Tag Archives: Frances Rowland

Connect-Us Links Youth With MLK’s Dream

It’s quite a bit early to think about Martin Luther King Day.

Unless you’re Connect-Us.

That’s the Bridgeport-based, Westport-supported organization offering after-school opportunities for youngsters in need.

Connect-Us programs have 3 prongs.

Youth Leadership Team members learn public speaking, community organizing, and related skills. Over 100 young people auditioned for the team’s first talent show, which drew an audience of more than 450 in October.

Connect-Us Youth Leadership Team members promote a recent talent show.

C-U Onstage is a place where young people meet, create, produce performances, and learn to work as an ensemble. For some, it’s the first chance to earn community praise.

Connect-Us Academy is a 14-week series of workshops at companies throughout Fairfield County. Professional mentors — including Westporters Charlie Adams, Arlene Doherty and Deb Sawch — help teenagers learn about finance, law, advertising, retail, health and education administration. Graduates of the program are placed in paid summer internships.

“There’s a state of emergency in Bridgeport,” says Connect-Us executive director Pam Lewis. “The average 9th grader reads at a 4th grade level.”

She is gratified that so many people here “understand that kids need support, in school and after school. This really is Westport and Bridgeport — caring adults and young people — coming together and harnessing our human capital to impact and support entire communities. ”

Board chair Frances Rowland, plus Doherty and Joyce Eldh — live in Westport. Business partners from Westport include Matthew Burris (CFO of Marc Fisher Footwear), Rich Eldh (managing director, Sirius Decisions) and Chris Sawch (partner, Shearwater Creek).

The Connect-Us board of directors.

So about Martin Luther King Day: Connect-Us is sponsoring a special (and free) Klein Auditorium performance. Over 150 children and teenagers — multiracial and economically diverse, from throughout Fairfield County — will sing, dance, and recite poetry and monologues and raps. They’ll also read from letters they write to Dr. King, sharing their own dreams — or (sadly) why they’ve stopped dreaming.

The Klein is an inspiring — and inspired — choice. Dr. King spoke to full houses there twice, in 1961 and ’64.

Four days after his murder, in 1968, an overflow crowd jammed the hall for a memorial service.

Lewis is excited about the upcoming event. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Westport youth — and anyone else — interested in performing should email plewis@connectusct.org.

This is one way to honor Dr. King. It’s also a great way to “connect” with talented youths from nearby neighborhoods, around a common dream.

FUN FACT: Connect-Us is a great name. Not only does it imply connecting “us” and the “US” — but the logo highlights “CT,” as in “connect Connecticut.”

A New Rector For An Old Church

The new rector at Christ & Holy Trinity Church has huge shoes to fill.

For 22 years, Westport’s Episcopal congregation was led by the beloved Rev. John Branson. For 29 years before that, Rev. Dana Forrest Kennedy was the church’s revered rector.

Both were prodigious figures in town.

This fall, their shoes will be filled by a new, highly regarded pastor. For the first time in CHT’s history, a woman will lead the flock.

But — this being 2013 — that’s not the story. What’s got the entire congregation so excited is not Rev. Whitney Edwards’ gender, but the fact that they found such a dynamic, involved and passionate person to perpetuate the church’s legacy.

Rev. Whitney Edwards

Rev. Whitney Edwards

The process to replace the legendary Rev. Branson — who retired in June 2012 — was “remarkable,” says CHT warden Frances Rowland.

For a year, 3 groups pondered the church’s past, present and future. A “discernment committee” asked questions like “who we are, what we love, where we’re successful, where we can grow, and what can take us there,” Rowland says.

The Connecticut diocese distributed a document the committee produced, so any clergy looking for jobs could learn about the Westport church. Resumes poured in from around the country. A search committee winnowed out the top candidates, and invited some for interviews. The vestry made the final decision.

It was a long, collaborative process. And when Rev. Edwards was called to be CHT’s new rector, members were elated.

In her native Virginia — where the Episcopalian tradition is strong — she is known for innovation and outreach. She helped serve 2700 church members, and created enormous mission programs in Latin America, Sudan, New Orleans, Appalachia, Alaska — plus inner-city Richmond. She was deeply involved in prison programs, from meeting inmates one-on-one to creating a Spanish-language ministry for Hispanic inmates.

During a year in Panama, she designed and implemented a church microfinance program.

In her current post — associate rector in a Portland, Oregon church — she tripled attendance at family service, led a humanitarian tour of Palestine and Israel, and designed a youth program.

Rev. Edwards is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (summa cum laude, majoring in religious studies and anthropology) and Yale Divinity School (where she earned a Preaching Excellence Award).

Christ & Holy Trinity  Church is an important presence downtown -- and throughout Westport.

Christ & Holy Trinity Church is an important presence downtown — and throughout Westport.

“We were looking for a very strong leader; someone very faithful, and very committed to welcoming all kinds of people,” Rowland says.

“We wanted a really good preacher, someone who prioritizes outreach to the community and those less fortunate; a good administrator; someone who could grow with us — and someone who can have fun.”

Rowland smiles. “And we found her.”

Rowland describes Edwards as “incredibly bright. She’s a gifted writer. She has such a warm personality. She’s amazingly strong, but has a humble presence. We were all taken by her.”

Christ Holy Trinity signThe new rector’s gender was a non-factor. “We had so many amazing candidates, but Whitney had every quality we were looking for,” Rowland says. “This has nothing to do with male-female, old-young. She was the best person, and the person we most wanted.”

Edwards, her husband (finishing a graduate degree in music) and infant daughter will arrive in late November (though she’ll make a couple of trips to Westport this fall).

“We’re excited to have a growing family here,” Rowland says.

“And we’re excited for people to get to know Whitney, both within the church and throughout Westport. Everyone will love her.”