Dedicated to building up EMMA and Beechwood neighborhoods from within by engaging residents, service providers, and community partners in our holistic approach.
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.
Click Here to Read the Bios of Our Board Members
Connected Communities Staff
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, a Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership from Roberts Wesleyan College, and a Certificate in Business Excellence from Columbia University.
LaShunda most recently served as the President and CEO of Young Women’s College Prep Foundation, Inc., and is now “doing her life’s work” as Executive Director of Connected Communities. LaShunda enjoys serving as a motivational speaker through workshop presentations and conference keynotes. 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, including being named a Rochester Business Journal’s 40 under 40 honoree, Girls Scouts of Western New York Woman of Distinction, and an ATHENA Young Professional finalist by the Women’s Council. LaShunda is blessed to share her life’s journey with her husband Moses and their two children, Branden and Myanna.
Janielle Crocker is the Education Project Manager and a native of Rochester, New York. She considers herself a “born helper”, and has strong leadership qualities. Janielle is passionate about youth development and effecting change in communities to which she belongs. She has over ten years’ experience in the education sector, serving as an Extended Learning Program Coordinator, Childhood Healthy Weight Project Manager, Building Administrator, and Grant Coordinator. Janielle’s background is in Human Services. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies through the State University of New York College at Brockport, and is pursuing her Masters in Organizational Leadership. Janielle enjoys sharing her faith, spending time with her husband and three children, working out, and writing.
Lindsey Feigenbaum is the Community School Site Coordinator. Lindsey, a native of Seattle, has thoroughly enjoyed this sixth year making Rochester her home. Graduating with her Master’s in Education Policy, Lindsey brings a passion for working with all school stakeholders to help 33 School thrive as a hub for the broader community - students, parents, and their families. She strongly believes schools are a place for holistic learning and development. In this spirit, she looks forward to engaging the community and convening the neighborhood supports to make this a reality as 33’s new Community School Site Coordinator.
Lindsey's background includes coordinating mentoring and educational enrichment programs such as Partners in Reading and Learning and Exploring at Play (LEAP) through the University of Rochester, and the Summer Safe Haven Program with Cameron Community Ministries. Additionally, she's been involved with grassroots educational advocacy efforts through Empire Justice Center and Citizen Action of New York with a focus on supporting culturally relevant education and restorative practices in schools. The time she has spent with students and families in Rochester has been extremely meaningful and drives her to continue this work through Connected Communities. She greatly appreciates the support as she is welcomed into the 33 School, Connected Communities, and the Beechwood/EMMA neighborhood!
Vanessa Santiago is the Community Engagement Coordinator. Her role is to strategize, plan, and facilitate resident-centered initiatives in the EMMA and Beachwood neighborhoods. She is also responsible for implementing a long-term community engagement plan that includes consistent and effective communication, engagement, and participation in local government and community building processes to support an inclusive neighborhood environment. Vanessa is a Rochester, New York native and loves the city. Prior to working at Connected Communities, Vanessa worked at the Healthy Baby Network. Her role was to help mothers find the best care in their community and ensure a health pregnancy. Vanessa also volunteers at a non-profit called Bethel Express where she mentors at risk youth by teaching them scholastic success, spiritual strength, and social stability. Vanessa is dedicated to seeing the City of Rochester reach its fullest potential. She has two sons, Darren (12) and David (9). They brighten up her life and give her a million reasons to smile.
Jacqueline Procope-Isaacs is the Administrative Project Manager. Jacquie is originally from the beautiful island of St. Kitts. She relocated to Rochester with her husband from Brooklyn twenty years ago and considers herself to be a “Rochestarian”. Before this role, she was the Office Manager at Young Women’s College Prep Foundation. With over 25 years of experience, she comes to us with professional executive organizational and operational management skills and experience. She is active in the community and volunteers her time as a bible teacher.
Jenna Lawson is the Community Liaison and AmeriCorps VISTA. Jenna graduated SUNY Geneseo as a History major with a focus on African American history and structural inequality in America. Her work will increase our online presence and support Connected Communities' mission and continue to empower the residents of these communities. She also contributes to grant writing and data analysis to provide data-driven and culturally-informed solutions to help Beechwood and EMMA residents thrive.