Fairfield County’s Community Foundation Launches County-Wide Civic Education Initiative
Oct 28, 2019
(Norwalk, Conn.) Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF) is continuing its commitment to strengthening civic engagement through a new Civic Education Grants Program. Concerned with a declining and/or limited focus on civic education in our formal education systems which is contributing to decreased knowledge about our democratic institutions and low voter participation in the county’s urban communities, the Community Foundation recently awarded a total of $120,000 to civic education projects committed to cultivating community knowledge and encouraging civic participation. The initiative is expected in reach more than 10,000 Fairfield County residents. More information can be found at FCCFoundation.org/civic.
Civic Education Grants ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 were awarded to six grantee partners funding specific projects targeting underserved and civically under-represented populations within Fairfield County, including formerly incarcerated/returning citizens in Bridgeport; high school and college students from immigrant communities in Danbury; eligible and registered voters in Bridgeport with a focus on African-American and Latinx communities; Census hard-to-count populations in Bridgeport; youth in Norwalk and Stratford; and Spanish-speaking and immigrant parents in Bridgeport and Stamford. The grantee partners selected are Career Resources, Inc.; CT Students for a Dream; Faith Acts for Education; Make the Road CT; Bridgeport Generation Now; Serving All Vessels Equally (SAVE); and Special Education Legal Fund (SELF).
“The Community Foundation is dedicated to amplifying resident voice in Fairfield County and throughout Connecticut. We received outstanding proposals from a diverse array of organizations and are very excited to support the nonprofit projects selected. It is an honor to provide these opportunities for civic education with our grantee partners, because we know how important knowledge and information is to ensuring that every person can fully participate in our democracy. We hope to increase voter participation over time, but these grants are about more than the ballot box. The awards were given in the hopes of creating a lifetime of civic engagement for those engaged,” stated Mendi Blue-Paca, Vice President, Community Impact, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.
According to new research highlighted in FCCF’s Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2019, town-level voter turnout rates reinforce the finding that socioeconomic status affects participation in public life. Across the three most recent major elections, turnout rates were lowest in Bridgeport, at 41 percent in the 2018 midterm, 10 percent in 2017 municipal, and 56 percent in 2016 presidential elections. Turnout for those same elections in Fairfield County’s six wealthiest towns were 72 percent, 36 percent, and 83 percent, respectively. Low voter turnout is driven by a range of factors, including a lack of basic information on elections, distance to polling stations and hours of operation, inflexible work schedules, limited transportation, and other barriers that disproportionately affect economically distressed communities and communities of color.
The Grantee Projects
- Career Resources, Inc., is creating a state-wide education campaign about the voting rights of returning and justice-involved citizens and removing barriers to civic participation for this historically disenfranchised population.
- CT Students for a Dream plans to educate and train immigrant youth leaders about how government works and how to use their voices to participate in democratic processes, and be self-advocates.
- Faith Acts for Education will be conducting voter education around municipal elections; producing and distributing nonpartisan voter information guides; and executing a Get Out The Vote operation to increase voter participation in Bridgeport, the county’s community with the lowest historical voter turnout.
- Make the Road CT/Bridgeport Generation Now is directing outreach and education around the importance of the 2020 Census, and then plans to build an organizing infrastructure that will result in Bridgeport, the county’s hardest-to-count city, being completely counted.
- Serving All Vessels Equally (SAVE) is developing a Youth Reporters Program to train young people in how to analyze and report on political news and social justice issues in an effort to build youth power, and promote lifetime civic engagement and participation.
- Special Education Legal Fund (SELF) will be educating Spanish-speaking parents about special education laws and policies to empower them to be effective advocates for their children.
“With our program, we hope to empower Spanish-speaking ESL families with foundational knowledge about the history, laws, and rights of children with disabilities, so they may more successfully advocate for their children in special education. We have seen first-hand how providing parents with this kind of knowledge about their child’s rights can materially improve their educational outcomes. We are incredibly grateful for our partnership with FCCF as one of our initial foundation funders. FCCF’s expertise, knowledge, and understanding of the community and its needs is vital for our organization’s growth and for our support of families in need with children in special education,” stated Christine Lai, cofounder and Executive Director, Special Education Legal Fund.
In 2018, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation launched its Civic Engagement Initiative because active resident engagement in civic life is critical to a healthy democracy and to the success and vitality of our county. The first component of this initiative, the inaugural Get Out The Vote (GOTV) Grants Program, was designed to increase voter registration and participation for all county residents and particularly members of communities that are historically underrepresented in the political process. Due to overwhelming interest from our nonprofit partners to support voter engagement, the initial GOTV Grants Program project budget was doubled, resulting in voter registration and/or activation of more than 10,000 county residents.
Scott K. Wilderman, President/CEO Career Resources, Inc., said, “We are grateful to Fairfield County’s Community Foundation for awarding Career Resources, Inc. this grant to promote and educate justice-involved adults on the importance in restoring their voting rights. The right to vote is at the core of our democracy, yet over 5 million American are not allowed to exercise this privilege because of a felony conviction. This disenfranchisement serves no legitimate purpose and bans mostly people of color from having their voices heard. This grant will allow us to work with policy makers, advocates, and community-based organizations to educate a justice-involved population on the mechanics necessary to restore their rights and regain their voice as American citizens.”
The afternoon session of Forward Fairfield County, held at The Water’s Edge at Giovanni’s in Darien, Connecticut, featured keynote speaker, Ted Bunch, Chief Development Officer of A CALL TO MEN, who spoke on his internationally recognized work advancing gender equity. Bunch used his inclusive approach to engage attendees on how local organizations are responding to the needs and challenges that Fairfield County women and girls face. Attendees, including leaders of the region’s nonprofit community, numerous elected officials, community leaders, and donors, left with specific strategies and recommended action steps to inform their work and advance all aspects of women’s and girls’ lives. First County Bank proudly sponsored the data-revealing event.
The commissioned research shared today included two bodies of work that assess the opportunities and challenges facing women and girls in Fairfield County as well as the county’s service providers – Count Her In: A Status Report on Women and Girls in Fairfield County and Count Them In: A Landscape Analysis of Fairfield County Organizations Supporting Women & Girls – along with a companion piece of recommendations for closing the opportunity gap for women and girls.
“Together, these two research reports help us better understand the unmet and under-met needs of our increasingly diverse county as it relates to women and girls, as well as barriers to them accessing services. It is critical to have this data to move forward and be able to invest in the most sustainable solutions with the resources we have,” stated Tricia Hyacinth, Senior Director, The Fund for Women & Girls at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.
The status report uses quantitative data from federal and state government sources and qualitative data derived from stakeholders to assess how women and girls in our county are faring. The landscape analysis uses qualitative data derived from providers that offer gender-specific supports for women and girls, and surfaces opportunities to bring providers together as a regional network to enable better outcomes for women and girls.
According to the data, of Fairfield County’s total population of 947,328, just over 51 percent is female, of which 22 percent are girls under age 18. The median age of these 485,948 women and girls is 42 years, about four years higher than that of men in the county. About half the female populations of Danbury, Norwalk, and Stamford are non-white, and about four out of every five women and girls in Bridgeport are women or girls of color.
When considering diversity statewide, the report revealed that in 2017 the female immigrant population was 14 percent. However, that percentage for the same year rose to as high as 35 percent in Stamford and 29 percent in Danbury, with 28 percent and 27 percent in Bridgeport and Norwalk, respectively. According to the report, more than 54,000 women and girls (over the age of four in Fairfield County) spoke English “less than well” or “not at all.”
The research concerning educational attainment indicates that throughout most of Fairfield County, a higher share of women have a master’s or other advanced degree compared to women across the nation. In contrast, about 25 percent of women living in Bridgeport lack a high school diploma, which is twice the national rate of 12 percent. According to the study, 29 percent of Latinas and 14 percent of Black women in the county are lacking a high school diploma versus just 5 percent of white women.
Economically, almost 27,000 girls live in low-income households in Fairfield County. According to the MIT Living Wage calculator, in Connecticut a household of one adult and one child needs an annual income of $59,760 before taxes to afford basic needs such as food, childcare, medical care, housing, and transportation. In Fairfield County, the same household would need an income of $64,295 before taxes to afford their basic needs.
With regard to women and girls’ health and sexuality, landscape analysis participants noted the critical need for reproductive health education and the evolving ways in which today’s young women access reproductive health information. There were concerns expressed about social media replacing safe spaces where girls and young women could socialize and talk about issues related to sexuality and health.
“This research was undertaken to better understand areas of need in the county. By analyzing the data, advocating for the issues affecting our community and sharing the information with friends and colleagues, we can select and commit to following one or more of the recommendations presented. We have started that conversation today,” comments Juanita James, President & CEO, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “By focusing on the information with our dedicated donors and community partners, together we can achieve sustainable, well-informed solutions so that each and every member of our community has the opportunity to thrive,” she continued.
In fiscal year 2019, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls awarded nearly $560,000 in grants to 30 organizations and positively impacted thousands of women and girls. Support was given to organizations that share a commitment to meeting the unique needs of women and girls and catalyzing solutions through The Fund’s research-driven approach. Established in 1998 by a small group of visionary women, The Fund is now New England’s largest women’s fund.
Key information found in both reports is located at FCCFoundation.org/FWG2019.