UConn PEP

¡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

 

Haga clic aquí para ver en Español.

¡Sí Se Puede! Empoderando Familias con Monica Jimenez

De niña Monica Jimenez jugaba a ser maestra. En la escuela secundaria, sus intereses pasaron de educación a la abogacía. Poco después de comenzar la escuela de leyes, se dio cuenta de que ese camino no era para ella. Luego encontró su verdadera pasión, la Educación Especial.

Monica JimenezEn 1996, Monica se graduó de La Universidad de Azuay en Ecuador con una Licenciatura en Educación Especial. Llegó a Estados Unidos desde Ecuador a través de un programa de intercambio cultural y se enamoró de la cultura estadounidense y de su familia anfitriona. Con la ayuda de su familia anfitriona, pudo convertirse en residente y luego obtuvo la ciudadanía estadounidense. En los EE. UU., Monica obtuvo su Credencial de Asociada en Desarrollo Infantil y comenzó a trabajar como para-educadora en las Escuelas Públicas de Stamford. Allí pasó cinco años ayudando y fortaleciendo académicamente a los estudiantes en el programa Bilingüe y de Recién Llegados. Hoy, Monica vive en Stamford con su hija y trabaja como educadora de padres para “Family Centers”, una organización sin fines de lucro que ofrece servicios educativos, de salud y humanos a las familias.

Durante sus años como para-educadora, Monica se dio cuenta de cómo sus estudiantes luchaban para ser entendidos. Esto motivó a Mónica a advocar por sus estudiantes y ayudarlos a apreciar sus raíces e identidad. “Necesito hacerle saber a los niños que ellos son importantes y que deben estar orgullosos de sus raíces, orgullosos de su casa, orgullosos de donde vienen, orgullosos de su cultura, y sentirse felices de que tienen esa capacidad de que sí hablo Español, y estoy aprendiendo el Inglés, yo voy a poder. Hay que recordarles a los niños que pueden porque si pueden y a cualquier edad” dice Monica.

Monica Jimenez UConn PEP graduationComo asistente de educación, Monica también se dio cuenta de la importancia de la participación de los padres en la educación de sus hijos. Sabía que tenía que encontrar una manera de llegar a los padres de su comunidad para ayudar más a sus estudiantes. Queriendo hacer más por su comunidad, en 2017, Monica se unió al programa en Stamford UConn People Empowering People (UConn PEP). UConn PEP es un programa de Extensión en la Facultad de Agricultura, Salud y Recursos Naturales. Es un programa innovador de desarrollo personal y familiar con un fuerte enfoque en la comunidad. UConn PEP se basa en las fortalezas y experiencias únicas de vida de los participantes. El programa enfatiza la conexión entre los individuos y la acción comunitaria.

La experiencia de Monica con UConn PEP ha cambiado su vida. Se ha convertido en la base que la ha ayudado a expresar su pasión por empoderar a las personas. “UConn PEP y el curso que hice fue mi punto de partida para el trabajo en que me encuentro ahora. Aprendí muchas herramientas. Fue una mezcla de lo que ya había hecho en la escuela pública y UConn PEP me dio la oportunidad de aprender y saber cómo ayudar a la gente y cómo empoderarlas. Especialmente en mi caso a las mamás. Me empodero a mi y a la vez puedo empoderar a otras personas” dice Monica.

Monica Jimenez's group zoom meetingUn año después de graduarse del programa UConn PEP, Monica fue contratada como maestra para el programa “Children’s People Empowering People (CPEP)”. Además, también imparte cursos para el “Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI)”. Actualmente está trabajando para convertirse en una madre líder en Stamford y completará su curso de “Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI)” en junio. Aunque a veces convertirse en líder de la comunidad puede ser un desafío, Monica se alegra de que a través de UConn PEP haya aprendido a ser directa y a manejar diferentes situaciones y audiencias.

Monica Jimenez selfie with daughterComo educadora de padres, Monica sirve a madres primerizas con niños recién nacidos hasta los cinco años de edad. A través de visitas en persona y virtuales, Monica ayuda a las madres a aprender sobre el desarrollo infantil, la importancia de la relación entre padres e hijos y las conecta con los recursos disponibles en su comunidad. Para Monica, tener este trabajo es un sueño hecho realidad.  “Es muy lindo llegar a la casa que es la raíz y es donde yo como la visitadora puedo acompañar a la mamá  en el crecimiento del niño e incentivarla a que pueda hacer un buen trabajo con sus hijos desde el principio” dice Monica. Como madre soltera, Monica comprende lo difícil que puede ser criar a un hijo. Siempre se ha esforzado por hacer lo mejor para su hija y constantemente anima a las madres a creer en sus propias habilidades, “siempre me encargo de decirles que sí se puede”, dice Monica.

Cuando se le preguntó por qué creía que empoderar a las personas era importante, Monica compartió: “Empoderar a la gente es importante porque todos tenemos una fuerza. Todos tenemos dentro toda la capacidad y el talento, solo que a veces, circunstancias de la vida nos hacen olvidar que tenemos esa capacidad. Todos tenemos eso. Hay algunos talentos que se encuentran escondidos. Hay algunos talentos que se encuentran apagados. Me ha dolido mucho que nuestra comunidad no siempre sea vista como una comunidad que aporta y nosotros si somos gente que aporta. Nosotros, la gente hispana aportamos. Podemos aportar mucho, tenemos capacidades dobles”.

En este momento, Monica está enfocada en completar su curso PLTI y lanzar su proyecto “Helping You Get Started (HUGS)”. HUGS acoge y presenta el sistema escolar a las familias recién llegadas. A través de visitas domiciliarias, Monica espera ayudar a los padres con cosas básicas como: cómo solicitar almuerzo gratis / reducido y en situaciones más complejas, cómo comunicarse con los maestros. Para ella es muy importante que los padres se den cuenta de que tienen toda la autoridad sobre cualquier decisión que se tome con respecto a la educación de sus hijos. HUGS cerrará la brecha de conocimiento y ayudará a los padres a encontrar su voz y ganar confianza. El segundo objetivo de Monica es regresar a la escuela y comenzar a trabajar para obtener una maestría en Trabajo Social. Con este título, ella espera poder servir y empoderar a más poblaciones.

 “Cuando uno cuenta su historia muchas personas pueden identificarse con ella y pueden aprender. Esta historia sirve para que alguien piense okay estoy en una situación similar, mejor, o peor, pero si una persona pudo, yo también puedo,” concluye Monica.

 

Artículo por Ivette Lopez

 

Click here to view in English.

Elevating Voices with UConn PEP

UConn PEP Goes Online

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

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.

Robin Drago-Provencher and Sheri Amechi.

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

Wethersfield PEP: Growing Community and Expanding Opportunities in 2021

Article by Jeanine Berasi

Wethersfield PEP is our community name for the UConn Extension People Empowering People Certification Program facilitated here in our beautiful town. Overall, PEP is a 10-week information and action driven course with a community service component as designated by UConn Extension. Upon graduation participants receive official certification through UConn Extension.

PEP classes have flexibility to be many things depending on community needs and plans. UConn trains facilitators and enables them along with coordinators to establish unique community programs all across the country. Trained in 2015, Jeanine Berasi is Wethersfield’s PEP Facilitator. Kimberly Bobin, Wethersfield’s Family & Early Childhood Coordinator, coordinates.

The focus of Wethersfield PEP has been to connect culturally, linguistically and socioeconomically diverse groups of parents and encourage the growth of communication, leadership and community participation through hands-on learning of how to implement new ideas. 

Wethersfield PEP has certified 36 amazing Wethersfield Parents in 4 completed cohorts since 2017. Parent leaders have represented every Wethersfield school including each of the public schools K-12, Corpus Christi, The CREC Discovery Academy, the Open Choice Initiative and Preschools.

These parents came together and participated in 20 hours of classroom learning. They came with a wealth of personal and professional experiences to learn how to better speak up, creatively tackle challenges and motivate others. They worked on service projects that are self-driven and meaningful to the Wethersfield Community.

Before the pandemic struck, PEP met in person at the Pitkin Community Center. Childcare and dinner were provided. During class and shared mealtimes, ideas and personal connections were strengthened. The dynamic energy of a PEP class creates a safe space to discuss personal and community challenges. PEP participants try out new ideas, look at past examples and work together to find new paths and improvements.

Growing is hard. Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes people are not ready for change and sometimes PEP is the encouragement and the environment needed to build one up to meet the next challenge life brings. PEP embraces it all, loves the person that is present, in all their human messiness, and tries to nudge both the group and the individuals towards improvement.

When COVID-19 shut down communities in March, PEP took a breath, reevaluated what could and couldn’t be achieved. PEP pushed forward online. Dinners were delivered from local eateries at our regular time and we practiced both in Zoom and Google Meet with each other to determine what worked best for our community. We were all learning and adjusting to the necessity of new ways together.

The brightest moment of the early quarantine was creating a parade of positivity.  With a hand painted, colorful sign that said, ‘You are AMAZING!”, locally bought bouquets were gathered together with other PEP gifts and delivered door to door.  Really, it was sidewalk to sidewalk! PEP’s Facilitator, Jeanine Berasi and PEP’s Coordinator, Kim Bobin traveled (in separate vehicles) to each participant’s home. Masked, gloved and armed with lysol spray, they placed flowers and gifts on the steps, sprayed, backed up a respectable distance. They cheered PEP participants, waving the sign and pom poms. A welcome boost for both participants and their families!

Family is at the core of PEP.  Choosing to take time to build leadership and communication skills and to commit to working to apply it within one’s family and larger community circles is the PEP way.

In Wethersfield, PEP extends participants’ community circles by inviting community leaders in to speak. This leads to mutually beneficial small group experiences for both the speakers and the group. In an array of different formats, PEP has connected with the Superintendent and school officials, Mayors and Town Employees, State Representatives, Board of Education Chairs and the Director of PEP from UConn.

At the end of the 10 weeks of class, a community service project is created. It can be a personal, small group or whole group venture. PEP provides 4 short weekly check ins culminating in an official PEP Graduation Ceremony. Some of our outstanding projects have been: Wethersfield Porch Portraits (2020), 8 weeks of free Spanish language lessons for preschoolers (2019), Wethersfield Is Kind (2019), Informational/Activity binders for educators on Muslim culture and holidays (2019), Special Education Parent Teacher Organization (2019, 2017), Holidays of Wethersfield’s World – a summer art installation at the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center (2018), Bosnian Moms of Wethersfield (2017), Madres Latinas (2017), and Trees planted in  the Housing Authority (2017).

Additionally, every November, Wethersfield PEP graduates meet for a reunion. PEP Reunion provides the opportunity for individuals from all completed cohorts to meet and share ideas over the course of 3 weekly meetings. Most recently PEP Reunion 2020 was held via Google Meet.

Wethersfield PEP is a grant funded, UConn Extension Certified program. It brings together a diverse group of Wethersfield parents to build relationships and explore and increase personal, family and community leadership skills. We are so proud to be offering a fifth year of Wethersfield PEP beginning in January 2021. For more information contact: berasij@yahoo.com or kbobin@wethersfield.m

 

Connecting and Transforming Communities with Rich Mutts

Rich Mutts speaking at a PEP programRich 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.

Empowering Parents

“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.

Robin Drago-Provencher and Rich Mutts at a PEP program in 2017
Robin Drago-Provencher and Rich Mutts at a PEP program in 2017.

“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.”

Born Rich

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

People Empowering People

A UConn Program Partnering with Correctional Institutions

Trish and Edna standing in front of the prison they volunteer at
Trish Spofford and Edna Johnson at the York Correctional Institute, one of the UConn PEP locations.

UConn Extension has partnered with the Department of Corrections to offer the UConn People Empowering People Program at Correctional Institutions (UConn PEPCI) for over twenty years. UConn PEPCI is a personal and family leadership program modeled after the community UConn People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program and focuses on keeping people from returning to prison.

UConn PEPCI is currently offered in six correctional institutions. Volunteers who teach the UConn PEPCI program are exemplary. In the past year four UConn PEPCI volunteers received Department of Corrections awards for their outstanding contributions. Trish Spofford, coordinator for the UConn PEP CI program is recruiting new volunteers to expand the program to other facilities and offer additional programming for UConn PEP CI graduates.

The program encourages inmates to be self-reflective and draw on their unique strengths, life experiences, and capacities. Our volunteers create conditions that help offenders develop the willingness and ability to take responsibility for their lives and become empowered.

The UConn PEPCI program creates a sense of community when teaching the curriculum so that inmates can support and encourage one another. By enhancing inmates’ self-worth we hope that they become more self-sufficient and independent. Inmates can reflect on their lives and make better decisions in the future after participating in the program; and they can explore different options and develop more positive ways of thinking and behaving.

Lesson topics include: values, community and self esteem, learning to feel good about myself, understanding my personality, communicating so people understand me, listening and relating well to others, problem solving and  managing conflicts, coping strategies, choosing and enjoying healthy connections, family relations, parenting from prison, goal setting and skills for returning home. Every session begins with the UConn PEP Pledge

The feedback from inmates about the UConn PEPCI program is consistently positive and shows how grateful inmates are for what they learn. Comments always include a thank you to the volunteers and fellow inmates for their time and for creating a safe environment where they can share. One inmate summarized what many said in their comments, “Choices and decisions affect my tomorrow so I must be patient and stay in control. I must build within me the power to make the right decisions, set goals and achieve them for my own mental health and self-empowerment. I have to believe that I matter, and I have to be better than the hand I was dealt.”

Another inmate said, “This program gives me a starting point to build empowerment within myself from the bottom up. I have to believe in myself or no one else will.”

The Department of Corrections supports UConn PEPCI and other programs because programming and support for rehabilitation lowers recidivism rates. Connecticut dropped its inmate population in recent years, but the United States continues to have the largest known incarcerated population in the world at about 1.5 million people according to 2017 data. At least five million children— or seven percent of American youth—have had an incarcerated parent, with African American, low-income, and rural minors disproportionately affected. Our volunteers continue expanding UConn PEPCI and helping inmates develop skills to re-integrate into their families and communities.

Article by Cathleen Love

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

New UConn PEP Facilitators Trained

Group activity at the UConn PEP facilitator training in Haddam in early October Robin Drago leading group of new PEP facilitators at training session in Haddam

New UConn PEP facilitators in a group discussion Robin Drago and one of our new UConn PEP facilitators

Congratulations to our newest People Empowering People (UConn PEP) facilitators who completed their training last week. UConn PEP is an innovative personal and family development program with a strong community focus. Learn more or join us at https://pep.extension.uconn.edu/

Service is a Family Tradition

The University of Connecticut People Empowering People (UConn PEP) received a generous gift from the estate of the Reverend John Evans, a lifelong Episcopal priest. The donor was Cherry Czuba, retired Extension Educator from Haddam, and niece of John Evans. He was a charismatic and fascinating uncle who endeared himself to many people. Throughout his long ministry he was called the “Singing Preacher” and “Musical Chaplain” because of his musical gifts, and “God’s Funny Man” by one of his former professors because of his wonderful playfulness.

One of the most defining moments of John’s life was volunteering on Ellis Island. He lived at the Seamen’s Church Institute from 1948 through 1954. On Tuesdays and Thursdays in 1954 John took the ferry to Ellis Island and played and taught harp, banjo, guitar, piano, and music to the bedridden detainees through a self-taught numbering system. He was the last chaplain on Ellis Island. At a New York event, Ed Sullivan cited John Evans for raising the morale of seamen. Shortly after, the New York Sunday News carried a picture story of his use of the banjo in quelling a waterfront disturbance. Later in his life John donated two of his harps to the museum at Ellis Island.

The gift to the UConn PEP program exemplifies the values John Evans showed in all of his life work and service. UConn PEP was created to serve families by giving them

UConn PEP Meriden graduates in 2018
Graduates from UConn PEP’s Meriden program in 2018.

skills to lead and make a difference in their communities. It is an innovative personal and family development program with a strong community focus. The UConn PEP program is for adults and older teens, and is designed to build on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants and emphasizes the connection between individual and community action.

UConn PEP poster from Bristol participants
UConn PEP project description from a Bristol class.

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. Over one thousand people have graduated from the program in its 22-year history. Dr. Cathleen Love has coordinated the PEP program since Cherry’s retirement. “PEP thrived because Extension shifted off of the county-based programs to statewide programming, and that was through the vision of our administrators at the time, Dr. Nancy Bull and Dr. Roger Adams,” Cherry says reflectively.

“My uncle and I enjoy giving back. I wouldn’t have had all of these opportunities without Extension,” Cherry says. “I think many of my fellow retirees can reflect on the wonderful opportunities they have had as well. Uncle John felt a sense of gratitude for what can be done when everyone contributes. I’m grateful for what I have and despair for what others don’t have. We tend to stereotype and not talk about inequality. My uncle fought stereotyping throughout his life and modeled it for me.”

The strength of UConn Extension programs is in our network and our knowledge. We educate and convene groups to help solve problems in the areas of food, health and sustainability. Even in retirement John Evans helped serve others, a family tradition that Cherry continues today. Through his actions, John modeled that when people volunteer, they give back and develop friendships. Cherry really enjoys what she does as a volunteer and gives back however she can to many different organizations. The tradition of volunteering in Cherry’s family taught her to broaden her horizons, build relationships, have fun, continue to grow, and try new things. Communities depend on active volunteer bases to grow, improve, and serve their citizens.

The UConn PEP program serves many first-generation immigrants. “Uncle John so believed in that feeling of being with immigrants, and understanding that we are all immigrants. John would love the fact that UConn PEP is reaching out to such a diverse audience.” John Evans passed away two years ago at age 98, the last of his generation in the Evans family. The gift to the UConn PEP program in his memory is helping the program reach new audiences, and John Evans continues serving communities through UConn PEP.