Elevating Voices with UConn PEP

UConn PEP Goes Online

family poses for a front porch portrait as part of the Wethersfield PEP program
A Wethersfield family poses for their front porch photo.
Photo courtesy of Jeanine Berasi

Our communities are stronger when all voices are elevated and included. UConn Extension’s People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program elevates voices by empowering individuals through community-based parent leadership training. People Empowering People builds on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants. The program emphasizes the connection between individuals and community action.

We collaborate with community organizations to offer UConn PEP. Trained facilitators guide participants through 10 educational sessions plus additional weeks for completion of individual or group projects before graduating from the program. Cherry Czuba, a retired Extension educator, started the program 25 years ago. The program was revised and updated while Dr. Cathleen Love was coordinating the program. Over 3,110 participants have graduated from UConn People Empowering People programs located in three states.

COVID-19 affected UConn PEP – as it did with all other aspects of our lives. But the need for personal development and empowerment programs increased because of the pandemic and racial injustice. We rose to the challenge by transitioning our programs online. We continued to offer programming, trained facilitators in a new online certificate program, and community participants graduated from local programs.

The program was offered in eight communities, seven of these in Connecticut and one in Miami, Florida. Our Connecticut programs were in offered in Middletown, Stamford, New London, Wethersfield, Hartford with Community Renewal Team (CRT) and Family Life Education, and Meriden – with Meriden Children First. Program graduates made a difference in each community.

Community-based projects are always an impactful part of the UConn People Empowering People Communities program and had a positive influence during the pandemic. Two participants in our Meriden program created a project called, Sprinkle of Kindness and Twisted Vines. They collected donations of hand sanitizers, masks, and snacks and gave them to police departments in Waterbury and Torrington. Seven women in the Wethersfield UConn PEP 2020 program, with the help of a few key volunteers organized Wethersfield Front Porch Portraits. Over 120 families participated, and the project raised over $3,500 for the Wethersfield Foodbank. Their project was shared with the Wethersfield Historical Society.

Robin Drago-Provencher and Sheri Amechi.

People Empowering People’s impact on individuals has a ripple effect of positive outcomes for the community that continues beyond graduation. Sheri Amechi participated in the Meriden UConn PEP program in 2017. Her initial involvement with UConn PEP was a catalyst for transformative changes in her life and the community. When asked how the UConn PEP program made a difference in her leadership journey, here is what Sheri said, “When I interviewed for PEP in 2017, I had mentioned that my goal was to run for a seat on the Meriden Board of Education. I had participated in other Parent Leadership programs in the Meriden community prior to UConn PEP. These programs reinforced what I already knew, I wanted to make a difference in my community. Through People Empowering People, I learned valuable lessons in communication, problem-solving, and I improved my leadership skills. These lessons  prompted me into taking the step to run for a seat on the Board of Education in Meriden in 2019. Sadly, I was not successful in my attempt to win a seat (losing by 41 votes), but I am determined to run again in 2021. To my excitement and surprise, I was appointed to fulfill a seat on the Board of Education, achieving my goal I set many years ago.”

“After graduating from UConn PEP, I continued my community involvement when I was elected to the Local Advisory Committee of Meriden Children’s First non-profit,” Sheri continues. “From this group I was eventually elected as President of Meriden Children’s First. Currently, I am the Vice President of the organization.”

Sheri knew what she wanted, set her goals and continued until she achieved her goals. People Empowering People opens doors, brings people together, provides training, builds skills, creates connections, and opportunities for participants to follow their passion and make a difference in their communities.

The positive effects of UConn PEP are the same across all participants – in any location – goals are set, relationships develop, projects are completed, a shift happens, and the goodness grows. When participants were asked at the completion of the program, what they learned during UConn PEP, one participant stated: “I’ve learned from the entire PEP program and how important it is to me. I’m going to continue using the tips and tools I’ve learned in these sessions. I want to continue to grow.”

Our communities need connection and leadership now more than ever. UConn PEP is rising to the challenge and helping participants to find their voice, elevate others’ voices, and create a better place to live. Programming may have shifted online during the pandemic, but we can still create that personal connection that allows people to thrive.

For more information about UConn People Empowering People (PEP) Communities go to pep.extension.uconn.edu.           

Article by Robin Drago-Provencher and Stacey Stearns