Pam Lewis and her team at Connect-Us are fierce advocates for teenagers and young adults in Bridgeport, and the programs they run have been extremely successful.
Connect-Us accepts students and young adults, regardless of academic achievements, if they have a true desire to excel.
“Our programs reach young people in Bridgeport who do not have access to the same connections, resources, and opportunities as their peers who are growing up in other, more affluent areas of Fairfield County,” said Lewis, the founder and CEO.
“Through Connect-Us, young people in Bridgeport have new experiences with each other, with business professionals, and with adult volunteers,” she said. “They take new risks and learn skills that can be applied to their future, whether that’s going to college, entering the workforce, or any number of paths.”
UConn Alumni Can Help Shape Future
While Connect-Us has demonstrated success over the last four years, and attracted 20 top-notch corporate partners, the pandemic has hindered the organization from deepening its corporate partnerships and making new ones. That’s where School of Business alumni can help.
The School’s Office of External & Alumni Engagement has created an inaugural Global Alumni Case Competition and is seeking individuals and teams that have creative ideas and strong business knowledge to help Connect-Us to grow.
“Over the years we’ve had a taskforce of business leaders who have been very valuable to us,” Lewis said. “But I thought it would be great to broaden the conversation by inviting people who have new ideas and can help us expand our partnerships.”
Jillian Comolli, assistant director of alumni engagement, said the competition offers both personal satisfaction and career advantages for participants.
Michael Deotte, executive director of the Office of Alumni Relations, said he believes the new competition will strike the right chord, particularly with young alumni eager to showcase their business expertise while simultaneously contributing to the community.
“We think this will be a unique way for UConn alumni to re-engage with UConn in a significant and purposeful way,” Comolli said. “Alumni will tap into their competitive side and offer real-life solutions that will directly benefit youth in Bridgeport. They can challenge themselves to see if they have what it takes to win a competition, while having fun, networking with other alumni, demonstrating leadership and teamwork, and enhancing their resumes.”
Registration has opened. Participants can join as a solo contender, join a team, or register as part of a team of four. The deadline for team registration is Jan. 31 and for individual registration it is Feb. 14. The virtual kickoff presentation will be at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and final presentations will be at 5:30 p.m. March 3. For more information or to register, please visit: https://s.uconn.edu/2022alumcasecomp
The competition, which is virtual, is open to alumni regardless of their location. Prizes include a customized $200 UConn gear package and a ticket to the School of Business Hall of Fame dinner.
Connect-Us Fills a Critical Gap
Connect-Us joins suburban and urban neighbors in Fairfield County and beyond in partnership to improve the quality of outcomes for young people living in communities of poverty.
Some schools in Fairfield County offer 130 different clubs and organizations for students to participate in after school, but in Bridgeport that number is typically around 15, Lewis said.
“I think our young people need more opportunity to grow and develop,” she said. “They need to be able to recognize opportunity, to act on it, and to have the tools to succeed.”
The organization’s youth programs include:
• C-U OnStage, a talent show run by youth who learn skills including responsibility, punctuality, dependability and teamwork.
• Youth Leadership Team, for 15- to 25-year-olds, who develop civic leadership by producing community events. They learn valuable skills including public speaking, organization, leadership, discussion tools and disagreement resolution.
• Connect-Us Academy, for youth age 16 to 21, who want to cultivate skills and learn to work in a professional business setting. For 14 weeks, they attend workshops at companies in the area. Corporate partners span industries including finance, law, marketing, energy, interior and fashion design, and health administration. Participants can earn paid summer internships.
One of the unique approaches that Connect-Us takes is to present life as a series of live, improvised performances. The students recognize that a job interview is akin to a performance and that dressing for work requires a certain ‘costume.’ The approach teaches them to be comfortable with the new and unfamiliar.
Connect-Us has helped young adults learn to talk to strangers, to be more confident, to use anger in a constructive way, and to build better relationships with parents. “We hear comments like, ‘Wow. I went to a job interview and they hired me on the spot!,” Lewis said.
“Life has been hard for everyone through this pandemic, but I’ve been impressed by the students who have chosen to participate in our programs,” she said. “Despite the hardships and the pressures they are all experiencing, they’ve set important goals for themselves and they’re working toward them.”