The 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School taught many hard lessons, chief among them to not to turn a blind eye or deaf ear to young people exhibiting severe emotional problems.

The murder of 20 young children, six staff members and the killer’s mother showed that such a tragedy could happen anywhere and is not limited to someone else’s back yard.

Nice communities are not immune — nor are poor and disadvantaged ones — to what is now recognized as a pressing national crisis: dealing with people’s emotional issues.

Boys & Girls Village, a statewide leader in providing mental health treatment, permanency planning and educational services to Connecticut’s most vulnerable youth and their families, has locations in Milford and Bridgeport/Black Rock.

A $2,160,000 grant from the state of Connecticut’s Nonprofit Grant Program will fund a new facility for Boys & Girls Village that can accommodate sophisticated programming for severely at risk children and families by improving its Milford facilities.

The grant is the largest in the third round of grants under the program, which is providing $15 million to 34 non-profit agencies statewide.

“Boys & Girls Village has experienced unprecedented growth, developing innovative programs and services to better meet the changing needs of the children and families we serve,” said Dr. Steven M. Kant of Easton, president and CEO. “This grant will allow Boys & Girls Village to expand much-needed services and reflects a model of partnership between the governor’s office, our area legislators, key state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, and the community in order to advance the health and care for Connecticut’s children and families.”

Boys & Girls Village has 225 staff members and about 400 kids in care, the vast majority of whom live in the community, either at home or in foster care. The children hail from 50 Connecticut towns and cities, three-quarters of them from Fairfield County and two-thirds from Bridgeport.

“Behavioral health for kids is coming to the forefront,” Kant said. “Generally what we’re doing is focusing on behavioral health services for extremely vulnerable youth. Sadly, there is a tremendous need.”

The youth they treat have experienced severe trauma, abuse and neglect, and the majority come from extremely disadvantaged socio-economic conditions, although not all of them do.

The old model of keeping kids in institutions or sending them out of state has been replaced with a number of innovative projects by the Department of Children and Families, including special education and in-home visits several times a week for kids with severe behavioral problems, he said.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, a former state Supreme Court justice from Fairfield, has the vision to work closely with disengaged youth in as normative a situation as possible while they are living at home or in foster care, he said..

“The bond money will play a significant role and is critical in our being able to continue these efforts,” Kant said.

The current Milford facilities include the Charles F. Hayden therapeutic day school, a 16-bed children’s psychiatric care unit, a 12-bed residential treatment program for boys, in-home treatment and family reunification programs, and the agency’s administrative offices.

The Charles F. Hayden School has more than doubled its student population over the last two years, now serving students from more than 30 Connecticut communities. The school is hoping to expand its 11th grade and add a 12th grade curriculum in the near future.

Boys & Girls Village recently began a new Work to Learn Program for youth ages 16 -21 that supports the ability of at-risk youth to achieve economic self-sufficiency and resiliency.

Program participants receive extensive coaching and use their skill sets in a structured environment to operate their own small businesses.

Boys & Girls Village’s successful application for state funding was one of a large number received for the highly competitive grant program. It was created by Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2013 to allow the state to invest in projects that will achieve new efficiencies and enhance the delivery of services.

"These organizations play an important role in our state, and we're proud to partner with and support them," Malloy said. "It's our goal to help organizations focus on what they do best — getting services to those who need them most."

Kant said the bonding money for capital projects is instrumental in carrying out the vision of treating severely at-risk kids in the community and demonstrates “a great partnership between the state and a private nonprofit organization that has seen double-digit growth in the past two or three years.”

Kant is a child psychiatrist and is married to Dr. Joanne Kant, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Alliance for Women's Health in Bridgeport. She is also the president of the Easton Arts Council and a singer. They have lived in Easton for 29 years and have two grown children.

Boys & Girls Village Inc. has been a provider of behavioral health, educational and permanency planning services for at-risk youth and their families for 74 years.

It offers family-centered services and evidenced-based treatment approaches to help children heal, learn and grow. Learn more at bgvillage.org.