When I reflect on my time as Chair of the CT Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA) Grant Committee I am proud to have served along with my fellow board members and knowledgeable staff in an organization that touches the lives of so many Connecticut residents.  The different organizations receiving CHEFA grant funding reflect CHEFA’s mission, vision, and values. They care for our health, education, and enhancing the welfare and prosperity of Connecticut residents.

Estela Lopez

Established in 2002, the CHEFA Grant Program has awarded more than $40 million for programmatic and capital expenditures to statewide organizations representing four of the most important sectors of the state’s economy: healthcare, education, childcare, and culture. Importantly, CHEFA is continually expanding its role beyond traditional philanthropy to include being a convener of educational opportunities for nonprofits, a collaborator with other funders, and an important partner in key statewide initiatives. Even more impressive is the fact that CHEFA and its grant program are completely self-supporting, they do not utilize any state taxpayer dollars.

Since 2019, the CHEFA Grant Program has invested over $3 million in a targeted effort to provide critical assistance to workforce development throughout Connecticut. Bill Villano, the President & CEO of Workforce Alliance has seen first-hand the great impact that CHEFA funding has on key statewide initiatives. “Since 2019, CHEFA grants have helped fund what are normally out-of-pocket expenses people need to get and keep a job such as childcare, transportation, certification fees and job-related tools or clothing,” Bill remarked.

CHEFA’s Grant Program also provided critical help to unique organizations that usually do not benefit from traditional grant making. That is the case with CHEFA’s award to the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective. “The funds from CHEFA are the type of funds that are not easy to come by” said Linda Estabrook, Executive Director. She added “CHEFA helped us purchase new dental and medical equipment, replacing our aging equipment.”

As an educator, I have seen first-hand the detrimental impact that a lack of access to educational programing can have on communities, especially underserved communities, and communities of color.

Kathi M. Crowe, the Executive Director of Waterbury Youth Services, knows all too well what can happen in the absence of important educational opportunities such as the Linking Academics to Life (LAL) program offered by that organization and supported by a CHEFA grant.

“Without LAL, our research has shown there would be an increase in the drop-out rate and youth would be more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. LAL keeps youth in school where they graduate on time and go on to college, trade school, or career training.”

“Starting at Waterbury Youth Services six years ago, I didn’t think it would have the impact it did.  Being a part of a great community, WYS has truly changed my life for the better, getting to be instructed by people who want to help influence you in a positive way not only for the benefit for oneself but to create a positive change for our community. Personally, having an opportunity to make change with WYS taught me leadership, grit, responsibility, and more” recalls LaGar’e Martinez, a student participant.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the CHEFA Board of Directors and staff acted quickly to modify the grant program to support critical statewide recovery efforts, by awarding $3 million to organizations within CHEFA’s four core priority areas. One of the COVID-19 grants was awarded to the Connecticut Humanities Council, $100,000 providing critical mini-grant funding to Connecticut cultural organizations. “Our funding from CHEFA came at a critical moment for the cultural sector,” explained Jason Mancini, Executive Director. Julia Wang, co-founder and president of the board at New Haven’s Immigrant History Initiative, added, “the Connecticut Humanities Cultural Relief Grant enabled our organization to respond to the crisis of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

With two decades behind us and as the next decade begins CHEFA’s Grant Program is committed to continue being impactful ensuring community involvement, and collaboration with key Connecticut stakeholders. Through its grant effort CHEFA will continue to be a philanthropic leader, funding impactful statewide programs, and supporting the state’s residents in strengthening our communities.

Estela Lopez of East Hartford is a member of the CHEFA Board.