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:
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.