Dedicated to building up EMMA and Beechwood neighborhoods from within by engaging residents, service providers, and community partners in our holistic approach.


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History of Connected Communities

After identifying a variety of neighborhood improvement opportunities, the residents of EMMA and Beechwood approached Rochester city leaders in search of support and guidance. A public/private partnership was formed that includes the Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition, EMMA Business and Neighborhood Association, NEAD, Home Leasing, Hillside, Farash Foundation, and the University of Rochester.  

Together, this partnership identified the Purpose Built Community model of holistic revitalization as an ideal approach to meet the unique needs of EMMA and Beechwood. A new not-for-profit, Connected Communities, was created to guide the transformation. Our Mission is to break the cycle of poverty and revitalize the EMMA and Beechwood neighborhoods.

The work of Connected Communities is built upon the success of earlier initiatives, including but not limited to the City's Focused Investment Strategy in Beechwood, and informed by research such as the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge report. 

This work cannot be done in isolation. In addition to working closely with neighborhood residents and community stakeholders, Connected Communities is partnered closely with the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and the Mayor's Office of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives.

Our Leadership

Click Here to Read the Bios of Our Board Members

Key Staff

LaShunda Leslie-Smith, LMSW, Executive Director

LaShunda Leslie-Smith, LMSW, Executive Director

LaShunda Leslie-Smith, LMSW, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Child and Family Services from St. John Fisher College, a Master's in Social Work from the Greater Rochester Collaborative Master of Social Work Program, and a Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership from Roberts Wesleyan College.

LaShunda most recently served as the President and CEO of Young Women’s College Prep Foundation, Inc., and is now the Executive Director of Connected Communities, a nonprofit whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty and revitalize the EMMA and Beechwood neighborhoods.

LaShunda enjoys serving as a motivational speaker, workshop presenter, and conference keynote. She shares her story of overcoming being a mom at the young age of 14, all over the country. LaShunda has been nominated and selected as the recipient for numerous awards and accolades. The Democrat and Chronicle named LaShunda one of Rochester, New York’s “Emerging African American Leaders.” She has been featured in Rochester Insider magazine, and was named the “Woman in the Spotlight” by the Women’s Council of Rochester, NY. Rochester Insider magazine named Ms. Leslie-Smith, “Most Likely to Succeed,” and HerRochester named LaShunda “A Woman to Watch”. The City of Rochester awarded LaShunda the “Pioneer Award” for her work in the Rochester community. LaShunda has also been featured in local magazines including on the cover of Breakthru Magazine where LaShunda was named one of the “Most Influential Women in Upstate New York” and Rochester Women’s Magazine in the “Inspire Section.” Most recently, LaShunda was named one of the Rochester Business Journal’s 40 under 40 honorees. LaShunda is blessed to share her life’s journey with her husband Moses and their two children, Branden and Myanna. 


Maya Crane, B.S., Community Engagement Coordinator

Maya Crane, B.S., Community Engagement Coordinator

Maya Crane is the Community Engagement Coordinator, which incorporates overseeing Connected Communities AmeriCorps program.  Maya is a native Rochesterian who resides in the City of Rochester and is a graduate of Rochester City School District.

She has a B.S. in Business Administration from Russell Sage College and is currently pursuing a Masters in Strategic Leadership at Roberts Wesleyan College. Maya is involved in Guest Central at her church, The Father’s House and Jack and Jill of America. She is married with two young children and comes to us with great organizational and operational management skills and experience.



Anna Gershteyn, B.S., B.A., Community Liaison

Anna Gershteyn, B.S., B.A., Community Liaison

Anna Gershteyn recently graduated from the University of Rochester, where she earned a double degree in Neuroscience B.S. and Spanish B.A. with a minor in Clinical Psychology. This year, Anna is happy to serve as the Community Liaison for Connected Communities through the AmeriCorps*VISTA Rochester Youth Year Fellowship Program, based out of the University of Rochester's Center for Community Leadership.

Some of Anna’s other involvements included volunteering with Compeer Rochester, Highland Elder Life Program, Friends of Strong, and conducting research at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Anna is very passionate about population and community health and plans to matriculate into medical school after her year of AmeriCorps VISTA service. Anna is looking forward to this year and to working with the community residents and partners to assist in creating positive changes for the EMMA & Beechwood neighborhoods. Our Community Partners

Our Funders

Our Community Partners