In 1997, a 12 year-old girl arrived in the U.S. from Chile.
When she arrived, neither she nor her family spoke English. They also had no idea where to even begin looking for the help and resources that are needed to create a secure life in a country known for opening its arms to the tired, the poor and the vulnerable.
Life as an undocumented immigrant is never a family’s first choice. It’s a choice that is made out of necessity, when all other options have been taken away. It’s a choice that comes with the promise of potential opportunities, but also comes with tremendous risk.
Despite these risks, this young girl and her family have been able to survive and thrive in their new home. After years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, along with the support of a strong family unit by her side, that little girl, Paula Garay, has grown up to become the Women’s Health Initiative Director of Optimus Healthcare and emme coalition for the Fund for Women & Girls at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF).
The emme coalition (short for empowerment, mindfulness, motivation and education) is the Fund for Women & Girls’ newest signature investment that works to help women and girls in Fairfield County who face many of the same barriers that Garay experienced as a result of gender and racial inequities.
Emme was developed in partnership with OPTIMUS Health Care with the goal of putting women and girls in the driver’s seat of their lives and as partners in their own care. Research driven, with a focus on holistic health, the emme coalition connects women and girls with lifelong tools for wellbeing that can be passed along to future generations.
While the emme coalition was first launched in 2020, FCCF’s Fund for Women and Girls has been working towards closing the opportunity gap for women since the Fund’s inception in 1998. As the largest fund for women and girls in New England, the great impact generated over the past 24 years by the fund has been driven by FCCF’s commitment to ensuring its program investments are based on current research that reflects the needs of the community today.
One of the studies that helped shape the emme coalition showed just how tremendous a gap there is in terms of equality for women in Fairfield County — particularly for women of color and undocumented immigrants.
In Bridgeport alone, 56 percent of single female-headed households with children are living in poverty, and Fairfield County women face one of the largest pay gaps and one of the highest costs of living in the nation. In the face of these disparities, Fairfield County needs programs like the emme coalition.
FCCF’s annual Fund for Women & Girls luncheon — being held in person at the Greenwich Hyatt on Friday, April 22 — will spotlight the pioneering work of the emme coalition. Women’s rights scholar and acclaimed author Anita Hill will be delivering the event’s keynote address.
As the fund’s signature investment, the emme coalition will take center stage at this year’s event, which will include special remarks delivered by one of the program’s inaugural participants who will share her powerful personal story of migrating to Fairfield County in 2019 from Chile.
We cannot change the past struggles of inequity that millions of women and girls have endured throughout their lives, but we can change the future by believing in every woman’s potential and investing our resources in impactful programs like the emme coalition that empower women and girls to advance their life goals. Because becoming your best self, and being a productive member of your community, does not begin and end with one goal in mind; nor does it happen in a vacuum. It is a life-long learning process that’s shaped by the people, places and experiences we’re surrounded by.
Together, we have the power to create a community that ensures every woman who grows up in Fairfield County has a chance to become her best self. By supporting programs like emme, we are building a stronger, more equitable community.
With the right supporters in her corner, there is absolutely nothing that a woman cannot achieve.
Lutonya Russell-Humes is senior director of the Fund for Women and Girls