Localizing National Information Proves to Be a Good Idea For Making Connections in Hartford
A diarist snapshot submitted by Mike Salius, August 2004
Several months ago close-in partner Paula Gilberto, vice president of community services at United Way of the Capital Area, passed on a suggestion from a United Way volunteer to Debra Delgado, Hartford's site team leader. After reading Doug Nelson's 2003 essay on the high cost of being poor, the United Way volunteer thought that localizing the information in Doug's essay might be helpful to our organizations' joint efforts to improve economic conditions for Hartford's many low-income families.
Recognizing a good idea when she hears one, Debra quickly acted to put the volunteer's suggestion into effect. But even Debra didn't foresee just how powerful this idea would turn out to be in helping Making Connections in Hartford advance its agenda. The idea grew into a published study documenting the disproportionately high costs Hartford's poor families pay for basic needs.
The study captured the attention of advocates for the poor, community leaders and faith-based activists from throughout Connecticut. It also inspired residents from Making Connections in Hartford's target population to speak out in favor of the policy recommendations included in the study and it stimulated media outlets to cover the findings.
Shortly after hearing the idea, Debra started the ball rolling by engaging members of the site team. Irene Liu, the FES specialist, took the lead in gathering and organizing the essential data. She worked in collaboration with United Way and Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS), the local Kids Count agency, and co-authored the study with site liaison, Ana-Maria Garcia.
The site team's communications partner helped to edit and coordinate the study's design, layout, printing and distribution. As this work was going on, Debra and Ana-Maria developed a strategy to introduce the study at a statewide FES conference at Central Connecticut State University held by CAHS and sponsored by Making Connections along with Fleet Bank, the State Treasurer's Office, SBC and Oxford Health Plans. Ralph Smith gave the conference's keynote address. In his speech, Ralph implored funders, businesses and policymakers to support the study's recommendations.
Both the conference and the study were promoted through news releases and select members of the media were invited to attend.
Following the conference:
· Copies of the study were circulated throughout the Making Connections network.
· Work on a Spanish version as well as on similar studies for Bridgeport and New Haven was initiated.
· A plan was developed for reinforcing the study's recommendations with local, state and federal policymakers and for holding forums where residents would be presented with the findings and recruited and armed with information to effectively speak out in favor of the recommendations.
As a result of inviting the media to attend these forums, the Hartford Courant, Connecticut's leading daily paper, did an in-depth article on the topic that was the front page lead in a recent Sunday edition. The Hartford Advocate also published a comprehensive story. Both pieces quoted residents from our target neighborhoods and members of our site team.
With this foundation laid, the site team under Debra's leadership is now embarking on a mission to learn from national experts how best to develop a local action framework that will help us make ongoing, results-oriented connections among FES issues and the local partners and residents whose voices can impact and influence policy-making practices.
The moral of this snapshot is that acting on a good results-oriented idea often turns out to be a very good idea in its own right.