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New Chrysalis Center A Promising Link In City's Revival

Rick Green

December 01, 2009

In the old Sealtest factory on a forlorn street corner in Hartford, the Chrysalis Center will soon be carrying out its hopeful work rebuilding lives.

As Hartford moves in fits and starts to repair itself, this investment in human capital might be as important as any other economic development in the city.

Chrysalis, which provides government-funded services to the mentally ill and addicted, will move its patchwork of programs from eight other city locations to the renovated factory, creating a secure, full-service facility unlike any other in the state and, perhaps, the country.

From counseling and casework, to an emergency shelter, to a public art gallery and a food pantry offering fresh fruits and vegetables, the new Chrysalis Center will be a unique community outpost on the corner of Homestead Avenue and Woodland Street.

But the truth is, this isn't a jobs-creating factory or even a tax-paying commercial business. When I asked Chrysalis executive director Sharon Castelli whether this fine new facility would just add to Hartford's woes as a magnet for the region's problems, she responded with an important story.

Not long ago, Chrysalis started working with an Iraq war veteran, a man who had just completed his fourth tour of duty and ended up on the streets and in city shelters. He returned to Hartford without a home, no family to embrace him and a case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Chrysalis found him a place to live. He's in treatment for the PTSD. Eventually, like many of the thousands who have passed through Chrysalis over the past 35 years, he will return to stability and a life as a productive citizen.

"If you don't take care of your own people, what does that say?" Castelli asked me.

And if we don't take care of them, we still pay when these folks end up in far more costly hospital emergency rooms or prison.

I had driven by the grim and boarded-up Sealtest factory along Homestead for years. As I walked through the renovated building Monday with development director Maryellen Shuckerow, I saw how Chrysalis located just behind St. Francis Hospital, down the road from the new Handel Performing Arts Center at the University of Hartford and just off Albany Avenue could become part of something larger for Hartford.

"My hope," Castelli told me, "is folks [will] see a very different way that social service, nonprofit providers can both assimilate and enhance a neighborhood while still meeting their mission."

Chrysalis will bring in dozens of new workers to the neighborhood. With its own $6.3 million fundraising campaign over the past decade, it transformed a derelict, empty factory into a showcase. The art gallery and public meeting space will be open to the community.

"It's another important piece," said Marilyn Risi, of Upper Albany Main Street, a neighborhood community and business organization, which has welcomed the Chrysalis relocation. "If you don't have people coming in and developing those buildings, they become eyesores."

Serving more than 2,500 individuals and families last year, Chrysalis works with people from throughout the Hartford region. It's Chrysalis, by the way, that provides mental health caseworkers for the Farmington Valley suburbanite as well as the homeless addict in downtown Hartford. When it opens at a later date, Chrysalis also will offer a short-term residential facility for the mentally ill, providing relief to hospital emergency departments. The fresh food pantry, which also will offer crisis intervention and food counseling, will be run by the Junior League and Foodshare.

"This is more than just unusual," said Harold Schwartz, a Chrysalis board member who is also psychiatrist-in-chief at the Institute of Living. "This is a model for the nation. It fills an enormous need."

It might become more than that. Chrysalis' investment in Hartford might help change our view of what economic development and neighborhood revival really mean.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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