Health Promotion

A Vision to Help Children Thrive

Paul H. Dworkin, MD, Connecticut Children’s

Dr. Paul Dworkin, Executive Vice President for Community Child Health at Connecticut Children’s and Founding Director of the Help Me Grow National Center, joins our blog to share more about his work in Hartford and beyond to transform child health and development to ensure all children have an opportunity to thrive. Dr. Dworkin was selected by Leadership Greater Hartford to receive its 2023 Visionary Award during its annual Polaris Awards celebration.

The award honors an individual or institution that exemplifies Leadership Greater Hartford’s three pillars of community, leadership and connections. The organization selected Dr. Dworkin for his “exceptional medical career and contributions to building access to quality healthcare for underserved populations.” The award specifically recognizes his work leading the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline, which is a collaboration of more than 20 partners that seeks to enhance academic, health and life outcomes for children living in the North Hartford Promise Zone.

“Your work with the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline exemplifies visionary leadership and is a collaborative model that we want to highlight and celebrate within our community,” stated Larisa Kottke, President & CEO of Leadership Greater Hartford, in her award notification. 

Ascend is funded by a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Program and is part of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health. 

What inspires you as a community leader?

Dr. Dworkin: I am inspired and impressed by both Hartford’s great strengths and its enormous challenges. Hartford’s challenges are perhaps best exemplified by the fact that it is the capital city of a state with the fourth highest per capita income in our nation in 2023, yet Hartford is consistently ranked one of the poorest cities in our country. This personifies the inequities that plague our nation. However, Hartford has many attributes, which include strong community engagement and leadership and the fierce pride that residents have related to their neighborhoods and city. In addition, the city’s strengths include its varied and historic neighborhoods such as Clay Arsenal, Northeast and Upper Albany, which are designated as the North Hartford Promise Zone and serve as the communities in which our North Hartford Ascend Pipeline is working to improve outcomes for children and their families.

What is most meaningful about the work you do?

Dr. Dworkin: I often describe my work, and the work of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, as the relentless pursuit of the answer to the question, “How do we best strengthen services and supports to enable families to promote their children’s optimal health, development, and well-being?”

In seeking to find that answer, achieving progress is most meaningful to me. I’ll share three types of progress here:

  • First, progress includes advancing local and regional initiatives that have statewide and even national significance. Our Help Me Grow National Center serves as one example. It has grown from a pilot program here in Hartford to operating 120 systems across 31 states and focuses on helping communities build stronger child-serving systems by engaging and collaborating with programs and services from all sectors that impact child health and development.
  • Second, progress includes our ability to work with community leaders and residents to co-produce programs and services to ensure maximum benefit to children and families. The North Hartford Ascend Pipeline serves as an example of this work, as we are currently engaging more than 20 partners as well as community leaders and residents to build a system that will enhance outcomes for children and families in North Hartford’s Promise Zone.
  • And, third, progress also includes our ability to advance specific concepts such as targeted universalism, which ensures that those with the greatest need are able to benefit the most by accessing programs and services. Other critical concepts that we advance include goal-concordant care and family-engaged developmental monitoring. Both of these center families as key partners in their children’s care, ensuring their priorities are heard, recognized, and factored into care plans, which is an approach that is known to foster enhanced outcomes due to increased satisfaction from and engagement with families.

How will you continue the evolution of what it means to be a leader?

Dr. Dworkin: I believe that nurturing the next generation of leaders is critical to sustainability. I believe it’s important to share lessons that I have learned from my experiences over many years as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician as well as an advocate for building stronger child-serving systems. It is also important to create opportunities for leadership development to ensure a strong pipeline of leaders to carry on this important work.

What does the word ‘visionary’ mean to you?

Dr. Dworkin: I see visionary leaders as those who challenge the status quo and champion change. I also feel visionary leaders are particularly skilled at engaging others as partners in the change process, rather than simply carrying out their own agenda. One of my favorite quotes is from Robert F. Kennedy, who said, “Some see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘why not?’” To me, that’s visionary leadership.

What is next for you in your leadership and volunteer journey?

Dr. Dworkin: I am committed to ensuring the success of the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline. At this point, we are in the middle of the second year of a five-year, $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Program. I am proud to share that the secret to my longevity is my ability to leave the heavy lifting to others. We have a strong team at Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health that is leading this work in conjunction with many strong partners from throughout the greater Hartford area. I am working to share my leadership development strategy with this team in the hopes that Ascend will continue as a success story for North Hartford long after I retire.

In addition, multiple personal interests consume my time. I continue to harbor unrealistic aspirations to retain, or perhaps regain, my status as a competitive runner in my age group. I also am working hard to position myself to potentially shoot my age in golf. This becomes a bit easier of a goal as time progresses. In addition, I continue to maintain false hope of mastering the saxophone!

Regarding volunteer work, I enjoy my service on various boards of directors, including my former work with the Urban League of Greater Hartford where I served as chair of the board. I am very proud to be coaching the Newington Special Olympics basketball team, a position I’ve held for two decades. I am confident that other similar activities and adventures await my time and attention down the road.

Read additional articles from Dr. Dworkin here.

What does it mean to you to receive the 2023 Visionary Award from Leadership Greater Hartford?

Dr. Dworkin: First and foremost, I’m honored to be included among such an inspiring group of community leaders in being recognized at this year’s award ceremony. I wish to congratulate my fellow award recipients. It is so meaningful to have been nominated for this honor by my long-time friend and colleague, Dr. Larry Zemel, who I collaborated with for many years in the UConn Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Zemel has made extensive contributions to pediatric rheumatology on the local, state and national levels. To be nominated by a leader of his caliber is extraordinarily gratifying and meaningful.

I am grateful that this award acknowledges not only my leadership, but also the work of our key partners in Ascend, which include the city of Hartford, Hartford Public Schools, the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, the Village for Families and Children and the University of Hartford’s Center for Social Research. I am honored to accept the award on behalf of all of the partners we engage through this work, who are all equally committed to enhancing outcomes for children and families living in the North Hartford Promise Zone.

Learn more about the Leadership Greater Hartford Polaris Awards here.

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