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In March 2018, St. David’s Center opened the doors to the Harman Center for Child & Family Wellbeing in downtown Minneapolis, as the community partner of Westminster Presbyterian Church. On July 11, St. David’s Center and Westminster joined together to host a vibrant gathering of St. David’s Center supporters, staff, church leaders and congregants, academics and thought leaders in the field of early intervention, local government officials, and invested community leaders and members to celebrate the fifth anniversary of this first-of-its-kind early intervention center, dedicated to improving the trajectories of children with global delays in development.

Reflecting on the partnership that made the 10,000-square-foot Harman Center facility a reality, Westminster Presbyterian Church Senior Associate Pastor Meghan Gage-Finn welcomed the crowd with a nod to the “perfect storm” of collaborative strengths.  “We understood that St. David’s Center was uniquely equipped to provide culturally sensitive support services, while Westminster was uniquely positioned geographically to be accessible to those most in need,” she stated. “More than 700 families have been served through the programs at the Harman Center. We know that these goals and these hopes have been achieved—and far surpassed.”

In her introduction, St. David’s Center CEO Julie Sjordal referred to the decades of research that serve as the foundation of the innovative, evidence-based work conducted at the Harman Center. “We knew that we should be here and do this work here because of the emerging science,” she reflected. “Dr Nadine Burke Harris, in her book The Deepest Well, makes the scientific case about what we’ve learned in twenty years of research, stating, ‘Childhood adversity literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades.  It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. The hope in transforming the devastating impact of adversity on our communities begins one person and one community at a time – this will transform our nation!’”

This transformative work is the legacy of the late Scott Harman, the longtime St. David’s Center clinical leader for whom the Center is named. According to Dr. Anne Gearity, a veteran child development expert and colleague of Scott’s, “Scott believed this is the most important work we can do – supporting very young children and their families. As Scott realized, and we now know with certainty, early support can inoculate vulnerable children in ways that carry them through their lives.”

In addition, the significance of investing in our youngest community members, as well as stabilizing and supporting the entire family unit, is not lost on those actively responsible for the welfare of all members of our community. Affirmed Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, “Five years ago, we recognized that you can’t just have a light touch with a family that’s deserving of a whole, wrap-around hug.”

It is this innovative, multidisciplinary, integrated approach that amplifies the Center’s positive results – results that are also made possible by virtue of intentional public-private partnerships, as articulated by Hennepin County Commissioner Chris LaTondresse, stating, “When government alone does things, it’s often one plus one equals two. Through partnerships like the partnership with St. David’s and Hennepin County, one plus one has an opportunity to equal 10 – not just because of the vital services provided to young people and to families, but really, the innovation, the way that you teach us to deliver better services across the board.  You make Hennepin County better, and by extension, as one of our nation’s largest urban counties, you make our nation better, as we’re a community of practice, in learning from all of you with what you’re doing right here at the Harman Center about how we have to do this work.”

The program concluded with an inspirational video featuring the staff responsible for the groundbreaking outcomes achieved at the Harman Center as well as the voices of families whose lives have been irrevocably changed for the better. As the evening wrapped up with tours of the facility for attendees, the overwhelming sense was one of gratitude for the past five years, and hope for the years to come. We came together in the spirit of community to celebrate each child and family who have walked through the doors of the Harman Center looking for support as well as those who walk alongside them, committed to ensuring that every child – especially those with complex needs – realizes their full potential. In the words of Mayor Jacob Frey, “You were ahead of your time five years ago. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’re again going to be ahead of your time five years from today. Keep up the great work!”

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