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CONECT Exploring Gun Violence Issues

by Debbie Shindell on March 31, 2013

A group of 10 CONECT leaders traveled to Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY on the evening of March 14, 2013 to join in an internal action with about 70 leaders from Westchester United, our IAF sister organization, and Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, a key leader in New Jersey Together (another IAF sister organization).

The focus of the session was about gun violence. We heard a moving personal story from Rabbi Mosbacher about his own father’s murder and about the newly developing IAF initiative, Do Not Stand Idly By. We then heard from two Westchester United leaders about their personal experiences with gun violence, and then our own Rev. Bennett and Therese LeFever shared their own testimonies and reflections. Adam Barbanel-Fried, lead organizer of Westchester United, then delivered a primer on the history of gun legislation and private sector/market efforts to curb illegal gun sales.

Our CONECT delegation huddled after the close of the meeting and agreed to begin to do our homework:
• 1-1’s with other leaders to grow the talent and energy of our team;
• Research actions with local police, elected officials, ATF agents, gun dealers, and others to try to understand the trade in illegal guns;
• Reporting back to the CONECT Strategy Team;
• Staying in contact with our sister IAF organizations engaged in this effort; and
• Look to eventually engage local CT gun manufacturers.

If you are interested, join us for our next Team meeting on Friday, April 5, 2013 at 12noon at Church of the Redeemer, at the corner of Whitney and Cold Spring (185 Cold Spring Street) in New Haven. Please RSVP to Matt McDermott.

2000 Jam Public Hearing on Safer Driving Legislation

by Debbie Shindell on March 31, 2013

Hearing 3-4-13

Approximately 2000 people jammed into Wilbur Cross High School on Monday evening, March 4th for a public hearing on CONECT’s Safer Driving bills before the Transportation Committee of the legislature. The auditorium was standing room only and the crowd overflowed to the cafeteria and gymnasium where people could hear the audio. Hundreds of others could not get into the building or parking lot and were turned away.

17 CONECT leaders testified — including Fr. Jim Manship at the very beginning, Rev. Anthony Bennett right in the middle, and Caroline Wetzel from St. Gabriel’s who stuck it out and gave the very last testimony at 10:59pm right before the hearing ended and the school building was closed down. All of CONECT’s leaders testifying did very well, and their preparation and caliber of the testimonies stood out.

Melody Currey, the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, testified in favor of an Illinois style law and recognized CONECT by name in her statement. Sen. Looney, Sen. Crisco, Rep. Candelaria, and a number of other legislators testified in favor. The huge turnout and the orderliness and respectfulness of the crowd made a strong impression on several members of the committee.

CONECT and the issue quite a bit of good press from the issue. At least 3 TV news trucks stayed till 10pm to do live broadcasts from outside the school. Here are some press links:

New Haven Register
Hartford Courant
NBC News

In addition, CONECT secured two very positive editorials on the issue from the Connecticut Post and the Hartford Courant:
CT Post Editorial
Hartford Courant Editorial

Healthcare Team Regroups & Renews Rate Hearing Commitment

March 31, 2013

CONECT’s Healthcare Team has now met twice in 2013 to restart its relational, research, and campaign efforts around healthcare access and affordability.

Leaders met with the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Insurance Anne Melissa Dowling and also with the state’s Healthcare Advocate Vickie Veltri. Both reconfirmed their agreement from 2011, which allows for Vetri to call public hearings anytime a health insurer asks for a premium increase greater than 15%.

Since this deal was originally made public at CONECT’s Founding Assembly in November 2011, no insurer has asked for an increase greater than 15%. Now, this public scrutiny on insurance rates could prove invaluable as the full implementation of federal healthcare reform takes effect.

CONECT leaders are also doing further research actions, meeting with the Connecticut Hospital Association, the head of the Health Insurance Exchange, and the head of a new non-profit co-op insurance plan in Connecticut. The team is planning an information and education forum for CONECT’s members on health reform for later this spring. Stay tuned for details.…

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Safer Driving Campaign Launch

March 31, 2013

On Sunday, January 6, 2013 nearly 500 people gathered at St. Rose of Lima in New Haven to launch our Safer Driving Campaign.  Two young people from St. Rose, Michelle and Mayra, shared moving stories about their families’ hardships, and Alan Nudelman from Temple Israel read the story of a young man named Ruben.  Sheila Rietano and Fr. David Blanchfield from St. Jerome in Norwalk and Doreen Cotter from Mt. Aery in Bridgeport showed the broad and diverse support we have for this initiative.  Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Andrew Maynard, and Senate Insurance Committee Chair Joseph Cricso joined New Haven Mayor John DeStefano in pledging their support and praising CONECT by name.

 Last, but not least, we got good press coverage.  Here are a links to a few of the stories:

CONECT leaders interested in learning more about this issue should reach out to Matt McDermott ( or 773-206-8292)…

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House Meeting Training June 3, 2012

June 22, 2012

On Sunday, June 3, 2012 approximately 60 CONECT leader congregants from Norwalk to New Haven participated in a Training Retreat to learn how to conduct congregational House Meetings, which many congregations are starting in July. The Retreat was organized by Therese LeFevre of St. James Church, and Doreen Cotter of Mount Aery Baptist Church. Mount Aery was our always generous host site, providing delicious dinner and a comfortable setting for the extensive 3:00 – 9:00 pm training.

Lead Organizer Larry Gordon, returning to us from Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, led us through the process of conducting effective House Meetings. He taught participants how to engage future attendees in meaningful discussions about what concerns each individual and family. His training handout was most helpful for practice and as a reference guide when each leader’s House Meeting occurs.

This is the core of what CONECT is and does. Starting from the ground up, we cultivate face-to-face relationships and get to know each other and what’s important in our lives. House Meetings create a closer community within each congregation. They then enable CONECT to identify the most pressing needs and common concerns of our members that may lead to taking organized actions. Specific challenges congregants face in Health care costs, insurance, unemployment and underemployment, predatory lending, and education continue to be raised in story discussions.

Pictured are Congregational leaders seated in adjacent chairs in semi-circles. These were some of the volunteer participants who role-played in “fish bowl” demonstrations of how to conduct House Meetings. They practiced the roles of both facilitator and participant. These dress-rehearsals, in which real stories of the participants were shared, offered an opportunity for the audience to be reconnected and re-energized. The diverse but common-theme stories and hardships reminded each of us of the emotional and motivating reasons why …

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House Meeting Training -Sunday June 3, 2012

May 31, 2012

CONECT is about to launch a new round of small group House Meetings among members starting this summer.

The purpose is to continue to build relationships within the organization, to share and to learn.

House Meetings are where each congregation hosts home-based discussion groups. All congregants are invited and then placed in small groups.
In this personal setting, people get to know each other. Here they can comfortably share thoughts and experiences about what challenges or concerns each of them and their families.

The issues raised at House Meetings may be internal, within each congregation and community, as well as be of broader statewide concern.
They may be issues which CONECT leaders are currently addressing, thus adding additional valuable story examples, or, they may be issues to be considered for the future.

To get the most out of these moving and enriching House Meetings, the Strategy Team, together with the Interim Executive Team, have scheduled a
House Meeting Training Retreat on Sunday June 3, from 3:00 to 9:00 pm, at Mount Aery Baptist Church, 73 Frank Street, Bridgeport.

Mr. Larry Gordon, Interim Lead Organizer, and Organizer with Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), will be the primary trainer for this event.
Each congregation will decide what initial questions or focus will be most important to address, reflecting what is going on in each community.

Please RSVP to this one-time-only, summer Training Retreat event, by providing the names of all attending.
You may RSVP  to either Co-Chair of the House Meeting Planning Team:  Therese LeFever or Doreen Cotter. Reply to

Other questions about CONECT or this Training event can be directed to your member Congregation Core Leaders or Clergy, or to the WeConectNow email address above.

We all look forward to this next opportunity to learn and share together. The

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Capacity Crowds arrive at the CONECT Founding event at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bridgeport

February 17, 2012

Capacity Crowds arrive at the CONECT Founding event at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bridgeport

November 30, 2011


On November 30, 2011 CONECT was officially founded after several years of effort and early successes as the CT Sponsoring Committee. A capacity crowd of 1,500 people filled the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bridgeport. Families were lined along the balcony with young children in tow, to witness the historic event.

Many politicans joined CONECT leaders, sitting on the podium, including CT Governor Malloy, Senate Majority Leader McKinney (Fairfield), the CT Insurance Commissioner, state Health Care Liason, State Rep


Steinberg (Westport), and others – each agreeing to support the good work of CONECT and to take some specific actions.  (See the CT Post, Bridgeport News and other coverage under “In the News”).

An emotional highlight, following the moving presentations of CONECT’s key Issues followed by personal story testimonials, was seeing each congregation being announced on roll call. Each member’s delegate then placed their check in the hat announcing their dues commitment to insure the stability of CONECT. Over 26 Guest Congregations joined the roll call, adding to the 26 members at the founding. 3 Regional Meetings were then held in the last week of January, 2012, to assess and determine the next followup steps after a rousingingly successful Founding.  CONECT keeps growing, now representing over 20,000 members of CT congregations. Training sessions are being held to continue to develop more leaders to add to the strong voice and power of CONECT.


Rev. Dr. Anthony Bennett, discussing issues positively with a supportive Governor Malloy

 4 Enthusiastic participants at the CONECT Founding from Mount Aery Baptist Church, Bridgeport,  Pictured Left to Right: Deacon Holmes, Peggy Moales, Ena  Moales, and Gina LeVon Simpson.

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