October 29, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Almost two years after firing its longtime executive director,
and after a season of internal political discontent, a once-powerful
Hartford community organization is considering shutting down.
The board of ONE/CHANE will hold a meeting Nov. 7 to let its
members know the state of its affairs. All options will be on
the table, officials said, from figuring out a way to move forward
to closing the organization for good.
"Our purpose was supposed to be that voice, that helping hand
for residents in north Hartford," said Steven Harris, who
took over just last week as the organization's board chairman. "And
we have no programming. We're just living hand to mouth right
"ONE/CHANE, when it started out, it empowered people. It
empowered people in terms of how to deal with government bureaucracies.
It showed people how to stand up and advocate for things they
thought were important," Harris said.
"But now you're struggling
just to keep the lights on and the doors open. And what good
is a community organization if it can't offer programs?"
The organization has been beset by an array of problems over
the past several years and is now virtually broke. The once-revered
North End community group now can't even pay the $6,500 to get
a final copy of a financial audit it commissioned.
The group's funding sources have dried up. On top of the agency's
other problems, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is conducting
an investigation of the agency, which - even if it goes nowhere
- has left some financial sponsors skittish.
Within the past few months, ONE/CHANE submitted a letter of
intent, informing the Hartford Collaborative for Community Organizing
that it was going to apply for community organizing funding.
The collaborative's steering committee did not respond favorably
to the letter.
"They were not invited to apply for funds," said Andrea
Pereira, a senior program director for Local Initiatives Support
Corp. in Connecticut, which administers the community organizing
dollars. "The understanding was that there was potential
legal action and potential financial penalties attached to that
Formed in 1987, ONE/CHANE made its presence known in Hartford
by rallying against plans to bring a casino to the city, speaking
out for the health of the neighborhood and against an expansion
of a city dump, calling for nonviolent campaigns in response
to city shootings, and more.
The group was about more than advocacy. By the mid-1990s, the
group had 24 block clubs; it had placed nearly 200 youths in
summer jobs; it had helped more than three dozen families move
into their own homes. By 1998, the nonprofit agency had completed
nearly $10 million worth of rehabilitated or new construction
in the northern part of the city.
"ONE/CHANE, just that it's name is recognizable says something
about the organization," said Marilyn Rossetti, executive
director of Hartford Areas Rally Together, a South End advocacy
But by 1999, some residents and community leaders began to cry
foul, as ONE/CHANE - once the voice of the people - decided to
quiet itself and drop its opposition to a plan to expand the
landfill off I-91 in exchange for a nearly $10 million settlement.
The deal eventually fell through, but not before then-Executive
Director Larry Charles came under scrutiny for his decision,
one which he defended by saying that it furthered the cleanup
of the landfill and set community programs in motion.
By early 2004, ONE/CHANE and Charles were facing further scrutiny,
after a management consultant's report found that Charles had
lost the confidence of the funding community. The problem, the
consultant said, was simple mismanagement.
The organization's income had dropped from $1.3 million in the
year that ended June 30, 1999, to roughly half that three years
later. In March 2004, the board fired Charles. The news has hardly
"In my opinion, once ONE/CHANE got into housing, and got
away from its core mission...," Harris said. "I think
that's where we started to have a problem."
These days, Frederick E. Smith, the new executive director and
its only paid employee, says the organization needs $22,000 a
month to live and have a fully functioning staff. He wouldn't
say how much it actually has, but Smith did say the agency doesn't
have the $6,500 to pay for an audit it requested. He would not
say how much he is being paid.
Given all that, many expect the Nov. 7 meeting to be pivotal.
"There is a new face to the organization, but there is
still a cloud of several years of history that's hanging over
it ... that I and the board that I have working with me now have
nothing to do with," Smith said. "We're going to paint
the picture and say, `You have options.' And [shutting down]
is an option."
"The board, between now and then, is going to look at that
option very strongly," Harris said. "ONE/CHANE is a
valuable asset to the community, but, to be very honest with
you, it's like trying to raise the Titanic."
Both Smith and Harris said they would prefer for ONE/CHANE to
continue. So would Sheri Frazier, another board member.
"It would be a shame to see one of our only prominent black
community organizations leave the community," Frazier said. "It
would be a sad day."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at