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Chavon Burgess Hamilton is getting things done through The Hartford HealthCare Initiative!

Chavon Burgess Hamilton coordinates various data-informed health care approaches at the community level from her office here on the Swift Campus!

Chavon Hamilton Burgess is a public health researcher with an edge. Her world is defined by data sets and what they represent concerning health outcomes in North Hartford. But, Chavon is able to take her efforts beyond presenting those numbers to influence policy. Her experiences as a life-long North Hartford resident allows her dig deep into the culture driving the data. And, from there, she is able to motivate people to practice boots-on-the-ground change. She says it all begins with communication.

“People don’t talk about the negative health outcomes people are experiencing here in North Hartford enough. That’s why we are in business. We get this information directly to the community and work with the community to involve their voice in everything we do,” Burgess said.

She has more than 10 years of community based public health work beneath her belt, graduating from Weaver High School before going on to Atlanta Emory University and taking a job with the Boston Public Health Commission. Burgess then came back home and joined Hartford’s Institute for Community Research where she realized services did not necessarily have to change, but, they needed to be better coordinated.

In 2016, she formed the Hartford Health Initiative and focused on drawing together service providers and community members in better targeting the delivery of health services in North Hartford. “We are grassroots in the realest way. We inform and facilitate that bridge between service providers and the communities they serve. Bottom line, it’s all about increasing access,” Burgess said.

The Hartford Health Inititiative partners with a who’s who of public health resource entities; the Trinity Health Care Triple Aim Collaborative, Blue Hills Civic Association, Compass Peacebuilders, Hartford Knights, Northside Church, the YMCA, Advocacy to Legacy and the Urban League of Greater Hartford.

“We are not in this saying we need to improve these agencies. We are in this to drive a deeper impact through their services. That can only be done through informing their efforts from a community level,”.

Through all of these partnerships, Burgess delivers access to resources at the community level through events and educational engagements to inform residents of available services and to foster relationships between community members and service providers leading to meaningful change.

“We are dealing with people who are experiencing chronic illness at higher rates than the rest of society. We try to bring residents and service providers into new relationships. We are always seeking to connect people with primary care providers. But, first we have to create a level of trust,” she said.

And, though Primary Care Physicians have been an elusive asset in delivering better health care to North Hartford residents, the Hartford Health Initiative coordinates services covering a myriad of cultural practices that have a direct impact on health outcomes in North Hartford. Much of the work is conducted through community-based focus groups. They cover issues ranging from tobacco use and abuse to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s). “Did you know that youth of color are 3 to 4 times more likely to contract gonorrhea or chlamydia? That’s not going to be a comfortable conversation for most people. But, we’ve got to have them. That’s why we are here,” Burgess said. I

It’s the opposite of a referral. Instead of issuing a referral to the patient, the Hartford Health Inititiative creates opportunities to draw them to the table and give them the opportunity to express themselves. “If you give someone a referral, there’s a 50% chance they won’t show up if it is not an emergency. They won’t go. We have a network that we leverage in creating these events and campaigns bringing people to a table where they can be heard. It’s a different dynamic and they are more open to receiving new information,” Hamilton said.

Hamiltoln said the Hartford Health Initiative is creating a bridge, giving residents who are experiencing chronic health issues a platform from which to determine their own paths to positive health outcomes. “If I see people taking advantage of the assets we have in the neighborhood; the parks, going on walks, accessing more fresh and healthier foods, I know our efforts are successful. Hopefully, I can work myself out of a job,” Hamilton said.

For Hamilton and the Hartford Health Initiative, that success will see people in North Hartford taking better care of themselves. And, for her, that will mean a change in culture. “In five years, we hope to be an organization that helps build a culture of health in the neighborhoods. Through education, awareness and increased access to equitable health resources, we can make that happen and it will be led by the people in this community,” Hamilton said. “And, I’m still a researcher in all of this. We will continue to influence policy to have a positive impact on the quality of life for residents,” she added.

When asked why she chose Swift for her new headquarters, Hamilton said, “As an organization that emphasizes grassroots community engagement, choosing the Swift Factory was a no brainer as the location places us within the neighborhoods we serve. Having an office here has provided the opportunity for continued growth and potential collaborations with other organizations and businesses.” We’re glad to have you Chavon!

For more information about the Hartford Health Initiative, check them out here:

Gov. Ned Lamont Launches the state's Economic Development Week at Swift!

Gov. Ned Lamont addresses Swift Tenants and North Hartford Leaders at Swift!

Gov. Lamont chose the Swift Factory to kick off the state's economic development week! He announced the state's new $150 million initiative to help small businesses recover from the Covid-19 Pandemic. Dubbed the Future Fund, it includes $75 million in state bonding and $75 million from the state's share of federal COVID relief funds. Half of those funds will be targeted to minority small businesses. Our Swift Team was proud to step aside and let our tenants lead in engaging the crowd. It seems Swift can potentially serve as a model for re-investment in communities like North Hartford all over the state!

Here, we have Terraine Jamison, CEO of Build a Better You, LLC giving her 5 min. Elevator Pitch directly to the Governor! Our tenants benefitted greatly from this direct engagement and the resulting direct referrals they received!

Chef Walt's Kitchen is Up, Running and Thriving!

The culinary arts use varied ingredients, spices and techniques as the ultimate creative expression through cooking. But, Chef Walter (“Chef Walt”) Little says, though all of that goes down in his kitchen, it goes far beyond the kitchen for him; food is power.

“I want these young people to know that cooking is a great way out. If you love to cook, it is a great way to build a good life for yourself. It doesn’t take a lot to get started,” Little said. “But, it does take a lot to keep it going. You gotta have hustle,” he added.

Early on in life, Little learned the universal power of good food. He was a mere child when he began cooking for his little brother while his mother was away on deployment with the National Guard. “I remember I felt important being able to support my mother and brother that way,” he said. “I realized that cooking was a powerful tool and I could use it to make a way for myself.”

In 1988, the 16 year old Hartford High School student did what many teens did back then. He walked from his family’s Niles Street apartment to downtown Hartford’s fine dining establishments seeking a dishwashing job. “Everybody was desperate for work. And, dishwashing was the way we got in. It’s still the best way for new cooks to learn their way around a kitchen,” Little said.

Little got his first break at Gaetano’s Restaurant, a fine dining establishment owned by the Carbone Group and moved up the kitchen ladder rung by rung; starting in the dishwashing station, becoming a prep cook and then a line cook in quick succession. He then went on to be part of the crew that opened Hot Tomatoes at Union Station.

Little shared some advice for young people looking to get into the business. “Get in there and see what it is all about. It’s tough work. Work at a couple of places. Go to school if you can. I went to school years after I began cooking and I learned a lot,” he said.

In the late 1990’s, Little was learning a different set of lessons. His life was changed by a series of bad decisions. He was incarcerated. He went to prison as an experienced cook, but had no way of knowing he would earn the title “Chef” in prison. Because, he had no way of knowing that prison had a thriving underground culinary market.

Through purchasing items from the prison commissary, prison dormitory cooks engage in an endless cooperative effort to secure the basic building blocks of cooking; salt, fat, acid and heat. Transactions are based on the going rate for a pack of Ramen noodles (a quarter). So if a Mofongo costs $2.00, then that would be 8 packs of Ramen as payment.

“We would coordinate what we each would buy to complete our menu. To get salt and spice, we used the flavor packets from Ramen Noodles. To get fat, we used potato chips or we would drain the oil out of our packs of mackerel. We used saltine crackers as flour and to bind ingredients. And, the microwave was our source of heat.”

According to Little, being a dormitory chef taught him the extreme improvisation and creativity he continues to use. Little said he built quite a reputation that follows him up to Swift’s curbside pickup to this day. And, in prison, his understanding of the power of food deepened.

“Prison was scary when I first went. But, when they started calling me chef and put me in charge of the dorm microwave, I knew nobody was going to touch me. I was Chef,” Little said. The consummate hustler, Little soon took dormitory cooking to a whole new level. He got into prison catering.

“We catered a birthday party that was celebrated by our whole dorm. Imagine feeding 130 guys with a small microwave. We even made food bowls out of oatmeal boxes lined with cut up garbage bags. It was a big event.”

Little got out of prison in 2002 and took his experience back to fine dining. He got a job at Hopbrook Tavern in Simsbury where he refined his skills and found a mentor in Tavern Owner, Kurt Soukop. Under Soukop, Little moved to Simsbury where he lived and worked before doing another bid in 2006. It was then that he and a few close friends had an epiphany.

“I was running out in the yard and my hands went up above my head and a feeling came over me. I was surrendering. I was giving it all to God,” Little recounted. “I knew I was done living that life.” Little said fellow inmates went through similar experiences. “God had his season in there with us. My friend Mel was in there doing a 45 year bid. He served 10 more years in the same cubical we stayed in after I went home. Recently he got out after serving over 30 years. He’s living his best life, going to church and being a productive member of society. He even comes and checks on me here,” Little said.

Little came home in 2010 and never looked back. In 2013, he approached the owner of Rupert’s Gas Station on Albany Avenue with his menu. “He looked at me and laughed, saying the people around here won’t eat that,” Little said.

He went on to open Classic Catering and Deli, serving wraps, sandwiches and deli items. “That’s where I earned my reputation. People couldn’t believe I was serving food of that quality out of a gas station,” Little said. “Even my parole officer would come through to see what I was doing. He was amazed and supportive,” Little recounted.

He’s been hustling ever since. He expanded his menu to include pasta, rice and cooked items, so he had to move to the American Legion’s kitchen which has a ventilation hood. He wanted a place with more visibility, so he moved to the Jerk Pit. Today, he’s feeling like he’s found a home at Swift.

"Man, it's like I hit the Lotto here. They made it really easy. I'm in this kitchen killing it now and all I needed to secure this space was $200 and a handshake. And, look at this place, this is a state of the art facility. I'm in heaven," he said.

And, he’s not alone. He has brought his two employees to Swift with him—Chris and Mak. His Sous Chef, Mak, joined him while he was at Ruperts. “This kid came up to me asking for a job everyday until I gave him a job. He’s been in a few other kitchens and has returned with new ideas and skills. He’s the reason I am serving stir-fry combination dishes now,” Little said. “Man brought that back when he came back to me from P.F. Chang’s.”

With all of his varied life experiences and exposure to different ethnic cooking styles, Little embodies the culinary concept of fusion. And, its reflected in his menu. “I want to introduce new, healthy things for our people here to eat. I take ideas from everyone I’ve worked with and create new things. I’m here to show you that healthy food can be made in exciting ways,” Little said.

Chef Walt’s menu is expansive; offering everything from paninis to wraps, specialty sandwiches, fresh and fried seafood, full entrees, specialty burgers, wings, pastas, salads and even Jamaican cuisine. Come on out and support Black Business! You know you’re hungry!

Give Chef Walt a call at: 860.222.0951

Check out his menu below: