Survey: Connecticut “Working Cities” report improvements for low-income residents
Local leaders cite need to continue community support efforts
Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut’s Working Cities Challenge leaders say low-income residents in their cities are already better off now than when the community development initiative launched in 2018. And 4-in-5 say the initiative’s work needs to continue, according to a survey by an independent consultant.
At the start of the challenge, Working Cities teams in Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, and Waterbury each received $450,000 over three years to improve economic opportunity for low-income residents.
This past spring and summer, the independent consulting firm Mt. Auburn Associates surveyed the local WCC teams and community members to gauge the program’s effectiveness. About 62% of respondents, most of whom served as initiative leaders or on its workgroups, said their city’s low-income residents are better off today because of the challenge, and 80% said there was an imperative need to continue their efforts.
The latter group got their wish this year, when the state of Connecticut agreed to commit $2 million over the next two years to continue the initiative.
Report notes successes and challenges
The surveys were part of a broader analysis of the Connecticut programs by Mt. Auburn. Their final evaluation report noted Connecticut’s WCC teams shared a strong focus on racial equity and career navigation, and it detailed progress on both fronts. It also noted the teams faced various common challenges, including struggles to distribute leadership responsibilities and fully engage with private sector partners.
The following are city-by-city highlights from Mt. Auburn’s evaluations:
Highlights: DanburyWORKS, the city’s WCC team, sought to improve trust in community organizations by hosting family-friendly events, such as Neighbor Nights, where residents were provided with dinners, meeting spaces, and translation services. The team initiated conversations and trainings on racial equity between residents and the police department. Additionally, DanburyWORKS collaborated with the United Way to increase resident access to affordable child care by 150 slots. The team also hosted events to connect local manufacturing employers with residents seeking jobs.
“At the end of implementation, we do see some momentum and early progress related to the racial equity work. … In Danbury, the Chamber (of Commerce) really seized racial equity as a major priority for their work and its relevance to local employers.” – Emily Doglio, associate, Mt. Auburn
Highlights: East Hartford CONNects, or EHC, focused on better connecting residents with training and job opportunities, increasing career awareness for public school students, and expanding engagement with low-income and Black, Indigenous, People of Color households. The team launched the Professional Skills Academy, in which local employers and career navigators helped prepare and support job seekers. Nearly 120 high school students participated in summer employment and learning opportunities organized by EHC from 2020 through 2021, while younger students took part in career-focused field trips and education-focused family nights.
“East Hartford … was really intentional around supporting residents, which led to residents successfully lobbying local and state-level actors for infrastructure improvements and a list of East Hartford-based Black-owned businesses.” – Danya Smith, research analyst, Mt. Auburn
Highlights: Hartford Working Cities, or HWC, aimed to reduce unemployment among residents ages 16-29 in the city’s Barry Square, Frog Hollow, and South Green neighborhoods. The organization launched the Young Legends, a team of young residents who lead employment research, networking, and education and training efforts. HWC also connected young adults seeking employment with job opportunities in Connecticut’s manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
“Hartford Working Cities demonstrated a strong commitment to community engagement and engaging with young adults through the Young Legends. The team faced challenges related to expanding the number of young adults involved, but the team strongly embraced the core element of community engagement with young adults serving in leadership capacities.” – Smith
Highlights: Middletown Works aimed to connect with and assist single parents, some of whom helped lead further outreach efforts. The team also awarded $500 grants to six residents, who then launched initiatives focused on environmental education, supporting single parents, business etiquette training, and networking between families with children in Middletown’s Special Education Program. Middletown Works also created a map of more than 100 community resources related to economic development, education, and workforce development, and then distributed the map to organizations throughout the city.
“Middletown (Works) did really make community engagement a big priority. … Additionally, they did really intentionally include people with lived experience as leaders in the work – both as staff and as members of their governance – and worked to gain access to local committees and boards for those women to impact change at the city level.” – Doglio
Highlights: Waterbury’s WCC team created the RIBA (River Baldwin) ASPIRA Career Academy, which supported more than 160 residents in the River Baldwin area by providing English language learning and GED courses. It offered child care for parents enrolled in academy programs, and it hosted social events and community cleanup days. The Waterbury team also worked with individual families to find and secure available child care slots in their neighborhood, and it created a training program for residents seeking to open licensed child care facilities.
“Through RIBA Aspira Career Academy, the WCC team was able to draw in over 160 individuals from the local area, including RIBA and nearby neighborhoods, many of whom might otherwise not have sought out workforce development services available across town, primarily due to transportation barriers.” –Mt. Auburn report