZ. As we look forward to the next twenty years, we are looking forward to serving a new generation of Harlem’s youth, who will also be pillars of hope and unlimited potential to those communities who replicate our programming.

Zone Map