Danbury is one of five Connecticut cities to win a multi-year grant by an independent jury in association with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, more commonly known as the Boston Fed or, simply, the Fed.
The Implementation Grant awards are one of two types of grants awarded to those eligible New England municipalities that express interest in, apply for and complete the Working Cities Challenge (WCC), a charitable competition designed by the Fed and its Steering Committee in partnership with the philanthropic Living Cities organization. The grants are provided to cities in order to boost local economic productivity, with the intention of improving the quality of life of resident low-income families and working poor.
The jury awarded a collective $2.25 million to five of the 10 Connecticut cities qualified to apply for the Implementation Grant: Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown and Waterbury, with each city receiving a fifth of the total grant, or $450,000 each.
Danbury secured its portion of the award through the efforts of its own Challenge team, the focus of which is its community development project, DanburyWORKS, an initiative established in 2016 and spearheaded by 15 local organizations, among them the United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWC), a charitable community engagement group based out of Stamford.
DanburyWORKS’ focus is to eliminate both those obstacles that prevent Danburyans from participating in the community and community decision-making, and those which prevent them from receiving a quality education, employment and job training; its stated long-term goal is to reduce poverty among resident immigrants and people of color by 30 percent within the next 10 years.
On February 5, the city of Danbury and its Challenge team were formally awarded the Implementation Grant at a conference held at the Danbury Educational Services Center, located on Osborne Street.
CAAWC Director Michelle James, the co-chair of Danbury’s WCC committee, shared some of the opening comments, noting that the team’s approach evolved based on a number of surveys distributed to relevant populations and small businesses throughout the city. Among the primary concerns of the immigrant community in Danbury, two stand out: the difficulty of learning English as a second language, and the ability to maintain adequate childcare.
Danbury early childhood education Administrator Anne Mead said after the conference, “We need to ensure that every child that comes to Danbury, that is going to go to school, has an early childhood experience.” She stressed that it would not be an easy task: “About 300 children a year that come to kindergarten [here] have not had formal preschool.”
Speaking on behalf of people of color, Danbury resident Marlene Moore-Callends, a local realtor, and member of the Challenge team, said, “I found that people of color just weren’t trusting, even with me… I felt like I was continually explaining [things]… We [people of color] feel like we have no say about what goes on around us.”
WERACE Facilitator Jody Huzina, involved in Danbury’s adult and ongoing education programs, added, “There’s a whole layer of students who aren’t coming out because they don’t know or trust us,” but that, “[The grant] will give us the opportunity to provide so many more language classes.”
Ecuadorian Civic Center President Wilson Hernández shared that levels of trust between the immigrant and non-immigrant communities have been diminished due to immigrants’ fears of deportation, imprisonment, and separation from their families and friends: “We see the news every day… The authorities are trying to see if you’re here legally.”
DPCP Community Engagement Coordinator Elizabeth Quiñonez, an immigrant and two-year resident of Danbury, mentioned other difficulties for low-income families living in in the city, saying, “Even if I keep my job, I’m paying 50 or 60 percent of my income for childcare.” Quiñonez, a hardworking mom, mentioned that she would like to see the burdens of low incomes and parents’ inordinate amounts of time spent away from their children alleviated for struggling families.
Addressing three key issues in the effort to help the city’s immigrants and working poor—teaching them English, helping them access reasonably-priced child care and aiding them in developing trust for service providers—UWWC CEO Kim Morgan said, “If we can make progress in these three areas, we will be in a position to help people find good jobs three years from now.”
In a statement, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton expressed enthusiasm for the mobilization of the grant, and praise for the Fed and the UWWC: “This grant will directly support the hard-working residents of Danbury, especially the immigrant community.”
You can learn more about the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and their activities and initiatives by visiting their website at bostonfed.org; to learn more about the WCC, visit the Working Cities Challenge page on the Boston Fed’s website at bostonfed.org/workingcities.