As part of a $16.5 billion community-investment initiative, the KeyBank Foundation — a charity associated with the Cleveland-based bank — announced last week that it would donate $1 million over the next three years to the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology, its largest contribution in the New Haven area to date.

Founded in 2012, the Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology focuses on skills training for unemployed and underemployed people. Its program offerings were selected based on an approach engineered by Bill Strickland of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh.

“[The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology] aligns with the charitable, philanthropic areas that we focus on, and one of them is workforce development,” said Karen Crane, KeyBank corporate communications manager. “[They’re] transforming lives, taking people who didn’t have skills and giving them the skills to succeed in jobs that are well-paying to help support their families.”

In 2017, KeyBank gave more than $1 million in grants and sponsorships to about 200 different organizations in Connecticut and western Massachusetts, Crane said. In the 23 states where KeyBank operates, it plans to donate $175 million to community organizations over five years, a commitment it made when acquiring First Niagara Bank in 2016.

Besides phlebotomy — the practice of withdrawing blood samples from patients for laboratory analysis — and medical billing and coding, the arts and technology center also provides culinary training. Graduates of the 11-month program, which is offered free of charge to students, have had a 100 percent job-placement rate thus far, President and CEO Erik Clemons said.

“We first did feasibility before designing any programs,” Clemons said. “Our feasibility was anchored on Yale New Haven Hospital, the largest employer in New Haven. They communicated that they needed medical billing and coding experts and phlebotomists, so we designed our training programs around Yale New Haven’s needs.”

Strickland, the inventor of the employer-focused approach the center uses, was enthusiastic about the progress Clemons and his colleagues have made. The Connecticut center is just one affiliate of the National Center for Arts and Technology, which Strickland also founded.

His goal in starting the original Manchester Bidwell Corporation was to “change the conversation about poverty” he said, from viewing poor people as liabilities to seeing them as assets.

“New Haven is going to become the prototype of best practices in Connecticut,” Strickland said. “They’re getting outcomes, outstanding results, over a long enough period of time that KeyBank knows that these guys know what they’re doing.”

For his part, Clemons agreed that his center’s continued success had guided KeyBank’s decision. He added that with this influx of money, he hopes to provide services to students beyond just training to ensure job placement.

The center’s employment practices are designed to boost marginalized communities. Every staff member now working at the organization was previously out of work.

“I felt like we needed to create new jobs for folks,” Clemons said. “Our phlebotomy teacher was unemployed but had just retired, while our current medical billing and coding teacher was a member of our first cohort [of students].”

Both Clemons and Strickland highlighted the quality of the center’s facilities at 4 Science Park. The building features natural lighting, ambient jazz music and art on the walls, as well as the Orchid Café, where some of the center’s graduates work.

“A lot of the philosophy has to do with the design of our space,” Clemons said. “For people who have been marginalized, being in a place that is beautiful and built for them will allow them to see life differently.”

The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology also offers after-school and summer programs.

Will Wang |