Wethersfield PEP: Growing Community and Expanding Opportunities in 2021

Article by Jeanine Berasi

Wethersfield PEP is our community name for the UConn Extension People Empowering People Certification Program facilitated here in our beautiful town. Overall, PEP is a 10-week information and action driven course with a community service component as designated by UConn Extension. Upon graduation participants receive official certification through UConn Extension.

PEP classes have flexibility to be many things depending on community needs and plans. UConn trains facilitators and enables them along with coordinators to establish unique community programs all across the country. Trained in 2015, Jeanine Berasi is Wethersfield’s PEP Facilitator. Kimberly Bobin, Wethersfield’s Family & Early Childhood Coordinator, coordinates.

The focus of Wethersfield PEP has been to connect culturally, linguistically and socioeconomically diverse groups of parents and encourage the growth of communication, leadership and community participation through hands-on learning of how to implement new ideas. 

Wethersfield PEP has certified 36 amazing Wethersfield Parents in 4 completed cohorts since 2017. Parent leaders have represented every Wethersfield school including each of the public schools K-12, Corpus Christi, The CREC Discovery Academy, the Open Choice Initiative and Preschools.

These parents came together and participated in 20 hours of classroom learning. They came with a wealth of personal and professional experiences to learn how to better speak up, creatively tackle challenges and motivate others. They worked on service projects that are self-driven and meaningful to the Wethersfield Community.

Before the pandemic struck, PEP met in person at the Pitkin Community Center. Childcare and dinner were provided. During class and shared mealtimes, ideas and personal connections were strengthened. The dynamic energy of a PEP class creates a safe space to discuss personal and community challenges. PEP participants try out new ideas, look at past examples and work together to find new paths and improvements.

Growing is hard. Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes people are not ready for change and sometimes PEP is the encouragement and the environment needed to build one up to meet the next challenge life brings. PEP embraces it all, loves the person that is present, in all their human messiness, and tries to nudge both the group and the individuals towards improvement.

When COVID-19 shut down communities in March, PEP took a breath, reevaluated what could and couldn’t be achieved. PEP pushed forward online. Dinners were delivered from local eateries at our regular time and we practiced both in Zoom and Google Meet with each other to determine what worked best for our community. We were all learning and adjusting to the necessity of new ways together.

The brightest moment of the early quarantine was creating a parade of positivity.  With a hand painted, colorful sign that said, ‘You are AMAZING!”, locally bought bouquets were gathered together with other PEP gifts and delivered door to door.  Really, it was sidewalk to sidewalk! PEP’s Facilitator, Jeanine Berasi and PEP’s Coordinator, Kim Bobin traveled (in separate vehicles) to each participant’s home. Masked, gloved and armed with lysol spray, they placed flowers and gifts on the steps, sprayed, backed up a respectable distance. They cheered PEP participants, waving the sign and pom poms. A welcome boost for both participants and their families!

Family is at the core of PEP.  Choosing to take time to build leadership and communication skills and to commit to working to apply it within one’s family and larger community circles is the PEP way.

In Wethersfield, PEP extends participants’ community circles by inviting community leaders in to speak. This leads to mutually beneficial small group experiences for both the speakers and the group. In an array of different formats, PEP has connected with the Superintendent and school officials, Mayors and Town Employees, State Representatives, Board of Education Chairs and the Director of PEP from UConn.

At the end of the 10 weeks of class, a community service project is created. It can be a personal, small group or whole group venture. PEP provides 4 short weekly check ins culminating in an official PEP Graduation Ceremony. Some of our outstanding projects have been: Wethersfield Porch Portraits (2020), 8 weeks of free Spanish language lessons for preschoolers (2019), Wethersfield Is Kind (2019), Informational/Activity binders for educators on Muslim culture and holidays (2019), Special Education Parent Teacher Organization (2019, 2017), Holidays of Wethersfield’s World – a summer art installation at the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center (2018), Bosnian Moms of Wethersfield (2017), Madres Latinas (2017), and Trees planted in  the Housing Authority (2017).

Additionally, every November, Wethersfield PEP graduates meet for a reunion. PEP Reunion provides the opportunity for individuals from all completed cohorts to meet and share ideas over the course of 3 weekly meetings. Most recently PEP Reunion 2020 was held via Google Meet.

Wethersfield PEP is a grant funded, UConn Extension Certified program. It brings together a diverse group of Wethersfield parents to build relationships and explore and increase personal, family and community leadership skills. We are so proud to be offering a fifth year of Wethersfield PEP beginning in January 2021. For more information contact: berasij@yahoo.com or kbobin@wethersfield.m