While Hartford, CT is known for its economic wealth and rich history, it’s also plagued by stark socio-economic divisions that play out across the city’s 16 neighborhoods. With the most diminished life expectancy in the state of Connecticut, Hartford’s northeast neighborhood stands as an important example of what can be lost when a community lacks clear lines of access to things such as quality healthcare, transportation, fresh foods, and safe, quality communal spaces - resources that neighborhoods just a few miles away readily enjoy.
Community Solutions works to make those lines of access clearer and stronger, but we also support others who share that vision. Consider Olusanya Bey, for example.
In early 2014, Olusanya and his colleagues, a group of eight fellows with the AmeriCorps Public Allies program, began to suspect that the biggest problem facing low-income people in Hartford wasn’t a dearth of resources, but a lack of connection and awareness around what was available in the community. They felt that major opportunities to connect city residents with existing community groups and assistance programs were being perpetually missed. Their solution was to increase opportunities for meaningful exchange among isolated people, businesses, and non-profit organizations.
As members of Public Allies, an organization dedicated to advancing civic participation in communities across the country and a Community Solutions partner, the group decided to dedicate a full year to tackling the problem of fragmentation in Hartford. For them, it was key to avoid duplicating the efforts of existing groups serving the community. Instead, they aimed to establish a firm understanding of what the city already had at its disposal and then to strengthen and build upon those existing assets.
The plan grew into ImPACT Fest, a family friendly celebration and showcase of Hartford's vibrant and diverse community, now in its second year. The premise for the event is the idea that communities already have most of what they need to solve many of their problems, but the key knowledge and resources are often spread out across different people and institutions. By creating an event designed to bring people together and facilitate interaction, the Public Allies hoped to catalyze new connections that could result in better long-term solutions.
To build upon the success of last year’s event, Community Solutions has signed on as a sponsor this year and will lead a community bike safety and repair workshop for attendees. Food and performance will also be served up alongside speeches, workshops and demonstrations by local artists, merchants, nonprofits and community organizations.
Olusanya, now completing an in-house residency at Community Solutions as a second-year Public Ally, is proud of his group's success in pulling off last year’s event. And, as a passionate community organizer, he has been more than happy to take a leading role in planning ImPACT Fest 2015.
Olusanya says he is most comfortable working at the grassroots level, but a quick conversation is enough to reveal his deep interest in and wealth of knowledge on the issues that affect the critical systems on which communities - especially low-income communities - often rely. If the elderly in Northeast hartford don’t have a reliable means of transport, for example, how will they be able to pick up and adhere to their medications? If artists in Hartford don’t have viable ways to share and sell their wares, then how can the city retain its creative talent? These kinds of questions drive Olusanya and have made him a powerful force for ImPACT Fest.
This year’s event will take place at Bushnell Park on Saturday, June 13th and will highlight the power of collaboration and the benefits of a sharing economy. Through this theme, Olusanya and his fellow allies aim to use ImPACT Fest as a way to knit Hartford residents together in a stronger, healthier and happier city.
The connections don’t stop after ImPACT Fest is over, however. Olusanya and his fellow Public Allies have dedicated significant effort to ensuring that those who attend have what they need to nurture connections made at the festival well after it ends. A talk about carpooling and a push to sign up participants for the Hartford Time Bank are designed to yield more group rides to and from places in the city that can be difficult to reach for some residents such as medical care facilities. These are the connections the Public Allies hope to inspire at ImPACT Fest.
ImPACT Fest is a unique opportunity to support the collective impact philosophy we rely on in our own work in the Northeast Hartford neighborhood. While we aim to identify and address the Northeast’s most pressing problems - in particular the area’s lack of access to fresh foods, poor health indicators, and debilitating unemployment rates - partnership is essential to our successes. Regularly working hand-in-hand with residents, local businesses, and other community organizations allows our team to identify and tackle these issues more effectively.
Whether you sponsor the festival, volunteer, or simply enjoy the day's activities, we hope you'll join us for ImPACT Fest 2015.