Harlem Children's Zone


Geoffrey Canada (photo NYT)


The Harlem Children’s Zone is a non-profit education organization whose holistic, birth-through-college approach to breaking the cycle of poverty has attracted attention from communities around the world.

The organization’s “pipeline to success” works with more than 12,300 children at each stage of their development, doing whatever it takes to ensure that each and every child graduates college and is ready to enter the globally competitive job market.  Currently, HCZ has nearly 1,000 students in college, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college.

The organization’s phenomenal success has been chronicled in many of the nation’s most-respected media including The New York Times Magazine, 60 Minutes, the Wall Street Journal, Anderson Cooper’s 360°, the Washington Post and NPR’s This American Life.  As a living laboratory, HCZ has been visited by hundreds of communities eager to replicate its model and is the inspiration for President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

The Harlem Children’s Zone model was pioneered by the organization’s renowned President, Geoffrey Canada, who was featured in the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman,’ the book Whatever It Takes and was recently named one of the world’s best leaders by Fortune magazine.

HCZ runs two K-12 charter schools, but the overwhelming majority of children it serves attend traditional public schools. It runs pre-school programs, in-school support networks, after-school  centers, social-service programs and The Baby College parenting series. In its latest effort to address the well-being of its children, the organization launched an initiative to combat the prevalence of childhood obesity. All of these efforts are at the core of rebuilding Central Harlem, moving it from a community mired in generational poverty to one that is marked by generational mobility.

The organization has also become a leader in the field of relying on data to drive its work.  As former President Bill Clinton said, “If you volunteer or give money to the Harlem Children’s Zone, you know you will get a high rate of return.” 

Read more about or programs here.


Harlem Children's Zone, Inc. has experienced incredible growth - from the number of children we serve to the breadth of our services. But one thing has stayed the same: the agency's "whatever it takes" attitude when it comes to helping children to succeed.  Hear some of our stories here.

The organization began 1970 as Rheedlen, working with young children and their families as the city's first truancy-prevention program.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the crack epidemic tore through Harlem; open-air drug markets flourished while families disintegrated. While many inside and outside Harlem gave up hope, HCZ's staff believed that new approaches were necessary.

In 1991, the agency was among the first in the city to open a Beacon Center. Our Countee Cullen Community Center turned a public school that used to shut its door at the end of the school day into a community center offering a range of services and activities on nights, weekends and summers.

In the 1990s, to help keep local schools safe, the Peacemakers program began placing AmeriCorps participants in classrooms. These young people were a welcome presence assisting teachers during the school day and then running programs after school.

The beginning of the Children's Zone®

In the early 1990s, HCZ ran a pilot project that brought a range of support services to a single block. The idea was to address all the problems that poor families were facing: from crumbling apartments to failing schools, from violent crime to chronic health problems.

HCZ created a 10-year business plan, then to ensure its best-practice programs were operating as planned, HCZ was in the vanguard of nonprofits that began carefully evaluating and tracking the results of their work. Those evaluation results enabled staff to see if programs were achieving their objectives and to take corrective actions if they were not.

A history of innovation

Over the years, the agency introduced several ground-breaking efforts: in 2000, The Baby College®parenting workshops; in 2001, the Harlem Gems® pre-school program; also in 2001, the HCZ Asthma Initiative, which teaches families to better manage the disease; in 2004, the Promise Academy, a high-quality public charter school; and in 2006, an obesity program to help children stay healthy.

Under the visionary leadership of its President and CEO, Geoffrey Canada, HCZ continues to offer innovative, efficiently run programs that are aimed at doing nothing less than breaking the cycle of generational poverty for the thousands of children and families it serves.

All HCZ programs are offered free to the children and families of Harlem, which is made possible by donations from people like yourself. To help us continue our work, please click here.