Supporting Grassroots Youth Leadership:
Connecticut Community Foundation Grant Advocates for Equitable School Spending

Amid widening social and economic disparities that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut Community Foundation works to bridge donors and local organizations in moving toward a more equitable community. One way we’re doing this is by funding grassroots leadership, which encourages Waterbury residents to get involved in their community, influence local systems, and use their voices to advance equity and ensure that residents have what they need to thrive.

In 2022, the Foundation awarded a $12,500 Grassroots Leadership grant to Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education (R.A.C.C.E.). The grant supported R.A.C.C.E.’s community organizing and advocacy efforts with an aim to influence school spending and benefit Waterbury students.

Michaela Barratt, a youth organizer with R.A.C.C.E., has seen the power of community members coming together and giving voice to the issues that most affect them. She spent this last year advocating alongside her colleagues and community volunteers to make sure students, parents, and educators in Waterbury have a say in how the school district spends the $89 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding awarded to Waterbury Public Schools under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 

“When the Waterbury School District released its plan on how they plan to use the ARPA funding, we became concerned with decisions to allocate millions of dollars to improve school buildings, instead of investments that could impact a generation of students and better their learning environments,” said Barratt. While the ARPA funding is meant to support Waterbury’s safe reopening of schools, while equitably expanding opportunities for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, in Barratt’s view “the school district proposed the majority of the funding go to properties instead of people, which fails to address the well-known disparities among our students,” she said.

With the support of this grant, in the summer of 2022 R.A.C.C.E. staff and members used traditional organizing and outreach strategies to reach thousands of households across Waterbury. These grassroots efforts included a targeted social media campaign, phone banking, canvassing, and paid media to attract dozens of students and families to multiple town hall forums and a skate night for LGBTQIA students.

“Before our canvassing efforts and town hall, a lot of people in Waterbury didn’t know what ARPA funding was and how it has the potential to change students’ lives and learning. Today, we have an informed Waterbury and students sharing their perspectives and experience on how this money could bring about a better educational environment for them,” said Barratt.

From those discussions, R.A.C.C.E. developed 10 recommendations that they believe will advance racial equity and social justice in Waterbury schools.

Dejah Roberts, a R.A.C.C.E. volunteer who participated in these efforts, agreed. “A community is strong when we are able to uplift everyone, and that includes our students. It’s clear that young people care about their community and want to help the next generation. With this grassroots leadership funding, we were able to provide a platform for those students to speak and be heard about what they want to see in the schools they attend.”

To join R.A.C.C.E. or support their efforts Text RACCE to 52886. Other Waterbury residents and organizations interested in addressing systemic issues and lifting community voices are encouraged to apply for Grassroots Leadership grants.

Look here for more examples of grants like this in action. To support work that revitalizes communities and influences local systems to eliminate disparities through a gift to the Grassroots Leadership fund, please click here.