One of the many questions surrounding the pending merger between United Technologies and Massachusetts-headquartered Raytheon is what happens next year? Will the merged company, Raytheon Technologies, continue to support nonprofit organizations in Connecticut to the extent that UTC has, in many instances, for decades. Among those wondering is Special Olympics.Read More
State law allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue “special background plates” on behalf of non-profit organizations. There are more that 70,000 on the roads today, and 65 specialty designs available, supporting a wide range of nonprofit causes. The most popular: Long Island Sound. The other may surprise you.Read More
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the community foundation for 29 communities in Greater Hartford, awarded more than $38 million in grants to the region’s nonprofit agencies and educational institutions in 2018. “At a time when our state and many of our communities face significant fiscal challenges, the Hartford Foundation was able to award a record breaking number of grants this past year,” said Hartford Foundation president Jay Williams. “We continue to look for ways to work together with our donors, nonprofits, and community partners to ensure Greater Hartford residents have access to opportunities that enrich their lives and secure a better future for our region.”
According to the latest estimated, unaudited numbers, the Foundation ended 2018 with total assets of $933 million in 1,230 funds. The Foundation received gifts totaling $13.1 million and opened 22 new funds.
“Greater Hartford is fortunate to have so many generous residents who truly want to make a lasting difference in their community,” Williams said. “The historic amount of resources we have been able to provide to hardworking and dedicated nonprofit organizations is a testament to our donors’ level of commitment to the region and the work the Hartford Foundation supports.”
Officials noted that the Foundation’s 2018 grantmaking - with a total of 2,708 individual grants made - was based on the recognition that "a vibrant and strong Greater Hartford region requires that all residents, especially those with the greatest need, have equitable access to opportunities to achieve and flourish." The largest percentage of grants were in education (33%), followed by family & social services (25%), communication and economic development (13%), and arts & culture (11%).
Among the grants, in each program area:
- Hartford Student Internship Program - The Foundation awarded a $200,000 grant to Capital Workforce Partners to provide 150 Hartford rising high school juniors and seniors with internships and other work-based learning opportunities. The Foundation’s support extends opportunities to students with a variety of backgrounds, including students who have become disconnected from school.
- Summer Learning Programs - In an effort to enhance summer learning and youth development, the Foundation provided $805,300 to support 34 campership, nine tutorial, nine Counselor-in-Training and five enrichment summer programs. Foundation funding supported free and reduced-cost access to summer programming, as well as targeted support for literacy, parent engagement and other enhancements for nearly 11,000 youth from across the region.
- Early Development Instrument - The Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to East Hartford Public Schools to support projects based upon the findings of the 2018 Early Development Instrument (EDI), a population-based measurement tool that assessed the school readiness of East Hartford kindergarten students. Foundation funds will pay for the Transition to Kindergarten Campaign; an EDI Olympics for 8 elementary schools; capacity building of community and home day care providers; and project materials.
Family and Social Services
- Community Safety Coalition - With a $160,000 grant from the Foundation, five local nonprofit agencies have created the Hartford Community Safety Coalition (CSC) as an organic response to the rising incidence of violent crime in Hartford. The coalition’s mission is to create healthy communities by collaborating on strategies to reduce urban violence and trauma in Hartford.
- Center for Children’s Advocacy - With the support of a three-year $260,000 grant, the Center for Children’s Advocacy is expanding its services to adolescents and young adults from Greater Hartford transitioning out of justice-system confinement or Department of Children and Families involvement. Foundation funds support a portion of the salaries for two project attorneys and a case manager. A portion of the grant can be used to support the Center’s administrative advocacy work with state agencies including the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Education and the justice system.
Community and Economic Development
- Get Out the Vote - This past August, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving awarded thirteen grants totaling $116,565 to area nonprofits dedicated to informing and engaging underrepresented voters in Greater Hartford. This nonpartisan effort focused primarily on young adults, Latinos and Black residents and people living in high poverty neighborhoods. Over a three-month period, these organizations reached out to several thousand Greater Hartford residents, registering over 1,000 new voters and receiving 1,500 pledges to participate in the November 6 elections.
- LISC Hartford - The Building for Health Project is focused on coordinating housing quality improvements (including lead remediation, energy efficiency, asthma triggers and others), providing technical assistance and grants to affordable housing builders/managers to help implement healthy practices in the buildings they manage. The Foundation provided a three-year, $313,000 grant to support Building for Health, which is a collaborative effort that came out of one of the Foundation’s 2017 innovation planning grants. The project involves a partnership between utilities, hospitals, community development corporations and nonprofit lenders to build the connections between health and housing.
Arts and Culture
- TheaterWorks - TheaterWorks strives to bring in a more diverse audience, one that is more representative of the community at large and more inclusive of Hartford residents. TheaterWorks commissioned a market study in 2017 that found gaps in the arts programming available in the Hartford area, specifically in the areas of music, dance, film and spoken word. To support its ongoing strategic planning process, TheaterWorks was awarded a planning grant to develop, test and evaluate new pilot programs that would help diversify its audience while also filling these gaps.
- Hartford Stage Company - The Hartford Stage Company’s Breakdancing Shakespeare program provides students between the ages of 14 and 18 with the opportunity to be part of a unique program that combines the text of a classic Shakespearean play with the language of hip-hop, rap and breakdancing. With the support of a $15,000 grant from the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation Fund at the Hartford Foundation, students participated in a six-week rehearsal process, taking master classes with guest artists, developing skills related to the program’s first-ever production of Twelfth Night.
- Connecticut Historical Society - The Cheney Family Fund at the Hartford Foundation provided a $3,000 grant to the Connecticut Historical Society to support “Facing War: Connecticut in World War I.” The exhibit displays hundreds of photographs from 1917-1919, many displayed for the first time and many in life-size, as well as letters, diaries, propaganda posters, clothing, uniforms and equipment. The exhibit focuses on the personal stories of 12 Connecticut individuals, including George W. Cheney, who served on the front lines in France for nine months.
- Newton C. and Elsie B. Brainard Fund - For more than 50 years, families have been able to avoid financial ruin caused by medical bills with support from the Newton C. and Elsie B. Brainard Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The Brainard Fund benefits residents of Greater Hartford who have assets to preserve, but who face medical and health care costs that would otherwise have devastating financial consequences. In 2018, 21 families’ medical cases were supported by grants totaling nearly $224,328.
- Hockanum Valley Community Council - In response to a growing demand for substance abuse treatment, the Foundation awarded a three-year, $127,752 grant to the Hockanum Valley Community Council (HVCC). HVCC established a Medication Assisted Treatment program (MAT) in 2013 for residents of Vernon and nearby towns with opioid addiction. As one of the few providers offering this service regardless of a patients’ ability to pay, HVCC’s program has reached full capacity, growing from 32 to 52 clients in the past year alone. This grant is being used to support the hiring of an advanced practice clinician, which will allow HVCC to increase the number of clients served while increasing the quality of care and improving patient outcomes.
Nonprofit Capacity Building
- The Nonprofit Support Program (NSP) - The Foundation’s Nonprofit Support Program helps strengthen nonprofit organizations in our region by providing tools and knowledge for agencies to build strong boards, plan for their futures, evaluate programs, improve finances and update technology. In 2018, 49 staff and board teams participated in the Social Enterprise Accelerator, 15 agency teams took part in the Fundraising Training Program, 13 teams completed the Financial Management Training Program, 23 nonprofit teams received strategic technology training, 17 agency teams completed the Building Evaluation Capacity Program, and 39 executive directors and staff leaders participated in leadership development programs. In addition, 73 grants totaling $2 million were awarded to support technical assistance (such as strategic planning and board development), strategic technology, financial management, and evaluation within our local nonprofits. Eight nonprofits successfully transitioned to new leaders with support from the Executive Transition Program. In total, NSP provided services to over 1,000 individuals representing over 450 nonprofits during the year.
- Small Agency Grant Program - In 2018, the Foundation expanded grants to small and minority-led organizations through its Small Agency Grant Program. Eleven organizations successfully completed the Building on Success program that helps smaller nonprofit organizations grow to their next strategic level. Through the Small Agency Community Partners component, the Foundation has worked with 14 other nonprofit support organizations to increase the number and access to resources available to help strengthen small organizations. Highlights include a new “Board Member Bootcamp” with Leadership Greater Hartford and Hartford Public Library, and a “QuickBooks Basics for Nonprofits” with the Small Business Administration and Hartford Public Library.
Since its founding in 1925, the Foundation has awarded more than $758 million in grants.
Aimed at small to medium-sized cultural organizations seeking funding for “collaborative projects which demonstrate a clear vision of how individual sites and organizations can effectively tie together local, regional or statewide cultural assets,” the Good to Great grant program was created in 2014 during the administration of former Governor Dannel Malloy to “go beyond basic facilities repair or expansion to support projects that tell the stories of our cultural and historic sites in engaging, meaningful and relevant ways.” The final round of grants – unless the program is renewed by the Lamont administration – were announced less than three weeks prior to the change in gubernatorial leadership. The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) announced $3,051,971 in grants to 12 nonprofit organizations through the program in late December.
The grants may be used for capital projects that address the rehabilitation and/or adaptive re-use of existing facilities that will transform the visitor experience, site work associated with rehabilitation projects or additions, rehabilitation of historic landscapes, or protection and/or interpretation of archaeological sites. Other appropriate uses include artists’ fees, conservator fees, construction costs, ADA accessibility, evaluation services and documentation and exhibit scripts, fabrication and installation to complement capital improvement.
The grants range between $50,000 and $150,000 and require a 25 percent cash match; grantees will have two years from date of grant contract to complete the funded project. Applicants for the state grant must be a Connecticut 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(13) organization that owns, operates and/or sponsors a cultural venue or historic site in Connecticut with an average annual income of $500,000 or less.
The just under-the-wire recipients:
- The New England Carousel Museum in Bristol was awarded $150,000 to install a new energy-efficient, air-handling system with humidity control to protect the Museum's collection and improve the visitors' experience.
- The Connecticut Electric Railway Association (aka The Connecticut Trolley Museum) in East Windsor was awarded $50,000 to complete the on-going restoration of one of theMuseum's most historically significant trolleys - Connecticut Company Car #3001.
- The Friends of the Pinney House, Inc. in Ellington was awarded $150,000 for the interior restoration of the Pinney House so it can be used as a cultural center, a meeting place and an education site.
- Ebony Horsewomen Inc. in Hartford was awarded $50,000 to erect a pre-fab barn building to create a meeting & classroom space and a mini Black Cowboy Museum.
- The Madison Historical Society was awarded $138,600 for the restoration and preservation of the interior of Lee's Academy and to create an ADA-compatible learning and community center.
- The Denison Society, Inc. (aka Denison Homestead) in Mystic was awarded $150,000 to restore the Homestead's barn so that it may provide areas for programs, workshops and community events.
- The Norfolk Historical Society was awarded $60,546 to redesign the welcome/reception area, reinterpret gallery space and reclaim research space.
- The Keeler Tavern Preservation Society, Inc. (aka Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center) in Ridgefield was awarded $96,575 for facility improvements (climate controlled, fire-protected, well-designed storage) for its most fragile objects that relate directly to major moments in U.S. history.
- The Stonington Historical Society (aka Old Lighthouse Museum) was awarded $56,250 for a comprehensive research effort and the commission of an archeological survey of a potential Venture Smith site; creation of a permanent Venture Smith and slavery exhibit at Old Lighthouse Museum.
- The Ward Heitmann House Museum Foundation, Inc. (aka Ward Heitmann House Museum) in West Haven was awarded $150,000 to repair the foundation and exterior along with period appropriate landscaping so the House can reopen its doors to the public.
- The Eastern Connecticut Center for History, Art and Performance (aka EC-CHAP) in Willington was awarded $1,000,000 to preserve and rehabilitate two secondary buildings for use again as an in-residence artist and a café and conduct a water mitigation plan for the main structure.
- The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community in Bridgeport was awarded $1,000,000 for the exterior restoration of both structures, as well as the interior restoration of the Eliza Freeman House.
The grant award recipients constituted the final announcement of 2018 by the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Nineteen days later, Gov. Lamont took the oath of office. He is expected to announce the department's new leadership and management structure in the coming days.
It began as a casual conversation between Kate Farrar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and Sharon Cappetta, Director of Development at The Community Foundation for Women and Girls, during the 2016 United State of Women Summit. Now, it is a full-fledged and far-reaching network aimed at providing support and collaboration for organizations serving women and girls across Connecticut. The Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls (CCWG), launched last month with more than 20 members and six funders, gathered at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to celebrate the beginning of the Collective. Members range from Girl Scouts to Planned Parenthood and the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors; the YWCA to The Alliance to End Sexual Violence and Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
The Collective is a supportive network that unifies organizational members, facilitates collaboration, and bolsters their collective power to advance rights and opportunities for women and girls in Connecticut. CWEALF is the initiative's organizer.
“Now is the moment to come together to make progress for women and girls,” said Kate Farrar, Executive Director of CWEALF. “As the state’s leading champion for women and girls, CWEALF is thrilled to convene organizations across the state to increase our impact.”
Organizers say that while many organizations are doing critical work to transform the lives of women and girls in the state, too often, these organizations operate separately, leading to silos. The CCWG aims to “expand our strength as a collective force. It builds on participants’ individual assets with a community network of organizations that uplift and amplify each other’s work. The very act of coming together in this way increases each organization’s impact to advance rights and opportunities for women and girls in Connecticut.”
"Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls is pleased to support the newly launched Collective. Collaboration, Diversity and Inclusion are core values of the Community Foundation’s. Through the Collaborative, partner organizations will develop a common language and requisite understanding of what is needed to advance gender equity," said Tricia Hyacinth, Director, Fund for Women & Girls. "Moreover, members, from all regions of the state, currently working independently, will achieve greater impact through their collective efforts."
“The Community Fund for Women & Girls and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven are delighted to support the Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls,” said Sharon Cappetta, Director of Development. “This emerging network of committed program providers are already doing great work with women and girls in the state. Together, working collectively, they strengthen their individual organizations and connect to potential partners, as well as bring attention and audiences to the gender implications of public policy in Connecticut. Our communities and our state benefit from targeted investments in nonprofit organizations, especially those who are working directly to advance women and girls.”
Other funders of the Collective are the Aurora Foundation for Women and Girls; The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut's Women and Girls’ Fund; the Women’s Fund at Connecticut Community Foundation; and the Main Street Community Foundation's Women & Girls’ Fund. The Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls is guided by the following principles of gender equity, racial justice, LGBTQIA rights, civil rights, disability rights, ending and preventing violence, economic justice, reproductive rights, and immigrants’ rights.
The residents of Connecticut are the fifth most generous in the nation, according to a new analysis. The review of charitable giving by the financial website WalletHub, across the nation’s 50 states, found that Connecticut ranked:
- 3rd – Percentage of Population Who Donated Money
- 8th – Charities per Capita
- 18th – Percentage of Donated Income
- 19th – Volunteer Rate
- 25th – Volunteer Hours per Capita
Overall, only Minnesota, Utah, New York and Maryland placed higher than Connecticut in the ranking of Most Charitable States. Rounding out the top ten were Virginia, Georgia, Washington, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
A year ago, Utah topped the list and Connecticut was just outside the top 10 at number 11.
The 18 key metrics used in the analysis were grouped in two categories weighed equally, Volunteering & Service and Charitable Giving. Connecticut ranked 7th in the former and 14th in the latter. The Volunteering & Service category included share of the population collecting or distributing food or clothes for people in need, volunteer hours per capita, and fundraising or selling items to raise money. The Charitable Giving section included donating money and time, as well as the number of public charities, and share of the population donating time.
The least charitable states, according to the analysis, were Arizona, Rhode Island and Nevada.
Americans are among the world’s most generous people, WalletHub points out, ranking fourth out of 140 countries. U.S. donors in 2017 gave more than $410 billion to charity, with 70 percent of the funds coming directly from individuals, according to the National Philanthropic Trust. In addition, nearly 63 million people volunteer in the U.S., serving a combined total of 7.9 billion hours per year, the equivalent of $184 billion of service.
In an effort to get girls career-ready, Connecticut-based Girls With Impact, the nation’s only tech-enabled entrepreneurship program for teen girls, is launching a partnership with Girl Scouts of Connecticut to enable girls to parlay their cookies experience into their own businesses. “Entrepreneurship is one of the four programmatic pillars that comprise the Girl Scout Leadership Experience,” said Mary Barneby, CEO for Girl Scouts of Connecticut. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with Girls With Impact to provide our older Girl Scouts with a ‘virtual MBA’ in developing their own business plans. We are creating the next generation of female leaders and programs like this give our girls a real edge and help them become more confident and career-ready.”
Girls With Impact CEO Jennifer Openshaw says her goal is to train 10,000 young women as entrepreneurs, equipping them with the skills to start businesses or serve as innovators within corporate America.
Girl Scouts members will be entitled to participate in the Girls With Impact Academy – a 12-week “mini-MBA” program, valued at $2,000, that equips girls with business skills. The program, now in its third year, has helped some past participants to earn full scholarships at top colleges. Sessions are offered throughout the year, with various schedules. The reduced fee for Girl Scouts will be just $450, and scholarships are available.
It is both a skills-builder and confidence builder, critical for teenage girls as they navigate their teens and look forward to careers. Openshaw points out that only 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women and just 36 percent of entrepreneurs are women. Those are statistics she hopes to change. The after-school, extra-curricular program has seen exceptional results in confidence, empowerment, college prep and career readiness, including STEM areas.
“Girl Scouts is one of our nation’s most powerful leadership training grounds for young women,” said Openshaw. “We’re thrilled to support Girl Scouts as it seeks to modernize and remain relevant for young women in the new global economy.”
Girl Scouts of Connecticut serves over 26,000 girls and over 12,000 adults giving girls the skills they need to empower themselves for life. Through the Girl Scout Cookie Program, the largest girl-led entrepreneurial program in the world, Girl Scouts learn five essential skills that they will carry with them for a lifetime: goal setting, decision making, business skills, money management, and people skills.
Through the Digital Cookie® platform, Girl Scouts are able to take their cookie businesses online, using their own personal website to reach customers across the country, experiencing true enterprise. Barneby called on girls to bring a friend to Girls With Impact and “build your network for tomorrow.” She says the tech delivery enables girls to connect with others nationwide and build that support system so critical to career success.
Girls With Impact, a nonprofit, is the nation’s only entrepreneurship program just for teen girls, delivered live from the home or road. Applications are accepted at www.girlswithimpact.com.
It is described as a “framework to advance policy and strategic school district planning to more effectively address the mental health and trauma needs of students and promote student success.” A new report, driven by research highlighting the connection between mental health and educational outcomes, is aimed at school districts looking to increase integration of student mental health services and supports. The 40-page report, developed by The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI), a subsidiary of the Children’s Fund of Connecticut, in partnership with the national Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland, provides a framework for policymakers and school districts interested in improving outcomes by addressing the mental health and trauma needs of students. The report indicates that “in a typical classroom of 25 students, approximately five will meet criteria for a mental health disorder but most of them are not receiving appropriate mental health treatment or support. Among those who do access care, approximately 70 percent receive services through their schools.”
Connecticut is cited as an example of how states can promote collaborations within and across the behavioral health, education, and juvenile justice systems to provide an array of trauma-informed, evidence-based, and tiered services for students. It notes that school principals indicate that mental health is one of the most challenging unmet needs among their students and schools are increasingly seen as a critical setting for the delivery of mental health services.
The report provides “a blueprint and resources to guide state policymakers and school district leaders," including:
- an overview of core components of the Comprehensive School Mental Health
- Systems (CSMHS) model structured around family-school-community partnerships and the delivery of evidence-based mental health services within a multi-tiered system of supports;
- examples of best practice strategies to develop, implement, and sustain CSMHS;
- a model for a trauma-informed multi-tiered system of supports for school mental health;
- creative approaches to advance policy and funding structures to sustain CSMHS; and
- recommendations for state-level policymakers, districts, and schools to advance a comprehensive statewide system of school mental health to improve outcomes for all students.
“Approaching student mental health with a comprehensive lens that integrates health promotion, prevention, early intervention, and more intensive treatments leads to better school, student and community outcomes," said Dr. Sharon Hoover, Co-Director of the Center for School Mental Health at the University of Maryland and lead author of the report.
National prevalence rates indicate that approximately 20 percent of children meet criteria for a mental health disorder; however, many children’s mental health needs are not identified and the majority of children with identified challenges do not receive services, the report explained. Among those who do access care, approximately 70 percent receive services through their schools. Linking children to services through their schools reduces many traditional barriers to care. School mental health services are also associated with higher completion rates than treatment delivered in traditional outpatient community-based settings.
The report uses Stamford Public Schools (SPS) as a” local model for improving outcomes by adopting a trauma informed approach to school mental health.” CHDI began working with SPS in 2014 to conduct a review of the district’s mental health system and to develop a plan to enhance trauma-informed mental health services district-wide. That plan was subsequently implemented, and “lessons learned in Stamford are being used to engage other Connecticut districts to … integrate school and community-based mental health services, and promote quality and sustainability of these enhancements.”
“Schools are well positioned to promote wellness and social emotional competence for all students, as well as identify and address mental health concerns for students in need,” said Dr. Jeana Bracey, Director of School and Community Initiatives at CHDI and report co-author. “However, the responsibility is not on schools alone to integrate or fund these supports. This framework helps districts connect to and collaborate with Connecticut’s robust network of trauma-informed state and community-based services and programs so all students can be successful.”
The report concludes that a “systematic and streamlined partnership between families, schools, and communities to support a continuum of mental health supports in schools can lead to better behavioral health for all students, as well as increased access, earlier identification and intervention, and ultimately better outcomes for students with mental health challenges.”
In conjunction with its 25th anniversary celebration this year, New Haven-based DataHaven has announced plan to launch the DataHaven Innovation Awards, which will be open to nominees from throughout the state. Winners will be selected in a number of education and community impact categories. Nomination will be accepted through October 1, and the award recipients will be announced at DataHaven’s 25th Anniversary Celebration on November 19, 2018. DataHaven is a non-profit organization with a history of public service to Greater New Haven and Connecticut. The organization’s mission is to improve quality of life by collecting, sharing, and interpreting public data for effective decision making.
“We are proud to highlight the creativity and ingenuity of those who employ data to make Connecticut a better place,” explained DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham. The awards will recognize organizations, groups and individuals who have demonstrated the ability to use data to improve the well-being of Connecticut communities.
The inaugural Data in Education Awards will recognize the outstanding use of data for projects developed within a classroom or educational setting. Nominations will be accepted in two categories, University and Graduate Level and K-12 Level. Nominees can include teachers, students, school-based organizations, and non-profits working with youth.
The Data for Community Impact Awards will recognize the outstanding use of data to make a positive difference in one or more Connecticut communities. Nominations will be accepted in two categories: Large Organization, with more than 20 employees, and Small Organization, with less than 20 employees. Nominees can include nonprofits, for-profits, funders, unincorporated groups, and municipal/state agencies.
Liberty Bank Foundation is underwriting the DataHaven Innovation Awards.
DataHaven maintains extensive economic, social, and health data, including information collected through the DataHaven Community Wellbeing Surveys in 2012 and 2015. DataHaven is a formal partner of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership of the Urban Institute in Washington, DC.
“We believe that data is a powerful force, uniting our state and helping make life better in Connecticut communities,” says Abraham. “Our statewide survey provides neighborhood-level data in key areas such as health, education, civic engagement and economic opportunity, so that programs and resources can be deployed to change lives for the better. Our goal is still to make life better for our neighbors.”
Presenting sponsors for the organization’s 25th anniversary year are the City of New Haven, Yale University, Yale New Haven Health and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Nomination forms for the DataHaven Innovation Awards can be found at http://www.ctdatahaven.org/anniversary and are due by October 1, 2018.
What would happen if ways to integrate nature into a major urban community were pursued? In Connecticut, the largest city is Bridgeport, and the Connecticut chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been undertaking an effort to find out. Nature offers a lot of benefits to communities, TNC points out. “Trees provide shade and help clean the air. Gardens absorb and filter water, which reduces flooding and runoff into nearby rivers. Healthy dunes and wetlands protect coastlines from storms.” In addition, the organization points out, “nature can also transform the way people experience their neighborhood.”
With 70 percent of the world’s population predicted to live in cities by 2050, heat and air pollution constitute a major public health concern, TNC points out, underscoring the importance of the organization’s initiatives to plant trees in urban areas across the country, among a series of related undertakings.
“People are at the core of our efforts to identify how neighborhoods are addressing daunting challenges in this formerly industrialized city,” said Drew Goldsman, Urban Conservation Program Manager. “We want to partner with communities to implement natural solutions in Bridgeport that help both people and nature.”
Their Eco-Urban Assessment looked at areas in Bridgeport that have poor air quality, high risk of flooding, and limited access to nearby green spaces and layered it with data on income level, impervious surfaces and asthma rates. The team was able to pinpoint neighborhoods where trees, green stormwater systems and open spaces will make the biggest difference for people and nature. Air quality and flood risk topped the list of most acute needs.
In collaboration with local partners, the Conservancy is supporting a neighborhood-led greening effort known as ‘Green Connections’ in Bridgeport’s East Side neighborhood. Creating a plan for ways natural resources can shape the future of the community while making immediate changes to the landscape —through tree plantings and green stormwater infrastructure projects— is one of the initiative’s main goals, along with empowering volunteer stewards living in the community to take ownership of these natural areas. All of this helps create safe spaces for the community to gather, provides cooler and cleaner air, and improves wildlife habitat in the city.
According to the Nature Conservancy, Bridgeport currently has a 19% tree canopy cover, for example. If all open spaces, vacant lots and parking lots could be planted, the city would have a 62% tree canopy cover. The ramifications would be substantial, impacting various health and quality of life factors.
“Healthier people, cooler temperatures in the summer, cleaner air, reduced flooding, more urban habitat, parks and forests, less sewage overflow, a clean Pequannock River a more resilient coastline and green jobs” are cited as potential benefits.
The national publication Governing pointed out last year that “Streets cover about a third of the land in cities, and they account for half of the impervious surfaces in cities. Impervious surfaces don’t allow water to soak through them, which means they can alter the natural flow of rainwater. City streets collect, channel, pollute and sometimes even speed along water as it heads to the sewers.”
Goldsman indicates that currently efforts are focusing on the city of Bridgeport, but the Eco-Urban Assessment model is available to urban communities that want a deeper understanding of where nature can bring solutions to some of the most pressing urban issues.
“With the Eco-Urban Assessment model, we’re able to help municipalities identify the places and ways we can work together to use nature to improve residents’ quality of life and build more sustainable communities,” said Dr. Frogard Ryan, Connecticut state director for The Nature Conservancy. “From the beginning, we wanted this to be a community-led and TNC-supported program. Residents help us identify areas of other focus that aren’t highlighted by the model and be sure our study reflects what people experience day-to-day.”