SPP Student Gives Back Through Haitian Hub Resource Center

Fritny with a microphone speaking to members of the community.
Fritny speaking at the grand opening of the Haitian Hub Resource Center in New London, CT.

UConn School of Public Policy (SPP) student Fritny Fontilus has always seen public service at the core of her identity. The Masters of Public Policy (MPP) student has felt a calling to help others from an early age. She notes,

I would consider myself a dreamer. Someone who spends a lot of time envisioning a world free from inequality. While, I understand that I alone cannot solve all the word’s problems, I certainly want to be a part of the changes I want to see, both in my lifetime and for future generations.

Her interest in public policy came out of interactions with people who had been significantly disadvantaged by policies that were created against them. For Fritny this included Immigrants, People of Color, women, LGBTQ+ members, persons with disabilities and mental health illnesses. She adds,

I always find myself navigating towards researching criminal justice policies and immigration policies. I often see the underlying issues with these policies that have rendered it more difficult for minority groups to get the same chances as the majority.

She cites racial disparities in our prison system and gender pay gap as just two examples of systemic challenges we face. The MPP was a way that Fritny could dive deeper into these issues and gain the knowledge and skills needed to drive meaningful change. Attending SPP for this training came at the recommendation of Eastern Connecticut State University Professor Martin Mendoza-Botelho. For Fritny, SPP provided a unique opportunity to tie theory with real-world application through the Internship and Professional Practice (IPP).

This academic year Fritny is a teaching assistant for “PP 1001: Introduction to Public Policy” with Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy (IMRP) Associate Director Ken Barone. In this role she is responsible for assessing student understanding of policies and policy actors, monitoring and grading discussion board assignments, providing feedback and offering accessible support through email and virtual office hours.

Community members sitting in chairs while listening to opening remarks.
Members of the community attending the grand opening of the Center.

In February Fritny was part of the grand opening for the Haitian Hub Resource Center in New London, CT. The Center became a way for Fritny and her friends to voluntarily give back to their community. Their collection of diverse backgrounds and skill sets, alongside their shared membership of the Shekinah Haitian SDA Church laid the foundation for their work. She explains,

The town of New London is struggling. Based on data collected by United States Census Bureau, New London CT has a population of 27,980 with a median income household income of $50,819 with 24.3% still living in poverty. Our church is in the heart of New London, and our members reflect these statistics. As a group, we envision a New London Haitian community where every member has access to comprehensive range of resources, creating an environment that fosters strength, and well-being. Together we aim to build a New London where Haitian communities are not only sustainable but also empowered to reach new heights to enhance accessibility.

Her initial involvement started as a response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti. Many members of her church and community were seeking assistance with pathways to bring their family members to safety. Since January 6, 2023 and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) announcement of new parole programs (I-134A), Fritny and her network have helped over 50 families bring loved ones to safety. I-134A provides pathways  for individuals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to seek safe haven.

The goal of the Center is to provide resources and support for the Haitian community with a particular focus on supporting those migrating to the United States for a better life. She says,

Our main goal as a church community is to improve the lives of those facing stability insecurity, whether to help them find jobs or increase their self-sufficiency through resume building, employment training, and weekly food pantry services.

Fritny’s work with the Center precedes her time with SPP, but since joining us in Hartford she has utilized her SPP skill sets to impact her work. Cost-benefit analysis for example is now being used to demonstrate impact and effectiveness of the Center’s programs. “PP 5324: Grant Writing and Government Contracting” is one course in particular that Fritny is utilizing to secure funding and write successful grant proposals.

After graduation Fritny hopes to continue positively contributing to the policy-making process and the promotion of equity and well-being for all individuals. She plans to also dedicate more time to the Center and serving the New London community.