By Ariana Rawls Fine
Did you know over 55,000 women and girls in Hartford County live at or below the poverty line? There is also a substantial gender wage gap in the area, Aurora Foundation’s (aurorafoundation.org) research shows. Through grants, research, volunteering and other efforts, the foundation strives to positively affect women and girls in the Greater Hartford community. In addition to offering insights into gender issues in the area, the research enables organizations, volunteers and businesses to collaborate on community solutions to expand social and economic opportunities for women, girls and their families.
“Investment in women and girls is a good ‘bang for the buck’ for the community,” explained Jennifer Steadman, Ph.D., Aurora Foundation’s executive director. “They move toward economic stability and mobility; it has a multigenerational impact.”
The Aurora Foundation’s grantmaking offers financial resources for women’s college success programs in the Hartford area, including help with the application process, outcome reporting and more. The 2022 grant awardees included $22,000 for the Charter Oak State College Women in Transition program, $14,000 for Hartford Public Library’s Barriers Can’t Stop Us: Building Immigrant Women’s Success initiative, $10,000 for Livegirl’s She Works Career Readiness Program, $20,000 for UConn Foundation and Latinas & Power’s Latinas in Leadership Institute at UConn Hartford, $12,000 for University of Hartford’s Women’s Advancement Initiative, and $22,000 for YWCA Hartford Region’s YW Career Women program.
“I stand here…to tell you how a mother of four, a high school dropout who dropped back in, was able to achieve her goal by graduating nursing school and becoming a nurse,” said Kai, a student in YWCA Hartford Region’s YW Career Women program. “I am standing here to tell you how the YW Career Woman program met me where I was and supported me with resources such as stipends, counseling and career coaching, all in support of me achieving this goal. A goal made possible by the grace of God, the love and support of my family as well as support and benefits received having participated in the YW Career Woman program.”
“We are tripling the amount of money that is going out into the community. That’s huge for us,” said Steadman. “It will be $400,000 for 2023-2024 for our Giving Circle, college success, enhanced college success and other programs—before it was close to $125,000.”
In addition to the college success grants is another participation component for Aurora Foundation volunteers: the annual Women’s Giving Circle. The member-based collaborative grantmaking experience process includes three virtual meetings and an in-person lunch event for Women’s Giving Circle members before grant awards are made in June of each year.
“We are women who are coming together so we can have a bigger impact on the community,” said Steadman. “During the pandemic, we shifted from larger donations, and we doubled the fundraising and tripled the membership. It is heartwarming.”
They concentrate on an issue each year. For 2023, the Women’s Giving Circle focused on women and economic recovery. The recipients included $6,000 for YWCA of New Britain for their family childcare incubator program, which taught a cohort of women how to run a childcare business in addition to opening a space for four childcare providers nearby, Steadman explained. Girls for Technology’s Building for Equity Program received $6,000 for a 6-week intensive training; 10 women of color made pitches looking for investment to grow or scale their businesses. Dignity Grows was awarded $4,000. Another $4,000 was granted to Dress for Success Hartford for its Employment Readiness Program.
For 2022, the Women’s Giving Circle focused on organizations looking at educational recovery and the impact the pandemic had on girls’ education, mentor/role model access and more. They raised more than $20,000 to benefit YWCA of New Britain’s House of Teens Program, Horizons: The Ethel Walker School, Grace Academy, Hartford Girls Rock! and Girls Scouts of Connecticut’s STRONG Program.
In January 2023, Aurora Foundation initiated a pilot program that chose current students in Aurora Foundation-funded College Success Programs to receive expanded “wrap-around” support for basic needs as well as additional coaching and mentoring help. It enables students to focus more on their college studies and less on the stresses of poverty. The foundation’s 2023 Enhanced College Success Program is in partnership with the Charlotte and Hy Goode Family Fund Supporting Women’s Potential at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
In addition, Aurora Foundation’s Annual 100 Men’s Campaign has raised more than $80,000 to support the organization’s efforts.
For research, the Women and Girls Data Platform (womenandgirls.ctdata.org) includes data on health, education, workforce participation and leadership for women and girls in the state, states the foundation. The online, interactive platform offers access to publicly available data on regional, municipal and state levels as well as aggregating the information by gender and race. Although Aurora has only so much money to give out, organizations can use the data for other grant applications, Steadman mentioned.
The 2022 “Exposing Connecticut’s Eviction Crisis” report was released in partnership with CTData Collaborative and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. One aspect it noted was how evictions in the state disproportionately affect Black and Latina women. The organization’s 2021 “Essential Equity: Women, Covid-19 and Rebuilding CT” and the January 2022 “Essential Equity: Pandemic Response” reports reflected how the pandemic disproportionately impacted women and girls as well as a first for Connecticut: women surpassed men in unemployment claims. In addition, the latest report found three-quarters of women applying for unemployment during the pandemic had not earned a college degree.
The organization was formed at the turn of the century in 2000 by Leah Bailey Moon, Felice Gray-Kemp, Eileen Kraus, Paddi LeShane and Marie O’Brien, community leaders who collaborated with other women on philanthropic endeavors to lift up women and girls.
There are multiple ways to volunteer, whether it is answering the call to action to join the Women’s Giving Circle, donating, participating in the organization’s women’s leadership forum in November or other volunteering opportunities to give back.
“I know I can be a leader. I just needed someone to help push me, to help me become the strong woman I want to be. Thanks to support from the LEAD program, The Women’s Advancement Initiative and the Aurora Foundation, I am finding my way,” thanked Doh, a LEAD program student at the University of Hartford.
“It feels like community coming together to make change,” Steadman concluded about how the organization, its staff and its volunteers make a difference in the Greater Hartford area.