Strengthening Community Engagement: FCCF’s New Civic Education Grants Program

Dec 11, 2019

It’s a lofty, but necessary goal to ensure every resident in Fairfield County has access to the resources and tools they need to succeed and contribute positively in society. This is a long-term goal at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, around which all of our efforts and initiatives are oriented. And as part of our continued commitment to advocacy and systems change, we aggregate and amplify community knowledge and the voices of those we serve.

Grants to Fund Opportunities aimed to Improve Civic Knowledge and Information Access:
Active resident participation in civic life is crucial to a strong democracy, as well as the success and vitality of our County and each of its 23 towns and cities. To elevate and strengthen our commitment to civic engagement, FCCF has launched a new Civic Education Grants Program. The goal is to increase knowledge about our democratic systems and institutions, and to increase information access for populations that are historically underrepresented in the political process.

New research from FCCF’s Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2019, emphasized 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 the 2017 municipal election, and 56 percent in the 2016 Presidential elections. And for those same elections, cumulative turnout in Fairfield County’s six wealthiest towns were 72 percent for the 2018 midterm, 36 percent 2017 municipal, and 83 percent in the 2016 presidential election. Low voter turnout is driven by a range of factors. These include a lack of basic information on elections, distance to polling stations, limited flexibility in work schedules, access to transportation, and other barriers that affect economically distressed communities and communities of colors.

FCCF’s first Civic Education program grants, ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, were awarded to six nonprofit grantee partners to fund projects targeting civically underrepresented populations within Fairfield County. These target populations included youth and young adults, formerly incarcerated individuals, new Americans, persons with disabilities, communities of color and/or low-income communities.

These selected grantee partners include: 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).

Members of Career Resources, Inc., at their annual job fair.

A strong emphasis was placed on collaborative approaches in proposals that bridge sectors, with a focus on education at the core. The grant period runs from August 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020. Highlights of the project plans for these six organizations include:

Career Resources, Inc.: Creating a state-wide education campaign about the voting rights of those who have had contact with the criminal justice system, removing barriers to civic participation for this population.

CT Students for a Dream: Educating and training 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: 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: Directing outreach and education around the importance of the 2020 Census.

Serving All Vessels Equally (SAVE): Developing a Youth Reporters Program to train young people 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): Educating Spanish-speaking parents about special education laws and policies to empower them to be effective advocates for their children.

These grants will provide the selected grantee partners with opportunities to improve civic knowledge and information access and ensure that every person can fully participate in our democracy.

“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,” stated Christine Lai, cofounder and Executive Director, Special Education Legal Fund.

Members of SPECIAL EDUCATION LEGAL FUND at their parent education panel in March, 2019.

 

Inspiring a Lifetime of Civic Engagement:
The first component of FCCF’s civic engagement, our 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. Through this program, the Foundation activated more than 10,000 voters in Fairfield county and funded 4 county wide events on national voter registration day in 2018. With these efforts, we were able to help surpass records of registration on National Voter Registration Day with more than 800,000 citizens registered to vote nationally.

Here in Connecticut, in 2018 we had the highest midterm voter turnout in years. And FCCF is proud to have played a part in these achievements. Due to the overwhelming interest from our nonprofit partners to support voter engagement from this inaugural initiative, the Community Foundation continued its commitment to strengthening civic engagement through the Civic Education Grants Program.

The Program sets the stage for community engagement that we will build off of as we lead into future elections and dovetailing with the upcoming 2020 Census. We embrace the urgency to achieve immediate, comprehensive, and sustainable change. As community members, funders and changemakers, we must all advocate for a complete and accurate Census count to enhance our understanding of community needs. We encourage all to support “Complete Count” efforts at the national and local levels across the state. FCCF work will continue to strive to amplify the voices of Fairfield County’s youth, Immigrants, formerly incarcerated and other underserved populations.