Harlem Family Institute

Harlem Family Institute founder Stephen Kurtz shares about opening the psychotherapy program at The Children’s Storefront in the late 1980’s – a tuition-free private school led by poet Ned O’Gorman that offered a very unconventional approach to learning at the time.

“The idea was to start a program for the emotional care of the Storefront’s children whose capacity to learn was compromised by the immense problems they faced at home in a community plagued by poverty, crime and addiction. I fixed up a space in the basement with furniture from the Salvation Army; acquired paper, paints and brushes, crayons, hand puppets and toy telephones. I visited the classes and got to know the teachers who soon began sending me the children most obviously in need of attention. They sent me more and more,” said Mr. Kurtz.

This single psychotherapy program grew into the Harlem Family Institute, which today trains tomorrow’s diversity-sensitive psychoanalysts through the free or low-fee clinical work they provide as the Institute responds to the needs of its community, plagued by inter-generational trauma.

“Few long-term psychotherapeutic and emotional-support programs exist for struggling and at-risk youth and their parents in New York’s schools, except those few for whom it is economically feasible. The intermittent counseling that troubled youth receive is usually limited to short-term crisis intervention by overextended school workers,” Executive Director, Michael Connolly explains.

“At the same time, aspiring psychoanalysts from underserved populations who wish to pursue training often have few affordable options, especially in community settings, where they can transform lives and be of service to their own communities.”

Empowering the community to heal itself.

Since HFI’s inception in 1991, they have made highly praised efforts to train, as well as serve, people of color, with primary emphasis on working with children and families. HFI therapists of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities provide open-ended psychotherapy to children, aged 5 to 18, from Harlem and other underserved areas of upper Manhattan. They take psychoanalytic work out into the community, where they give children a safe space to voice their feelings, learn to use their strengths to manage the challenges they face each day, and discover new ways to relate to themselves and each other.

“There is tremendous need for HFI’s services. The children we see in therapy are struggling with such issues as parental loss, difficulties with family members, violence, anxiety, depression, school failure, bullying, low self-esteem, and other serious concerns. The in-depth psychological intervention HFI provides is missing from much of the nation’s healthcare system. It is also sorely lacking in NYC’s public schools and underserved communities, where children are at greater risk for facing multiple obstacles to personal growth and academic success.” Mr. Connolly shares.

Bringing mental health to the people.

Since the Institute’s inception, its altruistic mission has attracted experienced professional psychoanalysts from many institutes across New York to help train its student analysts. As the trainee base grew along with the need in Harlem communities and their schools, the Institute expanded into other school settings as well as community sites serving after-school programs and services. It has since worked with more than 12 schools in Harlem and neighboring communities.

The Institute has graduated more than 60 psychoanalysts or psychoanalytic therapists from its programs, more than half of them African-Americans or Latinos/as, and has offered more than 65,000 therapy sessions to children and families, many of whom wouldn’t have had long-term therapy without the Institute’s programs.

“Our community’s appreciation can readily be noted. All you have to do is observe the expression on a child’s face as she/he eagerly walks alongside their ‘person’, ready for their special time. Or see the hope growing in the hearts and minds of their teachers and parents who realize that positive possibilities have increased for their most vulnerable child/student.” said former River East Elementary School Assistant Principal, Sid Massey. 

Julie Zuckerman, Principal of the Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights and formerly Principal at Central Park East 1 in Harlem, has drawn upon the Institute’s services for well over a decade. She notes that children and parents are eager to work with HFI therapists and points out the unique nature of the in-depth, long-term work we do.  She says emphatically, “Simply changing children’s behavior should not be the goal of therapy. With the invaluable help of HFI, we want to be building hearts and minds!”  

The Institute traditionally derives its income from foundations, its trustees and other individual contributors, corporate matching grants, houses of worship, and its students. The Institute has recently partnered with CDC Deposits Corp. to increase its revenue from the private banking sector as part of the Charity Deposits Program to further support the expansion of its clinical treatment programs across New York City.

To learn more about the Harlem Family Institute and to donate, visit: http://harlemfamilyinstitute.org/

"Few long-term psychotherapeutic and emotional-support programs exist for struggling and at-risk youth and their parents in New York’s schools, except those few for whom it is economically feasible. The intermittent counseling that troubled youth receive is usually limited to short-term crisis intervention by overextended school workers."

Michael Connolly, Executive Director, Harlem Family Institute

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