Introducing Fairfield County Forward: A Campaign to Create Equitable Opportunity in Fairfield County
Oct 27, 2022
(Norwalk, CT) — Fairfield County’s Community Foundation today unveiled Fairfield County Forward — a bold new strategy to create a community where every person has an equitable opportunity to thrive.
In announcing this new strategy, the Community Foundation committed to center its investments and programs on strengthening organizations and individuals across Fairfield County that are working to address the systemic barriers that negatively impact community outcomes in education, income, health, and housing.
The effort — informed by close collaboration with community partners and unanimously approved by the Community Foundation’s Board of Directors — expands on the organization’s existing work in closing Fairfield County’s opportunity gap. It also increases support for community organizations that are already working to change the systems and structures that have produced inequitable outcomes in Fairfield County for generations.
“Fairfield County Forward is our commitment to addressing the root causes of inequities by seeking to dismantle the systems and structures that limit opportunities. It is a necessary strategy to increase our impact,” said Mendi Blue Paca, President and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “We’re working closely with our community to understand and address the foundation of our county’s disparities, which are undeniably race-based. And we’re rethinking the ways we invest in education, housing, health and workforce development to achieve greater racial equity and create a stronger and more thriving Fairfield County.”
Fairfield County Forward is informed by research, meetings with people throughout the community, and engagement with the Foundation’s board and staff over the past two years.
It was influenced by the Community Foundation’s existing work — as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and the campaign for racial justice that predates COVID-19 but was amplified by the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
These events have shown us that there are two versions of Fairfield County — one that exists for those who are prosperous and well off and the other for those who are facing barriers to success. This reality has been reinforced time and again through national and local data that measures our community’s social and economic health:
• Black and Latinx communities in Fairfield County posted the lowest scores on five critical indicators of wellbeing: health, housing, education, economy, and income and wealth, according to the Fairfield County 2022 Equity Profile.
• A 2019 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that Fairfield County was the most economically unequal metropolitan area in the country.
• The median income for White households ($117,000) in Fairfield County is more than two times the media incomes for Black ($52,000) and Latinx ($53,000) households.
Fairfield County Forward aims to change these dynamics and eliminate these longstanding disparities.
“When we can create a community where all of us — no matter our ZIP code — have an equitable opportunity to succeed, we all thrive,” said Edwin L. Ford, Chair of the Board of Directors for Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “Unfortunately, that is not our reality — and we have a responsibility to change that.
“Fairfield County Forward is our investment in partnering with our community and supporting efforts that will build systems and structures that will strengthen our community, ensure that we have a more skilled workforce, and create stronger and healthier communities.”
In launching Fairfield County Forward, the Community Foundation is working to partner with the community to ensure:
• All Fairfield County residents have equitable access to workforce, entrepreneurship, and employment skill-building opportunities to achieve and maintain financial self-sufficiency and build assets.
• All Fairfield County residents have equitable access to high-quality, culturally competent physical and mental health services.
• All Fairfield County students graduate with a high school degree and are prepared for post-secondary education and/or employment.
• All Fairfield County residents have safe, stable and affordable housing in communities of opportunity.
The Community Foundation will support existing community partnerships and initiatives and incubate new collaborations that focus on achieving these priorities — building on the momentum created by efforts such as the Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity, Family Economic Security Program, and the Fairfield County Business Collaborative for Education Equity.
“The Fairfield County Center for Housing Opportunity shows what’s possible when we come together to change the systems that create barriers to opportunity,” said Christie Stewart, chief initiative officer for the Center. “Fairfield County Forward is an exciting next step for our community because it focuses on identifying and supporting collective efforts to advance equity and make meaningful progress in improving Fairfield County’s housing, health, education, and workforce.”
An Evolving Approach
As the Community Foundation works with the community to achieve these goals, it is reorienting how it approaches its work.
This evolving approach begins with focusing on addressing the structural and root causes of persistent racial inequities — social systems that were designed to create, enforce, and perpetuate an unjust racial caste system.
To address these root causes, the Foundation is committing to embrace trust-based approaches to its grantmaking and community leadership. This means the pace, tone, and content of its work will be informed by community and that those negatively impacted by systemic inequities and who currently have little influence over the flow of resources and power will help guide the work.
The Foundation will work with all parts of the community — including residents, as well as public, private and nonprofit partners — to understand and acknowledge racial history; create a shared affirmative vision of a fair, antiracist, inclusive society; and build civic, cultural, economic, and political power by those most impacted by inequities and injustices in our current systems.
It will invest in transformative solutions and will analyze data and information about race and ethnicity within cultural and historical contexts to identify focus areas and issues in collaboration with our community partners; build an understanding of disparities and the reasons they exist; and measure progress toward our vision.
“Fairfield County Forward represents a new chapter for the Community Foundation, carrying forward our previous work in addressing inequity in our community with more focus and intentionality,” Blue Paca said. “We’ve spent months asking hard questions, listening to our community and staff, and rethinking how we can approach our work to ensure that we’re embodying who we aspire to be as a community foundation internally and externally.”
About Fairfield County’s Community Foundation
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is partnering with our community to create a county where every person has an equitable opportunity to thrive. We work closely with community organizations, nonprofits, businesses and philanthropists to address challenges and identify opportunities to create a stronger, more vibrant community. Informed by three decades of partnering with and serving our community, we have awarded more than $390 million in grants to nonprofits in Fairfield County and beyond.