Our History & Zone Map

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

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 Harlem Children’s Zone 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 — both in Central Harlem and everywhere.

Keep scrolling to discover the history of HCZ.

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

The history of HCZ began in 1970. The organization was then known as the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families, 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. Later, 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.

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.

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

The history of HCZ continued with the launch of our 10-year strategic plan in 2000. Building on the success of this early initiative, 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 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 Harlem. Thousands of young people are on their way toward college graduation and promising careers. Now, we are scaling our impact beyond Harlem, putting young people, families, and communities across the country on the path to social and economic mobility. We look forward to the next 20 years of HCZ history.