A Letter to Our Stakeholders

August 2019

To Our Stakeholders:

AIDS Connecticut (“ACT”) and Connecticut Association for Human Services (“CAHS”) have entered into negotiations to see if it makes sense for us to join forces under an umbrella organization called Advancing Connecticut Together. A positive working relationship has been established and working committees representing both organizations have been working diligently on an Inter-organizational Assessment to address the many issues involved.

We are just now at the place where we are able to share concepts with our various stakeholders.

The “why”

AIDS impacts people’s lives beyond their disease and medical condition. Over time, as the disease has been controlled, the social determinants have played a larger role in the types of needs for this population and support has broadened to include housing, family dynamics, employment, education, etc. The population in need of support services has increasingly focused on low-income and under resourced individuals and their families.

ACT has recently completed a strategic planning process and created a plan that will guide AIDS Connecticut into the future. That plan positions us to re-brand and, more importantly, to reimagine the role our agency can play in our state with regards to individuals and families disproportionately affected by health, housing, other social determinants of health, income, and institutional/systemic biases. Our intention was to be open to new partners whose work would expand and complement ours.

CAHS’ focus is on children and families in CT and the factors that impact their ability to thrive. Four domains (economic/financial, family/community, education, and health) are used to identify areas needing change. A two-generational approach based on the dynamics within family units is considered critical to assure the success of all residents of the state.

By joining these two organizations, we increase the expertise and scope needed to understand the range of factors impacting low-income families and households and increase the ability to develop and advocate for viable solutions. While ACT brings a depth of understanding of the medical and health factors that impact social dynamics, CAHS offers insights into social, economic, and educational programs and policies that influence the strategies for individual and family success. Both organization are skilled advocates and have established connections with key legislators. These relationships can be leveraged to increase our influence.

The “how”

Advancing Connecticut Together will be formed using AIDS Connecticut’s existing FEIN and tax-exempt status. AIDS Connecticut will become a program division of Advancing Connecticut Together, alongside the CT Center for Harm Reduction, which is already a program division of AIDS Connecticut. Connecticut Association of Human Services will retain its current FEIN. Its mission will remain the same. It will become an organization division. It may elect to change its name to Connecticut Action for Human Services. It is anticipated that additional program divisions will be formed and organization divisions added as existing non-profit organizations seek to join under the Advancing Connecticut Together umbrella.

A brief history:

  • On August 15, 2018, the ACT Board agreed by consensus that exploring mergers/partnerships was part of its 2018 Strategic Plan. A general announcement was included in the quarterly newsletter.
  • On September 14th, 2018, James Horan, then CEO of CAHS accepted the position as Executive Director of LISC. Rob Blakey, CFO of CAHS, was appointed Interim CEO.
  • From September through October 2018, CAHS received inquiries from other non-profits regarding offers to merge. CAHS board members engaged in preliminary conversations with each proposing organization.
  • On November 27, 2018, CAHS’ board reviewed the initial inquiries.
  • During December 2018, the CAHS board followed up with inquiring organizations.
  • On January 22nd, 2019, CAHS board members meet with members of ACT’s board.
  • On February 7, 2019, CAHS board voted to engage in due diligence process to explore a potential merger with ACT. Committees were formed to review aspects of each organization. The goal of each committee was to identify issues which may preclude a merger, determine organizational and mission fit, and expose potential problems. The committees formed were: Development, Finance, Governance, Human Capital & HR, Program & Policy, and Vision & Mission.
  • During February-March 2019, the committees began meetings.
  • From February through July, ACT Board received updates on the merger conversations and repeatedly agreed that this partnership was the right one and the committee work was moving in the right direction. They reiterated the desire to complete the process by the end of 2019.

We anticipate that a formal legal structure will be in place by January 1, 2020.

The “who”

About AIDS Connecticut, Inc.

AIDS Connecticut, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit operating in Connecticut. ACT is the result of a 2013 merger between two AIDS service organizations, AIDS Project Hartford (established in 1985) and Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition. ACT provides direct and indirect services, as well as public policy activities related to people affected by HIV/AIDS. Very early on, it became clear that HIV/AIDS gained a foothold in communities where poverty, racial, and social inequalities and all forms of “isms” festered; these communities are now the places disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It therefore makes sense that our services addressed issues impacting marginalized people such as homelessness, resource scarcity (e.g. food), and general health disparities (e.g. drug user health needs). While HIV/AIDS might be the door through which our clients first enter, we attend to all of their needs, many of which are addressed by the services CAHS provides.

Coupled with the provision of direct services, we engage in advocacy on the local, state, and federal levels to protect the rights of people affected by HIV and ensure funding for needed services. As a coalition made up of member organizations, we also serve over 30 HIV/AIDS-related organizations across Connecticut. We operate a robust (in-person and on-line) training program for case managers and a technical assistance program for HIV/AIDS housing organizations. Annually, we conduct a quality assurance review process for all DOH and HOPWA funded housing programs in the state. We contract with an outside consultant who scores the performance of each program against a set of established Standards of Care. For the past several years we have contracted with CAHS to use the services of Sheryl Horowitz, Chief Research & Evaluation Officer, as that outside consultant.

Since 1992, we have administered financial assistance payments directly to vendors on behalf of qualifying participants who access the funds through local case managers. Financial assistance is provided for housing expenses, medication co-pays, transportation, insurance premiums, and other living expenses. Originally these funds were limited to persons living with HIV/AIDS but, over time, we’ve been asked to provide these services to the homeless population as well. Currently, we administer approximately $4M of client assistance funds, the bulk of which are for non-HIV/AIDS related housing. We are primarily funded by federal funds passed through the Department of Housing, the Department of Public Health, and the City of Hartford’s HOPWA and Ryan White Part A programs.

We partner with many entities around the state involved in HIV/AIDS and homelessness efforts to create efficient and effective programs. One such effort is called the Data Integration Grant, funded by HUD and HRSA through the RAND Corporation. The Ryan White and HOPWA service delivery networks in Hartford are working to enable two independent database systems to “talk to each other” so that: service providers have timely access to comprehensive data (e.g. medical testing, referrals, housing status), stronger relationships are forged between formerly siloed providers, and clients are considered more holistically resulting in a better understanding of the client’s medical and housing needs. The project evaluation is being conducted by Sheryl Horowitz as an outgrowth from the established relationship between the two agencies.

An example of the other intermediary work that we do is a program called the Connecticut Housing and Healthcare Neighborhoods. The recently completed 5 year national grant focused on the intersection of housing and healthcare for individuals experiencing homelessness. The hypothesis was that providing safe and supportive housing reduces overall healthcare costs. We were invited to be the lead grant agency because of our ability to project manage and be financially accountable to federal standards. It was a successful project with a positive outcome, namely “that supportive housing can reduce utilization of shelters and costly health care in some populations, and these reductions can substantially offset program cost.”

This broadening of our future is not unexpected when one looks back on the work that we have accomplished over the past 30+ years. Since our earliest days, we have understood stable housing to be a component of healthcare. Without stable and supportive housing, persons with HIV/AIDS and their families would not have the foundation for better health outcomes. We also addressed the needs of the entire family system in our interventions. In a broad sense, this has been what is now called “the two-generation approach”: our programs always included the children in the household as well as the adults. Employment is also key for individuals with HIV/AIDS (as well as those experiencing homelessness.)

For 15 years, we have acted as the fiduciary agency for the National Working Positive Coalition whose mission is to improve the financial and personal wellbeing of individuals living with HIV and AIDS.Institutional/systemic and cultural biases are the Achilles heel in the fight to end the AIDS epidemic. At the start of what is now a pandemic, homophobia prevented a swift response. When the disease quickly moved into those who use injection drugs, primarily persons of color in poor urban settings, the response became even more lethargic. Now more than ever HIV/AIDS is a disease of the poor and disenfranchised. Because we are all too well aware of this fact, AIDS Connecticut is committed to combating these imbalances in all of our approaches, beginning with board and staff composition, which includes members of communities disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS as well as persons with “lived experience.” We continually train on topics of cultural competency (race/ethnicity, LGBTQ), being a trauma informed agency, and person-centered approaches to our services. We have recently started a Spanish club for staff (providing them a paid lunchtime) who want to learn conversational Spanish to better serve our monolingual participants.

About Connecticut Association for Human Services, Inc.

The Connecticut Association for Human Services, Inc. is a non-profit organization founded in 1910 as the Connecticut State Conference on Charities and Corrections. Located in New Haven, our original goal was to “Promote a more accurate knowledge of and a wider interest in charitable, reformatory and preventative work, and to provide an opportunity for persons interest in such efforts to compare and discuss principles, methods and results.” Our name has changed several times over the years—the Connecticut Conference on Social Work, The Connecticut Social Welfare Conference—but the focus was always on bringing people together to improve the welfare of children and families.

However, members were dissatisfied with the Conference’s passive role as a forum for discussing social issues. Action was demanded and, in 1973, the Board of Directors formulated a new mission to address poverty in Connecticut through research, education, and advocacy. Our name was changed subsequently changed in 1974 to who we are today: the Connecticut Association For Human Services, Inc.

Since 1974, our mission has been to end poverty and engage, equip, and empower all families in Connecticut to build a secure future. We envision a Connecticut where all children and families thrive, regardless of income, and contribute to and share in the state’s growth; a Connecticut where low-income residents work with government, business, labor and faith leaders in developing policies and programs that ensure Connecticut’s prosperity, as well as their own.

For the past two decades, we have increasingly focused on helping families in Connecticut build economic security and success. We pursue this goal through research and policy advocacy at the state and national levels as well as implementation of proven programs that assist Connecticut families, such as the CT Earned Income Tax Credit and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

CAHS continues to be a vital part of lawmaking and regulation-making in Connecticut as well as an organization that brings to the public thoughtful analyses of the issues at hand. The CAHS of today is a far cry from the Connecticut Conference on Charities and Correction of 1910, but CAHS’s overarching goal has remained constant and was well expressed at its first conference:

"We must see...that no one shall be hungry, or naked, or without shelter, but it is of higher importance than that to see that no one grows to manhood or womanhood unable to earn food and clothing and shelter for himself or herself; so shall the burden grow lighter," said Trinity College President Flavel S. Luther, a speaker at the conference.

Why A Partnership

On the surface of it, a partnership between CAHS and ACT may seem counterintuitive. But we believe that we have a great deal to offer each other, perhaps more than if we both independently offered the same kinds of services and programs in isolation. The following list is not exhaustive but it aims to give you an idea of why we think partnering makes sense.

We know and trust each other: Human relationships are the foundation of many productive transactions. Because of the work that ACT has done with Sheryl Horowitz in the Quality Assurance Review Process and the Data Integration Grant, an existing relationship with CAHS has in great part led to the initial pondering of a possible partnership between the two agencies. Elsa Nunez and Chris Duffy, board members of CAHS, served on the board of Leadership Greater Hartford alongside John Merz, Executive Director of ACT. Again, relationships! Still, there needs to be a compelling mission-driven reason for the two organizations to begin this joint inquiry into some form of partnership. Here are several reasons.

We can complement rather than compete with each other: While CAHS and ACT operate in the social services field and are focused on improving the lives of those disproportionately impacted by poverty and other social factors, our agencies array of services do not overlap (even if some of our participants may.) Complementary capacities and not competing or overlapping programs promise to provide a fertile ground for synergy rather than the cannibalizing of each other’s programs or agency. For example, in the past and currently planned for the near future are trainings for AIDS case managers by CAHS to strengthen the financial capability to assist clients.

Having few mutual funders reduces the inherent risk of competing internally for the same grants. This complementary approach led to the successful merger of CARC and AIDS Project Hartford into AIDS Connecticut. Joining complementary programs under the same roof led to an increase in efficiency and effectiveness in program delivery, staff training, and relationship building.

We both integrate program with policy: Adopting a model of evidence-based practice, both our agencies are hybrids comprised of direct and indirect services coupled with public policy “think tanks” driven by data. One pillar of the organization informs the other in a cyclical praxis-like model. Additionally, our agencies have capitalized on their expertise in the financial realm by providing fiscal sponsorship for smaller entities and/or financial administrative services. An example of how we could integrate services would be combining CAHS’s expertise and programs of financial coaching and tax preparation (VITA) to ACT’s case management training institute and statewide network of providers. Perhaps the two agencies’ fiscal sponsorship services could be enhanced when combined?

We are both statewide and act as conveners, collaborators, and intermediaries: As statewide agencies, we bring other organizations and people together for greater collective impact. Both of our agencies work to facilitate relationships between different types of partners, including other not-for-profits, governmental agencies, funders, and research partners. We tackle issues (income and health disparities) with similar problems at their core (systemic biases, lack of affordable housing). We can bring together partners from our two worlds to one table to tackle overarching problems faced by CT residents.

A holistic approach is utilized: While a particular program might provide a particular service or build a particular skill, each of our two agencies approach its participants in a holistic fashion. Our agencies attempt to weave various service systems together in order to create a more effective service web that will ultimately better serve the impacted residents of Connecticut with whom we interact. Why not weave our two webs into one?

Our organizational cultures are similar: The single factor that derails many organizational restructuring efforts is a clash of cultures. In this case, our agencies are led by committed boards, staffed by competent professionals, hold a solid reputation in our respective fields, are ethically grounded and, lastly, fiscally conservative in our approach to operating our business. We strive to do our best work at all times. We both deeply care about and are committed to supporting the people we serve so that they can make their lives better and healthier.

Research is key: Both agencies continually evaluate our programs and research mechanisms of behavior change in order to improve participant outcomes. We tie policy and funding changes to participant outcomes. We will continue to work to empower our participants through research activities, now as an integrated larger agency.

As we engage our stakeholders our two boards come with these commitments:

  • We will have open and honest conversations with you. We will provide information that you seek in a timely fashion and will not purposely mislead you in any way.
  • We are absolutely committed to the continuation of both our missions as well as the existing advocacy and services. We most definitely want to continue (and expand wherever feasible) all of the programs that the two agencies are committed to retaining.
  • We are committed to retaining current staff, all of whom are experts in their respective realms, on two conditions: that their positions are funded and that the agency can demonstrate a history of high performance based on their annual reviews.

For more information on our respective organizations, including an overview of our current programs, publications, and our most recent audits and 990s, please visit our websites.

John Merz
Executive Director
AIDS Connecticut

ACT Logo

Robert Blakey
CFO & Interim CEO
CT Association for Human Services