About Charter Oak Cultural Center


Charter Oak Cultural Center, a beautiful historic landmark and vibrant non-profit multi-cultural arts center, doing the work of social justice through the arts.


Our History

Leadership & Financials

Our Partners

Directions & Parking

Contact Us


About Charter Oak Cultural Center


Charter Oak Cultural Center, a beautiful historic landmark and vibrant non-profit multi-cultural arts center, doing the work of social justice through the arts.


Our History

Leadership & Staff

Our Partners

Directions & Parking

Contact Us


Charter Oak Cultural Center harnesses the power of the arts to create positive social change, loving community and a safe place for self-expression.

Located in a historic building, we present multi-cultural arts programming that we make accessible for free or at a very low cost, we provide completely free classes in the arts to 1000 underserved Hartford young people, work extensively with the homeless community and present performances and exhibits that bring to light the burning issues of our day.

Our Goals Are

  •  To do the work of social justice through the arts
  • To provide wide access to the magic of the arts for all, regardless of income
  •  To celebrate the heritage of our historic building and to preserve it in perpetuity

Our History

Charter Oak Cultural Center lives in Connecticut’s oldest synagogue building. Built in 1876, our home was born from the struggle for religious freedom.

The first mention of a Jewish presence in Hartford occurs in court records dating back to 1659. But it wasn’t until 1843 that a special enactment of the Connecticut Legislature provided Jews the same rights as Christians to build religious structures. Congregation Beth Israel’s founders petitioned the State to pass that act. They commissioned famed architect George Keller, known for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial arch in Bushnell Park, to build it.

The building was home to Congregation Beth Israel and, then, Calvary Baptist Church, until it was abandoned in the 1970s.

By the late 70s, left open and empty, the City of Hartford planned to demolish it. A small group of Jewish leaders mobilized to save this Hartford gem. The group formed the Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association. They saved the building in the interest of historic preservation, but they also envisioned its use not as a house of worship, but as a neighborhood center. They wanted to reaffirm Jewish engagement in Hartford, while serving a multi-ethnic urban neighborhood that would become a vital part of the downtown revival. They wanted the building and the institution it would become to be a vital part of the downtown revival.

The beautiful building was carefully restored. The original stencil work, pews and fixtures remain. The founders’ work paid off. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Monuments.

But financial pressures on the new center were hard to overcome. By 2001, when Rabbi Donna Berman took the helm at Charter Oak Cultural Center, the organization was on the verge of closing its doors forever. Donna breathed new life into Charter Oak. Under her leadership, Charter Oak Cultural Center has become one of the area’s most vibrant arts centers, the only one whose mission is explicitly to do the work of social justice through the arts. 

Today, Charter Oak Cultural Center is a haven for multicultural arts and the exploration of burning issues of our day.

The Hebrew writing above our Bimah means “know before whom you stand.”


About Rabbi Donna Berman

Rabbi Donna Berman is the executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center. Donna is known as one of the region’s most moving speakers and visionary leaders. She has touched thousands of lives through her work at the Charter Oak.

Rabbi Donna holds a Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from Drew University. At the core of her theology is a commitment to the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, repairing the world through acts of justice. This is a commitment that she brings to her work at Charter Oak.


More about Donna

In 2001, when Donna took the helm at Charter Oak Cultural Center, the organization was in a state of ruin and on the verge of closing its doors permanently. Donna breathed new life into the organization and today Charter Oak has become one of the area’s most vibrant multi-cultural arts centers. Donna instituted Charter Oak’s policy of never turning anyone away for lack of funds. Through her vision, leadership and commitment to social justice, she has made Charter Oak Cultural Center a haven for diverse groups to enjoy multi-cultural arts and explore the burning issues of our day.

Donna started Charter Oak’s youth programming in 2001 with four students because the children in our neighborhood wanted to learn to dance. It became clear that no-cost, non-audition-based out-of-school time arts programming is largely unavailable to young people in our community. Under her leadership, Charter Oak determined our mission would be best served by offering high-quality classes in the arts to these students who need it the most. Today, Charter Oak is still one of the only organizations in Hartford to provide youth art programming completely free of charge to all who wish to enter the program. Over the years, Charter Oak’s Youth Arts Institute has continued to grow to serve nearly 1,000 students, with a waiting list. In 2012, the program was selected as a finalist by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, distinguishing it as one of the top arts and humanities-based youth programs in the country.

Donna was awarded the 2012 Elizabeth L. Mahaffey Arts Administration Fellowship through Connecticut’s Department of Community and Economic Development. She was also highlighted as one of Hartford Magazine’s 2012 Amazing Women and recently named one of Greater Hartford’s 12 most influential people, also by Hartford Magazine, along with individuals such as Governor Dannel Malloy, Mayor Pedro Segarra and Jim Calhoun. In the spring of 2010, Donna received the Human Relations Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice. In June 2010, she graduated from Hartford Family Institute’s training program in body-centered Gestalt therapy. In 2009, she was given the Dance Pioneer Award by Trinity College and in the spring of 2007 she was honored by American Friends Service Committee for her work in social justice. In 2006, Rabbi Berman received Leadership Greater Hartford’s Polaris Award in arts and culture.

Donna is rabbi emerita of Port Jewish Center in Port Washington, New York, where, prior to her work at Charter Oak Cultural Center, she served as spiritual leader and principal of the Hebrew school for 12 years. She is the founder and co-chair of The South Bronx—Port Washington Community Partnership, a mutually beneficial collaboration between one of the poorest communities in the nation and one of the wealthiest. She has taught at Molloy College in New York, Wesleyan University and Hartford Seminary, where she teaches presently. She has served as the Jewish chaplain at Mount Holyoke College in Hadley, Massachusetts. Donna is the co-editor of a special edition of The Journal of Reform Judaism and is the author of numerous articles. She co-edited and wrote the foreword for The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics, 1973-2003 by Judith Plaskow. Donna is the co-author, with Barbara Bennett, of Fork in the Road: A Companion for Women Who Are Going Back to School Later in Life (and Those Who Want To).

Official Bio

Click here for Donna’s official bio.


Susan Mazer

Susan Mazer

Director of City School of the Arts

Guitarist, music educator, and arts advocate, Susan Mazer, has a Masters in Music Education from Boston University and has been teaching for thirty years. She is the author of twelve popular instructional books and CDs for Alfred Publishing, and is most recognized for her book Guitar for the Absolute Beginner which sold over a quarter of a million copies. Helping to pave the way for the next generation of women guitarists, Susan was also the first female guitar instructor at the renowned National Guitar Workshop. In addition, she is on the faculty of Sacred Heart University where she teaches Musicianship and Women in Music, and continues to teach guitar privately and online through truefire.com. For seventeen years, Susan was the Dean of Students at the Hartford Conservatory. She currently serves as the Director of City School of the Arts at Charter Oak Cultural Center. Susan believes that every child should have access to the finest arts education and is passionate about her work with the Hartford youth.

Laurie Leader

Laurie Leader

Managing Director

With over 30 years of experience in non-profit administration, Laurie brings her passion for the arts and for social justice to her work at Charter Oak. Prior to joining the Center in 2017, she served as Executive Director at Congregation Beth Israel, Department Administrator for a center of nursing professional advancement at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Special Projects Coordinator and Supervisor of Faculty Support Staff, both at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Laurie’s career has focused on streamlining and managing resources, and on staff training and development. Her work at Charter Oak includes day-to-day financial management and reporting, leading the organization’s annual audit process, human resources, technology, facility oversight, insurance and other business matters, and partnering with fellow staff and volunteers on grants and fundraising efforts. She has a BA in Fine Arts from Eastern Connecticut State University where she studied voice and creative writing.

Board of Directors

Barbara V Vita

Barbara V Vita


Barbara has served as a member of the Charter Oak Cultural Center’s Board of Directors since 2018, but has been working with Charter Oak since 2010. Barbara is active in their gala planning committee, and has appeared several times as one of the guest readers for their Read It & Sleep program.

Barbara has been working with children and families for over twenty years. Barbara currently works as the Director of Early Childhood Initiatives for the Connecticut Network for Children and Youth where she coordinates the Connecticut Children’s Collective. Barbara’s work throughout the greater Hartford area is how she became familiar with Charter Oak, and it was soon after that she began to admire and respect the work of Donna Berman, Susan Mazer, and the whole team.

Barbara is passionate about supporting teaching professionals, community organizers and leaders, parents, caregivers, and children as they realize their full potential. Barbara holds a Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in early childhood education from the University of Hartford, and a Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in psychology from Central Connecticut State University where she earned her certification in secondary education as an English teacher.

Barbara has two grown sons, a baby granddaughter, and a large circle of family and friends for whom she is immensely grateful.

Ree Morrow

Ree Morrow

Vice Chair

JD, The University of Connecticut School of Law ‘22

My name is Ree Morrow. I have been a member of the Charter Oak Board since January 2021. 

Bekka Podgorski, CPA

Bekka Podgorski, CPA


I became involved with Charter Oak as their financial statement auditor in 2014. It was apparent how much Donna and her team loved their work and were enthused by the programs they provide for the community. Upon leaving my role as auditor, Donna approached me to become a member of the Board of Directors. I did not hesitate. It brings me much joy to hear each month about the amazing work the Center is doing, and to contribute in any way I can. I currently live in Louisiana, with my husband, our 2-year-old daughter, and our dog. I work remotely as Director of Finance & Accounting for a CFO and accounting services firm, with a focus on non-profit organizations.

Delmarys Serrano

Delmarys Serrano


Delmarys Serrano brings over two decades of community activism and organizing, as well as lived experience to the Charter Oak Board. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Hartford Parent University (HPU). Delmarys Serrano is the lead parent at From Pain to Parenting formally known as the Child Safety Forward Parent Group. Ms. Serrano has also been a Girl Scout leader and delegate for a number of years. Ms. Serrano is a certified Triple P (Triple P Parenting) Facilitator, holds a certification for People Empowering People, through the University of Connecticut, and participated in a Family Development Credentials Training program.  She began attending classes at Charter Oak in 2006, where she felt an immediate connection as she improved her English skills. In turn, she was motivated to pursue her degree. Ms. Serrano earned an Associate Degree at Charter Oak State College. Ms. Serrano is the proud mother of four children. Over the years, her children have been able to attend Charter Oak’s art classes such as piano, ballet, orchestra, band, poetry, and many more.

Rachna Ramya Agrawal

Rachna Ramya Agrawal

Performer, choreographer, educator, and published author Rachna Ramya Agrawal is a North Indian classical dancer. In addition to her dance degrees, Rachna holds an MBA from the University of Hartford and a Master’s in Hindi Literature from Delhi University. She is on the teaching faculty at Trinity College in Hartford and is also the Artistic Director of the Sumbhaav School of Kathak Dance. Rachna is listed on the Arts for Learning roster and participates in CT public school programs. Rachna has a deep connection with Charter Oak Cultural Center since 1998. She teaches her dance classes at Charter Oak and has participated many times at Charter Oak’s events, presenting her dance or in their arts events “that makes the world move.” Rachna has received Charter Oak Cultural Center’s Vision Award and serves on the Charter Oak Advisory Board.

Ana Alfaro

Ana Alfaro

Ana Alfaro is a Corporate Citizenship Program Manager and Hispanic Media Relations at Eversource Energy, New England’s largest energy delivery company. She has over 25 years of diverse experience in various aspects of public, media, and community relations, event management, and television production. In her current position she manages the company’s volunteer engagement opportunities and employee giving programs and serves as a company spokesperson for the Hispanic Media.

Ana Alfaro is well known as the producer and host of El Show de Analeh, a weekly program on the Univision network and UniMas. Ana describes El Show as “a dream production turned into a successful reality.” Since 2007, the program has informed, empowered, and entertained the diverse Latino community in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. El Show de Analeh airs Saturdays at 11:00am, Univision’s local channels. The show’s partnership with Capital Community College and Univision allows the production team to share its creativity, passion, and vision for the community through the art of television.

For many years Ana has been deeply involved with the community as a volunteer with nonprofit organizations. She is currently a board member for Trinity College Center for Caribbean Studies, Capital Community College Foundation, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford Public Library and Hartford Economic Development Corporation.

During her career, Ana has received awards from many organizations, including Junta for Progressive Action, Hispanic Health Council, Madre Latina, Boy Scouts of America, Bright Future Youth Center, Leadership Greater Hartford Polaris, and Malta House Wonder Woman.

Ana holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications Media Studies from Post University.

A native of Honduras, Ana is the proud mother of Bobby and Bianca.

“Abu,” Alvin Carter Sr.

“Abu,” Alvin Carter Sr.

“Abu,” Alvin Carter Sr. has been a resident of Hartford CT for the past fifty years. He is a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Abu is a four-year veteran of the USAF and was honorably discharged in 1963. Abu has had a long and rich relationship with the Charter Oak Cultural Center since the 1980’s. He has been blessed to teach congas and other percussion instruments in schools, libraries, churches, community, and daycare centers. In his presentations he encourages his audiences to seek cooperation and to focus on our similarities not our differences. He will often ask his audiences, which are truly diverse “Are we not a beautiful flower garden of humanity,” promoting unity in the community. He has played congas for various CT based musical groups throughout the state. He is proud of and passionate about African American history and is a wealth of information which he shares with others in many conversations and venues. Abu is honored to continue be a part of the Charter Oak Cultural Center Board of Directors to support the wonderful work they do.

Ingrid Dupuy

Ingrid Dupuy

From the lively streets of New Orleans to the bustling customer service arena, I am Ingrid Dupuy, a name woven with threads of family, professional dedication, and a passion for the arts. As a proud mother and grandmother, I find joy in nurturing relationships and supporting my family.

With over two decades of experience in customer service, I, Ingrid Dupuy, have honed my skills in turning challenges into opportunities. Whether troubleshooting issues or fostering positive interactions, my journey has been defined by a commitment to creating meaningful connections with every customer.

Beyond the metrics and calls, my heart belongs to my family. As a mother of two incredible children and a proud grandmother of two little ones, I, Ingrid Dupuy, understand the importance of empathy, patience, and effective communication – values that seamlessly translate into my seasoned customer service approach.

When not immersed in customer queries, I, Ingrid Dupuy, find joy in family gatherings, exploring local culture, and perhaps indulging in a good book or two. A unique thread in our family tapestry is my son’s experience at Charter Oak Cultural Center, where he discovered the world of music and arts, igniting a lifelong passion.

My experiences from the southern charm of New Orleans to the northeastern hub of Hartford provide a unique lens through which I, Ingrid Dupuy, approach customer service – a blend of warmth and efficiency that transcends geographical boundaries.

Eva Jacobson

Eva Jacobson

Attorney Eva Jacobson is a solo practitioner based in West Hartford, Connecticut and currently handles family, immigration, criminal, and Social Security disability matters. She started the Law Office of Eva Jacobson in March 2018 to provide quality legal representation at modest rates.

She previously worked at the Hartford Public Library, where she began representing clients at USCIS since 2015. She assisted hundreds of individuals with their citizenship, naturalization, and green card applications. She also worked at Lawyers Without Borders for over seven years. She launched, developed, and oversaw trial advocacy training programs to increase the prosecution of domestic violence, human trafficking, and wildlife trafficking crimes.

She is the former Chair of the Board of Directors of Charter Oak Cultural Center and has served on the City of Hartford Commission on Refugee and Immigrant Affairs since its inception in 2014. In addition to her law practice, she is the Director of the Connecticut Community Law Center at UConn School of Law, which is an access to justice initiative aimed at providing legal services to low- and moderate- income individuals who have traditionally been underserved. She is currently an adjunct professor at UConn School of Law.

Advisory Board

Stuart W. Alpert
Aaron Crosson
William Cuddy
Naomi Baline Kleinman
Leta Marks
Gil Martinez
Dollie McLean
Honorable Jon O. Newman
Flora Parisky
Bernadine Silvers
Jack Waggett

Building Advisory Board

Joyce Mandell, Honorary Chair
Merrill Mandell, Chair
Ana Alfaro
John Alves
Peter Fishman
Robert Fishman
Sue Gillen
Rona Gollob
Katie Hanley
Eva Jacobson
Debra Javit
Gregory Konover
Scott O’Keefe
Lorna Sedor
Alex Smith
Sally Rosengren

Board members can access the board’s private page here


Rabbi Donna Berman, Ph.D.
Executive Director
860.310.2584 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1003

Laurie Leader
Managing Director
860.310.2583 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1002

Susan Mazer
City School of the Arts Director
860.310.2590 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1009

Barbara Gunterman
Family Coordinator

Allie McConnell
Office Manager
860-310-2586 or
860-310-2580 Ext. 1005

Rita Neal
City School of the Arts Coordinator

Amanda Naimie
City School of the Arts Family Coordinator

Dee Davis, Barbara Gunterman & Rohan Kataria
CSA Virtual/House Managers

Ileia Belton, Peyton Echelson-Russell,  Emily Kievra & Riley Kloecknerr
Events House Managers


Meenu Sharma
Beat of the Street Manager
860.310.2591 or
860.310.2580 Ext. 1010

Jacques Lamarre
Marketing and Programming Consultant

Raul Santiago
Facilities Manager

Mark Naberschnig
Technical Director
Events Manager
860-310-2588 or
860-310-2580 Ext. 1007

Spencer Brunet
Technical Assistant

Partners, Sponsors & Benefactors

State of Connecticut Department of Community Development/Office of the Arts

Connecticut Humanities

City of Hartford

Greater Hartford Arts Council

Hartford Foundation for Public Giving


Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford

Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford

Bank of America

J. Walton Bissell Foundation

Ensworth Foundation

Banerjee Family Education Foundation

Charles Nelson Robinson Fund


D’Addario Foundation

LAZ Parking

Scripps Family Fund for Education/Arts


Special Thanks To


From points west

Take 84 East to 48B (the “Capitol Avenue” exit). At the end of the ramp, take a left onto Capitol Avenue and go straight until the road ends. Take a right onto Main Street. Turn left at the first light onto Charter Oak Avenue and the Cultural Center is the first building on the right with two domes on top.

From points east

Take 84 West to exit 54 (the “Downtown Hartford” exit). At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Columbus Boulevard. At the fifth light, turn right onto Charter Oak Avenue. After the second light, the Cultural Center is the building with two domes on top on the left side of the street just before Main Street.

From points north or south

Take 91 to exit 29A in Hartford, labeled “Capitol Area”. Bear right and take the second exit labeled “Prospect Street to Main Street”. Turn left at the stoplight at the end of the ramp and go straight. At the second light turn right onto Charter Oak Avenue. After the turn, the center is the third building on the left with two domes on top.


DO NOT PARK next door at 25 Charter Oak Avenue or in the lot behind the building. They will tow in both locations.

Free parking is available after 5:00 pm in the lot across the street from the center at 330 Main Street and at Betances School located diagonally across the street.

There is also metered parking available on the street in front of the Cultural Center and on Prospect Street.

These spots are free after 5:00 pm Monday through Friday and on the weekends.

Free spaces can be found further down Charter Oak Avenue and on John Street.

Free parking is no longer available on Charter Oak Place.

Contact Us

Charter Oak Cultural Center

21 Charter Oak Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

(860) 310-2580

Send us a message

5 + 8 =

Hours of Operation

Our staff are available by email or phone Monday through Friday, 10AM – 5PM. Our building remains closed due to COVID-19 but all of our programs and events are being held virtually! 

For delays and cancellations, please visit our Facebook page, Twitter, or check WFSB.

For our differently abled and disabled patrons, don’t hesitate to call our office line to ensure we can make every accommodation you may need during your visit.


Game Design and Martial Arts Teachers Needed!

Teachers needed for afterschool/evening arts classes at Charter Oak Cultural Center and in partner locations.  Per diem work – days and times are flexible.  Transportation and some teaching experience necessary.  Rate $45 per hour.  Other teachers welcome to apply for music, dance, theater, visual art, yoga.  Please send resume tosusanm@charteroakcenter.org.

House Manager

House Managers at Charter Oak Cultural Center serve as a welcoming and helpful resource for all who enter through our doors for a variety of performance and visual events, student and family activities, and private events.

Duties include but are not limited to:

  • Room set-up/break down
  • Ensuring a clean and tidy environment (cleaning the kitchen, stocking bathrooms, picking up debris on our grounds)
  • Managing our box office and concessions
  • Recording information about our events and its attendees
  • Unlocking and locking our building, assuring that it is well secured

The ideal House Manager is a friendly, caring individual who is self-motivated who is well-suited to following directions and established protocols. House Managers possess the ability to multi-task, and quickly and calmly respond to occasional problems and rare emergencies.

Qualifications:  Equivalent of 2 years full-time or part-time experience providing support for a theater or related business including box office and food service is preferred.  This is a per-diem, part-time position with variable hours based on the schedule of events. Weekend and evening availability is a must. Applicants must be able to navigate stairs and lift items.

Please submit your resume to Allie McConnell, alliem@charteroakcenter.org, and tell us why you believe this position could be a great fit for you!