United Way of Coastal Fairfield County Announces Community Innovation Grants for 11 Partners

Bridgeport, CT - United Way of Coastal Fairfield County has announced investments in 11 community partners to increase equity and opportunity in three impact areas:  health, education, and financial stability.   Awards were made to organizations in the majority of towns in the United Way service area, and ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 each (list below).

“We are proud to leverage the power of partnerships to help improve people’s lives in innovative ways,” commented Jeff Kimball, United Way CEO.  

Investments were made though United Way’s Impact Philanthropy Fund, and recipients were selected by a diverse group of 12 community volunteers, staff, and United Way Board members.

According to Michele Litt, Director of Impact Philanthropy and leader of the granting process, “We are pleased that this round of grant funding reaches broadly into the communities we serve.  It represents a wide range of initiatives, from a youth baseball program in the East End of Bridgeport, to a support program for male students of color at Norwalk Community College, to a job development program for victims of sex and labor trafficking in all of our towns.”

Selection criteria included innovation, partner collaboration, and shared data collection on outcomes.   Recipients were selected from a pool of 60 applicants, with all finalists receiving interviews by committee members. 

At the award presentation, grant recipients provided sharp insight into the impact and importance of their initiatives. 

From its STEM mentoring program for girls, Miriam James, President of National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s New Haven Chapter, shared the comment of one program participant:  “Before this program, I never thought I could be a nurse, a teacher, or a mathematician.  I never knew I could go to college.” Black women account for only 2% of practicing scientists and engineers in today’s STEM workforce.

Regarding a Produce Prescription Program that aims to improve health outcomes by supporting access to healthy food, Anthony Cernera, Director of Philanthropy at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Foundation reflected:  “In my nearby hometown, I can walk to get fresh food.  In Bridgeport, access to fresh food is a challenge.  That comes with real health consequences.”  Life expectancy in Bridgeport is 19 years lower than in many nearby towns.  One out of six Bridgeport adults lacks reliable access to fresh, nutritious food, which puts them at risk of chronic health problems like heart disease, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes.

Jamie Manirakiza, Executive Director of Global People to End Human Trafficking, spoke of the importance of stable housing and the agency’s social enterprise program, which offers vocational skills for trafficking survivors:  “Through this program, we build a foundation for a future free from exploitation.” People with low incomes and in unstable housing are highly vulnerable to traffickers.

One grant recipient offered a personal story of the impact of her initiative that empowers undocumented students in Norwalk:   "My name is Angy Idrovo, and I can now say to you proudly that I am undocumented. I am at this award ceremony today because I attended Connecticut Students for a Dream while in high school.”  The organization promotes leadership skills, advocacy skills, and college access for undocumented youth, who face many social, legal and financial barriers to success.

Addressing the new grant recipients, Kimball noted, “We are honored to be in the trenches with you.  Together, we can create communities where all our neighbors can reach their potential.”

United Way will launch the second round of Innovation Grants in the fall. 

For more information on grant recipients, see: https://unitedwaycfc.org/impact-philanthropy-innovation-grants-2021

Receiving Community Innovation grants were:


GBAPP, Black Men in Trauma peer support program

Newfield Park Youth Baseball, mentoring program for underserved youth through the vehicle of baseball

St. Vincent's Medical Center Foundation, Produce Prescription Program



Connecticut Students for a DreamUndocupower Program to promote leadership skills, advocacy skills, and college access for underserved youth

Green Village Initiative, School Garden education program

National Coalition of 100 Black Women (New Haven Chapter), STEM Education and mentoring program

Norwalk Community College, Uplift Program to increase success rates in post-secondary education for men of color by providing support, education, and mentorship


Financial Stability

Global Partnership to End Human Trafficking, Social Enterprise to empower victims of trafficking with job training and skills to earn a livable wage

Hang Time/Her Time/Champ, "The Trifecta," programs to heal children and families impacted by incarceration though peer support, resources, and mentoring

Open Door Shelter, Financial Opportunity Center, to prevent homelessness through employment coaching, financial coaching, and income support with available benefits

Youth Business Initiative, Youth Business Initiative Program to provide workforce development training and mentorship for high-risk, underserved youth


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