Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents' Union, speaking at the Capitol on April 13. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

About two dozen residents gathered at the Capitol Thursday afternoon to share a litany of concerns about what they called a lack of partnership between the state legislature and local communities.

“We need the support and resources that we pay for [as taxpayers],” said Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union. “Now is the time to demand our resources, because if not, we’re still going to be crying about school safety. We’re still going to be crying about poor quality housing in one of the top five wealthiest states in the nation. It’s up to us. … And that’s why we’re here with a clear message that we really are partners with our lawmakers. … They don’t get to do things to us, you must do it with us.”

The two-hour press conference consisted of several speakers who voiced their frustration about how local organizations and community members that are doing boots-on-the-ground work, including providing equitable housing, extracurricular activities for students and job opportunities for those who were incarcerated, are often deprived of state funds, representation and the resources they need to better serve those in need.

Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, helped host the event with Samuel and agreed that state funds could be used better. The event also promoted Strengthening Families Month.

“What unfortunately happens under this Capitol’s dome is that it doesn’t represent what is happening in our communities across the state of Connecticut,” Kelly said. “[Taxpayers] make a sacrifice for the government and send that dollar, and in exchange, all you ask for is that — when it’s returned back to whatever community — it gets to the people it’s supposed to get to. Too many times … [those funds] are put somewhere else.”

Some of the community speakers, allotted three minutes, talked for upwards of 15 minutes, explaining how their organizations have struggled to receive state grants to continue their work. Others argued the lack of partnership between lawmakers and community members goes beyond funding for local organizations, but also has to do with policy.

“We do the same thing over and over again, we’ve done the protests. We’ve come to the government, we brought people up here. We brought voices, but we continue to be where we are. So we have to think about how to do something different,” said Barbara Fair of Stop Solitary CT, who most recently has advocated for an end to routine strip searches in the state’s prisons and jails. “Policies that have been put in place in this building have caused more violence to us than anyone else. … This building has been more violent toward our community and never had to pick up a gun. … They kill us with their policies.”

Samuel and other advocates said that some state policy promotes unstable living conditions, which in turn, weakens the ability to create thriving family dynamics.

“My hardest job in helping children is getting parents to spend time with their kids sometimes,” Samuel said. “But when they got to deal with housing, food insecurity [and] all the other things that make [living] hard, [they’re not able to] strengthen their families. We need to figure out what the issues are so we can support them more effectively, so they can focus on their children’s future.”

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.