Connecting the HVACR Industry to the Community


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Ishan Heru, Community Connections Chief Impact Officer.

Ishan Heru is Chief Impact Officer at Community Connections, the largest not-for-profit behavioral health provider in the Nation’s Capital. At Community Connections, Heru focuses on providing housing for veterans, workforce development for young adults, and outreach services for those experiencing homelessness. He is also passionate about closing the workforce gap in underemployed communities.

As the HVACR industry continues to struggle with workforce shortages, connecting with people that Community Connections works with can not only help to fill open positions and secure the future of the industry but can also provide a safe place for these people to work and thrive.

Before Heru takes the stage as a key speaker at ACCA’s Fall Meetings, taking place November 1 – 3, 2021 in New Orleans, LA, he shares insights into his work and how the HVACR industry can get involved.

What is Community Connections?

Ishan: Community Connections, founded by Helen Bergman MSW and Maxine Harris, Ph.D., opened its doors in 1984. Since then, we have grown from a small mom-and-pop-clinic, serving a few dozen adults to the largest not-for-profit behavioral health provider in the Nation’s Capital. We now provide comprehensive services to more than 3,000 people annually.  

Initially focusing on recovery from mental and behavioral health problems, Community Connections grew during the nineties to help consumers cope with addictions, find housing, and recover from the impacts of trauma and violent victimization.

Our expansion continued to include the delivery of services to children, families, transition-age youth, adults, and a focus on treating high-risk individuals and finding employment opportunities for those ready to work.

We are now dedicated to providing integrated primary and behavioral care, housing, and homeless services allowing consumers to receive all of their care without disruption and with the greatest possible continuity.

Community Connections has been on the cutting edge of behavioral health care and treatment with national recognition for our clinical innovations. We remain proud of our accomplishments and continue to look forward to providing further innovations in the field of behavioral health.

How did you become involved in this work?

Ishan: My first job out of college was working with an emotionally disturbed boy who had been placed in group homes due to family abuse and/or neglect. This is the kind of work that becomes personal as you serve not only as a counselor but also as a surrogate family member. Providing safety and stability for them as they attempted to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally while mending their relationship with their family was quite a tall order. This experience led me to work with adjudicated youth with a focus on family stability and community reintegration. After a stint in banking and finance, I returned to this work with a focus on housing, employment, and community impact. I now continue my work as the Chief Impact Officer for Community Connections.

What is unique about the approach Community Connections has for resolving issues associated with homelessness?

Ishan: Community Connections’ orientation towards the work we do begins and ends with the communities we serve. Strengthening communities by addressing issues and related to homelessness is key. After submitting a successful proposal for a pilot program combining short-term housing assistance and employment services, we were able to provide data to our federal funder (HUD) to incorporate this model in future program guidance. This housing/employment program specifically targeted homeless youth in transitional ages (18-24), a demographic key within the workforce, to provide a pathway to stability and productivity within their communities.

Community Connections has a “whole-person” approach, how does that work?

Ishan: The whole-person approach is an understanding and consideration of the experience a person brings with them that may impact the way they interact within the services we provide. A person’s history, culture, family relations, community, trauma, achievements, and goals must all be considered when providing services/developing programs. This approach allows us to build up a person through their challenges as well as their strengths.

How does your work affect veterans?

Ishan: All of our services are provided to our community of veterans; however, our housing programs are of special note. Our programs at the Conway Residence and Abrams Hall, located at the original Walter Reed campus, focus on housing and service coordination for veterans. Both projects have received support from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Jon Bon Jovi.

Community Connections is currently exploring additional opportunities to expand our veteran’s housing portfolio to provide much-needed support to the brave men and women who have served our great country.

What great successes have you been involved in recently?

Ishan: Most recently I was able to lead an effort to bring millions of dollars into our local system. This was an advocacy initiative that increased our resources to end homelessness from 28 percent to 65 percent. What’s even more impressive is that we were able to secure multi-year sustainable funding through a series of financial reforms.

Community Connections has had success working with trades, how do you plan to work with the HVACR industry?

Ishan: Through our workforce development program, we have worked with the local utility providers and construction companies to secure employment for our program participants. Our plan for the HVACR industry is to work on exploring an underutilized segment of the workforce within the communities served by the membership of ACCA. To support this effort, we plan to build connections between the HVACR industry and service providers which can then fill workforce gaps and build stronger communities.

What does a successful HVACR placement look like?

Ishan: Community Connections is focused on services and interventions that can provide the foundation for stability and prosperity. We hope to facilitate placement within the HVACR industry that provides long-term growth, stability, development, and leadership for the program participants while providing the employer with a top-tier employee.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Ishan: Community Connections is extremely grateful for this opportunity to discuss the possibilities associated with this type of workforce development, community fortifying initiatives and partnerships that can create tangible results for those that we work with and the HVACR industry.

Interested in learning more? Register for ACCA’s Fall Meetings, taking place November 1 – 3, 2021 at the New Orleans Marriott in New Orleans, LA, and meet Ishan Heru in person! You can also check out Community Connections here.

Natalie D'Apolito

Posted In: Community, Events

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