The Chamber of “Community” of Eastern Connecticut

The Chamber of “Community” of Eastern Connecticut

Launching people on a personal and professional journey is something the Chamber does well. On June 13, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut Foundation awarded four high school seniors scholarships. Heading to ECSU in the fall, Alyssa Milette will be studying education and psychology and Chloe Chenot will be exploring several areas before choosing a major. Jayleigh Tefft will study nursing at CCSU and Saphira Dorelus will pursue the same at Three Rivers Community College. 

While commerce may be at the heart of the chamber model, the heart of the Chamber is often in its work in the community. The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT seeks ways to give back to the region’s residents, often in partnership with our benefactors and members.

“With 1,600 members, there are many resources we can call upon and members we can draw together to accomplish projects that benefit individuals and communities,” said Tony Sheridan, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT. “We count among our membership over a hundred nonprofit organizations who benefit from promotion and contacts that span all of Eastern Connecticut and beyond.”

While the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT Foundation represents significant direct giving in the community—making over $1.5 million in grants since 2002—the Chamber works to give back in many ways.

Leadership Eastern Connecticut—a program for rising professionals in the region—includes a service project orchestrated and executed by Leadership participants. A $12,000 project with The Arc of Eastern CT, which trains clients in job skills, provided a shed and other supplies for their micro business. Leadership volunteers refurbished spaces at Madonna Place in Norwich, which serves over 1,200 people annually with support and education to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect. Beneficiaries have included New London Homeless Hospitality Center, Our Piece of the Pie, Safe Futures, Reliance Health, and many others over the 31 years of the program. 

Leadership Eastern Connecticut takes participants through a sweeping exploration of the region and the forces affecting people through industry, government, military, education, health, and human services. The passions they develop turn into service as many commit to boards or take up volunteer projects with organizations they just learned exist.  

The Chamber further supports workforce development through a partnership with the Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board. Providing the education and training needed, EWIB connects job seekers with positions that need to be filled through the Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative. In the past three years, the program has placed more than 1,000 qualified candidates in jobs. The program now reaches into the high schools with manufacturing-based career pathways that meet employer needs and match students with solid careers upon graduation. 

Beyond building the workforce locally, the Chamber is actively partnering with major employers on recruitment and retention efforts focused on quality of life in Eastern Connecticut. Community Concierge, a Chamber program kicked off through a CTNext grant under the Thames River Innovation Place, highlights the social, educational and recreational opportunities abundant in our small state. Community Concierge creates tools for employers to engage talent and keep them here, from a relocation guide and video promoting life here to outings that expose undiscovered gems and connect newcomers to thriving communities. The program’s success is built on Chamber members collaborating to convey the diverse opportunities the region offers.  

Members also show their united approach through generous support of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT Foundation’s fundraising efforts. With $120,000 in grants in 2019, recipients included the Miracle League accessible athletic field in East Lyme, Safe Futures scholarship for Camp HOPE America, Higher Edge programs for college access and success, Always Home emergency housing assistance, and the Tommy Fund Toy Drive, among 33 others. The amount this year adds up to the highest amount ever donated by the Foundation. 

Capturing the spirit of working together, Uniting for United 2019, a summer food drive by the United Way of Southeastern CT, gathered 13,824 pounds of food and over $6,000. Truly a community effort, businesses across the region were invited to collect donations and meet for a weigh in day where it was better to have put on the pounds. Working with the United Way Mobile Food Pantry is one of many volunteer projects the Chamber’s Young Professionals, YPECT, take on regularly.

Creating opportunities to Connect, Discover and Share describes the Chamber’s approach to supporting its members. It’s also how the Chamber meets the mission where its heart is, giving back to a community that is continually impressive, responsive and growing.

Photo: Members of the Young Professionals of Eastern CT volunteer at United Way of Southeastern CT's Mobile Food Pantry.