Enrichment program receives grant
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 23:03
UConn’s student volunteers and part-time employees for Husky Sport, an enrichment program that works with children in Hartford schools, have received a “thank you” gift for their devotion to the program: a $75,000 grant to fund five part-time employee salaries and transportation costs for over 100 volunteers.
The grant, which was awarded last February by the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority (CHEFA), was well-deserved, as UConn volunteers and employees log as much as 20,000 hours of service annually. Husky Sport works primarily with students in Hartford’s North End, at John C. Clark Elementary and Middle School, Fred D. Wish School, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Capital Preparatory Magnet School.
According to the Neag School of Education’s Department of Educational Leader Director Dr. Jennifer Bruening, the grant could not have come at a more pivotal moment.
“This money comes at a very good time as we had just been notified of a reduction in funding from a federal grant we rely on as a result of the fiscal cliff legislation,” she said.
The recipients of the Husky Sport program are also in dire need of assistance. Hartford’s North End is one of the poorest regions in a city with the nation’s highest poverty rate (33.5 percent). In addition, 100 percent of students at Husky Sport-participating schools qualify for free or reduced meals.
In these school environments, Husky Sport aims to improve the opportunities available to students by teaching them lessons to apply both inside and outside the classroom.
“Husky Sport has four pillars that the organization focuses on: healthy nutrition, relevant and transferable skills, exposure to various sports and physical activities and academic opportunity and excellence,” said Nick Cass, a UConn student volunteer.
Husky Sport offers both in-school and after-school enrichment programs. During the day, employees and volunteers lead weekly Husky Sport classes at the Clark School in topics such as accountability, sportsmanship, community, pride, conflict resolution and college preparation. During after school hours, Husky Sport partners with the city of Hartford twice a week to lead enrichment activities for Clark and Wish School students. Husky Sport’s other partners are the Hartford Catholic Worker, Salvation Army North End Corps and the Community Renewal Team, which Husky Sport also works with to provide activities for Clark students twice weekly.
In addition, Husky Sport sponsors a reading program for the Clark, Wish and King schools with incentives that follow the organization’s image of leading a healthy lifestyle, including health food parties, extra recess time, and trips to UConn.
The Husky Sport program, Bruening’s brainchild, has grown since she first envisioned its creation in 2002 when she arrived at UConn. Today, the organization is renowned throughout the Hartford community and particularly amongst students in the North End.
“Husky Sport has been around for years before I started, so the students know Husky Sport and they know the brand, and what we stand for,” said Patricia Bellamy, a UConn graduate student who has been volunteering with the program for four years. “Being a part of Husky Sport and wearing UConn gear stimulates the interests of these students and they want to get to know the volunteers, build relationships, and, in some cases, become friends.”
Even with CHEFA’s generous grant, Husky Sport is still experiencing the aftershock of limited funds due to federal cuts. To be able to continue providing their full range of services, Husky Sport is competing in the Ignite! fundraising initiative, a program that could reap great rewards. The prize for the organization with the largest donation amount wins $10,000 in addition to the money already raised.
“This would go a long way to making up the rest of the funds we lost in the federal funding cut,” Bruening said. To learn more about Ignite! and how students can become involved, visit http://www.foundation.uconn.edu/studentgiving/index.html.
The role that Husky Sport plays in students’ lives is too significant to afford a reduction in enrichment activities, and UConn volunteers couldn’t agree more.
“We are not superheroes and we cannot change the world overnight, but what we can do as people is be a consistent positive presence in the life of a child and over time that consistency can have an impact,” Cass said.
Yet Bellamy notes that the student-volunteer relationship is reciprocal; not only do the students learn from her, but she also gains valuable life lessons and inspiration through her interactions with them.
“To gain from this experience I open myself up to review what I’ve learned as a child and how I learned it, what I am learning as an adult and how I can apply it, who has helped me get to where I am and how they’ve helped me,” she said. “My students appreciate my presence and to have such an impact as having your presence valued inspires me to be the best educator, student, role model and friend that people deserve.”