Sylvan Lebrun, Contributing Photographer

Last Thursday, New Haven children’s mental health clinic Clifford Beers formally announced that it will be acquiring Farnam House, a neighborhood center that provides educational and recreational services to local youth.

Discussions between Clifford Beers and Farnam House in preparation for the merger began about a year ago and built upon their long history of collaboration in the New Haven community. This merger is partially motivated by Farnam House’s budget constraints as a smaller nonprofit and will provide them with access to large-scale resources and infrastructure to continue providing their programming. The move also represents a continuation of Clifford Beers’ efforts to collaborate with other youth service organizations amid the pandemic. The legal incorporation of Farnam House into Clifford Beers will formally occur on July 1.

“I hope that it’ll give us an opportunity — this coming together — to really improve the lives of the kids that we’re working with, their families and our community,” said Rochelle Cummings, president of Clifford Beers’ board of directors. “You can see that families have had such a rough time during the COVID pandemic.”

Clifford Beers’ primary function is to provide clinical mental health services to children at their multiple sites in New Haven. However, the organization is also involved with numerous outreach projects, targeting what CEO Alice Forrester calls the “social determinants of health.”

To this end, Clifford Beers has run initiatives focusing on community violence, education, housing and access to basic needs. During the pandemic, one of these efforts has been the coordination of a collective of learning hubs across New Haven, where students can receive help with remote learning and socialize with their peers.

Forrester linked this work with the learning hubs to the new merger with Farnam House, pointing to both as examples of Clifford Beers’ push to connect local youth with educational and social support amid the challenges of the pandemic.

Farnam Neighborhood House is a nonprofit neighborhood center that serves youth in the greater New Haven area. In addition to running a full-day preschool for younger children, it offers recreational activities including basketball, swim classes and martial arts at its building in Fair Haven. It also owns a 72-acre summer camp in Durham, according to Executive Director Jamell Cotto. After the merger, both of these properties will fall under the ownership of Clifford Beers.

According to Forrester, Clifford Beers and Farnam House have a history of collaboration. She recalled that Farnam House’s former Executive Director Elizabeth Gambardella “took [Forrester] under her wing” while Forrester was still working as an associate director.

The merger seemed like a natural step, Forrester said, because Farnam House’s focus on recreation and early childhood care is in line with Clifford Beers’ goal to support the “preventative activities” that improve youth mental health. Cotto also emphasized the “shared passion” that the two organizations have for improving the quality of life of children and families.

Another benefit of the merger is that Farnam House will be connected to a substantially greater pool of resources that will support its programming. According to Forrester, Farnam House currently only has a budget the size of “a small program at Clifford Beers.”

“The operating environment for Connecticut nonprofits has become extremely challenging which has limited our ability to expand our programs,” Cotto wrote in an email to the News. “By joining Clifford Beers, we will have the resources to grow. … We will also be able to connect our families to the many Clifford Beers services that meet the growing needs of the Fair Haven community.”

Cummings echoed this, stating that after the merger, Farnam House will be able to take advantage of Clifford Beers’ larger-scale departments for data analytics, HR and accounting.

Moving forward, according to Cotto and Forrester, the two organizations plan to direct their energy toward a continuation and strengthening of past Farnam House programming, while also focusing on connecting their respective client bases to the other group’s services.

According to Cummings, one of the immediate goals of this merger is to support Farnam House with the reopening of its youth summer camp program in Durham. This camp was last open in 2018, before it was closed due to storm damage.

Forrester told the News that Clifford Beers’ vice president of health and safety facilities will be taking on the renovations at Camp Farnam and plans for it to reopen either this summer or in the summer of 2022.

Over the next few months, Cotto said, the two organizations will be holding a number of meetings with local parents and community members to gain feedback on how they should direct their future work to best meet clients’ needs.

“My hope is that [the merger] will break down the silos between services,” Forrester said. “So that a kid can play basketball and get therapy that they need. Or a family whose child needs school readiness and who needs help with rent can turn to someone to be able to get these resources. So they don’t have to go to totally different organizations to be able to figure it out, but that we connect … and network to help them get what they need.”

Clifford Beers Clinic, founded in 1913, was the first outpatient mental health clinic in the United States.

Sylvan Lebrun is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor, and covered City Hall and nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Comparative Literature.