HARTFORD, CT -- When Kasmaine Clarke was 18, she and her mother left Jamaica and came to the U.S. in late 2013, only weeks before she was to graduate from high school. But when Kasmaine brought her Jamaican transcript to Bloomfield High School, she was told she would be placed in 9th grade. A new country. A new life. And a huge disappointment.
Then Kasmaine met Brenda Colon and Our Piece of the Pie. Brenda, the supervisor of Youth Development Services at OPP’s Learning Academy at Bloomfield, Brenda made sure Kasmaine got the help she needed after much hard work; Kasmaine earned her diploma in 2014.
With the approval of a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Our Piece of the Pie, Inc. will be able to support young people like Kasmaine to help them reach their academic and career goals. The grant will assist OPP in achieving its primary strategic goal of increasing the number of youth served in the region by 32 percent by the year 2018, bringing the total to over 2000 youth served by the organization.
“The Hartford Foundation has been a true partner throughout the years as Our Piece of the Pie has grown in the Greater Hartford region, launching more and more young people into meaningful and productive futures,” said OPP CEO Bob Rath. “The Foundation’s investments throughout the region have made our community a better one, and we’re grateful to be a part of their impactful work. With this support, we’ll continue to grow the capacity required to help serve more youth and reduce waitlists in our programs that are already helping 1,500 young people graduate from high school, earn postsecondary credentials, and secure meaningful employment.”
“Our Piece of the Pie has great people who know what you’re going through because they’ve been there,” Kasmaine said. “They help you get jobs, help you get a place to live, help you if your back is up against the wall. They push you to do your best.”
While most programs that work with at-risk youth terminate services once at the age of 18, OPP extends its services to this vulnerable population until the age of 24 when support is still needed to help ensure successful transition into adulthood and careers.
So, when Kasmaine had a dream of becoming an RN, she connected to OPP’s Workforce Development team, where she was thrilled to learn that she could participate in the Allied Health career pipeline program. With the help of OPP, Kasmaine completed her certification courses in March 2016 and has begun her paid internship as a Registered Medical Assistant with Livingwell Primary Care in Bloomfield. When her 6-week internship is done, OPP will help her secure a permanent position, coaching her throughout her first year on the job. Kasmaine still plans to continue her education to become an RN, and with her passion and OPP’s support, she is well on her way.
“Our Piece of the Pie’s programs are nationally recognized and they have set very high standards for the quality and breadth of services they provide,” said Hartford Foundation senior program officer Pete Rosa. “Despite increasing its reach over the past several years, there are still many more at-risk youth in the region that could use OPP’s support. This grant will help to ensure that more young people benefit from their work.”
Some of the more immediate efforts include:
- Growing OPP’s capacity to support its programs. This includes increasing the organization’s human resources structure to support recruitment/benefits, an area of need as the number of youth served has increased.
- Reducing OPP’s current waitlists, which currently stand at 79 youth waiting to participate in Hartford region programs.
- Increasing the number of youth served in Hartford area programs, particularly at OPPortunity Academy Hartford, a high school for struggling students and OPP’s Pathways to Careers Initiative, a postsecondary-to-career pipeline program in high-demand industries.
“Our Piece of the Pie’s leadership and staff, including its board of directors, are committed to providing exemplary service to opportunity youth in order to make a real difference in their futures,” Rosa said. “This grant serves as a testament to the power of the work they’re doing on behalf of our young people.”
Photo Caption: Kasmaine Clarke participates in allied health courses at Asnuntuck Community College.
Senior Communications and Marketing Officer
Hartford Foundation for Public Giving