Report for America | Connecticut Public Radio

Report for America

Connecticut Public is proud to participate in the Report for America  initiative, a national service program that places talented, emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-reported issues and communities through its reporting corps. An initiative of The GroundTruth Project , Report for America addresses an urgent need in journalism at a time when news deserts are widening across the country.

Connecticut Public is among 164 newsrooms across the country selected to join Report for America’s journalism program which is supported by national funders to The GroundTruth Project and local donors. In Connecticut, our RFA journalists will primarily focus in two areas:

Latino Community in Connecticut

Brenda León covers the Latino community in Connecticut, which represents 15% of the state’s population. Working in tandem with journalists from GFR Media in Puerto Rico, León chronicles the experience of Puerto Ricans with ties to both Connecticut and the island. Additional coverage includes stories about racial and wealth-based disparities in health, education, and criminal justice, as well as immigration reporting distributed regionally by the New England New Collaborative. Recent reports include a local project celebrating Black, Latinx, and indigenous changemakers and how Hartford’s Park Street has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

About Brenda León
León previously covered the recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico during her internship at The Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico. A graduate from Lehman College at the City University of New York, she focused on broadcast journalism with a concentration in political science. During her time there she was a host at WWRL La Invasora 1600 AM. Her work has been published in The Gothamist, Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), El Deadline and The Mott Haven Herald. A Bronx native, León is a recent graduate from The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she obtained her master’s in Spanish-language journalism.

Naugatuck River Valley Community

Ali Oshinskie reports on the Naugatuck River Valley, a region previously overlooked particularly in radio reporting. Oshinskie covers stories that capture the essence of the Valley, including relevant issues related to work and the aging labor force, including the impact on blue collar workers. Recent reports include the effect of COVID-19 on Naugatuck River Valley companies and concerns about absentee voting in the wake of the upcoming election.

About Ali Oshinskie
Oshinskie has produced live radio shows during internships and fellowships for New Hampshire Public Radio, Marketplace Morning Report, and Connecticut Public Radio. She has written for The Hartford Courant and Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s The Arts Paper, and she has produced for Wondery’s Business Wars Daily and the New England News Collaborative’s weekly program NEXT. Later this year, her writing will be published in “Fast Funny Women,” an anthology of essays. After completing her undergrad at the University of Connecticut, Oshinskie founded a podcasting company, PODSTORIES. Most recently she was a program coordinator for the Yale School of Nursing.

Leadership Support for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, comes from:

Access Health Connecticut Small BusinessHoffman Auto Group

Additional Support Provided by:

Tara and Arthur Diedrick

Jay Youngling and Susan Jordan

Joe Zimmel

William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund


Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public

Balloons, teddy bears and candles decorated the corner of a Hartford street where 3-year-old Randell Jones was shot and killed on Saturday afternoon. 

Families and friends gathered Monday in a vigil organized by Mothers United Against Violence.

As friends and families consoled the boy’s mother, Solmary Cruz, her sister Johanna Vazquez said the family is raising funds to bury her nephew, whom she remembers as a happy child. His family affectionately called the toddler “Jun Jun.” 

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Kevin Skeggs was smiling under his mask. The 24-year-old sat with his mom in the activity room of the Arc of Litchfield County in Torrington on Friday.

Christine Skeggs briefly pulled back her son’s mask to show his big smile. He had a good reason -- Kevin just received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a clinic set up by the state for residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or IDD.

As she was raising children with mental health needs, Milagros Vega learned how to access multiple services in Hartford. She moved to the city from Puerto Rico 25 years ago. Now she’s caring for a grandson with similar needs. 

Frank Franklin II / AP Photo

Affordable housing is the subject of a number of bills before Connecticut lawmakers. But what do we really mean when we talk about “affordable housing”? 

glegorly/iStock / Thinkstock

  It’s been exactly one year since 63-year-old Lucia Romero was laid off from her maintenance job. 

“It was exactly on March 23 last year that I was laid off,” Romero said in Spanish. “I was employed for 33 years with a maintenance company.” 

Connecticut Public

When the pandemic arrived in Connecticut last year, Zully was eight months pregnant. It wasn't long before she became infected with the coronavirus, though she's not sure exactly how she contracted it.

“My son caught the virus, and we thought it was a common cold. Then my husband caught it,” Zully said in Spanish. 

Workforce Alliance / Contributed photo

Nicole Russo needs more employees. She’s the CEO and owner of Microboard Processing Inc. in Seymour. She said she lost close to 20% of her workforce amid the pandemic last summer.

Barbour Garden Apartments in Hartford was affordable housing but tenants say their health and access to opportunity was impacted by the housing. Connecticut lawmakers are, once again, tackling the issue of affordable housing this session
Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public Radio

Most elected officials agree that Connecticut needs more affordable housing. The Housing Committee held a hearing Thursday that offered a preview of how lawmakers intend to address the issue this session. 

The bills introduced take a statewide approach to increase affordable housing.

Manny Cambra (seated) gets first place at the revived Fat Tuesday Paczki-Eating contest in Ansonia. Mayor David Cassetti (center, standing) held a socially-distanced version of the competition.
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

Contestants sat at opposite ends of six-foot tables around the Ansonia Armory. In front of each person were two boxes of pączki -- Polish jelly doughnuts. A city staffer sprinkled confetti and made sure each contestant had a few bottles of water.

Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

Bono Sidharta voted in his first presidential election last November, as a registered Republican. But he’d been considering switching to Democrat for some time. 

“It was definitely something that I thought of for a while,” he said. Then on Jan. 6, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, and for Sidharta, that was it. “[The riot] made me really think about it that day.”

Developer AA Denorfia Building & Development wants to bring more affordable housing to Woodbridge. Its application has the backing of Open Communities Alliance, a nonprofit that works on housing equity, and the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. But the proposal also has drawn opposition, dominating the town’s planning and zoning meetings for the last two months.

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

Gender violence in Puerto Rico has increased in recent years, so much so that newly sworn-in Gov. Pedro Pierluisi has declared a state of emergency in response to calls by activists on the island.  

Last October in Connecticut, Nina Vázquez joined other Puerto Rican women in the diaspora to rally in Hartford in support of activists on the island who demanded the state of emergency. During the rally, Vázquez, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, read the names of women murdered in her homeland of Puerto Rico in 2020.  

Connecticut Congresswoman Jahana Hayes is calling on Republican leadership not to seat Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on the House Committee on Education and Labor.  On Monday, two Democratic U.S. representatives from Florida, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Ted Deutch, joined the call. 

Before she took office in January, Greene questioned on social media whether the Sandy Hook mass shooting had taken place. The 2012 Newtown massacre left 20 children and six educators dead. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public

Distrust of the medical system for Deicin Garcia goes back to when she arrived from Mexico 15 years ago as an undocumented teenager. She and her family came to pick tobacco on a ranch about half an hour’s drive north of Hartford. 

Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill conducted a public opinion poll on what reforms voters would like to see in a post-pandemic election.
Connecticut Secretary of the State

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is calling for a number of voting reforms after a new poll conducted in January finds that a majority of Connecticut voters favor early and no-excuse absentee voting.

At a virtual news conference Thursday, Merrill shared that 79% of Connecticut voters support early voting and 73% support the option to vote by absentee ballot without needing an excuse.

Courtesy: Cristian Padilla Romero

Just days into his term, President Joe Biden has moved swiftly on a couple of fronts in addressing immigration issues. Immigrants in Connecticut call Biden’s efforts to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program a great first step. They’ve also welcomed the announcement from the Department of Homeland Security of a 100-day moratorium on deportations.

Several activist organizations met in front of New Haven’s City Hall to mark President Joe Biden’s inauguration earlier that day and push for racial, economic, and social justice.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Celebrations of President Joe Biden’s inauguration took place throughout Connecticut Wednesday night, including one by Unidad Latina en Accion, or ULA. The organization celebrated in the form of a demonstration, hosting a two-part event: a march and car caravan in New Haven and a virtual roundtable of speakers from advocacy groups across the state.

Amar Batra / Connecticut Public Radio

J.R. Romano announced Tuesday night that he has resigned as chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party. Last October, Romano had said he would step down at the end of his term in June. The immediate resignation marks a surprise development.

He said in a short email statement that he decided his resignation was best for the party. In an interview, he refused to elaborate, saying his statement said it all.  

“That’s why my statement was concise, it’s exactly how I feel,” Romano said. “The party needs a new face, it needs a new voice.”

A Hartford HealthCare worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public


As Connecticut prepares to transition into Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, there’s growing concern about reaching diverse communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 illness and death. To address the problem, Dr. Jorge Moreno, an internist and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, posted a video about his experience with the vaccine. 

A Muslim civil rights group has asked the Connecticut Department of Correction to terminate the employment of an officer who allegedly posted Islamophobic content on social media.

The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, posted a video Sunday outlining its demand that the DOC terminate Officer Anthony Marlak.

Darlene Riddick, top and bottom left, died in July 2020 of the coronavirus. Her goddaughter, Patricia Sands, top and bottom right, lost eight people this year due to the virus. Sands believes her godmother will be remembered for her smile.
Patricia Sands / Contributed photo

Finding a godmother

Patricia Sands grew up in Waterbury. She started going to church on her own at age 7, because her parents weren’t church goers.

She met Darlene Riddick at the Macedonia Church of the Living God. Riddick was assigned to watch out for Sands. She taught her how to ride the bus, invited her over for sleepovers, and fostered her faith.

Jackie Carroll wanted to bring a little Christmas cheer to the town of Prospect. So she went to a dollar store for supplies and decorated the stop sign at the end of her street. Then she posted a photo on the town’s Facebook group. 

Carroll’s idea took off. “Within like, a day, there was already like five to 10 poles up,” she said. “I was super surprised at how fast it caught on.” 

Contributed photo

College students coming home for the holidays this year may find a house with one fewer family member, or attend a holiday gathering with one missing face on the video chat.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal says whistleblowers have come forward in the wake of a lethal accident at the West Haven VA, alleging unsafe working conditions.

A U.S. veteran and a contractor were killed in a November explosion after being trapped in a room filled with hot steam. The accident occurred on the VA campus in a maintenance building. In addition to the two deaths, three other people suffered injuries.

Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Newtown’s legislative body rejected three proposed gun ordinances that backers say were intended to address armed intimidation at protests.

Senator Richard Blumenthal calls the bipartisan COVID relief package a "downpayment" and hopes for another package in the early weeks of the Biden Administration.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy spoke at the Capitol Friday about a proposed bipartisan COVID relief package, endorsing the $908 billion in aid but saying more is needed. Both senators see it as a stopgap and say they expect a second deal to come in the early weeks of the Biden presidency.

Blumenthal said inaction makes the stakes high.

“Connecticut is spending about $20 million a week, $20 million a week on testing,” Blumenthal said. “That money runs out at the end of this year. There’s no immediate source for additional funding.”

John Phelan / Creative Commons

Shawn Henning and Ricky Birch were accused of a New Milford murder as teenagers in 1985. Found guilty, they served 30 years in prison. But those convictions were overturned, and in July the charges were dismissed. Henning and Birch are now seeking justice in federal court. 

In two separate lawsuits, the men are suing the town of New Milford, the state and local police and detectives who built the case against them, and Dr. Henry C. Lee, who was the chief criminalist at the State Police Forensic Laboratory at the time.

Ingmar Riveros (left) and Peruvian refugee Xiomy De la Cruz (right) serve 150 families from their food pantry in a store basement in Hartford on Nov. 19. Many of the families are undocumented and severely impacted by the pandemic.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public/NENC

Early in the pandemic, Xiomy De la Cruz was working at a fast-food restaurant when her work hours were cut back. She is a Peruvian refugee and a single mother with two children and another on the way. Like many families, she found herself in various pantry lines to make ends meet.

Hospital leaders say they are better prepared for this second wave of coronavirus cases but they disagree on in ways in which it will be easier than the first wave.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public Radio

Data show the average length of stay in Connecticut hospitals for COVID-19 patients is about half of what it was in the summer. The Connecticut Hospital Association says COVID patients spent an average of 15 days in the hospital in June. By October, that number had fallen to 7 1/2 days.

Asnuntuck Community College

Completion rates for low-income Black and Latinx students enrolled in Connecticut’s two-year public colleges were already low before COVID-19 hit, and the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges they face.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is helping out some of those students through grants it has awarded to five community colleges.