Children First is a Meriden nonprofit serving local children and families through a variety of free educational programs and political advocacy services. For parents, it provides a leadership training institute that teaches democracy skills meant to empower them within the educational system and local government. Graduates include City Councilor Hilda Santiago and State Representative Cathy Abercrombie. Senior Buddy Readers matches retirees with first- and second-graders who need to hone their reading skills. The organization also runs the Meriden Family Zone, established in January 2010. Modeled after New York's Harlem Children's Zone, the project focuses on improving the lives of a group of at-risk families in a small geographic area through coordinated early childhood education, health care and access, parental education and community-building -- putting "cradle to career paths in place" for local children.