PEP Celebrates 20th Anniversary

family at PEP
A family at a 2016 PEP program.

In 1993, Extension Educator Cherry Czuba and a social services coordinator in a Windham low-income housing project taught family life information and community development strategies to five natural leaders in the community. Each participant committed a year, attended ten 2-hour training sessions, went to monthly meetings, and addressed community issues through projects. In 1994, Cherry worked in Vernon to address growing crime. Then, a VISTA worker was obtained later that year to conduct the program in Brooklyn and Danielson.

Partnering with Extension educators Cathy Malley and Ede Valiquette brought the program to Danbury, Manchester, Hartford, East Hartford, and West Hartford. Additional VISTA members allowed expansion to Vernon, Enfield and Meriden.

From these initial programs, the UConn People Empowering People (PEP) program was founded in 1996, and steadily grew. Over two thousand people have graduated from the UConn PEP program in the past twenty years.

UConn PEP is a personal and family development program with a strong community focus. Building upon individual life experiences and strengths the program encourages growth in communication, goal setting, problem-solving skills, parent and family relationships and community involvement. Cherry retired in 2013, and Cathleen Love, Ph.D., UConn Extension Professor, now coordinates UConn PEP.

While participating in a UConn PEP program, the participants set goals, develop relationships and make connections. They also find their voice, share stories, and begin to believe they can make a difference.

An early participant from Enfield reflected on the program, “UConn PEP changed my life for the better. If it weren’t for UConn PEP, I wouldn’t have the job I have today. UConn PEP helped give me the drive to want something better and gave me the confidence to believe that I could do it. It also helped me be a better parent.”

UConn PEP expanded to other states, including Michigan, California and Missouri. Cherry worked with a professor from South Africa to establish the program at the University of Pretoria. The program continues to have a broad reach, with Vermont and Florida actively teaching PEP programs in 2016.

In the words of one of the recent UConn PEP graduates, “I learned from every UConn Extension PEP participant in my wonderful group. I 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.”

During the UConn PEP program, one woman set a personal goal to go to college. She is now working on her bachelor’s degree. 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 take action to invest in themselves, in their families and in their communities. The program continues to grow through support from our partner organizations, including school districts, nonprofit organizations and faith-based communities.

In partnership with the Center for Applied Research in Human Development (CARHD) a questionnaire was administered to all participants before programming began (i.e. pre-test) and after programming finished (i.e. post-test). The pre-test questionnaires contained close-ended questions to measure self-assertive efficacy, sense of mastery, parental satisfaction, family problem-solving communication, and community engagement. The post-test questionnaires included the same questions as the pre-tests, as well as open-ended questions that asked participants about their overall satisfaction and feedback about the program. Based on the data, CARHD assessed the effectiveness of the programs.

Key findings from the analyses of the close-ended were that UConn PEP participants

1) Showed significant positive changes on self-assertive efficacy and sense of mastery.

2) Showed significant positive changes on parental satisfaction and family problem-solving communication.

3) Showed significant positive changes on community engagement.

4) Overall were very satisfied with the program.

Responses to the open-ended questions indicated that participants found the program to be useful and helpful. They felt that the community project was beneficial to the surrounding communities and provided an opportunity to be involved in their community. Overall, the participants showed improvement in all three targeted areas (individual assets, parent/family relationships, and community engagement) following completion of the program.

Cherry Czuba
Cherry Czuba

The UConn PEP program has positively influenced communities across the state, as over 50 towns have had programs in the last twenty years. Looking to the future, UConn Extension has created an endowed account at the UConn Foundation, the Cherry Czuba UConn PEP Program Fund to provide permanent support for the program.

“I enjoyed every moment of our classes,” another participant shares. “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.”

PEP Graduate Impacts Community

Daniella PierreDaniella Pierre was recently recognized at the United States of Women summit in Washington DC, and is currently being nominated for an award from Legacy Magazine, all this because of her dedicated work in affordable housing for middle class families and empowering young women. She currently works as an academic advisor at Miami-Dade and is a part of the executive board at her local NAACP chapter. During her participation in People Empowering People (UConn PEP) she said she recognized that, “it is my right as a citizen to be involved in local politics, especially on issues that divide us.” The work she does focuses on the development of people and “hopes for a better tomorrow today.”

Daniella is a graduate of the UConn PEP program offered in conjunction with Catalyst Miami.

More PEP Graduates

Congratulations to our most recent UConn Extension People Empowering People (PEP) graduates from Meriden! The People Empowering People Program is a personal and family development program with a strong community focus. Created by Cheryl Czuba, UConn Extension Educator, the PEP program builds upon individual life experiences and strengths to encourage growth in communication and problem solving skills, parent/family relationships and community involvement. The PEP program is coordinated by Cathleen T. Love, Ph.D, UConn Professor of Extension [more].The PEP program has graduated over one thousand people in over fifteen years.

PEP Meriden PEP Meriden2 PEP Meriden3 PEP Meriden4


Congratulations PEP Graduates

Congratulations to our recent UConnExtension‬ People Empowering People (PEP) graduates from Meriden and Putnam. A few graduates are pictured below, but many more were also recognized.

3 out of 5 graduates were able to make it to the graduation in Putnam, due to bad weather. Sherry Curran (far left) read a short description of each grad and what they brought to the group. Kris Cicchetti, President of the Northeast Early Childhood Council (next to Sherry) presented the certificates to the grads. Shannon Haney, PEP co-facilitator, (far right, back) is seen clapping for the next grad coming up for her certificate.
   PEP Meriden Graduation PEP Meriden graduation2

UConn Extension Receives Farmland Preservation Pathfinder Award

Dean Weidemann accepting the Pathfinder Award on behalf of the Agriculture Team with Kip Kolesinskas of Working Lands Alliance. Photo: Lisa Bassani.

The UConn Extension Agriculture Team was the recipient of the Farmland Preservation Pathfinder Education Leader Award at the Working Lands Alliancee Annual Meeting on Tuesday, November 18th at the State Capitol in Hartford. The award recognizes significant contributions in the area of educating the public about the importance of farmland preservation.


UConn Extension connects the power of UConn research to real life for Connecticut communities, citizens and businesses. Our programs create practical, science-based tools and technologies to help solve complex problems. Extension provides outreach, knowledge and expertise to the public in areas such as: economic viability, business and industry, community development, agriculture and natural resources. Through the work of our Agriculture team, UConn Extension has advanced farmland preservation in Connecticut by assisting farmers with economic viability, leadership in the agriculture field, advocacy for agriculture, planning and educational programs. Without economically viable businesses, it would be impossible for farmers in Connecticut to remain in business. UConn Extension Agriculture team programs give farmers the tools they need to enhance their agricultural businesses, playing a direct role in the success of the industry and farmland preservation. Farmers we work with include those who have already preserved their farmland and those considering it as an option.


UConn Extension’s Bonnie Burr, Mike O’Neill and Jiff Martin with Dean Weidemann. Photo: Lisa Bassani.

Agriculture team members serve the efforts of farmland preservation in a variety of methods. Programs include: Scaling Up for Beginning Farmers, Farmland ConneCTions, Buy 10% Local, Connecticut Food System Alliance, Agriculture Risk Management, Crop Insurance, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Food Safety, Agriculture Nutrient Management and more.


Through our team approach to agriculture outreach and education, UConn Extension has created a vibrant network of professionals to meet the needs of our state’s versatile agricultural industry. For the past 100 years, UConn Extension has been tying research to real life for Connecticut farmers and agricultural producers. Our efforts have had a direct impact on farm viability and preservation in Connecticut and we look forward to our next century of tying research to real life.