¡Sí Se Puede! Empowering Families with Monica Jimenez

As a child, Monica Jimenez would have fun pretending to be a teacher. In high school, her interests shifted from teaching to law. Soon after beginning law school she realized that path was not for her. She then found her true passion, Special Education. 

Monica JimenezMonica graduated from La Universidad de Azuay in Ecuador with a Bachelor’s in Special Education in 1996. She came to the United States from Ecuador through a cultural exchange program and fell in love with the American culture and her host family. With the help of her host family she was able to become a resident and later obtained U.S. citizenship. In the U.S., Monica obtained her Child Development Associate Credential and started to work as a paraeducator in Stamford Public Schools. Here she spent five years helping and strengthening the academic performance of students in the Bilingual and New Arrivals program. Today, Monica lives in Stamford with her daughter and works as a Parent Educator for Family Centers, a nonprofit organization offering educational, health, and human services to families. 

During her years as a paraeducator, Monica realized how her students struggled with being understood. This motivated Monica to advocate for her students and to help them appreciate their roots and identity. “I need to let the children know that they are important and that they should be proud of their roots, proud of their home, proud of where they come from, proud of their culture, and feel happy that they have the ability to say I speak Spanish, I am currently learning English, and I will be able to learn. You have to remind children that they are capable of anything because they are and at any age” says Monica. 

Monica Jimenez UConn PEP graduationAs a paraeducator, Monica also realized the significance of parent advocacy and involvement in the education of their children. She knew she had to find a way to reach parents in her community as well to further help her students. Wanting to do more for her community, in 2017, Monica joined the UConn People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program in Stamford. 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.

Monica’s experience with UConn PEP has been life-changing. It has become the foundation that has helped her express her passion for empowering people. “UConn PEP was the starting point for the job I have now. I learned many tools. It was a mix of what I had already done in the school and UConn PEP gave me the opportunity to learn how to help people and empower them. In my case, especially mothers. It empowered me and now I can do the same for other people” says Monica. 

Monica Jimenez's group zoom meetingA year after graduating from the UConn PEP program, Monica was recruited as a teacher for the Children’s People Empowering People (CPEP) program. Additionally, she also teaches courses for the Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI). She is currently working to become a parent leader in Stamford and will complete her Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) course in June. Although at times becoming a community leader can be challenging, Monica is glad that through UConn PEP she has learned how to be direct, and how to manage different situations and audiences.

Monica Jimenez selfie with daughterAs a parent educator Monica serves first-time mothers with newborns and children up to five years in age. Through in-person and virtual visits, Monica helps mothers learn about child development, the importance of the parent-child relationship and connects them to available resources in their community. For Monica, having this job is a dream come true. “It is very nice to arrive at the house that is the root. It is where I as the visitor can accompany the mother in the growth of the child and encourage her to do a great job with her children from the very beginning” says Monica. As a single mother herself, Monica understands how difficult raising a child can be. She has always pushed herself to do the best for her daughter and is constantly encouraging her mothers to believe in their own abilities, “I always make sure to tell them sí se puede (yes you can)” says Monica.

When asked why she believed empowering people was important Monica shared, “Empowering people is important because we all have an inner strength. We all have talent and capacity within us, sometimes life circumstances make us forget that. There are some talents that are hidden. There are some talents that are turned off. It has hurt me a lot that my community is not always seen as a community that provides support, but we are people that provide support. In the Hispanic community we support each other, we can contribute a lot, we have double capabilities”.

At the moment Monica is focused on completing her PLTI course and launching her project Helping You Get Started (HUGS). HUGS introduces the school system to new arrival families. Through home visits, Monica hopes to help parents with basic things like how to apply for free/reduced lunch to more complex situations such as how to communicate with teachers. To her, it’s really important that parents realize they have all the authority over any decision made regarding the education of their children. HUGS will bridge the knowledge gap and help parents gain confidence and find their voice. Monica’s second goal is to return to school and start working towards obtaining a Master’s degree in Social Work. With this degree she hopes to be able to serve and empower more populations.

“When you tell your story, many people can relate to it and learn. I hope with my story others think okay I’m in a similar, better, or worse situation and if one person could make it through, I can too,” Monica concludes.


Article by Ivette Lopez


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Ebony Horsewomen: Empowering Hartford for Over 36 Years

Ebony Horsewomen, Incorporated is a non-profit equestrian facility in the North End of Hartford that has been empowering Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor residents through equine programs for over 36 years. Patricia “Pat” Kelly is the program founder and CEO. The programs offered by Ebony Horsewomen include youth development, mental health, and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.

An Oasis in Hartford’s North End

The driveway into the Ebony Horsewomen facility leads visitors to a calm oasis amidst the backdrop of Hartford, racial injustice, a global pandemic, and other stressors of everyday life. Keney Park is the largest municipal park in New England with 693-acres and miles of trails. Those trails are accessible via a short walk out of the barns and past the horse paddocks.

Chaz Carroll is giving us a tour of the property. He is the facilities manager and serves as the mentor and supervisor for the Junior Mounted Patrol Unit. “My dad was a Hartford policeman and I had a fascination with horses,” he says. “I started here as a youth with the Saturday Saddle Club. I was working full-time for the Hartford Community Court and came back to Ebony Horsewomen through an assignment with them. I’ve been here ever since.”

The main barn has a wing connected to it with a classroom, library, and staff offices. The classroom is currently set up with social distancing pods that youth use for remote schooling. An indoor riding ring and a second barn are short distances away. The second barn has offices for the saddles and equipment of the Ladies Dressage Team and Junior Mounted Patrol Unit, and there are offices and a conference room for the mental health staff.

Horses quietly relax in small groups in the paddocks behind the barns. A flock of chickens alerts us to their presence in a pen adjacent to the barn and gardens. Over in the indoor arena, War Paint, one of the horses, is hanging out by himself. He’s 28 and a senior member of the herd. Chaz remembers riding him as a boy in the program. War Paint has some health issues due to his advanced age and the softer footing of the indoor arena keeps him comfortable. He’s bright and perky as he walks over to the gate to greet us.

The horses receive exceptional care, as is evidenced by the health and well-being of War Paint and other senior equines. Ebony Horsewomen works with Beckett Veterinary Services for equine care and their farrier, a graduate of the Cornell University Farrier Program is an alumnus of their program who sees to their equine hoof care. Staff also receive training and continuous education through The Herd Institute, a NBCC approved continuing education provider that offers training and certifications in equine facilitated psychotherapy and learning and through the UConn Equine Extension program.

“I first met the Ebony Horsewomen staff when they came to the UConn Riding Camp Instructor Horsemanship Safety Camp Training,” says Dr. Jenifer Nadeau, the UConn Equine Extension Specialist. “They have also participated in the Connecticut Horse Symposium. It is fabulous what they are doing for the community, and how dedicated and hard-working they are. I can definitely see the impact they are having just by meeting their instructors and the youth at my programs.” A UConn 4-H program is also part of the programming offered by Ebony Horsewomen.

Empowerment Through an Equestrian Program

Ebony Horsewomen's Junior Mounted Patrol with founder Pat Kelly at the Connecticut Greenways Awards in October 2020
Photo: Stacey Stearns

Each of the youth programs has a classroom component. The Saturday Saddle Club starts their day with chores. Once the barn is taken care of, they head into the classroom. Then, it’s on to lunch and riding time. The Ladies Dressage Team meets three times per week, two classes are held virtually on weekdays due to the pandemic, and they ride during an in-person session.

Spending time with the horses helps the rest of the world disappear for a while. “When you ride through Keney Park none of the other stuff is there, the tough neighborhood of Hartford’s North End or the problems the students may be facing,” Chaz says. “The Junior Mounted Patrol Unit helps the young men acquire the drive and motivation to be something. We are also trying to show the community we are here when we ride the horses around the neighborhood.”

The Ladies Dressage Team learns life skills in addition to dressage and equitation. The young women often come to Ebony Horsewomen focused on their hair and body. The conversation changes when they begin working with the horses. It’s about how to sit the trot or another aspect of horsemanship. The level of importance shifts to the internal instead of the external that media and other influences push.

“It’s never about the ribbons when we go to a horse show,” Pat says. “Our youth have to understand three things, classism, racism, and business. Sometimes we go to a horse show and our students won’t place well, but the other riders are happy to have them there. That’s classism. Our students go to another show and get a lesson on dealing with racism from people that have negative reactions to our participation. And then we go to a third show where they get a lesson on business because the riders from that barn win all the classes. Our students need to understand the difference between classism, racism, and business and how to respond to it.”

Horse shows provide one avenue to learn, and the staff at Ebony Horsewomen ensure these lessons are always in a supportive environment. “We are healing kids and horses,” Pat continues. “They are learning to manage life’s challenges and understanding the life they were born into. When you’re born into a Black community that’s all you know. We are getting our students out to other places so that they meet some really nice people. They meet real and authentic people and they begin to understand how not to classify people. You have to give everyone a chance and get to know them.”

A Bright Future

The positive impact on participants and changes the program has facilitated in the community are creating a legacy for the program, and a bright future as it continues to expand. “Seeing the faces of our participants gets me here every morning,” Chaz says. “We are here to help someone’s life and let them forget they are in pain and trauma. Seeing the difference in a participant from when they arrive to when they head home at the end of a session is why we are here. All the staff feel the same way. Ebony Horsewomen leaves a lasting impact on the people that work here and the program participants.”

A girl on a bay horse smiling and holding up a blue first place ribbon at a horse show
Photo courtesy of Ebony Horsewomen, Inc.

Ebony Horsewomen wants to keep pushing themselves higher and do more to serve the community that they’ve been a part of for over 36-years. Funding and resources are always a challenge for any non-profit. The program needs monetary donations, volunteers, and community support through awareness building.

Younger horses are another need the team has identified. Most of the herd is over 20 years old. They are senior horses, and each can only have limited responsibilities with participants. Horses have a home for life and excellent care at Ebony Horsewomen, and a few younger horses would allow the program to continue growing and serving as that catalyst for change for more participants.

Private riding lessons and horse boarding are also available to those interested and provide a source of income to support programming. People come to Ebony Horsewomen to experience riding. Horseback riding lessons are different here, they provide music and therapeutic exercises. People love it, they connect with the music and it relaxes them. The team is discussing setting up a volunteer system for horse care when COVID-19 subsides.

“The proudest moments for me is always something the kids have elevated to – kids that would be dead if not for a horse,” Pat reflects. “The horses give the kids a place to come where they’re not treated differently because of their circumstances.”

Learn more about Ebony Horsewomen and how you can support their programs at https://www.ebonyhorsewomen.us/.

Article by Stacey Stearns

UConn PEP: Empowering Communities

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.

Wethersfield Residents Grow With UConn PEP Program

family poses for a front porch portrait as part of the Wethersfield PEP program
A Wethersfield family poses for their front porch photo.
Photo courtesy of Jeanine Berasi

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