Improving the lives of low-income Danbury residents is the purpose of new funding awarded to the city by the Boston Federal Reserve. Called the Working Cities Challenge Grant, it was awarded to a collaborative team led by the United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWC) and Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut (CAAWC).
The Working Cities Challenge design grant of $15,000 will help the collaborative create a plan that will make the city eligible for a much larger grant of up to $500,000. Ten of 16 eligible cities were awarded the grant. The funding is part of a broader initiative by the Boston Federal Reserve to promote economic growth throughout cities in Connecticut and New England. The ten winning design cities are: Bridgeport, Danbury, East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, Norwich, Torrington, and Waterbury.
“This grant opens the door to finding new ways that we can all work together in the city of Danbury to lift up and improve the lives of our low-income residents,” said Kim Morgan, CEO of UWWC. “Our goal is to dramatically reduce under and unemployment of people who are struggling—particularly people of color and immigrants.”
“Many low-income residents need assistance in becoming self-sufficient,” said Michelle James, Executive Director of CAAWC. “Employment and education are a means for these residents to achieve their dreams.”
While the details of the plan will be determined during this design phase, the focus will be on job training in the areas of childcare, healthcare, and manufacturing. These are three sectors identified by the collaborative team as having the greatest need for qualified workers. To increase the pool of potential employees in these sectors, the plan will create strategies to tear down barriers to employment—such as limited education, English language skills, transportation and childcare.
While programs exist in the city to help low-income residents acquire high school diplomas, job training, and language skills, there is little coordination among programs, and residents often have difficulty accessing those programs because of transportation issues and/or a lack of childcare. The design funds will be used to develop a plan to address those issues.
The grant is especially welcome in Danbury, where the foreign-born population has grown to 32%, many of whom do not have a high school diploma, and 50% of whom earn less than $35,000 per year. The child poverty rate has grown from 6% in 2007 to 21% in 2015. The plan developed through these grant dollars will focus on turning these earnings and poverty statistics around.
The collaborative brought together people from the fields of education, business, and social services, to identify the greatest needs and the best ways to address economic challenges. Low-income and immigrant residents were also part of the team that put the successful proposal together. Core partners moving forward include the City of Danbury, CityCenter Danbury, Danbury Public Schools, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Connecticut Institute for Communities, Western Connecticut State University, Western Connecticut Health Network, Tribuna, and the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.
To gather more information from the community to develop the design of the plan, the collaborative will seek input through community conversations, surveys, one-on-one conversations, and the local media.
To find out more about the Working Cities Challenge Grant and how to get involved, contact Kim Morgan at United Way of Western Connecticut at (203) 792-5330 or Michelle James at the Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut at (203) 744-4700.