Published in The Day

By Elizabeth Regan

The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut's focus on youth empowerment, human rights, the environment and animal welfare will benefit more than 100 organizations this year through $2.08 million in grant awards.

The foundation in a news release said the grants are an extension of its call for systemic changes to address inequities in early childhood education and child care, mental wellness and safe, affordable housing.

Foundation program director Jennifer O'Brien said the group continues to work with municipalities and statewide advocacy organizations to address inequities in eastern Connecticut.

"We believe our investments in both policy and grantmaking will contribute to a more equitable region," she said.

The grant awards include more than $200,000 as part of the inaugural grant cycle for the Fund For Racial Justice, which was started last June.

The racial justice grants include $12,000 for the first phase of a new permanent exhibit at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center about the contributions of Pequot women and $12,000 for educational programming from Discovering Amistad that will use the lessons of the Amistad uprising to foster increased awareness and activism around social justice.

Lee-Ann Gomes, who recently retired as the director of the Norwich Human Services Department, is the chairwoman of the Fund for Racial Justice Committee and a trustee at the Community Foundation.

"We had a committee completely composed of community leaders and advocates who are people of color and understand from an experiential angle the importance of providing opportunities and raising voices for Black, Indigenous and people of color in our communities," Gomes said.

Among the 24 groups that shared in the first outlay of funding from the Fund for Racial Justice were Connecticut College, the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund, the FRESH New London food justice organization and the Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut. The committee received 44 applications.

Grants in other areas included: $80,000 to Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust to increase work in affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization; $30,000 to the New London Homeless Hospitality Center to address historical inequities in homeownership and offer mortgage assistance for people of color; $24,500 to the Health Education Center in Norwich to work toward building a workforce reflective of the region's demographics; and $15,000 for the Expressiones Cultural Center's ongoing bilingual arts program for disadvantaged and low-income children.