Danbury Collective, A Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration to Help All Children And Families Have Opportunities to Succeed

A group of around 20 members from the Danbury community, including parents, non-profit organizations, municipal leaders, and school officials, announced the launch of the Danbury Collective at a meeting last month.

By Tribuna Staff

This initiative aims to address the challenges faced by Danbury's children and youth by pooling resources and working together in a coordinated manner to improve outcomes for all.

Isabel Almeida, president and CEO of United Way of Coastal and Western Connecticut, stated, "We are proud to announce the launch of the Danbury Collective, a multi-stakeholder collaboration that will aim to ensure that all children and families have full and equal access to opportunities to succeed in life. This is great news for the community of Danbury, Connecticut, as this initiative will help children thrive, from cradle to career.”

Thanks to seed funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Danbury Collective will work together with parents, students, and partners from government, business, nonprofits, and philanthropy to improve equity and outcomes for students in three key focus areas: early childhood education, chronic absenteeism and learner engagement, and youth mental health.

These priorities were identified by community partners, school leaders, and parents as the top areas of concern and will evolve if and as community needs change. The partners explained the rationale behind each of these focus areas. "A child's early years lay the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health," said Katie Curran, president and CEO at Connecticut Institute for Communities, and co-chair of the Collective's Advisory Council. "By age five, a child's brain has grown to 90 percent of its adult size. Today, only 25 percent of Danbury children start kindergarten 'most prepared to succeed' in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and language. We're dedicated to changing that."

Chronic absenteeism and learner engagement are other areas of focus for the Danbury Collective. Children who miss more than 10 percent of the school year are considered chronically absent and are thus at risk of falling behind and dropping out. The Collective will work to reduce absenteeism and increase engagement, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed.

In addition to early education and chronic absenteeism, the Danbury Collective will also focus on promoting mental health. Kara Prunty, director of Health and Human Services at the City of Danbury and co-chair of the Collective's Advisory Council, noted, "The US Surgeon General has sounded the alarm on the mental health of our children. Today, more than 1 in 5 children from ages 3 to 17 have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder," citing data from the National Institute of Health. Prunty added, "While mental health issues are widespread and challenging, they are also treatable and often preventable. However, meaningful change will require a comprehensive, collaborative effort evaluating policy, systems, and community supports."

The Danbury Collective will be led by Melissa Hannequin, who will serve as the founding executive director. Hannequin, a Bethel native and long-time resident, brings critical experience and skills in early childhood educational policy and operations, strategic planning, partner collaboration, and community outreach to solve common goals. Most recently, she served New York City Public Schools for more than six years in their citywide universal preschool initiative, "3-K and Pre-K for All." Her role was to work closely with school officials, city agencies, and community partners to expand families' access to free, high-quality preschool and special education programming and to meet community needs. She also knows the local community needs well, having served United Way as a Community Impact Coordinator for Danbury early in her career.

"I am eager to work towards ensuring that all children and families in Danbury have an equitable opportunity to be successful in life," said Hannequin. "To reach that goal, we must work collectively - in alignment with both community partners and community members and in response to our community's specific needs. We must also work both locally and at the systems level to make long-term, lasting change." Hannequin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and International Studies from Fairfield University and a Master of Science degree in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Hannequin has three immediate priorities for the Collective: first, to deepen the partnerships with Danbury leaders, community organizations, and parents that have already signed on to the cause; second, to spread the word about the value of the collective impact model and engage more community members and families; and third, to work with other collective impact groups already making a difference in the state.

These are the organizations and community members that make up the Danbury Collective, as of December 20, 2023.

  • City of Danbury Health & Human Services
  • City of Danbury Mayor’s Office
  • Community Action Agency of Western CT
  • Connecticut Institute for Communities, Inc. (CIFC)
  • Danbury Public Library
  • Danbury Public Schools
  • Danbury Public Schools – Citywide PTO
  • Danbury School Readiness Council
  • DanburyWORKS
  • Edadvance
  • Families Network of Western CT, Inc.
  • Family Resource Center Morris Street School
  • MCCA
  • The New American Dream Foundation
  • Regional Y of Western CT
  • United Way of Coastal and Western Connecticut
  • Western Connecticut Regional Adult & Continuing Education (WERACE)
  • Isabel Almeida*
  • Laury Barruos
  • Elké Calero Sweeney*
  • Tara Carvalho*
  • Eileen Costello*
  • Katie Curran* 
  • _(Advisory Council Co-Chair)_
  • Heather Fotheringham
  • Susan Giglio*
  • Melissa Hannequin* 
  • _(Executive Director)_
  • Michelle James*
  • Alex Lunding
  • Chrissy Maruffi
  • William McNamara*
  • Anne Mead*
  • Tammy Mikadze
  • Grace Molina 
  • _(Advisory Council Vice Chair)_
  • Emanuela Palmares*
  • Kara Prunty* 
  • _(Advisory Council Co-Chair)_
  • Carmen Prybylski*
  • Rick Raucci*
  • Lidia Santini*
  • Yazin Shilleh*
  • Leanne Tormey
  • Superintendent Kevin Walston*

*Staff members of a signed organization.


The Danbury Collective plans to become the fifth StriveTogether Affiliate in Connecticut, joining existing networks in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury.