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UConn PEP Goes Online
Our communities are stronger when all voices are elevated and included. UConn Extension’s People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program elevates voices by empowering individuals through community-based parent leadership training. People Empowering People builds on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants. The program emphasizes the connection between individuals and community action.
We collaborate with community organizations to offer UConn PEP. Trained facilitators guide participants through 10 educational sessions plus additional weeks for completion of individual or group projects before graduating from the program. Cherry Czuba, a retired Extension educator, started the program 25 years ago. The program was revised and updated while Dr. Cathleen Love was coordinating the program. Over 3,110 participants have graduated from UConn People Empowering People programs located in three states.
COVID-19 affected UConn PEP – as it did with all other aspects of our lives. But the need for personal development and empowerment programs increased because of the pandemic and racial injustice. We rose to the challenge by transitioning our programs online. We continued to offer programming, trained facilitators in a new online certificate program, and community participants graduated from local programs.
The program was offered in eight communities, seven of these in Connecticut and one in Miami, Florida. Our Connecticut programs were in offered in Middletown, Stamford, New London, Wethersfield, Hartford with Community Renewal Team (CRT) and Family Life Education, and Meriden – with Meriden Children First. Program graduates made a difference in each community.
Community-based projects are always an impactful part of the UConn People Empowering People Communities program and had a positive influence during the pandemic. Two participants in our Meriden program created a project called, Sprinkle of Kindness and Twisted Vines. They collected donations of hand sanitizers, masks, and snacks and gave them to police departments in Waterbury and Torrington. Seven women in the Wethersfield UConn PEP 2020 program, with the help of a few key volunteers organized Wethersfield Front Porch Portraits. Over 120 families participated, and the project raised over $3,500 for the Wethersfield Foodbank. Their project was shared with the Wethersfield Historical Society.
People Empowering People’s impact on individuals has a ripple effect of positive outcomes for the community that continues beyond graduation. Sheri Amechi participated in the Meriden UConn PEP program in 2017. Her initial involvement with UConn PEP was a catalyst for transformative changes in her life and the community. When asked how the UConn PEP program made a difference in her leadership journey, here is what Sheri said, “When I interviewed for PEP in 2017, I had mentioned that my goal was to run for a seat on the Meriden Board of Education. I had participated in other Parent Leadership programs in the Meriden community prior to UConn PEP. These programs reinforced what I already knew, I wanted to make a difference in my community. Through People Empowering People, I learned valuable lessons in communication, problem-solving, and I improved my leadership skills. These lessons prompted me into taking the step to run for a seat on the Board of Education in Meriden in 2019. Sadly, I was not successful in my attempt to win a seat (losing by 41 votes), but I am determined to run again in 2021. To my excitement and surprise, I was appointed to fulfill a seat on the Board of Education, achieving my goal I set many years ago.”
“After graduating from UConn PEP, I continued my community involvement when I was elected to the Local Advisory Committee of Meriden Children’s First non-profit,” Sheri continues. “From this group I was eventually elected as President of Meriden Children’s First. Currently, I am the Vice President of the organization.”
Sheri knew what she wanted, set her goals and continued until she achieved her goals. People Empowering People opens doors, brings people together, provides training, builds skills, creates connections, and opportunities for participants to follow their passion and make a difference in their communities.
The positive effects of UConn PEP are the same across all participants – in any location – goals are set, relationships develop, projects are completed, a shift happens, and the goodness grows. When participants were asked at the completion of the program, what they learned during UConn PEP, one participant stated: “I’ve learned from the entire PEP program and how important it is to me. I’m going to continue using the tips and tools I’ve learned in these sessions. I want to continue to grow.”
Our communities need connection and leadership now more than ever. UConn PEP is rising to the challenge and helping participants to find their voice, elevate others’ voices, and create a better place to live. Programming may have shifted online during the pandemic, but we can still create that personal connection that allows people to thrive.
For more information about UConn People Empowering People (PEP) Communities go to pep.extension.uconn.edu.
Article by Robin Drago-Provencher and Stacey Stearns
Land-grant universities have provided communities, organizations, farmers and individuals with practical knowledge rooted in research through the Cooperative Extension System since the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. Over the last 107 years a lot has changed with our Extension systems. The program has expanded beyond its agricultural production origin to encompass a wide variety of resources ranging from nutrition to environmental issues and technology.
UConn Extension is no exception to this evolution that the Cooperative Extension System has seen. However, one thing has not changed, in more than a century of working with Connecticut residents, producers, and communities; UConn Extension has always been about connection. Across the board, UConn Extension educators and programs strike at the very core of our 169 cities and towns to make each one of them a better place. Connecting Connecticut, our new podcast, showcases each of our programs through the eyes of those impacted by them.
Connecting Connecticut teaches individuals throughout our state about the programs in their communities. By talking to extension educators, volunteers, researchers, and community members each episode dives into the goals and impacts our programs have here in Connecticut. From learning about coastal resilience and the Connecticut Sea Grant program, looking into the impact 4-H has on the state’s youth and communities, to discussing the importance of volunteers across the Constitution State it is our goal to share the work of UConn Extension, and ultimately our impact on Connecticut.
Join us as we hop from Salisbury to Stonington, visit all eight counties, and talk to all of the wonderful people in between that truly make this state great. Our goal to reach every community, people from all walks of life, and strive for a better tomorrow and we have been fulfilling that mission since 1914. We are chronicling that journey and the people who make it
possible everyday. It is only fitting that in telling our story we do so by Connecting Connecticut.
Article by Zachary J. Duda
UConn Extension connects thousands of people across Connecticut and beyond each year, with the research and resources of the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. We are comprised of more than 100 educators and a vast network of volunteers. UConn Extension works collaboratively to build more resilient communities through educational initiatives aimed to cultivate a sustainable future and develop tomorrow’s leaders. The work of UConn Extension connects communities and individuals to help make Connecticut a better place to live, and a better place for future generations.
The Bethlehem Busy Stitchers 4-H club is very fortunate to have Elaine Brodeur as their club leader. Elaine’s daughter will tell you that Elaine needs 4-H as an excuse to own eight sewing machines and a stash of fabric and sewing supplies to rival any JOANN store. But Elaine goes on to explain, “I love to sew and share my skills with young people especially since it is not taught in schools anymore.” She joined 4-H at the age of 10 and has maintained her connection with 4-H for the past 65 years. As a youth, her project focus was clothing. She attended 4-H camp for several years at the Litchfield County 4-H Camp (what is now Warren Woods) and Junior Leadership conferences that were held at the UConn Storrs campus.
Elaine adds, “At that time we had county dress reviews and the best senior members were chosen to attend the state dress review. Winners from there went to National 4-H Congress. I was in the state review several times. I never went out of state…the competition was pretty tough then.”
Elaine gets her commitment to 4-H from her mother, Bernice Assard, who passed away in 2008. Bernice became the club leader of the Bethlehem Busy Stitchers back in 1956. During Bernice’s 50 years as club leader hundreds of youth benefitted from her instruction and guidance with many also participating in statewide activities and national trips such as Citizenship Washington Focus and National 4-H Congress. In 2002 Bernice was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame during its inaugural year.
While the club’s projects focus on sewing and home economics, they have always participated in community service projects. In the past the club has sold soup at the Christmastown Festival, marched in the Memorial Day Parade and made hand warmers for the Woodbury Senior Center. The club also made lunches to serve the workers who volunteered to rebuild the local community hall after it burned back in the 1980s. More recently they have sewn and donated over 300 tote bags to a local women’s shelter which in turn fills the bags with much needed supplies for the residents. They have been participating in this project for the past eleven years.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club has been sewing face masks for local nursing homes. This has turned into a major community effort in which the club has donated enormous time and effort in assisting the Caring for Bethlehem organization, a local non-profit charity that provides food and relief assistance to the surrounding community.
Elaine took over leadership of the club from her mother in 2006 and keeps club members busy with a variety of activities. She spends a great deal of time during the summer helping club members get their sewing, craft and cooking projects ready for the 4-H Fair held each year in August. She is also the coordinator of the Textile Arts Contest for 4-H Expressive Arts day and serves on the planning committee for this event.
When asked why she has stayed involved with 4-H for so many years, she replies, “To some extent I feel obligated to carry on my mother’s legacy. 4-H was very important to her. 4-H provides a structure for opportunities to practice many life skills in a low-risk environment like project planning, meeting deadlines, interviewing, public speaking, following instructions, record keeping and teamwork. I could not do it without the help of Jen Woodward my assistant or the help of the member’s parents.”
Article by Nancy Wilhelm, State 4-H Program Coordinator
Rich Mutts ’06 (CLAS) graduated from UConn with a bachelor of arts in human development and family sciences. The New Haven school system quickly hired him. As his career progressed, he knew that he wanted to do more to make positive changes in the community. In 2016, Rich had the opportunity to join the Meriden Children First Initiative (CFI) as a program director.
One of his early responsibilities at CFI was recruiting parents to participate in the UConn People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program. CFI regularly hosts a 12-week PEP program for parents and community members. There are 12 to 18 participants in each cohort, and the groups also complete a community project. Over 75 participants have graduated from the UConn PEP programs sponsored by CFI.
UConn PEP is an Extension program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. It is an innovative personal and family development program with a strong community focus. UConn PEP builds on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants. The program emphasizes the connection between individuals and community action.
“I looked at the parents I was recruiting as unpolished diamonds,” Rich says. “The 12-week course changes their lives. They’re back in school and have the opportunity to feel that self-growth again, and it increases their self-worth. I wanted to empower them to use their voices. Watching the parents grow is the most fulfilling part of the PEP program for me.”
Community projects are an important component of the UConn PEP program. They provide participants with an avenue to create a positive change in their community and work collaboratively with their UConn PEP cohort.
“Connectivity is the one word I would use to describe UConn PEP,” Rich says. “The overall theme of the UConn PEP programming is taking people and letting them know they are already leaders. We are pulling a dormant fire and determination out of them. They often feel overlooked as just parents, but they are great leaders.” The community projects that the groups select prove what great leaders they are and empower the participants to continue making a difference in their communities.
Meriden saw an influx of displaced families after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September of 2017. The PEP class at CFI that fall quickly pivoted their project to create a directory of everything the displaced families would need.
Another cohort from CFI sponsored a book drive. Meriden has a Summer Discovery Program that is free for youth, and 80 children were participating during this cohort year. The summer program lasts for three weeks, and the PEP parents’ goal was for each child to leave with a new book every day of the program. The group set up drop-off points around the city and collected over 2,700 books, then they sorted and distributed them.
“Our participants are so empowered when they finish their UConn PEP projects,” Rich says. “We are there to make connections for them. We encourage our PEP graduates to sit on boards or on the CFI advisory council after they finish classes. CFI also provides an opportunity for them to receive training to become a PEP facilitator.”
Rich is also a musician and video producer. A few years ago, he created the Born Rich documentary about the disconnect between police and the community. The documentary focused on emotions and he wrote and performed the songs for it.
“I’m from Hamden,” he says. “I knew I could do more and make a bigger impact. I wanted to expand who I help.” Rich transitioned to a part-time director of programs role with CFI in January of 2020 when he created the Born Rich Foundation.
The Born Rich Foundation focuses on youth and connecting communities to their municipal leaders. “Rich can mean many things, including our family and health,” he says. “True wealth is our happiness. The documentary and our foundation are all about healing.”
That healing can come in many forms and one is through the personal empowerment that Rich saw with UConn PEP. The Born Rich Foundation offered a 10-week virtual learning series in August and September. Experiences were offered every day from 8 AM until 5 PM. Participants could join whenever they were available to receive multiple levels of learning. These included a health and fitness series on Wednesdays, meditation hours, and seminars on substance abuse led by health clinicians.
The newest project for the Born Rich Foundation is a public service announcement video series on the importance of connecting the community and police officers. Rich is working with Hamden, New Haven, and East Haven on the project. It includes the mayors and municipal leaders from each city and has the support of Senator Chris Murphy. The series is being released in February 2021.
The Future is Bright
PEP will evolve and grow in the future, and Rich expects it will be a hybrid course as we continue recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He stresses that connecting over words and the internet is still a transformative educational experience.
“Getting parents to understand that their voice matters and that it is needed is a challenge,” Rich says. “UConn PEP can continue expanding and growing; there are so many people that need this program. As facilitators we get to see the smiles and tears; and hear the stories. We need to expand UConn PEP to children, city leaders, and teachers.”
“The future is bright,” Rich says. “We’re in uncertain times right now, but it is bright. Everything the Born Rich Foundation is doing is grounded in what I learned in UConn PEP. It’s all based on equity and I’m incorporating that into all of our programming.”
For more information about the Born Rich Foundation you can watch part one of the documentary. Watch the music video HOME and listen to his song ALRIGHT. Learn more about the UConn PEP program at https://pep.extension.uconn.edu/.
Article by Stacey Stearns
The UConn People Empowering People Program is an innovative personal and family development program with a strong community focus. Created by Cheryl Czuba, UConn Extension Educator, and coordinated by Cathleen T. Love, Ph.D, UConn Professor of Extension, The UConn PEP program has graduated over one thousand people in over fifteen years.
The UConn PEP program is for adults and older teens. The program is designed to build on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants and emphasizes the connection between individual and community action.
Because the UConn PEP program is adaptable to a variety of settings, the program is offered throughout the state at Family Resource Centers, Community Agencies, Discovery Centers, Faith based Communities and Correctional Institutions.
Around the state, organizations have found a way to continue UConn Extension’s Parent Leadership Training, part of our People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program. With technology, determination and creativity PEP facilitators are keeping their parent leaders connected and informed during this difficult time by offering the UConn PEP program via Zoom.
One such program is being run by the Wethersfield Early Childhood Collaborative (WECC) and Wethersfield Public Schools. UConn PEP Facilitator Jeanine Berasi is in her 4th year as a PEP facilitator. Jeanine started by contacting parents one at a time and doing a social check in. Next she practiced using Zoom with each family. Once parents felt comfortable, Jeanine offered Wethersfield’s first UConn PEP Program online via Zoom. Jeanine coordinated with WECC staff to have a local business, Cove Deli, deliver meals to each family (dinner was offered as part of the program when the group met in person).
The class raised funds for their town food bank to help food insecure families in Wethersfield.
“Our Wethersfield PEP 2020 cohort is amazing,” Jeanine says. “In spite of the challenges placed on PEP 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic, the ladies of Wethersfield PEP 2020 set aside their personal community service ideas for later dates to come together and collaborate, bringing the Wethersfield Porch Portraits project to life!”
“Wethersfield PEPs Porch Portrait project has exceeded all expectations,” Jeanine continues. “I am so proud of all they have learned and how much they have contributed to brighten a difficult time. The good news and positive impact of this group project has been amazing! Additionally, the ladies also created a gift certificate for people receiving aid from Social Services. We have had three certificates honored to date.”
Residents of Wethersfield can sign up to have a family portrait taken on their porch, from a safe social distance. It’s been very popular with many families signing up from throughout the community.
In a time when so much is uncertain, we are grateful to all of you for finding ways to support each other and stay connected. Stay Safe.
– Robin Drago-Provencher, UConn PEP
UConn Extension has collaborated with our partners, communities and stakeholders for over 100 years. We are proud to serve all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The worldwide pandemic involving COVID-19 (coronavirus) has produced unprecedented challenges in the UConn community and around the world. Our services continue during this challenging time. All of our educators are working and serving their audiences.
Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment. The Highlights of Extension annual report showcases program achievements from the past year.
Our Extension faculty and staff are effectively responding to the new challenges as well. They are utilizing technology and mobilizing resources to help families, communities, businesses, farmers, and other stakeholders. For example, our extension specialists and 4-H volunteers are helping distribute thousands of gallons of dairy products weekly to families in need throughout the state. There are many other examples of how the CAHNR family is responding to help our communities.
Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
- Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
- Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
- Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
- Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate