[Excerpt from Federal Reserve Bank of Boston]

Darius Ritchens sat at a table in the gymnasium at an East Hartford elementary school on Monday and talked about struggling to make ends meet.

The single father of two once worked in financial and insurance services, he told the local officials and Federal Reserve leaders seated near him. But hard times came, and he could barely afford to live. Above all, he said, he’d lost his self-confidence.

Then he learned about East Hartford CONNects. Ritchens said the program gave him access to skills training and quality child care, allowing him to take advantage of new professional opportunities.

“What happened in that program is just amazing,” he said. “It brought me back to life.”

Ritchens told his story at an event at Silver Lane Elementary School attended by Fed Chair Jay Powell and Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Rosengren arranged the visit to learn about the progress made possible by East Hartford CONNects, a community-improvement initiative that’s part of the Boston Fed’s Working Cities Challenge. [....]

The Working Cities Challenge is a grant-based competition launched by the Boston Fed in 2013 to tackle seemingly intractable problems like crime and racial inequality in some of New England’s older cities.

East Hartford is one of five Connecticut communities to receive a $450,000 Working Cities Challenge grant in 2018. It has a rich industrial past, but struggled after manufacturers faded or relocated. The town’s average family income is about $58,000, well below the state average of about $89,000, according to 2017 data from Connecticut-based DataHaven.

Monday’s visit included a bus tour during which Powell, Rosengren, and others saw challenges EH CONNects is working to address, and learned about opportunities its hoping to create.