Community Action Gateway Presents Spring Projects: Mutual Aid, Reproductive Health, Incarceration & Re-Entry

In the Community Action Gateway, 15 students come to Trinity in their first year to learn about social change in the city and engage in research and creative projects with community partners. This Spring, the 2020-21 cohort produced outstanding work in partnership with Mutual Aid Hartford, the Connecticut Hall of Change, NARAL Pro-Choice CT, and the YWCA Hartford. Students and partners took on the added challenge of working together remotely during a pandemic – meeting regularly over Zoom, allowing flexibility in project plans, and editing products using collaborative digital platforms.

CACT 102 on the main quad discussing self-care and activism

We started our first class with a video and discussion on adrienne mares brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds which helped guide our work and projects through the semester. Each week we covered a different topic to support the semester-long projects: reviewing the basics of community-based research, developing good interview skills and techniques, analyzing and visualizing data, creating work plans and managing partnerships, building trust with each other and community, making public presentations and communicating about social change issues, and reflecting on organizing, movements and self care within this context. 

This group can tell you I’ve said once per week “take care of yourselves as people in addition to yourselves as students” and they have done just that and more as they’ve poured their hearts and energy into these important projects. We are so thankful to our community partners, CACT mentors Tiana Sharpe and Reagan Flynn, CACT 101 instructor Stefanie Wong, CHER Director Abby Williamson, Instructional Technologist Dave Tatem, guest presenters and everyone who has supported the cohort this year. Please take a look at the students’ projects and reflections below.

Connecticut Hall of Change

Sam Burg ’24, Tara Iyer ’24 and Essence Smith ’24 with community partners Charlie Grady and Sue Gunderman

The CT Hall of Change is an initiative that recognizes and memorializes formerly incarcerated men and women who have made substantial contributions to their communities since their release. So far, eight individuals have been highlighted by the initiative and they are called “The Great 8.” Moving forward, the CT Hall of Change is interested in answering the question, “How do we challenge the stigma and change the narrative around people who have made a mistake in life? How do we see others as real people who have dealt with mental health challenges, addiction or other challenges in their life?” Charlie Grady has spearheaded the CT Hall of Change initiative and asked for help lifting the profile of The Great 8 program. Students created a resource folder, social media content, and a newsletter to help pitch the Great 8 stories for a statewide speakers bureau tour.

“I learned that in community research the mindset you go in with is important. Is it superiority and bringing skills to someone? Or is it that I want to be a part of the cause I am working for and learn and take away just as much from you as you are taking from me? Learning about adapting with intention was important – if everything doesn’t go exactly to what I envision, how do I adapt and change to the community partner’s needs at the center of the work I am doing? I was thinking a lot about that. In class we also talked about adrienne mares brown’s idea that “no human is disposable.” I think that stood out to me in my work with CT Hall of Change working with formerly incarcerated individuals and their place in society.” – Tara Iyer

Before I started working with Connecticut Hall of Change, I had never had anything officially published before. As I worked on my project, I developed the writing skills necessary for my work to be published as a social media post or a newsletter… I also had to change the language I used and learn how to write short simple sentences that could get a point across. Overall, as the world continues to embrace social media I will continue to use these writing skills throughout my professional and academic life. In the future I am considering majoring in Community Action and I hope to continue working in the Hartford community throughout all four years [at Trinity]
– Sam Burg
As someone who grew up hearing from family members who have interacted with the criminal justice system, I know that the prison system disproportionately targets communities of color. However, it wasn’t until I got to college that I started to question why society is so dependent on an institution that does more harm than good, when we already know that prison doesn’t reform. Throughout this project I learned that communication is key – we never left a meeting without asking questions. I’m joining the Action Lab next semester and I’m excited to further connect with Hartford.”
– Essence Smith

NARAL Pro-Choice CT and Hartford GYN Center

Alicia Anchondo ’24, Aarti Lamberg ’24 and Abby Nick ’24 with community partners Liz Gustafson and Roxanne Sutocky

NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut and community clinic Hartford GYN Center asked for research on what it would takes to start an abortion fund and how advocates in other cities such as Austin, TX have had recent success (as part of Defund the Police campaigns) redirecting police department funds to human services including funds for abortion and other reproductive health services. This group conducted background research, a literature review, case studies on two cities, and key stakeholder interviews to explore how these ideas could apply in Hartford. For communications products, the students provided a public presentation for Connecticut-based and national advocacy groups as well as print and digital materials related to reproductive health.

Aarti Lamberg ’24 and community partner Liz Gustafson at Hartford City Hall, June 2021.

“For me, talking in class about starting from the ground up and how you can’t do community work without taking care of yourself first was so useful. Having Matthew Dicks come and talk about the art of storytelling in advocacy reminded me about why I do advocacy work – I care so much because I often relate to the people and the topics I am working with. Showing the community you care for the long term and not just one assignment is important. I look forward to continuing getting involved in Hartford through minoring in Community Action and majoring in Human Rights. I’m also really excited for an internship with NARAL Pro-Choice CT this summer to continue the work we’ve started.”

– Aarti Lamberg

“I learned that anyone can make a change in our world and that small change matters. A key takeaway I have is to get involved in the world around you and understand the community you live in. As a class we were also able to dream of big change and work with our community towards those goals. This project also had me overcome my fear of research projects. I now feel confident in my abilities and I know it will serve me well as I complete my undergrad and move on to law school. I hope to use my future degree to fight for change and justice in the world around me.” – Abby Nick


“My interviewing skills have definitely gotten better in terms of creating the questions and follow ups, guiding the interviewee and creating the banter back and forth to create the relationship with the interviewee. I hope to continue working with my community partner and getting involved in the Hartford community. The importance of mutual aid stood out to me, too, because I didn’t know what that was before we talked about it in class. In the summers when I go back to Chicago I hope to get involved with mutual aid there.” – Alicia Anchondo

Mutual Aid Hartford

Olivia Domingos ’24, Kash Jain ’24 and Xavier Mercado ’24 

Mutual Aid Hartford is a sustainable community-run network of needs and offers started by people of color and sustained by our neighbors and partners in action (not charity – solidarity). This group came to life as a response to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on our communities and organizers and is currently working to form a community council, hiring grassroots organizers, launching the community raised “Resist Evictions” fund, and more (see more on the Instagram page and Facebook page). Mutual Aid Hartford asked for help exploring different digital platforms to host a needs/offers site and an exploration of different models of mutual aid in communities. The communications products this group created included a report on mutual aid, a sample organizers map and a mock up needs/offers form.

“I feel I gained skills in academic research for community-based research, especially to get the historical context of mutual aid which has been going on for generations. For example, I learned about the work of the Black Panthers as a mutual aid group which helped us focus on the historical background and bigger picture.” – Xavier Mercado

Strategies for Mutual Aid Networks

See the group’s full mock up WordPress page at

“I learned about how a researcher working with a community group is positioned. One needs to have an open mind, create a dialogue, and build an understanding. This ties into the importance of solidarity which I learned a lot about through working with Mutual Aid Hartford. Mutual Aid and community organizing in general are not a form of charity. It’s solidarity. It’s actively seeking to lift that community up and build people power – power that can further larger movements and make transformative change.” – Kash Jain

“This course, especially this semester, taught me that not only am I capable of doing important work in my community, I also enjoy it. Not many science- based majors have the chance to do the type of work we are responsible for in community action… Before, I had not considered a minor in Community Action, but now it is something I truly see myself pursuing. I can take my knowledge in presenting, researching, and communicating to my other courses.” – Olivia Domingos

YWCA Hartford

Sab Clumeck ’24, Caroline Frederick ’24, Claire Sabbe ’24 and Sophia Sniffin ’24

The YWCA Hartford’s advocacy and outreach team asks for research and communications help as they prepare for advocacy related to the case of Tianna LaBoy, a young woman inmate at York Correctional facility in Connecticut who was denied medical care and subsequently gave birth in the toilet of her cell. Tianna’s case prompted a series of investigations and calls for Department of Corrections (DOC) medical care regulation over the past few years. The YWCA Hartford requests investigative, background research to better understand this complex issue. This group’s research included textual analysis of news articles, public testimony and legal documents as well as interviews with formerly incarcerated women and others.

Legal Research and Deliverables

“A huge skill I learned from CACT was how to conduct research that isn’t traditionally academic. I was able to learn about new places to find reliable information such as the CT Office of Legislative Research. I utilized podcasts, art, and other mediums for my research process. CACT has also showed me many ways of achieving social change and I’ve learned to not become stuck in one way of doing things.” – Caroline Frederick

Story collection excerpts collected by Sophia and Claire

“One thing that stuck out to me was the importance of mental health care for people who do community action work. We talked about how it can be emotionally draining when the change is so slow to come and over time that can eat away at you. I think that it’s important to understand for community action and in life that if you don’t take care of your mental health the things you do no longer bring you joy. It’s important for people to know they are appreciated and take time for themselves. Related to that, a skill I cultivated was time management which is something I struggled with. This class gave me a lot of tools on how to better manage my time such as the Work Plan we had to create for our community projects. Having weekly goals outlined made everything easier to accomplish.” – Sophia Sniffin

In the Community Action Gateway, first-year students learn how to create community change with community activists, neighborhood organizers, government leaders, non-profit directors, journalists, and social entrepreneurs in Hartford. If you have questions about the Gateway, contact Director of Community Learning