family and community development

2017 UConn PEP Graduates

Enfield graduates
Photo: Cathleen Love

The University of Connecticut People Empowering People program (UConn PEP) is a personal, family and leadership development program that began in 1996, and is through the Extension program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Empowerment is a way that individuals and social groups express their needs, present their concerns, and devise strategies for involvement in decision-making. UConn PEP helps participants to understand empowerment as a social process that can help them gain control over their own lives. The focus is on empowerment as a process that fosters power (i.e., capacity to implement) in people for use in their own lives, in their communities, and in their society, acting on issues that they define as important. The outgrowth of these experiences is the development of self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as more tangible results such as building skills in problem solving and decision-making, developing relationships, and a broadened experience. Participants in UConn PEP begin to see themselves as powerful rather than powerless. UConn PEP opens to participants the recognition of their own values and beliefs and encouragement to express their own issues as they define them. The focus is on the connection between individual action and community action, encouraging individual change through training sessions and discussions, and supporting community action through participants’ efforts to change their community for the better. While we cannot give people power and we cannot make them empowered, we can provide the opportunities, resources, and support that they need to empower themselves.

In 2016, UConn PEP celebrated 20 years of offering the program in partnership with communities throughout Connecticut. The program is also being offered in Miami, Florida and other states such as Vermont and New Hampshire have sent professionals to be trained to deliver the program in their states. In the 2016-2017 academic year, twenty-two cycles of UConn PEP were offered through the following community agencies:

Middletown Schools

New London Youth Services

United Way and Plymouth Family Resource Center

East Hartford Public Schools – 2 cycles

Family Life Education in Hartford – 2 cycles

The Bridge Family Center

CREC – 2 cycles

Families Network of Western CT

Northeast Early Childhood Council

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford – 2 cycles

Stamford Public Education Foundation – 2 cyles


Manchester Public Schools

Human Services Council of Enfield – 4 cycles

Meriden School District – 2 cycles

Wethersfield Early Childhood Collaborative

Funding for these programs came from the Parent Trust Fund, the Graustein Memorial Fund, the Liberty Bank Foundation, and the Nellie Mae Foundation. The programs were offered in English, Spanish and Arabic.

The contributions made by these UConn PEP programs to their communities are based on the interests of the participants. In Wethersfield for example, participants who immigrated to the U.S. from Bosnia realized that there were many families in the community from Bosnia and started a group called Bosnian Moms of Wethersfield. Enfield brought together families from different cultures and shared cultural games with each other’s children. One participant translated the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver’s manual into Japanese for her community. Several programs collected donations for homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and for our veterans and military serving overseas. Two UConn PEP participants worked on a manual to assist families with special needs to understand and complete the forms needed for the public schools because they realized how difficult it was for them to learn the processes for their children.

When asked how UConn PEP has helped them, participants shared comments such as:

  • I am feeling self-confident and feeling more a part of my community.
  • Treat others as you want to be treated.
  • Be mindful.
  • I want to continue to learn and serve the community.
  • Our facilitators allowed us to be who we are. We didn’t have to pretend.
  • I feel empowered to improve myself as a single mother and how to be a positive team leader in my community.
  • The program has been a godsend for me. It allowed me to pause and do something positive for myself and for my community. It gently took me out of my comfort zone and gave me the confidence to push myself to do something I have wanted to do in my life.
  • I was finally able to find gateways and connections in the community to be able to be more helpful in the community.

Meet German Cutz

German Cutz
German Cutz

Dr. German Cutz is an Associate Extension Educator for Sustainable Families and Communities with a statewide appointment for UConn Extension. Dr. Cutz develops, conducts, and evaluates Extension outreach education programs. He is fully bilingual (English and Spanish) with more than 20 years experience working in community development in both developing and developed countries. In addition, he has 15 years of Extension experience in the United States. Dr. Cutz’s work focuses on marginalized and at-risk populations including low-income families in both urban and rural communities, small farmers, women, youth, and children at risk.

Dr. Cutz is currently teaching urban agriculture, technology, and small business management. Since 2013, he is teaching urban agriculture focusing on botany, entomology, vegetable production, integrated pest management, plant pathology, soils, farm risk-management, and entrepreneurship. He started teaching urban agriculture in Danbury, Connecticut and plans to expand his efforts to other urban cities throughout the state.

Since 2011, Dr. Cutz is teaching the program Youth Internet Masters. This is a three level Webpage design program that teaches computer languages including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. More than 100 people have completed the program. In addition, he teaches the 4-H Robotics and Technology program. This program targets 10-12 and 13-15 years old teens. Using a teamwork approach teens learn to build and program robots. It is usually offered as an after school program in collaboration with local schools.

In 2014, Dr. Cutz started a pilot small business management program. This program includes topics like how to start a business, business planning, marketing, introduction to accounting, and human resources management. The program is under review and he plans to offer it again in Spring 2016.

Dr. Cutz holds a doctoral degree in adult and community education; two master‘s degrees; one in natural resources and environmental management and another in community education and participatory educational methods; bachelor‘s degrees in business administration/management and agronomy.

In July, Dr. Cutz was appointed as the new UConn Extension Family and Community Development’s team leader. This team involves more than 20 UConn Extension faculty and staff. The team focuses on three major areas of action: Health and Wellness, Healthy Homes, and Sustainable Families and Communities. The goals of this team are: 1) to provide access to healthy foods and support systems to help diverse individuals and families to improve their wellbeing. 2) Improve the public’s health, reduce health disparities, and to foster a healthy and safe home environment. 3) Improve leadership skills, workforce readiness and increase community involvement.

PEP: Building Communities

People Empowering People (PEP) – Building Communities

By Robin Drago and Cathleen Love for UConn Extension


PEP October 2014 groupThe People Empowering People (PEP) Program is a personal and family development program with a strong community focus. PEP builds upon individual life experiences and strengths to encourage growth in communication and problem solving skills, parent and family relationships, and community involvement. The PEP program was created by retired Extension Educator Cheryl Czuba and is coordinated by Cathleen T. Love, Ph.D, a UConn Professor of Extension. Over one thousand people have graduated from the PEP program in the past fifteen years.

UConn PEP offers participants the opportunity to set goals, develop relationships, and make connections. Participants share their stories and find their voice and they begin to believe they can make a difference. Once this change happens there is no stopping them.

In the words of one of the UConn PEP graduates, “I learned so much from my participation in the UConn Extension PEP program. I learned from every UConn PEP participant in my wonderful group. I learned or rather re-learned things like trust in groups. I came to appreciate different lifestyles and different ways of thinking, living, caring, sharing, and teaching. The UConn Extension PEP program helped me renew my faith in how wonderful people are. It has reopened my eyes to how important differences are in people, in every aspect, but yet in the end how we really are the same and that we, each one of us, can make a difference.”

Another participant tells us, “I enjoyed every moment of our classes. It sometimes took every ounce of energy to drag myself there, but never once did I regret it. I loved the stories we shared, the tears we shed, the laughter, the trust within the group, and the comfort we felt in sharing and speaking with one another. Our “PEP” talks empowered us to accomplish or obtain something. Every moment, every word, every tear, every laugh, and every lesson will be a permanent tattoo, not only in my mind, but in my heart.”

During the UConn PEP program one amazing woman set a personal goal to go to college. She is now working on her Bachelor’s degree. The change in her was lasting and rewarding. She believed she could do it, set her goal, and her passion and commitment gave her the courage to follow through on her dream to go to college.

The student says, “The opportunity to participate in UConn Extension PEP changed my life. I had begun to feel unworthy, unintelligent, unappreciated. This program built and renewed my confidence in myself. For that I am so appreciative.”

PEP participants realize their leadership potential and they take action to invest in themselves, in their families and in their communities. Over 30 new PEP facilitators were trained in October, and a recent refresher course for facilitators was held at the Hartford County Extension Center. For more information visit: