Hartford as Global City: Immigrant Civic Engagement Initiative Gains Recognition

Hartford is quite an international city, a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds that most assume is the exclusive province of major metropolitan areas such as New York and Boston.  But in language, nation of origin, and cultural traditions, virtually every corner of the globe is represented in Connecticut’s Capitol City, and its surrounding communities.

In fact, Hartford is a popular resettlement city, with about 25 percent of the city’s population recent immigrants.  To respond to the significant need among the various immigrant communities for assistance and guidance in navigating language barriers and cultural differences and more fully integrating into their new home community, a partneHartfordPublicLibraryPicturership of Hartford-based organizations stepped up in a way that has proven quite effective, and is gaining national recognition.

The Hartford Public Library received funding in 2010 for an Immigrant Civic Engagement Project through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), to develop a comprehensive program to promote immigrant civic engagement.  The initiative had two goals:globe

  • Facilitate the transition of newly arrived immigrants into the community and build trusting relationships of mutual understanding between new and longtime residents
  • Engage established immigrants in civic integration and facilitate their involvement in broader community building efforts

At the annual conference of the international Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), hosted recently by Hartford and held at the Connecticut Convention Center, the leaders of the ground-breaking Hartford partnership were called upon to lead a session to outline their work for those who may seek to emulate it in other communities across the country.

Among the presenters was Richard Frieder, Director of Community Development & Civic Engagement within the Cultural Affairs & Public Programming Department and Center for Civic Engagement of the Hartford Public Library.  Frieder was joined by Homa Naficy, Chief Adult Learning Officer and Nancy Caddigan, Intercultural Liaison of the Hartford Public Library, and Kyle Barrette and Rebecca Thomas of the UConn School of Social Work.

Innovative Approaches, Impactful Outcomes

Their session, called “Innovative Approaches to Community Development in a Challenging Economy and Changing Society,” was well-received by conference participant from across the country.  They focused on “effectiveness, evaluation and programs,” outlining what was done and why – and how it all worked.

  • They described an effort that engages immigrants and “receiving” community members, social service providers and other immigrant advocates, highlighting the importance of building networks of trusting relationships.
  • The initiative provided an opportunity to address immigrant voices isolated from the mainstream, respond to language and economic barriers, and address the lack of engagement in community and civic associations.
  • The program featured “cultural navigators” – some of them bilingual - and community dialogues – held at the Library’s American Place - all aimed at improving the immigrant experience in Hartford.

Most of all, it created bonds between existing members of the community – many of them retired teachers and social workers who volunteered to be “cultural navigators” – and immigrants looking to adcivic engagementjust to their new land.

New connections were developed between city officials, organizations and service providers to the immigrant and refugee community, and both the immigrant community and receiving community became engaged in community building.  There was also outreach to churches, community centers and other neighborhood organizations.

Over three hundred people were involved across all activities of the three year project.

The outcomes were substantial, and included the development of strong relationships, an increased awareness of immigrant issues, integration of immigrant and refugee families within their local communities, and increased social capital for immigrant as well as receiving communities.  In addition, action teams focused on new community projects, municipal and organizational investment in immigrant and refugee issues was enhanced, and a City Commission on Immigrant Affairs was established.Hartford_CT

UConn School of Social Work students, as part of the grant-funded initiative, served as program evaluators, maintaining a rigorous evaluation of outcomes, and an audit trail of activities so that the entire project could be replicated.

At the end of the day, organizers hope that the program has effectively “changed the way that people think about immigrants – and the Capitol City.”  Hartford is a global community.  And it has produced a program that can help immigrants here and elsewhere to settle in and excel.

National Conference in Hartford to Focus on Nonprofits, Philanthropy and Voluntary Action

The theme will be “Nonprofit and Voluntary Action in an Age of Turbulence” when more than 600 researchers, leaders and teachers from around the nation gather in Hartford later this week for the annual convention of ARNOVA – the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

As the leading organization supporting research and education in the fields of voluntary action, philanthropy, nonprofit management, and civil society, ARNOVA conducts its annual conference to create a public conversation on, as well as opportunities for presenting research about, pressing issues and vital opportunities facing the voluntary or nonprofit sector. It is considered to be both a showcase for the best and most current research, as well as a seed bed from which new research is born.

Scholars, practitioners and studenArnovats from the U.S. and beyond will exchange knowledge about voluntary action, nonprofit organizations, and philanthropy – and Connecticut will be well represented among participants.   David Nee, representing the Connecticut Data Collaborative and Terry Edelstein, nonprofit liaison to the Governor will be among the panelists for a plenary session of the Conference.  Among those attending the national conference close to home are Kyle Barrette (UConn), Mary Bernstein (UConn), Ron Cretaro (Connecticut Association for Nonprofits), Robert Fisher (UConn), Richard Frieder (Hartford Public Library), Maggie Gunther Osborn (Connecticut Council for Philanthropy), Reinaldo Rojas (UConn), Homa Naficy (Hartford Public Library), Nmarasimhan Srinivasan (UConn), Rebecca Thomas (UConn) and Jun Yan (UConn).

The three-day conference (Thursday-Saturday) at the Connecticut Convention Center will include more than 100 sessions attendees can choose to attend.  Frieder will lead a session highlighting the Hartford Public Library’s Immigrant and Civic Engagement Project.  Cretaro will conduct a session devoted to outlining Connecticut’s Collaboration with Human Services Nonprofits.  Rojas will present Community Development and Its Socioeconomic Impact in Latino Neighborhoods.

Over recent decades, the public conversation at the conference – held last year in Indianapolis - has evolved to address new developments in the fields, including social entrepreneurship, social economy an4 Arnovad all aspects of civil society, as well as to meet the needs of those who study and lead “the social sector.” ARNOVA’s Annual Conference is the largest gathering held regularly anywhere devoted to these matters, according to the organization.

Conference organizers report that roughly 80 percent of participants will be based in universities or colleges, and include leading scholars and teachers. Many also serve as community consultants and nonprofit board leaders. The remaining 20 percent will be staff or leaders of nonprofit or social-economy organizations, full-time consultants to those groups, and some who play other roles in the world of philanthropy.

ARNOVA’s work benefits all of society by helping generate the knowledge and perspectives that can make organizations and enterprises more effective. With a focus on teaching, we are also playing a key role in preparing the next generation of leadership. Special projects we carry out have directly addressed the needs of nonprofits and foundations in developing new knowledge and sustaining important conversations vital to refining and improving their practices and services. In short, a wide range of organizations and individuals seeking to serve the public good are strengthened by the work of ARNOVA and its members.

Among the conference sponsors are the UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Public Policy and the Hartford-based law firm of Reid and Riege.

Photo:  David Nee, Terry Edelstein, Ron Cretero, Richard Frieder