History and Governance
The History of CONECT and Its Leadership
The work that led to CONECT began several years ago when a group of pastors and rabbis gathered to explore the vitality of their congregations and the struggles of their members. Relationships were built both within congregations, and among institutional leaders. With the aid of a professional organizer, this clergy group began to explore the concept of community organizing, as a way of continuing to create relationships and have a place to go with their shared concerns.
Each institution then held small group meetings directly with their members to identify the issues impacting congregants and families. The compelling stories shared made clear that there were many common themes that cut across faith traditions, ethnicities, and economic status in Fairfield and New Haven Counties CT. These themes were also echoed in the experiences of similar organizing efforts in over 60 metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Leaders recognized the tradition of each institution providing programs to serve the community: the hungry and homeless, those suffering hardship from health, loss of homes and jobs, demands on families caring for the elderly, and many other social needs. They also saw that these programs were only providing temporary assistance after the problems occurred. The programs did not help to change society in any way. These clergy realized that they could create greater impact by combining efforts to work at a higher level of policy change to prevent inequities before they occurred. They wanted to address them at the source, participate in discussions with state, corporate, and community leaders when policies are being made to work collaboratively toward solutions. All this without any pre-conceived agenda, ideology, partisanship or imposing one view vs. another. The intention was to serve as a voice for congregants’ real experiences, to make Connecticut a better place to live for all its residents.
In 2008 the fledgling CT organization was incorporated as a non-profit 501c3. By October 2010 their power was tested at a public meeting – held between 1,100 members (of what was then called the CT Sponsoring Committee) – and candidates from both parties running for state-wide office in CT. The new organization achieved recognition from the candidates, and their agreement that, if elected, they would meet with CT Committee’s leaders. Meanwhile, volunteers from member institutions had been researching opportunities for positive change, in issues identified by members as initial priorities. These top priority issues, ongoing, are: access to affordable health care, equal access to education financing, and the elimination of predatory lending practices as they relate to consumer debt.
In the spring of 2011, the organization was renamed “CONECT” and the official Founding of the organization was planned for fall, 2011.
The governance structure is established as a Strategy Committee of 20-25 volunteer leaders and an Executive Committee composed of three clergy and three lay leaders. They oversee the activities of a number of volunteer run teams involved in both policy issues and the ongoing operations of the organization. Together these are supported by a full-time paid organizer, a part-time paid administrator, and a part-time lead organizer (who works with a New England sister organization – the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO),which is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).