At Liberty, it’s not just about making grants. It’s about mobilizing stakeholders to take action and create change.We leverage other resources besides dollars to benefit our communities: knowledge…relationships…influence. We’re willing to step up as a leader and participate actively in community conversations. Let’s face it — no single organization can move the needle on the big issues we care about. We have to work together. Here are some of our latest collaborative projects:
Early Childhood Funders Collaborative
The Liberty Bank Foundation was one of the initial funders who joined together to form the Early Childhood Funders Collaborative in 2011. We were the only corporate foundation in this initial group and continue to lead the way as a private corporate foundation to advocate for young children. The initial ECFC grants established a public-private partnership with the State of Connecticut to plan for a coordinated system of early care, education, and child development. This process led to the creation of the Office of Early Childhood in 2013. This group now looks to continue to have an impact in the early childhood arena with continued involvement with the Office of Early Childhood as well as working on cutting-edge issues that affect children and their families.
Funder Bus Tours
We’ve always felt that the best way to understand our nonprofit partners and their challenges is to get to know them face to face. In 2005, we started inviting other funders to come along for the ride — literally! Working with partners in the Windham community, we arranged a funder bus tour of a dozen of the nonprofit organizations in town, spending 15–20 minutes at each agency. Funders and nonprofits gathered for lunch and networking, and then each funder spoke briefly about their priorities and procedures. We’ve since toured Middletown, Norwich, and New London, and every tour has resulted in additional investment in the community by the funders who attended. So we’ll keep on busing!
We were instrumental in the expansion of Jumpstart, a national early literacy program that trains and places Americorps college students in classrooms of low-income pre-school children. Jumpstart has demonstrated strong results in early vocabulary and literacy skills. In addition, it offers a training experience for the college students, many of whom enter education or education-related fields. We convened two funder information sessions on Jumpstart in collaboration with the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. These efforts led to the creation of the New Britain Jumpstart program, operated in conjunction with CCSU; the expansion of the Willimantic program to include ECSU; and further support of the New Haven program with SCSU.
Middlesex Coalition for Children
Upon hearing that long-time executive director of the Middlesex Coalition for Children would retire from her position in 2013, Liberty Bank Foundation stepped up to convene community stakeholders to find a replacement. This process, which included advertising, interviewing candidates, developing an updated position description, and putting together a first-time budget to support the new paid staff position, was successfully completed in the spring of 2013 with the hiring of Izzi Greenberg, former executive director of the North End Action Team (NEAT).
Middlesex County Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
Back in 2007, a Middletown housing group asked for our help to organize local housing organizations and help them develop a united voice for advocacy at the state level. We pulled the group together and launched a legislative breakfast to explain housing issues to legislators and ask for their support. After that successful event, the group morphed into the Communications and Advocacy Committee of MCCHH, which our foundation continues to lead. The committee developed a brand identity for MCCHH and launched the AnEndInTen.org website, as well as organizing more legislative events, meetings of the Coalition’s Leadership Council, and press conferences to announce initiatives and results.
Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project
Back in 2011, we learned that the American Red Cross office in Middletown would close, and that the ARC would no longer provide Thanksgiving baskets for needy families in town. We reached out to our friends at Middlesex United Way to brainstorm who we could bring together to address this problem. The result was the Middletown Community Thanksgiving Project: a coalition of businesses, funders, faith communities, nonprofits, service clubs, municipal government, and public schools, all focused on making sure Middletown families had Thanksgiving food. That first year, we provided 325 Thanksgiving baskets. Since then, the Project has acquired a life of its own, and in 2014 it fed almost 1,000 families with two tons (yes, 2,000 pounds!) of donated food left over for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry.
New London Community Center Collaborative
In late 2010, the foundation was approached by New London Youth Affairs to discuss how we might assist in creating a youth center for the city. From that initial meeting evolved the New London Community Center Collaborative, a cross-sector group of stakeholders charged by the City Council with exploring the feasibility of developing a Community Center. With co-leadership from our foundation, the group raised funds and hired a consultant to conduct research to determine what city residents wanted out of a community center, explore potential sites, and develop renderings of the building. The Collaborative also held negotiations with the Ocean State YMCA to explore the potential for the Y to operate the Community Center. At this writing, the Mayor and the City Council have in their hands the necessary information to move forward with site selection and development when they deem it appropriate, and our foundation stands ready to continue our support for that effort.
Parent Engagement Program Expansion
Over the past 15 years, our foundation has granted over $175,000 to support three programs that develop engagement, advocacy, and leadership skills for parents: Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI), People Empowering People (PEP), and Parents Seeking Educational Excellence (Parent SEE). In 2009, the Great Recession hit the state budget, and funding for these programs was eliminated, causing many of them to close down. The following year, funding was restored, and the Connecticut Commission on Children reached out to our foundation for help in restarting the programs where they had formerly been operating, and expanding them to new communities. The result? Programs were restored in Middletown, New London, Norwich, and Willimantic, and new programs sprang up in Meriden, West Hartford, Wallingford, Plainville/Bristol, and Mansfield. Our portfolio of parent engagement programs continues to include all of these communities plus New Haven. In addition, we’ve provided grant funding to the three agencies that provide centralized training and coordination for the three programs: the Connecticut Commission on Children, the Connecticut Center for School Change, and the University of Connecticut Extension Service. We’re believers in the power of parents to change the lives of their children, their communities, and themselves!
Pathways To Your Future
In 2008, our foundation joined with the Middletown Public Schools, Wesleyan University, and Middlesex Community College to launch a new initiative: Pathways to Your Future. Pathways was designed to encourage low-income, at-risk middle school students to explore options for future careers and the educational pathways that they would need to take to prepare for them. Activities included research into careers and educational opportunities, visits from professionals and to workplaces, and visits to Wesleyan and Middlesex to allow students to get a feel for how they might fit into a college environment. After operating as an after-school program for several years, the Pathways curriculum was deemed to be so valuable that it was incorporated into the regular school day for all students in grades 6–8. We’re proud to have played a key role in this program that ultimately evolved into a system change.
People Empowering People (PEP)
Upon hearing of the possible discontinuation of the People Empowering People (PEP) program by the University of Connecticut, the Liberty Bank Foundation went into action. We joined with the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund in funding and advocacy efforts that enabled the program to continue, and supported a new leadership structure for it at UConn.
We’ve partnered with the Melville Charitable Trust and four Southeastern Connecticut funders to pilot the new Secure Jobs employment program for families transitioning out of homelessness. With $35,000 in collaborative funding from Liberty and our partners, plus $35,000 in matching funds from the Melville Charitable Trust, Secure Jobs launched on July 1, 2015.
Southeastern Connecticut Funders' Network
We teamed up in 2009 with representatives of Pfizer and Dominion, as well as the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy, to organize a meeting of funder representatives in Southeastern Connecticut. The goal: to share information about community needs and initiatives, learn more about one another’s grantmaking and other activities, and explore the potential for collaboration. The group has continued to meet three times a year ever since, and members have provided a total of almost $165,000 in collaborative funding for summer youth employment and rapid re-housing. Five of our members recently provided funding for Secure Jobs in New London County. Now we’re looking to expand the network to include funders from throughout Eastern Connecticut.
Summer Youth Employment
Since 2012, we’ve been collaborating with funders throughout our service area to make more summer jobs available to low-income youth. The results? Over the past three years, our partnerships have provided over $369,000 to create 377 additional jobs. In 2015, we helped to boost the number of jobs in Wallingford, Meriden, and Willimantic.
The WorkPath Fund
Our foundation played a leading role in the launch of the WorkPath Fund, a statewide resource that makes grants to pay expenses that pose obstacles to employment for parents. WorkPath is now reaching out for a second round of funding. Read more in our related News story.
Back in 2007, a new nonprofit in Wallingford asked for our help in convening stakeholders there to talk about poverty. When we walked into the room, more than 30 representatives from the nonprofit, government, and faith communities were gathered, including Mayor Dickinson. We had a rich conversation about the situation of low-income Wallingford residents and uncovered the need to hire a part-time case manager for the Wallingford Emergency Shelter. We reached out to three other funders, and a few months later we celebrated the hire of the case manager. Even more important, the conversation that started back in 2007 has continued to this day: the Wallingford Forum meets every other month to explore community needs, resources, and solutions. As one participant said, “Before this group started, I didn’t even know who many of these people were. Now I know that you’re a funder, you work for a nonprofit, you’re with the school system—I know who you are, what you do, and where I can reach you if I need to.”