Hartford Heritage Project Launches First Annual Pennington Lecture Series with Historian and Author Christopher Webber

2022 April | by Jacob Graf

HARTFORD, CT — On April 21, 2022, at the Capital Community College Centinel Hill Hall, a Rev. Dr. James W.C. Pennington themed lecture series began with a breakfast, architecture presentation, and morning lecture by Dr. Christopher L. Webber.

This lecture series was hosted by the Hartford Heritage Project and organized by Dr. Jeffrey Partridge, Professor of English, Director of Hartford Heritage Project, and CCC Faculty Director of the Liberal Arts Action Lab. Capital’s Hartford Heritage Project highlights Hartford’s history and cultural landmarks to both students, faculty, and the local community by organizing themed lectures and events such as The Justice and Faith Hartford Walking tour coming up on October 13th.

This lecture event was made possible by spring 2020 Action Lab Research Group members Aliyah Freeman-Johnson, Mercy Unoh, Julian Hogan, and Armani Parnther; a collaborative team of Capital Community College and Trinity College students. After doing a semester research project on the Talcott Street Congregational Church, the research team and Dr. Partridge was awarded a $149,426 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant allows for a curriculum for students to learn about the Black community history in Hartford and an annual lecture series named after Rev. Dr. Pennington featuring prominent speakers to come to Capital Community College and discuss racial and justice topics. An online exhibit from the spring 2020 action lab is available to learn more.

Due to the new curriculum changes from the grant, Capital Architectural Engineering Technology students created Rev. Dr. Pennington inspired architectural designs for the location where he pastored Hartford’s first Black church and school. The building was located on the corner of Talcott Street and Market Street, just beside the Capital Community College building. The plot of land where Talcott Street Congregational Church and School used to be is currently an outdoor parking lot along with a condemned parking garage. Students who were available to present their designs and answer questions included Jeremy Gamble, Ericka Salazar, and Tyler Spada who were available to present their designs and answer questions.

Gamble’s design included an underground tunnel to symbolize the underground railroad that the church had been a part of. There would be cultural inscriptions on the inside for visitors to read and learn about historical people of the Talcott community. Salazar’s design featured a monument of Rev. Dr. Pennington with symbols around the statue relevant to his life and experience Spada’s design presented a museum of Talcott Church related artifacts and information.

 On the keynote lecture Dr. Christopher Webber informed guests of Rev. Dr. Pennington’s life who escaped slavery in 1827 from Maryland at the age of 19, leaving behind a large family of siblings and parents. He was a short way from the free state of Pennsylvania, but got misdirected towards Baltimore. He ran into slave catchers and didn’t have an easy journey. When he was finally in a free state, years later, he was able to mail letters to his family, some of which are public today. A couple members of his family ended up escaping later on, but many of the others never did. His parents ended up dying in slavery. One of his brothers escaped to New York, with slave catchers “hot on his heels,” but was caught and dragged back to the south. The brother wrote a letter asking for help, and Rev. Dr. Pennington struggled to be able to raise the money to buy his brothers freedom. Before being able to raise the money, Rev. Dr. Pennington said, “I am an American to the backbone, and yet I can’t get the funding to free my brother,” which is what inspired the title of Dr. Webbers book. Afterwards the brothers were able to travel together and talk in churches and other places about their experience of slavery.

Rev. Dr. Pennington made it to Pennsylvania where he met Quakers including William Wright from whom he first learned about Jesus and Christianity, which had a major impact on his life from that point forward. Sometime after, being the first Black student to audit courses at Yale University, Pennington became ordained and even married Fredrick Douglas and Ana Murray. Rev

A table was setup where guests could buy Dr. Webbers biography of Rev. Dr. Pennington titled American to the Backbone. Dr. Christopher L. Webber is a graduate of Princeton University currently living in San Francisco although he has lived in Connecticut previously for 20 years. He has authored 36 books, gives lectures as well as book readings, and is an accomplished mountain climber, most notably climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan.

After the lecture, I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Christopher L. Webber and inquire further.

After reading Pennington’s autobiography entitled “The Fugitive Blacksmith”, Dr. Webber thought that more people should know about his life story. He went on to say that when Rev. Dr. Pennington escaped, he was illiterate and 15 years later, he was given an honorary doctorate. At first, Dr. Webber wanted to update Rev. Dr. Pennington’s story but was emphatically encouraged to write his whole biography instead, which was Dr. Webbers first biography.

He hopes that this story might inspire people and help them to realize that a person “can start from zero at age 19 and still do something with your life.”

Dr. Webber says one of the most challenging parts of Rev. Dr. Pennington’s life was taking the first step out of his familiar life and compared it to Christopher Columbus in a way because he didn’t know what was out there or what might happen.

“You hope it’s going to be better, but you won’t know ‘til you get there…That takes courage.”

Dr. Webber recounted a particularly striking detail from Rev. Dr. Pennington’s life how he was able to take courses in the Yale School of Divinity, while forced to sit in the back row, yet couldn’t speak or ask any questions throughout his entire time there. He was older than many of the other students; in his late twenties.

“He was never really a part of the community in any real sense,” Dr. Webber revealed.

Rev. Dr. Pennington never got a degree from Yale; although recently, Noah Humphrey, a contributing reporter from Yale Daily News and second-year master’s of divinity student at Yale Divinity School, wrote an article about how Humphrey is fighting to award him a posthumous degree.

When asked about whether some of the issues Rev. Dr. Pennington faced in his time are still prevalent today, Dr. Webber makes the connection to still negative attitudes towards other groups of people and cultures and having them in our country.

He pointed out that having Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson being the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court is “exceptional still, that somebody should receive the same treatment if they’re Black, as somebody who is white.” We don’t live in a society where equal opportunity is so normal that these instances don’t need special attention.

Dr. Webber spoke about stories of significant people and trying to figure out what it is that makes these extraordinary people and their stories special or different so we can try “sprinkling it more broadly over the population. There are a lot of things we don’t know about what shapes human lives and what it is that makes that difference.”

He specifically spoke of character and why one person might work and succeed while another person gives up and is discouraged. He hopes this story and others he writes about will inspire others to accomplish all that they aspire to accomplish.

Fresh Check Day, Bolstering Mental Health Awareness

Capital Community College Participates in Jordan Porco Inspired Fresh Check Day

2021 April | By Jacob Graf

HARTFORD, Connecticut — From 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM on Monday, April 11th, 2022, Capital Community College faculty and volunteer students hosted Fresh Check Day in the college Mezzanine on the first floor. Fresh Check Day is a program created and supported by non-profit The Jordan Porco Foundation in Wethersfield, CT. Campus counseling and student activities organized this year’s chapter at CCC. Capital students and clubs were able to oversee booths where other students could stop by to learn about mental health awareness and suicide prevention while taking part in games and activities. These booths helped inspire openness and awareness about mental health problems and taught students’ tips to combat suicide. Other community organizations who have health and mental health related services also had booths running such as: Hartford Health Initiative, Intercommunity Health Care, Toivo, and Sun Scholars.

Students registered at the first booth and received a card that tracked their progress through the other stations. Each booth had a game or activity that helped students learn about mental health. At one booth, students wrote down what gives them stress on a lemon and pressed it into lemon juice. Another booth taught students about drawing, which is a good way to deal with mental health issues or any negative emotions that people go through. They were able to scan a QR code to take a mental health evaluation and hang out with a service dog. There was a 9/10 pledge where students signed a banner after making the commitment to keep an eye out for suicide warning signs and be ready to take action to help 1/10 college students get the help they need through suggested resources. After people were done with the booths, they had a chance to enter a raffle and were able to get free lunch from the cafeteria on the 7th floor. DJ QT mixed the music propelling students into a dance line. There was a lot of talking and laughing as students enjoyed the different aspects of the event.

The Jordan Porco Foundation began in 2011 by the parents of Jordan Porco, who died of suicide during his freshman year in college. They decided to help make change in this problem after learning about how suicide not only affected their lives, but the lives of many of families. Their goal is to help both youth and adult students by increasing awareness, education, and engaging as well as uplifting programming, while creating a message of hope. Stigmas and misconceptions prevent individuals from getting help they need. Students can play an important role in helping those around them. It’s been important for JPF to challenge stigma about both mental health and help-seeking in order to help prevent people in the future from making a permanent mistake that affects not only the person, but those around them as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with mental illness or a disorder in their lifetime.

Non-profit organization Mental Health America states that “the percentage of adults with a mental illness who report unmet need for treatment has increased every year since 2011.”

The World Health Organization says that “suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.”

Statistics like these show just how important it is for organizations like JPF and individuals to be aware, educated, and ready to help when the time comes. More information can be found on the JPF website.

If you are a student experiencing negative mental health, you can visit the school counseling center at Room 208 on the 2nd floor, or contact them through phone at (860)906-5204 or or email Ca-Counseling@CapitalCC.edu

If you are thinking about suicide, help is available 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Women’s History Month Event Features TEDx Talk With Chimanda Ngozi Adichie

2022 April | By Jacob Graf

On Wednesday, March 30th in the 2nd floor Community Room of Capital Community College, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee sponsored a lunch-and-learn Women’s History Month event featuring a TEDx Talk by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie called “We Should All Be Feminists.

Adichie is an author from Nigeria who writes novels, short stories, and nonfiction. She has won numerous awards, for example: the MacArthur Fellowship, Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers, and most recently, the Library Lion. She received a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Connecticut State University and a Master of Arts Degree in African Studies from Yale University.

Professors of Mathematics, Kathleen Herron and Lisa Braverman lead a discussion with attendees of Women’s History event.

In her TEDx Talk about feminism, Adichie discussed a range of topics such as her experience as a feminist, common problems women experience, and strategies for change. She recalled a time where an old friend called her a feminist, expressing a negative implication. Another time, while promoting her novel in Nigeria, she was told by a journalist that “feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands.” Yet another woman told her that “feminism wasn’t African,” and that she was calling herself a feminist “because she had been corrupted by Western books.”

Even in her early education experience, Adichie encountered a situation where she was discriminated against by her teacher who withheld a classroom role that she deserved by scoring the highest test score. She mentioned countless problems that women face including double standards, gender expectations, toxic masculinity.

Adichie explains that culture that trains women to emphasize the importance of marriage that pressures them in a way that men don’t experience. She observes that women are often blamed for being in risky situations that have negative outcomes. The current culture is one that effects women regularly in various ways, namely being prevented from saying what they truly think or feel. Adichie even herself has recently been impacted through not feeling like she would be taken seriously based on her attire the first time she taught a graduate school writing class. A good thing, she points out, is that culture is always changing, and that people make culture, meaning there is a way to actively transform society into something that is appropriate for everyone. One way to do this is to actively think about gender. Another way is to rethink how we are teaching individuals. A final way to do this is to be aware of systems of oppression that are blind to each other so that groups can understand each other better, which will in turn, open up opportunities to help each other.

After viewing the TEDx Talk, there was group discussion in which students considered related questions in which they examined how the topics from the video were relevant to their own experiences.

Student Convocation Event Showcases Variety of Clubs and Organizations

2022 April | By Jacob Graf

The Capital Community College spring convocation took place on Monday, February 28th, 2022 in the lobby of the Capital building at 950 Main Street Hartford, CT. Student leaders came to represent their clubs along with other associations from the college administration and local community so that more students can get involved and connect with their fellow peers.

Groups in attendance included:

Student clubs

  • Alpha Beta Gamma (Business Honors Society)
  • ASEZ (Save the Earth from A to Z)
  • Black Student Union
  • Capital Book Club
  • Capital Student News
  • Fire Club
  • LASU (Latin American Student Union)
  • PRIDE (People Respecting Individual Diversity Everywhere)

College Administration and Community Organizations

  • Academic Success Center
  • Access Health
  • Capital Community College Police Department
  • Equity Diversity and Inclusion Center
  • Hartford Police Department
  • Wadsworth Museum

Students attending were able to check out each of the different stations and learn more about what the coalitions are doing. Give-aways included free flyers, brochures, pens, lanyards, reusable shopping bags, and more for the students to take with them. Music was booming, people were hanging out, and there were competitive games such as Cornhole bouts, Jumbo Jenga duels, and Jumbo Connect Four fixtures. Visitors earned a free lunch when they participated at enough booths, which was hosted by the Capital Community College Cafeteria on the 7th floor. Club officers were welcoming and had a lot to share about their activities.

President of Alpha Beta Gamma, Evan Holmes shared what the club has to offer.

What are some of the main features of your club?
“The main feature is that we help the community so we do social outreach and we look at local places, see if they need help, donate food, clothes, and we do volunteer services.”

What are some of your favorite moments being a part of this club?
“My favorite moment…hearing other people’s input because that just helps make conversation because no one has the same idea, so it’s good to get different ideas. So just hearing from other people.”

How has this club helped you personally?
I am a big introvert, so doing this is way out of that zone. So, it’s forcing me to do something that I may not like, but it will help me in the long run.”

ASEZ club President President Brandy Ortiz and member Davornne Lindo

President of ASEZ-Save the Earth from A to Z, Brandy Ortiz shared the club’s focus and purpose.

What are some of the main features of your club?
“One of the main features of our club is volunteerism. So, we focus on one of our initiatives called SAVE which means social service, awareness for raising victim relief, and environmental protections and it’s a way for students even in rural areas like Hartford to be able to volunteer and be able to give some sort of help to the community.”

What are some of your favorite moments being a part of this club?
“The memories that we make. So ASEZ is worldwide. So not only here at Capital but also, it’s around other countries around the world and other universities where they even share all of the services that they are up to so that way all of us can be connected in a way where we all can be together as the youth and be able to do a lot of volunteerism around the world.”

How has this club helped you personally?
“This club is actually very unique because ASEZ is founded by the world mission society church of God, so then with it, we actually implement also God as well. So, all of our initiatives are connected to the way of God and also the love of the mother. So, we do everything with the way God wants us to as being the youth and we always try to focus on the way of how we can be able to share love and kindness to the world and as well for them to have a glimpse of what true God is and to be able to see it through the bible as well.”

BSU President Michael Sawyer and Executive Board Member Dumaibi Chidumebi Emenyonu

President of Black Student Union Michael Sawyer and Executive Board Member Chienye Chidumebi Emenyonu explained how the CCC chapter of BSU recognizes diversity in a unique way.

What are some of the main features of your club?
Sawyer: “One of our main features of our club is promoting the diaspora that’s in diaspora. As we know, when it comes to a lot of Black student unions within America, they tend to focus on African American issues, which of course is fine, but as we are in Capital Community College, we have a lot of variations of backgrounds when it comes to the African diaspora from Caribbeans, Latin, Afro-Latinos, Africans and so forth and so on. So, our main mission of the club is to promote that and showcase that when it comes to our student bodies.”
Emenyonu: “I think another one is to create unity because like you said, there is a lot of different groups here. So, sometimes we have…one thing that should definitely be known is that Capital has a lot of white teachers so it’s kind of hard to connect and have an understanding with those teachers as well. So, it’s kind of a space that students of color, not only Black students, can come together and have that connection.”

What are some of your favorite moments being a part of this club?
Sawyer: “I believe we‘re all like a family so…after the club, we all can…talk and just hang out and chill with each other you know. We all do a whole bunch of things after the club.”

How has this club helped you personally?
Sawyer: “I feel like taking this club when it was like legit dead in 2020 and you know reviving it made me look at like how I am as a person when it comes to like leadership and how I really value like…how I really being here and how like you know the trials and tribulations of it…So I really enjoy…I really just enjoy leading people but leading them in the right direction.”

President of Latin American Student Association, Cinthia Zuniga and Vice President Stephen Richard represented their club’s inclusive values and offered a variety of baked goods at their table.

What are some of the main features of your club?
Zuniga: “One of the main features is that we don’t focus on language, we focus on culture. We don’t really focus on any particular thing like gender or race or religious beliefs. LASA is a club based on Latinidad for what it is, the basis of it is it’s a culture, not a language not anything else.”
Richard: “No matter who you are, we welcome you with open arms.”

LASA member Luiz Angel Diaz, President Cinthia Zuniga, Vice President Stephen Richard

What are some of your favorite moments being a part of this club?
Zuniga: “Definitely one of my favorite moments was the bake sale for Valentines Day, we did really good and we supported each other and we all came together and did everything so well.”
Richard: “One of the favorite moments was meeting my members that I can call my friends and peers and whatnot because we’re all so different and unique and I like it. You know, I get to learn about each and every one of them and let our voices be heard and that’s the way we adjust what matters to the club.”

How has this club helped you personally?
Zuniga: “It’s definitely taught me a lot about being careful and understanding other people’s point of view. …I’m the president so I have to kind of you know, be as impartial as possible.”
Richard: “I learned that…being vice president is quite tough sometimes, you know, you have to always be at the presidents side when said president needs it. You just have to step down and just put yourself in other members shoes when they’re having problems or issues or just want that comfort or just wanna talk… We’re all human, we all have our good, bads, uglies, ups, and downs but at the end of the day, if we can understand each other, that would strongly build our club a bit more and influence others as well.”

Member of P.R.I.D.E. People Respecting Individual Diversity Everywhere Elex Carillo says that the club has a really good vibe.

What are some of the main features of your club?
“One of the main features is really just representing each other and feeling welcomed together. So right now, we kind of just started but we are focused on figuring out what we are going to do to just hang out and learn more about each other and about the community.”

What are some of your favorite moments being a part of this club?
“I like the moments where we start discussing what’s going on around us in the community and how it affects us but then also talking about the light good things that’s happening for us.”

How has this club helped you personally?
“It honestly makes me feel more accepted. Like I can actually be myself in a place where I don’t know many people at all.”

For more information on clubs and student activities visit CCC Student Clubs & Honor Societies web page or contact Randall Ward, the Director of Student Activities in room 707A.

Randall Ward, Overcoming Academic Struggles And Finding Your Place

2022 March | By Jacob Graf

As a student in college, Randall Ward was heavily involved in extracurricular clubs and activities such as the student government, Caribbean club, and Black student union. He also visited other clubs such as the Latin American association. He is a former student at Capital Community College who now serves as the college’s director of student activities. He is known for having a lot of passion and energy.

Before becoming director, Ward worked at CCC for a little over five years in multiple roles including a workforce development specialist, assistant director of the Welcome Center, enrollment services specialist. Outside of the school system, he has worked at companies such as Pratt & Whitney and ESPN.

However, his road to success wasn’t always a smooth one. When he was in grade school, he was a troubled student. He faced discipline often, which kept him from reaching his full potential at that time. In his early years of college, he was often distracted with going to parties even if they were held on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. He wasted money and faced uncertainty about getting more. When transferring from the historically Black institution of Florida Memorial University in to attend Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), he experienced a culture shock because he was the only Black male in most of his classes. He had to deal with feelings of inadequacy, being out of place, being nervous to speak, a sense of not belonging, and doubting himself and what he was doing. These negative feelings were perpetuated by not having anyone to talk to about them.

Someone who was most influential in his decision to straighten up and improve was his mother. He saw that she was being negatively affected by his actions and it led him to a 180° turn-around. He got a job, got his stuff together, and started to excel with A’s and B’s.

Ward checks in on the college’s food pantry.

He had to dig deep within himself and go to tutoring, talk to advisors, and sit there and get it done. He recalls nights where he was pulling his hair out saying, “I don’t know how to do this…and you figure it out.”

Black men and young men in general, Ward says, are expected to ceaselessly perform and just do it. A downfall of male attitudes is a certain bravado of not wanting to ask for help. Ego and fear of not measuring up affects a person, even to the point of self-sabotage. Ward would like to see more young men learn that it is okay to ask for help, and to see more professional men to ask those young men whether they need help. He knows that having mentors would have helped him a lot. He says young men who struggle academically don’t have guidance or support and they often don’t know how to ask for support.

Ward is most proud of earning his bachelor’s degree in Communication. There were sacrificial nights of papers, missing those parties, and not going on dates or trips but it had all paid off in the end. He remembers late spring of his senior year, when he still wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to walk for the graduation ceremony with his peers due to being two classes short of the requirements. Yet his mother already told members of his extended family from all over the country that he was graduating, so they were all buying their tickets.

“They were flying in from Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey…all over, and I was just panicking in fear of failure that week…with that level of anxiety in your spirit it’s hard to sleep. I told some of my friends this is happening and ‘can y’all help me fake a graduation?'”

Despite multiple challenges balancing school, work, and personal life, Ward was able to persist. Once he earned his degree, with a patchwork of credits from several institutions, he was inspired.

Achieving that goal gave him incentive to “continue on the path of success. Not just for me, but the people who will come behind me or the people I will touch on this journey. So, I must continue to grow.”

He recently enrolled in a master’s degree program in Counseling with a specialization in Student Development in Higher Education.

Ward enjoys mentoring Capital students on important topics such as employment. He likes teaching students things such as hard and soft skills, and building up students before they enter the professional world. He gets satisfaction from watching a vision manifest as he works towards objectives and goals that he sets.

One of the things he likes most about working with the Student Government Association is seeing them become the leaders, and watching them grow.

“I learned that it is my responsibility to learn who they are and help them identify themselves as to what they want to be for the students.”

Former President of the Student Government Association Nachum Levitan remarks that Ward is an incredible director.

“By just sending one email to Randall Ward, he helped me create a whole club from scratch. Randall makes Capital and Capital makes us: the future.”

Student convocation event, March 2022

A competitive attitude motivates him to do his best. Part of his drive comes from experiencing a lot of failure as a kid, people close to him think negatively of him, and being compared to others in his family. Even when the tragedy of his grandmother’s death occurred, his thoughts of the students and the school compelled him to ensure that all the scheduled activities would still take place. He was able to deal with the passing of his grandmother by being realistic, knowing that all of us will transition one day, and understanding that she would want him to keep doing a great job. Other things that helped were meditating, being grateful for their relationship, and celebrating her life. Support from friends, family, and colleagues at the school were also important.

Working at Capital Community College over the years has allowed Ward to flourish, be creative, show all his skills, and be rewarded with new opportunity because of those skills. He has done things that range from DJ’ing school events, to making videos, to workforce background and customer service skills. These opportunities create moments that he cherishes and values.

“Sometimes you must choose between trusting yourself and following a close peer,” Ward says. “It’s important to go forward with it if you believe in it, are passionate about it, and it’s not going to hurt you or another person. Seeking validation from others may cause you to miss out on an opportunity. Taking advice can have both benefits and downfalls.”

How a person defines success, family, and experiences are a few of the most important things to him. He has fallen in love with the academic environment. He loves learning, conversations, speakers, engaging with students. Hobbies that he enjoys outside of work are concerts and live performances, especially when the passion of a person comes out in their performance. He loves to DJ and watch people dance and have fun while interacting with them on the microphone. He is planning to do stand-up comedy soon and loves to make people laugh.

One experience Ward recommends to everyone is talking to the elders to hear their story and learn about life experiences that will impact and inspire others lives. They have a wealth of knowledge that leaves with them that we might be able to preserve and learn from.

General advice he has for students is to be proud to be a Capital student.

“Try to not be afraid to network with peers and professors, don’t be afraid to create, and take advantage of all the resources available. Break out of your routines and expand yourself.”

My Life: Refugee from Bhutan Reflects On Building Life In Connecticut

2021 December | By Tek Ter

On any given day at India Foods in Berlin CT, Ram Bharti can be found placing items like pickle bottles on the shelf or helping customers. It is clear that he is an ambitious and hard-working person. I asked him about his journey from Bhutan to the United States through Nepal. He smiles and tells the story of his refugee life in Nepal and his journey to becoming an American citizen.

Bharti said, “Human life is uncertain, it can be changed anytime.”

He was born in Bhutan, and he is a Nepali-speaking Bhutanese. The country of Bhutan is a democratic, constitutional monarchy with a population of approximately 700,000. The king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is the head of state. Bhutanese people demanded a democratic system in the country instead of a monarchy. The government of Bhutan targeted Nepali-speaking Bhutanese for this revolution and forced them to leave the country. Between 1990 to 1993, more than 100,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese – including Bharti’s family – wound up in refugee camps in eastern Nepal. They left everything including the houses, lands, and all sources of living.

“We spent two decades in Nepal. As a refugee, I had to collect sand from rivers to live. The United Nations recognized all Nepali-speaking Bhutanese in Nepal as refugees and helped us.”

Out of eight resettling countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Bharti’s family chose the United States for their permanent residency. He remembered, including his family, over 63,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in the United States from the camps in Nepal. He came to the United States in 2012, with seven members of his combined family, parents, three sisters, and one brother.

It was very difficult for Bharti and his family to live in a completely new society. He realized that it is more difficult to re-socialize than socialize. In the first six months, the Catholic Charity of Hartford helped them with food, rent, health care and even taught them the rules and regulations of American society. The Catholic Charity of Hartford helped him to learn the English language and to find his first job.  He was interested in business because his father had a convenience store in Bhutan.

Now, he was in a country where everyone gets a job easily. He didn’t want to miss this opportunity, so he decided to work hard and live a happy life. He worked for the next 7 years at Patel Foods grocery store in Manchester, CT. At first he didn’t know the English name of the products sold in the store.  He tried to remember the familiar English names of the vegetables and other stuff, and also get information about the suppliers. For the first two years at Patel foods, Bharti worked seven days a week from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM. After two years, he worked at the counter as a cashier and was able to communicate with customers in English.

Ram Bharti stocks shelves at India Foods, Berlin CT. Photo by Tek Ter

In 2019, Bharti and his brother together opened India Foods, a grocery store in Berlin, CT. He says that to start a new business, one needs experience and knowledge of that field. He presently works in the store 6 days a week from open to close and every Thursday he goes to New York early in the morning to bring fresh Indian vegetables and other stuff for customers. To pick the Indian vegetables from New York, Bharti reaches the Swad’s Wholesale store early in the morning at 4:00 AM.

In 2019, Bharti also became an American citizen and now lives in West Hartford, Connecticut.

To summarize his journey from Bhutan, via Nepal, to the United States, and becoming a business owner Bharti said “hard work gives always good results; keep it up.”

The Bridge: Connecting the Community with Hope

2021 November | By Ryan Lash

As the cold weather approaches and the holiday season nears the thought of family, friends, food, and presents is on all our minds. The season should bring all these wonderful things to every family in our community, but sometimes that is not the case. Times are tougher these last couple of years, as is evident in all economic aspects. Covid-19 has caused financial and unstable conditions for many families. Stimulus and unemployment checks have helped stabilize the need for assistance for many, but it is evident that more help is needed. The New York Times reported in an April 2020 that, “demand for food assistance is rising at an extraordinary rate, just as the nation’s food banks are being struck by shortages of both food and volunteer workers.”

Organizations like “The Bridge” seek to help those in need and help make the winter months and holiday season happy for all of those who may need a helping hand or just a little hope in their corner.

Coats available to clients of The Bridge. Photo credit: The Bridge

The Bridge is an outreach ministry of Our Savior Lutheran Church in South Windsor, CT. After doing extensive research about the needs of families in South Windsor and its surrounding towns, members from Our Savior Lutheran Church decided to open the facility in the fall of 2016. Located in South Windsor at 400 Chapel Road unit 1J, their mission is to provide food, gently used clothing, and case management services to individuals and families facing a temporary financial crisis. Members of the church and community provide donations so The Bridge can fulfill its mission.

The Bridge receives clothing and non-perishable food items. Due to limited storage space, the Administrative Assistant of The Bridge, Tammy Choleva said, “calling beforehand is always recommended, sometimes too many of a certain item can be overwhelming. By calling ahead, donations can be assessed and appropriately distributed.”

Shoppers call or email to register an appointment. A staff members assist shoppers in finding the products that they will require, determined by the size of the family.

Food aisle at The Bridge. Photo credit: The Bridge.

Healthy food choices are a priority at The Bridge. The food is neatly organized on shelves and conveniently color coded according to sodium, sugar, and nutritional value. Clients are encouraged to select the healthiest foods for their families. The dry goods and household items are systematically organized. Clothing is folded and hung on racks, giving someone the sense of walking through a store.

Recent increased donations have called for people who are dedicated and devoted to helping others to help staff the center. Heather Yoreo and Kathy Pasakarnis are two of the fifteen volunteers and members of Our Savior who dedicate their time at The Bridge. They are considered essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides a few alternative safety precautions made to keep the staff and public safe, they have forged ahead making baskets and pre-packed boxes of donated items ready for pick up.

Heather Yoreo states, “The Bridge is different from other food pantries in the area. Although we are blessed to be able to provide food and clothing, the volunteers at The Bridge most enjoy the opportunity to build relationships with our clients and are happy to share our faith and pray with clients who are often going through very challenging personal, emotional, physical, and financial hardships.”

The Bridge has a case worker that is available for crisis support, housing services, building a resume, or guidance.

Tammy Choleva expressed, “The Bridge is not just a food pantry, we build a relationship and keep the relationship. The Bridge is hope connecting people with Jesus.”

Local businesses and groups also step in to meet the needs of thousands of clients of The Bridge, particularly during the holiday season. Carhartt is collaborating with a “Wish-mas” Tree and food drive. Other local businesses, including Evereve and PetSmart have also provided numerous items.

Neighbors who may need a shoulder to lean on are embraced with open arms by members of The Bridge as they carry out their mission of hope, dedication, and a profound love for God and the community. The staff and volunteers at The Bridge are cheerfully committed to ensuring that all families have the support that they require.

Irish Eyes Are Smiling In Hartford This Fall

2021 October | By Ryan Lash

Hartford has always been recognized for hosting a vast number of cultural events, and this November 18-21 will be no exception. The City of Hartford hosts Irish step dancers from the New England region for the 2021 New England Oireachtas at the Connecticut Convention Center.

Throughout the year, Irish Step Dance instructors have been preparing young competitors for the Oireachtas (oh-rock-tus) by competing in regional competitions known as Feiseanna (fesh-an-na). There is a lot of traveling, over-night stays, expenses, and the chance of injuries. Although the Oireachtas are a competition and every participant would like a first-place rank, having fun is key.

Christian Cairone, certified Irish Dancing Instructor (TCRG) at Scoil Rince Luimi Dance Academy in South Windsor stated, “believing in yourself is the first step to achieving greatness. In the moment, competitions and placements seem important, but long term, what matters most is the memories that were created, the lasting friendships and endless stories they have. That’s what’s important.”

The Mulcahy Irish Arts Foundation Feis 2021 that was held in Manchester, CT in early September brought many of the local and regional competitors together for a preview of November’s event.

Step Dancer Irelyn Lash displays her costume for the 2021 competition.
Photo by Ryan Lash

Irelyn Lash, a 14-year-old Irish Step Dancer said after the event,”it’s so exciting going to Feis; it gives me the chance to see my improvements in a competitive setting, where I get to dance against people from other dance schools in the New England states.”

Surprisingly, most Irish Step Dancers attend Feiseannas every weekend, particularly in the months closer to the Oireachtas. There are many elements to the success of an Irish Step Dancer. Preparation, practice, and self-confidence are key factors for success.

Courtney Jay, the Director of the Scoil Rince Luimni Irish Dance Academy explains, “dancers receive scores and written feedback from adjudicators at local feiseanna which helps give the dancers and teachers insight into the highest priority and most impactful corrections to make for improving stage presence and technique.”

This November, thousands of boys, girls, and young adults will attend the 2021 New England Oireachtas prepared to compete for qualifications in the National and World competitions. The Step Dancers put on a spectacular event, showing off their skills on a variety of stages in series of solo and team participation. The competitions are made-up of various types of Irish Step Dances that consist of traditional Irish dances such as the Hornpipe, Reel, Treble Jig, Slip Jig, Traditional and Contemporary Sets which will be done in either hard or soft shoes, depending on the dance.

Although the dances look incredibly arduous, the young Irish Step Dancers gracefully move about the stage with elegant movements of the feet, boundless kicks in the air and dizzying spins that complement the rhythmic sounds of fiddles and accordions to match the clicking of their hard shoes. The breathtaking dancing and music are all done while wearing traditional dresses and suits that are uniquely tied to the roots of Irish Step Dancing. The female Irish Step Dancers wear beautiful wigs and distinctive dresses of every color and combination. The young male dancers are outfitted in tailored suits with dazzling sequins of various colors. The unique designs of all the performers outfits are personally chosen and so unique that no two are ever the same.

The 2021 New England Oireachtas held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford will be the fourth year in a row excluding 2020 due to Covid 19 restriction mandates. The event will welcome the Irish Step Dancers from all over New England to Hartford.

Runners Taking Back the Roads at Fishbein/YMCA Road Race

Racers celebrating a partial return to normalcy as they compete in the annual road race to support their local YMCA program LiveSTRONG®

2021 October | By Jacob Graf

Runners take off at annual Fishbein/YMCA Community Road Race. Photo credit Jacob Graf

WALLINGFORD, Connecticut: − People flocked to 81 S. Elm Street just outside of the YMCA on Sunday, the 19th of September for the annual Fishbein/YMCA Community Road Race which includes a 5K race or a free 1K walkSTRONG course. It was a brisk windy morning as runners arrived. A look around the diverse crowd showed mostly participants, but lots of families standing together, even some pets.

Mayor of Wallingford William W. Dickinson Jr. and Wallingford YMCA Executive Director Sean Doherty co-hosted the opening ceremony. The mayor opened with a trumpet piece followed by Georgia Scott singing the National Anthem.

Mayor Dickinson trumpets the race opener. Photo credit: Jacob Graf

Spectators were having fun and friendly attitudes surrounded the event grounds; laughter and animated voices permeated the air. Volunteers were attentive at their stations, ready to help get participants set up. Many people were wearing the event YMCA shirts, while others had custom running gear on; many of them sporting their running number.

Approximately 134 runners began their 5K race and soon after, the 1K walk. Spectators provided encouragement and clapping as runners strode into the finish line. Early finishers joined into the final stretch motivation of their fellow community members. It was a sunny summer finish as the awards ceremony took place for the top 3 finishers of both the Women’s and Men’s categories. Other medals were awarded to the top finishers by age group.

The top finish times of the 5K race were:

Elizabeth Fengler, age 25 [18:34:0]
H. Vanacour, age 12 [23:09:9]
Kelly Vanacour, age 34 [23:17:8]

Michael Corvekay, age 15 [18:45:2]
Payton Durant, age 16 [19:11:9]
Patrick Miett, age 28: [19:35:7]

Photo credit Jacob Graf

Proceeds for this event support their local YMCA programs and services. One such program is the LiveSTRONG® program for community cancer survivors. According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is one of the most common causes of death globally, with a projected 1.8 million new diagnoses in the US alone in 2020. For many years, the healthcare industry has been trying to find better treatments and possible cures for this massive problem in our society. Equally alarming is another estimate that, “approximately 39.5% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes.” The common likelihood of this disease shows that approximately a little less than half of the people we pass on the street every day will deal with this diagnosis. The YMCA offers a free 12-week plan for those that have that are eager to improve their mental and physical health and return to normalcy.

The event is a much-welcomed return to normalcy this year as the past two installments have been hampered by the Corona virus pandemic, said YMCA Wallingford Executive Director Sean Doherty. They can now reintroduce their 10K race and reintegrate with celebrate Wallingford. Both are expected to come back next year. When asked about the challenges they have faced in keeping the event running, he stated restrictions, lingering Covid, and the deterrence those things have on potential participants. To keep everyone safe, he said, they have kept the event small, started in “heats,” and excluded food which is a common way for Covid-19 to spread. Physical safety was ensured by law enforcement, the fire department, and an ambulance. They were able to close half the road with staff located at intervals of the course. First aid was available both inside the YMCA and with a staff member driving alongside the course.

Doherty said a special thanks to his wife Theresa, Cassandra Allen, Erik Skinner, Vicky Langrecko, Rob Newton, and Chris Kingston. He also expressed gratitude to the volunteers from Choate Rosemary Hall, Sheehan High School, and the YMCA staff.

Multiple Connecticut YMCAs had races of their own in their respective counties all throughout summer and early fall.