Making Connections. Advancing Equity.

2022 Annual Report to our Community

Small Businesses Build Strong Communities

Many small businesses and thousands of people gathered in Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood for DominGO!, sponsored by The City of Hartford and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

“Entrepreneurs know that if you dream it, you can achieve it. No matter the challenges, small business owners know the power of perseverance and the impact it makes in their local communities. It’s a win- win.”

MORAIMA GUTIÉRREZ  |  Deputy District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration

The Minority Construction Council offers training, networking, and development opportunities to minority business owners, such as Willie Jones of YJ Cleaning and Maintenance.


Meeting Financing Needs

Nationwide, white-owned firms are twice as likely as Asian- and Hispanic-owned firms and three times as likely as Black-owned firms to have their financing needs met.

Firms that had their financing needs met in 2021:

Federal Reserve System Small Business Credit Survey | 2022 Report on Firms Owned by People of Color, page 14.

Creating Higher-Paying Jobs
Infrastructure occupations pay wages that are 30% higher for workers at lower income levels, which supports more equitable career pathways.

Seizing the U.S. Infrastructure Opportunity: Investing in Current and Future Workers, page 4

When you hear the phrase “family business,” you might envision an old school operation that’s been passed down from one generation to the next. Lauren Simone Publishing House is NOT one of those family businesses.

In 2017, Melissa-Sue John launched her niche publishing house alongside her 10- and 15-year-old daughters for whom the company is named. Their goal was to increase the diversity of authors, stories, and characters in children’s books.

“We wanted to get more kids involved in learning about the STEM fields,“ says Dr. John, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology. “Initially, we got our own books out, then we started to recruit other people – authors, editors, graphic artists, and illustrators.”

Despite Lauren Simone’s progress, Dr. John wanted to learn more, so in January of 2022 she applied for the Impact Accelerator program at reSET. The Foundation supported that program as part of a three-year grant to create and propel social enterprises of underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Sarah Bodley is reSET’s Executive Director.

“All our programs are designed to help these folks who have great ideas to figure out what is the business model to execute this idea that can both support them financially and make a mark on the world,” says Bodley.

Dr. John won the pitch competition at the end of the four-month intensive program, but took away more than the top prize.

“At that time, my logo wasn’t even trademarked. I understood what marketing was but did I truly understand what branding was?” she says. “I now know what my customer profile looks like, and I can create more successful ads.”

The Foundation recognizes that small businesses are a critical component of growing, vibrant and equitable communities. Data show that small businesses generally spend more on labor, goods and services from local sources, employ more people per unit of sales, and retain more employees during economic downturns. Because of exclusionary lending practices, BIPOC entrepreneurs traditionally lack access to capital, technical assistance and other resources to successfully start and grow small businesses, which can create generational wealth and catalyze economic mobility.

To combat these longstanding barriers to success, in 2022, the Foundation provided small business loan guarantees for entrepreneurs of color and women at the Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF) through HFPG Impact!. It’s also why the Foundation supports nonprofits like reSET, HEDCO (which has provided technical assistance to hundreds of small businesses since the onset of the pandemic), and the Minority Construction Council (MCC).

MCC provides development training, one-on-one technical assistance and advocacy for BIPOC-owned businesses in the construction sector. They host a menu of training programs for entrepreneurs to build skills, achieve certifications and gain confidence in pitching their services. The MCC also works with the state’s technical schools to highlight opportunities in the construction field for graduating seniors.

“I think of my contractors as my family and I always say we’re a family,” says Executive Director Jennifer Little-Greer. “When the MBE Contractors get a contract, I’m excited because we had a hand in helping them to become successful, whether it’s with a cleaning contract or obtaining their bonding insurance or their construction pre-qualification certification.”

Hear from Jennifer:

Hartford native Willie Jones is a member of that “family.” He launched YJ Cleaning & Maintenance in 2016 as a side business while working for the City’s Department of Public Works.  A friend told him about the MCC.

“I went to one of their meetings. I was a little bit intimidated because I’d never contracted in the construction business,” says Jones. “It took a while, but I started learning little things about advertising and networking. I learned how to have people around me that know ten times more than me.”

MCC serves as a connector between small businesses like YJ Cleaning and Maintenance and its corporate partners. In just the past few years, Jones’ business has won contracts ranging from the new Amazon fulfillment Center in Windsor to multiple Connecticut DOT projects. He attributes much of his success to the confidence he gained working with Jennifer and her team.

“Since I walked in there, it’s been a go for me. It’s a part of my business,” Jones says.

To date, Lauren Simone has published 36 book titles from two dozen authors. Dr. John’s impact extends beyond Connecticut, as she recently graduated from the Goldman Sachs “One Million Black Women” accelerator program. She attributes that achievement to the confidence she built working with the team at reSET. But accolades and business success are not what bring her the greatest joy.

“To have a living legacy with my children is totally awe inspiring. I see the confidence that my girls have, and it encourages other members in the community. It’s nice when kids can see people who look like them doing it. Role models are very important for kids to be able to dream.”

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Breaking Structural Barriers to Building a Legacy

Hartford Foundation Program Boosts Nonprofit’s Earned Income Potential through Social Enterprise

A Commitment to Core Support

Adam Carmon is grateful for the support provided by Second Chance Re-Entry Initiative Program, Inc. (SCRIP) to help him build a successful career and improve his life.

“If you believe in institutions, you have to fund institutions to be resilient and durable.”

DARREN WALKER  |  President, Ford Foundation

Core support allows nonprofits to focus on areas like capacity building and infrastructure, that are critical to an organization’s success. Forge City Works recently received a core support grant from the Hartford Foundation.


Core Support Empowers Financial Stability

Unrestricted grants allow nonprofits to build long-term viability. These flexible dollars can be used to hire staff, purchase equipment, save for emergencies, and fund programs. BIPOC-led organizations receive less of their funding as unrestricted, limiting their ability to provide services and build for the future.

Percentage of firms receiving more than half of their funding through unrestricted dollars.

Funding BIPOC-Led Organizations Matters

BIPOC-led nonprofits are more likely to represent the communities they serve, leveraging lived experience that helps them make better informed decisions and offer more effective services.

Organizations with leadership that represents the community they serve

The room is filled with men, all of whom have lost their freedom. The conversation at the Urban Male Initiative is honest, raw, and emotional. Ed Andrews keeps a watchful eye.

He has devoted his life to supporting people returning from incarceration. Fueled by his own experience with the criminal justice system, Andrews created the Second Chance Re-Entry Initiative Program, Inc. (SCRIP) to transform the lives of returning residents and their families. This work has expanded substantially thanks to SCRIP’s core support grant from the Hartford Foundation.

“You got people like the Hartford Foundation who support people’s dreams and visions,” Andrews said. “I want to be a part of that and show them that ‘Thank you.’ This is what I have been trying to do for the longest (time), I just needed a helping hand. And they gave me both their hands.”

While the Foundation started providing some multi-year operating support grants in 2012, the events of 2020 inspired the Foundation to revise its thinking. During the initial months of the pandemic, nonprofit funding needs were changing week to week. The Foundation was forced to lean into trust, relying on its staff and nonprofits to determine how emergency grant dollars would be best used. Operating support became key.

No less significant was the Foundation’s deepening commitment to racial equity. Prior to the pandemic, the Foundation had launched a strategic plan focused on dismantling structural racism in five priority outcome areas.  In 2021, the Foundation began increasing its use of multi-year core support, allowing nonprofits to commit to long-term priorities, hire necessary staff, and make capacity building investments that can grow learning, evaluation, and organizational resilience in ways not possible with project-specific, one-year funding.

In 2022, the Foundation awarded twenty-four organizations core support grants totaling nearly $10 million.

One of the core support grants was awarded to The Village for Families & Children. For more than two hundred years, The Village has been dedicated to building a community of strong, healthy families who protect and nurture children. The Village provides a range of programs and services to as many as 20,000 residents each year. The organization is recognized as a collaborative partner in Greater Hartford’s nonprofit ecosystem, often providing backbone support to smaller, neighborhood-based nonprofits and to collective impact efforts.

“For decades, the Hartford Foundation has been one of The Village’s most important partners,” said The Village’s President and CEO Galo Rodriguez. “We are grateful for the Foundation’s visionary leadership and Board of Directors, understanding that it takes a holistic approach to transform lives.”

The Foundation’s core support grant sustains all aspects of The Village’s mission with a special focus on breaking cycles of poverty and trauma; fostering student success and a pipeline to employment; and enhancing The Village’s capacity to grow and serve more of our region’s residents.

While The Village is a well-established organization, SCRIP represents one of the newer, smaller nonprofits being supported with a core support grant. Its mission is to raise awareness about the impact traumatic experiences can have on people in urban communities and to help individuals overcome the oppressive realities of incarceration: homelessness, unemployment, and racial injustices.

Prior to receiving a core support grant from the Foundation, Andrews worked another full-time job and ran SCRIP in his spare time. This grant allowed him to focus his attention solely on his life’s passion. SCRIP has opened a residential adult re-entry facility in the C.A.R.E. Development Center, Comprehensive Adult Re-Entry Program, a collaboration with Tom Cats Place. Residents benefit from a variety of holistic supports including academic and social counseling and mentoring, career development and placement, ongoing trauma therapy, nutritional counseling, addiction services and financial literacy.

Andrews is proud of what he’s accomplished in just a few short years since he returned home, and he is truly grateful for the opportunity.

“Our innovative approach helps individuals learn to cope with their trauma as well as to build themselves up as upstanding, accomplished individuals who will succeed in this everchanging, fast-paced society.” said Andrews. “Our relationship with the Foundation has been instrumental in our growth and program development.”

Hear from Ed:

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Inspiring Civic Engagement

Love Your Block participants and friends working to beautify their neighborhood in Hartford.

“In order for us to thrive, we have to have beautiful neighborhoods that people are proud to call home. It’s all part of the ecosystem of having a great community. It warms my heart to think of where else this work can go.”

JANICE CASTLE  |  Director, Community Engagement, City of Hartford

The Greater Together Community Funds not only support the community in taking ownership around the needs in their towns. They also encourage broad and inclusive civic engagement. Hear from these volunteers about their experiences.


Residents Are Making a Difference

Adults in Hartford are more likely to volunteer than adults across Greater Hartford and the state, despite their belief that they have less influence on local government.

Share of adults who volunteer (2018)
Share of adults who believe they can influence local government (2021)

Our communities are stronger, more vibrant, and better places to live when people raise their voices and get involved. Providing more equitable opportunities for involvement is part of the Foundation’s commitment to inspiring civic engagement.

That’s one of the reasons the Foundation created the Greater Together Community Funds in 2019, awarding $100,000 to each of 29 town funds and contributing an additional $50,000 to each fund in 2022.

Merlyn Herrera-Duran was excited to join Hartford’s committee.  “A lot of times you hear people talking negatively of Hartford,” stated Herrera-Duran. “In this group, everyone really cares about the betterment of Hartford.”

For Merlyn, volunteering reaps multiple rewards. “You get different experiences,” he continued. “But that’s not the best part. Having a sense of involvement in the community, knowing you are helping people that really need help, organizations that need funding. It brings a lot of joy to me.”

The purpose of the Community Funds is to support community members in taking ownership of the needs in their towns. Each fund is managed by a committee of residents reflecting that community. Each committee may work differently as they identify needs and recommend grants.

When Tracy Wu Fastenberg, a wife, mother, and full-time fundraiser heard about her local committee, she knew she wanted to join.

“West Hartford, while being more diverse, still has some things that need to be worked through,” Fastenberg said. “There is no utopia anywhere, but we can make it closer to a welcoming, inclusive, safe community through things like the Community Funds.”

Bridgett Diene moved to Windsor Locks from Indiana five years ago and wanted make connections. “I thought it would be a great way to get to know people in the community because I was new. And it would be a good way to give back and make a difference, specifically for Windsor Locks.”

That sense of community engagement is not just about where you live; it can translate to people with similar interests and passions. That’s how the Foundation’s Artists of Color Unite (AOCU) advisory group came into being, bringing together a group of local artists to create a long-term support structure to benefit artists of color and amplify their distinct voices.

Joe Young is an award-winning cartoonist, filmmaker, producer, writer, and teaching artist. He is also co-founder and president of Hartford’s Got Talent!. When he was asked to be one of the founding Advisory Committee members, his choice was clear.

“Hartford is home to a lot of talented people, but it takes more than talent to succeed as a professional artist. It requires external validation and an understanding the business of art; that takes mentors as well as funding. Efforts such as the AOCU are making a difference. I was lucky to find my purpose early in life, and I am glad to pass that on to others.”

For some, it’s about breaking new ground. Ujima is a Swahili word which means collective work and responsibility. The Ujima African American Alliance chose this word to represent how it aims to educate, inspire, and engage the African American community. In 2022, the group hosted a Black history event at the town library and organized Enfield’s first Juneteenth celebration, thanks in part to a Resident Engagement grant from the Hartford Foundation.

“We encourage people of color to engage in their communities,” said long-time Enfield resident and Ujima Treasurer Rosalind Swift. “Our members now serve on several boards and partner with other nonprofits. Changing people’s hearts is hard work but we are excited to keep it going.”

While getting civically engaged is focused on community, it often leads to personal growth as well. “I am definitely more involved in my community when it comes to local issues,” said Herrera-Duran. “Being more aware of the different things that are going on and what help is being offered, I am able to share that with other members of the community.”

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Community: Where the Heartbeat Happens

Greater Together Community Funds to Date

In 2022, 19 town committees awarded a combined 139 grants, totaling more than $542,182. 65 of those grants went to organizations new to the Foundation.

Since inception, 28 of the 29 town committees have made grants in support of their local communities.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

Fathers volunteer their time at Windsor elementary schools through the local chapter of Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) to get kids excited about coming to school.

“Schools truly can be hubs of their communities, where students and families are connected to the resources and services they need.”

MIGUEL CARDONA  |  U.S. Secretary of Education and former Connecticut Commissioner of Education

The WATCH D.O.G.S. program in Windsor brings dads into schools to volunteer in the classroom, increasing student engagement and attendance.


Tracking Student Persistence

High school graduation rates have improved in the past ten years across the region. However, significant racial and geographic disparities persist.

High school graduation rates by town (2021)
High school graduation rates by race / ethnicity (2021)

(DataHaven 2023 Greater Hartford Community Wellbeing Index, p.40)

“In this office, there’s never a dull moment.”

More than 1000 students and their families rely on Christina Morales and her team in the Office of Family & Community Partnerships for support. And the numbers are growing.

They represent one-third of the population in the Windsor Public Schools. Walk into any local school, and you’ll notice flyers featuring the office’s logo prominently displayed throughout the building. It’s Morales’ attempt to make the available resources known to everyone in the district.

Windsor is one of six Alliance Districts in Greater Hartford, a designation created by the state of Connecticut a decade ago to identify low-performing districts with great opportunity for improvement. In 2014, the Hartford Foundation began a multi-year investment supporting the Alliance Districts in our region. The first series of grants were used to create offices of family, school and community partnerships. Over the years, the support evolved to focus on equity and inclusion across these districts. Much of the work involves removing barriers to student success.

Windsor’s Office of Family & Community Partnerships created family resource centers in its primary schools where students can receive help with food insecurity, mental health and other issues. They host an array of programs including youth development, student leadership (with the local Kiwanis club), and business mentoring for high schoolers to get real-world experience.

Morales, the District Coordinator, is especially excited about an initiative called WATCH D.O.G.S., a.k.a. “Dads of Great Students,” a national program that she brought to Windsor a few years ago. Fathers volunteer their time at the elementary schools to assist with activities. Seeing these dads in action makes kids excited to come to school and more engaged in the classroom.

“I coach little league, and I see a lot of those kids here. They think it’s the greatest thing, and I love it,” said WATCH D.O.G.S. volunteer Jeffrey MacClintic. “Because not everyone has a dad or male role model in their life. Hopefully, that’s what we do for them.”

Hear from WATCH DOGS:

In Vernon, family engagement is considered so important that the school board recently elevated it to one of the district’s three main strategic goals. Cynthia Zingler, the Director of Family, School and Community Partnerships, and her staff connect families to food, hygiene products and other items. Regardless of the need, that connection between staff and student sets the ground for future support.

Several districts are incorporating home visits. Teachers meet face-to-face with parents early in the school year. There is no agenda; it’s simply a chance to forge a relationship, so they feel comfortable contacting one another if a future issue arises.

“To me, it’s about students and families feeling welcome and comfortable in our schools,” says Zingler. “When students and families feel part of the school and larger community, that’s when we see academic success.”

These tactics work.

Research demonstrates that cooperation between schools and families can impact students’ academic outcomes, attendance, social development and sense of wellbeing. In fact, when it comes to educational success, data show that parental involvement in education transcends all other factors, including socioeconomic status.

In 2022, the Hartford Foundation awarded grants to Windsor and Vernon, along with other Alliance Districts, to expand upon their important work.

Going forward, the aim is to increase equity and close the gap in graduation rates between school districts in our region.

Nowhere is the need greater than in our capital city.

In Hartford, the graduation rate is 72%, the lowest of any Greater Hartford school district. Of those who do graduate from high school, only 35% go on to earn a college degree within six years, compared to 65% of students in outer ring, suburban districts.

“Poverty is a cruel force that has tentacles and ramifications that affect people’s sense of hope and possibility,” says Richard Sugarman, Executive Director of Hartford Promise. “We live in a city that has too much poverty.”

Hartford Promise helps students attend and graduate from college. Any Hartford public school student who maintains a 3.0 GPA and 93% attendance rate is eligible for a $20,000 college scholarship. When Hartford Promise was founded in 2015, its primary goal was to ease the financial burden for its scholars, but Sugarman quickly realized that dollars weren’t enough.

90% of Hartford Promise scholars are Black and Latinx. Most attend predominantly white colleges, and according to Sugarman, the culture shock can often make them question whether they made the right choice. These students are star academic performers, and they’re not used to asking for help. Being in a new setting and navigating the challenges most first-year students face can feel insurmountable.

In 2022, based on research and data about how to help students persist and complete their postsecondary education, the Hartford Foundation awarded a $180,000 grant to Hartford Promise to support its Integrated College Success Model 2.0, which allows Hartford Promise to maintain relationships with Scholars through their college years. They connect students to academic, social and mental health needs, along with financial assistance.

Hartford Promise pays special attention to those early college days, reminding Scholars of their achievements and abilities, while emphasizing that “you earned this.” Fostering that sense of belonging and self-efficacy, and encouraging students to access resources as needed, helps students navigate the path to a degree.

Their approach is effective: three quarters of Hartford Promise scholars graduate within six years, compared to half of Pell grant recipients. But the work is about more than graduation rates. It’s about unlocking the potential of each student, even after they don a cap and gown.

“That’s our final step, making sure that our scholars are given the opportunity to work in positions that match their skills and assets,” says Sugarman. “Those are some of the ways we measure success. But it can’t just be data points. Relationships are at the heart of this.”

In Windsor, people are realizing the value of relationships. The Office of Family & Community Partnerships is busier than ever, volunteer time is growing exponentially, and the WATCH D.O.G.S. program is being replicated at higher grade levels.

Christina Morales is still working to change the narrative that some families don’t care. Her formula is straightforward: make resources available, and students will ask for help; show high schoolers a pathway to college, and they’ll put in the work; create opportunities for family involvement, and they’ll show up.

“We really want authentic relationships that support our students,” Morales says. “I’m a mother myself. I know how important it is to be a part of my children’s educational process. I know that when family members are at the table together with educators, things change. Schools change. Students change. Families change. And then your community starts to change.”

Hear from Christina:

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Parent-teacher home visits

Food Security: A Systemic Approach

Tanica Thompson, Hartford Food System Master Farmer, works with Emmanuel Nelson to prepare seedlings for distribution across Hartford.

“Providing meals alone will not reduce hunger for good. A transformation of our state’s hunger relief system is needed to both provide better and more accessible food now and to help neighbors improve their economic stability long term.”

JASON JAKUBOWSKI  |  President and CEO, Connecticut Foodshare

Food security is foundational to all of the other work in our community. While we aim to increase food security for Greater Hartford residents, we must also focus on systems change.


Access to Fresh Produce

Fewer than half of Hartford adults rate the quality of available produce as good.

Share of adults with access to affordable, high-quality produce

DataHaven 2023 Greater Hartford Community Wellbeing Index, p.75

Access to Food Affects Quality of Life

Adults in Greater Hartford who are food secure (have access to sufficient food of adequate quality and price) report higher rates of life satisfaction than those who are food insecure.

Percentage of adults reporting being satisfied with life

DataHaven 2023 Greater Hartford Community Wellbeing Index, p.11

A van pulls up to the entrance of Connecticut Children’s Emergency Room. Inside, you won’t find a sick patient or any medical supplies, but the contents are integral to community health: fruits and vegetables.

In 2022, Hartford Food System launched a partnership with Connecticut Children’s to provide fresh produce to people in need who come to the emergency room. The staff screens every family using a simple, two question survey; to date, about 40% display “hunger vital signs”.

“We’ve established this voucher program, which allows families to receive fruits and vegetables in a nice little red bag,” says Billie Scruse, Executive Director of Hartford Food System. “Introducing them to fruits and vegetables because we shouldn’t take for granted that all families even eat fresh vegetables or fruit.”

For nearly a century, the Hartford Foundation has worked with local nonprofits to address the basic needs of the region’s residents: food and housing, health and wellbeing.

“You can’t talk about anything here at the Hartford Foundation without discussing basic human needs,” says Senior Community Impact Officer Cierra Stancil.

In 2020, the onset of COVID disrupted the food security landscape and the Foundation responded. We quickly pivoted our grantmaking to reinforce the food and housing security of residents and provide flexible resources allowing nonprofits to continue to provide vital human services. Similarly, our donors responded with unmatched generosity, particularly with respect to basic needs.

What’s happened since the darkest days of the pandemic is remarkable. Data from the 2023 Community Wellbeing Index show that food security has long been a significant issue in our region, disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx residents. Temporary relief programs mitigated the hunger problem, but as those dollars disappeared, food insecurity spiked to levels exceeding the pre-pandemic baseline. Today, in Greater Hartford, more than one-third of Latinos and a quarter of Black residents are food insecure. That reality has inspired the Foundation to broaden its approach.

Accordingly, the Foundation has embraced a more systemic view of food security. We are one of several funders of the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) which seeks to take a holistic approach to food and to ensure Greater Hartford input into the 2024 statewide food action plan. CFSA’s work aligns with the Foundation’s desired mid-term outcomes of increased food security of residents and increased accountability and responsiveness of state and local agencies and systems.

Several Foundation donors are supporting this effort.

Hear from Billie:

“How we can help start to solve that? Just making an effort to put that at the forefront,” says Jenna Behan, whose family fund made a grant to the CFSA. “There is food in the state, but it’s not accessible to everyone. It’s figuring out how to prevent food deserts and enable people to not only get food, but relatively healthy food that can really sustain them.”

“We are always anxious to help out with the food insecurity issues,” says Elsie and El Harp, longtime Foundation donor advisors. “We hear stories about people who can’t put food on the table tonight: they may have to pay the rent or wait to pay for prescriptions, and we realize we need to do something.”

In the capital city, Hartford Food System, a longtime Foundation grantee, addresses food security in myriad ways. The nonprofit cultivates fruits and vegetables, supports urban growers through its social enterprise Hartford Harvest Farm Share and is involved in the effort to bring a full-service grocery store to the North End. Improving access to healthy food is priority one.

“Transportation is key,” says Scruse. “How do you get to the grocery store? Are you walking? Are you taking the bus? And when you do go, your money has to stretch.”

As the Foundation observes the landscape, evaluates the data and listens to and learns from community partners, one fact is clear: food is foundational.

Says Stancil, “We all need to have the right kind of interventions in these areas. When you talk about upward social mobility — children learning, people working — food security is the ground on which nearly everything else stands.”

Hear from Jenna:

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Hartford Food System Photos