National Voting Begins as Three Local Community Programs Try to Win $25,000 Grants

Three Connecticut-based “causes” are among 200 across the nation currently vying for one of 40 grants of $25,000 to be awarded by State Farm, with voting now open to the public via Facebook. Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership in Bridgeport, Northwest CT YMCA: Winchester Youth Service Bureau, and Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford – BOTS Pots initiative are the three organizations whose programs are in the running for the grants.   Individuals may vote up to 10 times each day from May 14 through June 3.  The Top 40 winners will be announced on June 16.

The State Farm Neighborhood Assist began in 2012, and the annual program has three phases. First, Facebook users submit causes that they think deserve a $25,000 grant. Next, the State Farm® Youth Advisory Board narrows down the submissions to the top 200. Finally, Facebook users vote to select the top 40. Voting opened this week at  The Facebook site includes a “leaderboard” indicating the top ranked programs based on public

Details of the three Connecticut programs, as featured on the State Farm website:

Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford – BOTS Pots initiative

BOTS Pots-- named for Beat of the Street, Charter Oak Cultural Center’s “street” newspaper written by individuals experiencing homelessness and their allies-- places large potted organic vegetable plants throughout the City of Hartford. Individuals who are experiencing homelessness are hired and trained to tend the pots and the vegetables are provided for free to anyone in need, addressing hunger in Hartford. In addition, local artists volunteer to transform the pots into public art.

As far as we know, the program is the only one of its kind in the country, although the model has been sought out by other cities asking how they can bring it into their communities. BOTS Pots brings food, jobs and art to Hartford and provides much-needed work experience and a resume line item for individuals experiencing homelessness. Charter Oak Cultural Center hires, fully trains and compensates members of the homeless community to tend the pots, providing much-needed work experience and a resume line item. Because of the cycle of homelessness, members of this community often have a great deal of difficulty in obtaining job experience, another key job requirement for future work. The compensation they receive for their work tending BOTS Pots, in the form of gift cards, allows them to purchase food, clothing suitable for a job interview and other necessities to help them move to the next level of independence.

Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership in Bridgeport

The mission is to keep teens safe and healthy from the dangers of alcohol by empowering them to become positive change agents.  Community need this cause addresses:  Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among teens. Almost half of young people have gone to at least 1 drinking party during the year. Making alcohol less accessible is a prevention strategy that works! It is important that alcohol is kept out of the hands of people who are under 21. In Connecticut, on average youth pick up their first drink before their 12th birthday. Consider that- they take those first sips even before most begin middle school?! If youth pick up a drink before age 15, they are 4 times more likely to have alcohol dependency issues later in life. As teens get older, alcohol puts them at risk of other dangerous situations. By their senior year, 35 percent of high school students say they have been drink at least once in the past 2 weeks.

Northwest CT YMCA: Winchester Youth Service Bureau

The mission is to create future leaders by fostering independence, confidence, and build self-esteem in at-risk youth in our community. In Winchester, there is a need to support secondary school students. At this age, there is a significant rise in the amount of severe disciplinary offenses; this includes reports of substance use, assault, weapon, and inappropriate sexual behavior. The graduation rate is average. However due to the vast low SES population in the area, of the students who graduate, only 78% of students go onto higher education. This is 8.8% below the average and consequently the students are 11.6% more likely to go from high school to the work force. The hope is to create programs to support this age group; currently there are no positive youth programs that can guide them to having a positive adolescent experience. In this program, students will be able to build independence, confidence, and self-esteem through team-building, service projects, and positive social activities. Students will be given the knowledge to help them shape their own futures and foster their personal, academic, and social growth.