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empowering women, girls and their families to achieve equal opportunities in their personal and professional lives

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To celebrate Let’s Talk Month!, a month dedicated to promoting parent/child communication about sexual health topics, we’re excited to highlight Jessica Arter and her work on the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.  Here’s what Jessica had to say about her experience working on the initiative: 

I remember my first day working on HTPPI. Everything was new. I had little experience in reproductive health but I knew for sure I was interested in learning everything possible. I knew working on a project like this would fulfill my purpose in making a difference and helping others, which is one of the main reasons I became a nurse.

 Since a very young age, I’ve always liked the sciences and caring for others. After much investigation of potential careers, nursing offered the best balance of my interests. The field of nursing is also very diverse, nurses can potentially work anywhere desired. Nurses can become certified midwives, school nurses, surgical nurses, flight/transport nurses, emergency nurses, nursing educators/professors, nurse researchers, home health care nurse, informatics, or nurse managers; the opportunities are endless . Early in my nursing career, I decided public health nursing was worth giving a try.

I’ve been working in public health for about 10 months, and I have loved every moment of it. Being a part of HTPPI is great feeling; we are a part of the evolving solution to pregnancy and STI rates in Hartford teens. As a part of the clinical team, I have been working with local clinics to improve adolescent services. Some of our clinical goals include creating a teen friendly environment, increasing patient access and education to contraceptives, and increasing the number of teens seen through community outreach. The team I am apart of is creative, innovative, hardworking, and that is best environment to be in.  I look forward to more of HTPPI’s accomplishments and my future as a nurse.

 Jessica is currently pursuing her M.S.N. in public health nursing at University of Hartford. Her work with the Northern CT Black Nurses Association was recently featured on NPR

 

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We are thrilled to welcome Laura to the CWEALF team as a G2O Intern for the 2014-2015 school year!  Laura is pursuing her Master of Social Work with a focus on Community Organizing and International Studies from the University of Connecticut.  A native of Connecticut, Laura completed her Bachelor of Social Work in 2013 from Central Connecticut State University.  Laura will be involved in the coordination, registration, and planning of G2O’s Girls and STEM Expos, as well as completing a needs assessment of teachers to support them in recruiting and retaining girls in nontraditional careers. 

Laura’s path into the social work field is truly inspiring.  As a teenager, she visited Ecuador to help build a community center for impoverished families.  During her trip, she established lifelong relationships and saw firsthand the impact that a community-organized project of this scale could have on residents.  As a result, she returned to Ecuador six more times to help with additional projects. 

Laura brings several years of experience working with youth through various mentorship roles.  She is looking forward to learning more about planning and organizing programs, as well establishing and forming lasting community partnerships.  Laura is a big proponent of utilizing hands-on experiences and role models to engage girls in STEM.  We know Laura will be a wonderful asset to the G2O program!

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In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, G2O would like to recognize the accomplishments of Dr. Ellen Ochoa; an engineer, inventor, physicist and the first Hispanic-American woman in space:

Dr. Ellen Ochoa came of age during the 1970s.  During this time, many women had begun to explore careers in areas that were not originally considered typical for women.  Although the technology industries were still reluctant to hire women, NASA was putting out requests to hire female astronaut trainees.  Ochoa graduated college in 1980 and began to set her sights on working toward becoming a female astronaut.

When Ochoa finished her doctorate degree in electrical science, she applied to NASA’s program and was selected in 1990 to begin working for them as a pilot astronaut.  When Ochoa is on space missions she is typically in charge of conducting experiments during the flight, many of which pertain to the depletion of the ozone layer and chemicals in the atmosphere.

Today, Ochoa encourages young girls to “reach for the stars.”  Ochoa also believes that “a good education can take you anywhere on Earth and beyond.”  She frequently talks to groups about the importance of girls entering the STEM fields and believes that the best way to make that happen is through encouraging curiosity and leadership in young female students.

Since there are not many professional role models for young girls interested in STEM, especially not for Hispanic girls, Ochoa says that it is of high importance for all women involved in young girls’ lives, especially their mothers, to encourage them to follow all of their dreams.

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I applaud the Connecticut Women’s Educational and Legal Fund selection of Yvette Melendez as a “One Woman Makes a Difference” honoree this year.   Yvette perfectly embodies the mission of the organizationby improving the health and well-being of women in our communities, while working to provide affordable and accessible higher education to Connecticut’s students. With more than 30 years of service in public health, education and human services, Yvette is committed to providing opportunities for women in Connecticut.

As Chairman of the Board of Regents for Higher Education (BOR), it has been my pleasure to serve with Yvette in her role as BOR ViceChair.She understands that education for girls and women is the single most effective way to improve the lives of individual families and bring economic development to poor communities.At the BOR, Yvette has worked tirelessly to ensure that the 17 Connecticut State Colleges and Universities provide students with the tools and knowledge necessary to reach their goals.

Beyond the classroom, women are catalysts for progress and change, creating ripple effects in their families and communities. As Vice President for Government and Community Alliances for Hartford HealthCare, Yvette supports local neighborhoods through strategic relationships and grassroots efforts to affect this change, helping make a difference for working women and their families.

Yvette’sprofessional experience is invaluable. She has served as Chief of Staff and Chief Administrative Officer for the Connecticut State University System, representing the university system to the community; Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Health and Addiction Services (now the Department of Public Health); and Chief of Staff for the Department of Income Maintenance (now the Department of Social Services).

She also shares her skills and talents on numerous boards.Yvetteis currently chair of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, was one of the founding members of the foundation’s Latino Endowment Fund, and has served on various boards serving the community. 

I am proud to say that on Oct. 7, CWEALF will honor Yvette Meléndez for her unwavering support of education, women and the community. As Chairman of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, I thank you — Yvette Meléndez— for being “One Woman Who Makes a Difference.” 

Nicholas Donofrio is the Chairman of the CT State Colleges and Universities Board of Regents for Higher Education and a sponsor of this year’s event.

photo source: Hartford Healthcare 

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I became employed in 1987 by Pratt & Whitney at the Middletown plant and started attending my Union’s monthly meetings.  I would listen to legislative issues and reports that Lori would give.  I was impressed with her knowledge of politics and the role they play in our daily lives.  To this day she still amazes me with her knowledge and caring about women’s issues, politics that affect working families and gay rights.

Lori went to work at the CT AFL-CIO as their Secretary Treasurer and was the chief lobbyist representing the Unions of Connecticut.  She would tackle some of the most important issues we were facing at the time, a living wage, healthcare for all, firefighter and police medical issues of hypertension, Family Medical Leave, Gay Rights, and raising the minimum wage for working families, just to name a few.  Lori has represented women within our workplaces to erase the wage discrepancies between men and women, always working to raise us toward the glass ceiling. 

Lori is capable of tackling any issue that is thrown at her.  She is very humble and does not always take the credit that is due her.  Lori represented many of our Union members when she was still in the shop at Pratt.  She fought hard for what she believed was fair and just for our members.  She was a shop steward, recording secretary and then vice president of our Local before she went to work at the State Fed.  She came from a family of three older brothers, where her mother and father both worked.  Lori has a drive to always do what is fair for the underdog.  She also hates to take credit for all of her endeavors.  She would much rather see her friends and colleagues get credit for what she has helped them with.

Whenever I think of Lori, friendship and commitment comes to mind.  Lori has a fierce commitment to always remember her family and friends in all she does.  Nothing means more to her than family.  Lori is always committed to helping along her family and friends by mentoring and assisting in whatever the issue may be. 

Lori has long been committed to raising the status of women, be it in the workplace or within our personal lives.  She fights hard to ensure women are treated with fairness and as equals, in all we do.  She believes women must be on an equal footing with their male peers.  Lori has been an advocate of women for as long as I have known her, always guiding, mentoring and supporting us. 

Lori is a very humble person.  She hates to receive accolades as she feels she “didn’t do anything special that someone else wouldn’t do, too.”  Lori has been such a huge help within my own career.  I have been so fortunate to have such a caring and loving friend in my life, both with work and my personal life.  I am so proud of all her accomplishments!

Shirley Dickes is the Recording Secretary of C.A.N.E.L. Lodge 700 and the 2009 recipient of the CWEALF Maria Miller Stewart Award “One Woman Makes a Difference.”

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On October 7, CWEALF will honor the dean of Quinnipiac University School of Law, Jennifer Brown.  As a board member of CWEALF and a faculty member at Quinnipiac Law, I am doubly proud.  In 1989, Jennifer left a prestigious law firm in Chicago to pursue a career in academia.  Over the next two decades, she helped shape the future of the legal profession by inspiring and mentoring law students throughout the country—many of them women (approximately 47% of all law school students are women.) 

During this time, Jennifer wrote on a wide array of topics, including Dispute Resolution and LGBT rights.  In 2005, Jennifer and her spouse, Ian Ayres, challenged straight people to join with the LGBT community in standing up for equality at home and at work, in church, school, and politics.  In 2013, after a national search, Professor Jennifer Brown of Quinnipiac University School of Law became the law school’s dean—one of approximately 40 female law school deans across the country (as compared with approximately 160 male law school deans).

I write this blog entry on a laptop in the corner of a bedroom belonging to my five-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, where we just polished off another chapter of Harry Potter before bedtime.  Professor Albus Dumbledore, the former headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has dropped another pearl of wisdom.  “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are,” he says,“It is our choices.”  My daughter will grow up in a country where she is less likely to make as much money as her brother because she is female, a country where she is less likely to find herself in a position of leadership because she is female, and a country where she is more likely to experience violence than her brother because she is female. My daughter does not yet understand these unpleasant truths for which there is no magical cure.  In time, though, my daughter will come to understand that equality comes not through wands but through hard choices—the kind that Jennifer Brown has made. 

Jennifer could have decided to remain behind her desk rather than mentor tomorrow’s leaders; she could have chosen to remain quiet as others experienced injustice; she could have decided not to assume a deanship during a period of unprecedented challenges for legal education.  Lucky for us, Jennifer chose to use her abilities in service to others.  That’s not magic, but it’s pretty close.  Congratulations to Jennifer for making wonderful choices and a world of difference in the lives of others—both big and small. 

Kevin Barry is a Professor of Law at the Quinnipiac University School of Law and the CWEALF Board Vice-President.

Photo source here.

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The Connecticut Girls Collaborative Project is a vital resource for organizations in Connecticut that nurture girls’ interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The goals of the CGCP are to assist girl-serving organizations in sharing resources (and creative IDEAS!), to strengthen organizational capacity by sharing promising and best practices in content and pedagogy, and to leverage relationships to create synergy and become “the tipping point for gender equity in STEM.” The Connecticut Girls Collaborative Project is based upon a model developed by the National Girls Collaborative Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, and is one of thirty regional (mainly statewide) collaboratives across the country.

The CGCP was launched by the Girl Scouts of Connecticut (GSofCT) in 2008. Its project director, Ellyn Savard, Program Initiatives Manager at GSofCT, has over the last 6 years assembled an effective Collaborative Leadership Team and Champions Board, facilitated many successful conferences and overseen mini-grant awards to many Connecticut organizations. But beyond that, Ellyn has led the charge to create enduring connections between the people who care deeply about girls and women and their participation in STEM.  In a time of scarce financial resources and scarcer time, working together has become ever more important to programs serving girls in STEM.

Ellyn and the GSofCT have decided to step down from coordinating the CGCP, and while we can never thank them enough for initiating such an important program, we can honor their work by picking it up from here and working hard to ensure it continues and grows.

To that end, CWEALF will now be the lead agency for the CGCP.  While the details are still being worked out, CWEALF plans to convene existing partners, add others and shepherd the growth of CGCP. We are not certain of precisely what that means, but we are, in the ongoing spirit of the collaborative work that formed CGCP, looking to our partners to be engaged - as the community of women always is - to enhance girls’ interest in and pursuit of all things STEM. CGCP fits with our mission, and more importantly, with our passion.

Kudos to Ellyn - we will rely on her continued engagement.  And to our Leadership Team, we will count on their creativity and partnership.

Here’s to an exciting new project for CWEALF - you’ll be hearing more soon!

For more info on the CGCP, click here

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I can’t believe I’ve been at CWEALF for almost a year! It feels like I just started here as a first-year MSW student at the University of Connecticut. I came to CWEALF overwhelmed with beginning graduate school and not fully believing I could do any of it. Those jitters quickly vanished. The staffs’ warmth and kind approach put me at ease while empowering me to reach my full potential. Having the privilege of being in an open door environment—one in which I can ask anyone questions or ask to be a part of their projects—enabled me to try experiencing new roles.  I soon realized that while CWEALF has helped thousands of families through research, advocacy, and its legal education program, I too was someone who needed and benefited from CWEALF. 

Being at CWEALF has not only opened doors for possible career paths, but has also greatly expanded my skill set. I was able to target my weaknesses and work on projects that aligned with my interests. My supervisor often asked me what I wanted to accomplish rather than strictly giving me different tasks. The internship and my work always felt intentional through her guidance. I grew personally and professionally, and CWEALF went above and beyond to foster my development and growth. I learned countless lessons of how to be an effective social work practitioner which has led me to pursue subsequent opportunities. I was lucky enough to be asked to continue on during the summer as part of their Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative and will miss them dearly as I go on to my second year of graduate school. 

Nicole Seymour is a CWEALF Research & Policy intern entering her final year in her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Connecticut.

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This week the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a startling blow to women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care.  The Court weighed in 5-4 on the side of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., saying their health plans do not have to cover contraception for their female employees, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hobby Lobby’s female employees of all religions who want to use contraception — which can cost more than a minimum wage earner makes in a week — will now have to pay for it themselves. 

Hobby Lobby objected on religious grounds to covering certain types of contraceptives its owners believe are akin to abortion, including IUDs and the “morning-after” pill, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.  While at first it seemed that the Court’s ruling applied narrowly to only these types of contraception, the Court clarified on Tuesday that its decision applies to all methods of contraception covered under the ACA.

Contraceptive coverage is crucial to women’s health and reproductive freedom.  Not only are contraceptives used by women to prevent pregnancies, they also are prescribed to help women with medical problems that are unrelated to sexual activity.  The belief that women should be able to make their own personal health care decisions has been further eroded.  Now some employers have the right to deny their female employees access to contraceptives if those employees can’t afford it themselves.  

In this case, the Court extended freedom of religion protections traditionally possessed by individuals to corporations, as well. The idea that corporations should be treated as “persons” has been long debated, with various outcomes.  For example, should companies be able to finance campaigns?  To vote?  To bear arms?  While freedom of religion is a fundamental tenet of our country’s founding, it is odd to consider a for-profit company as having “beliefs.”  Must shareholders vote on each belief?  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “Profit making companies do not exist to further religious goals, and their employees are drawn from a multitude of faiths.”  In this case, the majority’s efforts to preserve a for-profit company’s religious beliefs have transformed into a mode of discrimination against women. 

The Court said this decision applies only to coverage of contraception for employees of closely-held corporations – in this case, family-run.  However, most companies fit this definition.  Studies estimate that as many as 90% of corporations are closely held, employing more than half of the total workforce. It is not hard to see how the Court’s reasoning could be extended in the future to deny all organizations’ workers other types of medical coverage.  Groups representing women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population fear it will open the door to further court decisions allowing employers to assert their religious beliefs to control other aspects of their lives.  If, for example, a corporation’s owners religious beliefs object to lesbian, gay, or transgender people, can the owners argue they should have the right to refuse to hire a qualified gay employee?  It is disappointing and scary to watch as yet another Supreme Court ruling erodes the ability for women to access health care and control their own bodies.  This is a serious step backward for women and the LGBT community, and may have devastating consequences for years to come. 

Written by Sheree Levine, CWEALF volunteer, and Catherine Bailey, Legal and Public Policy Director

Photo: Planned Parenthood for Action 

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“Twenty-first century families deserve twenty-first century policies.”  President Barack Obama recently spoke these words, telling the story about the challenges he and the First Lady faced in raising and supporting a young family early in their careers.  At the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23, he discussed his own story frankly, acknowledging the even greater challenges of families around the country earning minimum wage, subsisting on the income of a single-parent, and often needing time to care for family members.  

Last week, the White House Summit on Working Families attracted workers, business leaders, union representatives, advocacy organizations, and elected officials throughout the country.  Topics of the day included fair wages, earned sick days, paid family leave, union activity, caregiving, business success, and leadership for women.  

First Lady Michelle Obama continued the President’s narrative, not only about their family’s situation, but how we need a “shift in dialogue” to change the conversation on a larger level.  She cited the need for flexibility and paid family and medical leave as essential workplace policies.  “There is no excuse for American to be following on this issue; we should be leading this issue,” she said. 

Working family challenges resonate close to home, too.  With this week marking the third anniversary of Connecticut enacting legislation mandating earned sick days for workers, the public is now setting their sights on the recent bump in the minimum wage and the Legislature-appointed task force studying a paid family leave system.  State Representative Mae Flexer, a long-time champion for issues affecting women and families, attended the Summit.  “I’m proud that Connecticut has been a nationwide leader in implementing paid sick days and increasing the minimum wage; policies that will support working families.  I hope to continue this leadership with a paid family leave system so that workers don’t have to choose between their families and their jobs when crisis strikes.” 

At the Summit, Maria Shriver highlighted the importance of supporting workers as a best practice for business, advising that “we need to catch up to who the American family is.”  No longer is the American family a one-earner parent and one-caregiver parent household with two children.  Families are increasingly complex, some led by single parents, some with multi-generational households containing siblings, stepparents, and grandparents, all working together and caring for each other. 

As an attendee at the Summit and co-chair of the Campaign for Paid Family Leave, I was thrilled to hear issues like the gender wage gap and paid family leave receive national attention.  The State of Connecticut is lucky to have strong leaders representing us in these policy discussions, including Summit participants Congresswoman Rose DeLauro, AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lori Pelletier, and Representative Flexer.  Let’s continue this momentum to build 21st century policies to meet the needs of workers and their families.

Catherine Bailey is the Legal and Public Policy Director at CWEALF, and co-chair of the CT Campaign for Paid Family Leave.