Civic and Resident Engagement

Love Your Block Participants 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


Residents’ sense of agency and trust are necessary for civic engagement and healthier communities.

Black 74%  Latino 75%  |  White 92%

Share of Adults Who Trust Their Neighbors

Black 77%  Latino 79%  |  White 74%

Share of Adults Who Believe they can Influence Local Government

Source Greater Hartford Community Wellbeing Index 2023 (in partnership with DataHaven)

Our support of Neighborhood Beautification is one of the ways we seek to dismantle structural racism and advance equity in social and economic mobility in Greater Hartford’s Black and Latinx communities.

Our communities are stronger, more vibrant, and better places to live when people raise their voices and get involved. But opportunities for civic participation, such as volunteering, are greatly impacted by socioeconomic status.

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.”