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


Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

As elections officials process over 600,000 absentee ballots across Connecticut, some mistakes have cropped up. Municipal clerks in four communities say the number is relatively small, and most resulted from human error and computer glitches -- not fraud.

U.S. Census Bureau

After a Supreme Court order earlier this week, the 2020 census count is set to end the night of Thursday, Oct. 15. This, after multiple changes to the deadline in the past few weeks. Ending the count earlier than expected has increased concern about ensuring an accurate count in Connecticut.

Residents register to vote and fill out the Census at Hartford Public Library's Park Street branch during an outdoor outreach event.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Pablo Liriano is an 85-year-old urban gardener who is voting for the first time in November’s election. After waiting more than a decade, he got his citizenship in 2018, and he then registered to vote at Hartford's Park Street Library in the heart of the city’s Latino community. 

Absentee ballot packets include an inner envelope, outer mailing envelope, a mailing label and barcode. The barcode on the inner envelope acts as a form of voter identification.
Connecticut Public Radio

Lyda Ruijter is living in a world of envelopes. She’s the town clerk in Stamford, and she wants voters to know how important those envelopes are to their absentee ballots.

“Many people think of the absentee balloting process: ‘It's just an envelope and you put a stamp on it and then you put the ballot in it.’ But the tracking is the hard part and the complex part.”

U.S. Census Bureau

The deadline to complete the decennial census has changed yet again. Counting is now expected to continue through Oct. 31. Connecticut leads the country as one of the best-counted states in the nation with a 99.9% enumeration rate, close to a perfect count. 

The absentee ballot hand off from city clerk to registrar in the August 11, 2020 Primary. The bill introduced in a special session would allow municipal clerks to prepare for this hand off as early as the Friday before Election Day.
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

Voting by mail is a much more popular option this year due to the coronavirus. A special legislative session this week could take up a bill that would give local officials a head start on preparing absentee ballots for counting.

U.S. Census Bureau

Hartford currently sits in last place among cities in the nation in responding to the 2020 census. Last week a federal judge ordered the deadline extended through Oct. 31, giving the city a few more weeks to target hard-to-count areas. But now the White House is appealing that order and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has announced that data collection will wrap up on October 5th.

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

After an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, Hartford Public Schools announced they will provide coronavirus testing for students and staff. School nurses have been trained to administer the tests to symptomatic students and will work in partnership with Hartford HealthCare and Trinity Health of New England. 

School buses
Yehyun Kim /


More than a dozen schools in Connecticut have gone remote in recent days as COVID-19 outbreaks flared up. Public health officials and school administrators spent the summer trying to craft plans that would avoid shutdowns and keep students in school as long as possible. Other schools seem set on staying open even if their plans don’t end up working out. 

Students get off a bus on the first day of school in Connecticut. The first few days will be about setting expectations for mask wearing and social distancing according to superindendents.
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

The first day of school always comes with transition. But as districts across the state open up classrooms and laptops this year, back to school will require a different kind of adjustment given the ongoing pandemic. Superintendents say they have a new set of expectations for the first few weeks of school. 

Joe Amon / Connecticut Public Radio

Back in August, families with children in Hartford Public Schools responded to an online survey aimed at finding out the reasons behind their decision to send their kids back to school.

By the first day of school, Waterbury Public Schools had yet to contact the entire parent population. 10% were still unresponsive to what the district classified as repeated attempts.
Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

The start of school always means a flurry of communication between the district and parents. This year, that communication has become both more important, and infinitely more complicated, as coronavirus restrictions change all the usual procedures. In Waterbury, some parents and schools are struggling to get on the same page.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

As in-person learning continues throughout Connecticut, at least eight schools have closed their doors temporarily or imposed restrictions after confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public

Tuesday’s planned opening of Hartford Public Schools was postponed after officials reported that a ransomware virus caused an outage of critical computer systems. The district announced on its website that school for both online and in-person learning will begin Wednesday, Sept. 9. 

Students get off the bus at Prospect Elementary School Tuesday. Buses were sparsely populated, and many parents chose to drive their children to school.
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

Brian McGovern reached out of his window to tape a sign to the outside of his mom’s car as they pulled into the parking lot at Prospect Elementary School on Tuesday. In his best fifth grader handwriting, he wrote his name, year and classroom so he could be identified and guided to the proper entrance.

“Are we doing this right?” asked his mother, Liza McGovern.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

At CREC’s Academy of Science and Innovation in New Britain, school principal Karen Mooney has been preparing for the return of 457 students to in-person learning on Sept. 9. 

But the logistics will look a little different from those of past school years in this time of coronavirus.

A street in Hamden is blocked off. Severe storms Thursday knocked out power for about 30,000 electric customers.
Jonathan McNicol / Connecticut Public Radio

Governor Lamont declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon after surveying damage from a severe thunderstorm Thursday night. Maps provided by United Illuminating show that much of the damage was concentrated in Hamden, North Branford, North Haven and East Haven. The storm has not been confirmed as a tornado. 

Senator Richard Blumenthal tours a USPS sorting facility in Hartford. Sorting machines from this location were taken apart in recent months and left in pieces in the parking lot as part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's efforts to update the service.
Chris Collibee / Blumenthal Courtesy Photo

After touring a sorting facility in Hartford Thursday, Senator Richard Blumenthal said he’s more worried than ever about the United States Postal Service’s ability to handle mail for this year’s election. He said postal workers hoped that new sorting machines would replace ones recently removed, to help them do their jobs more efficiently.

File Photo, July 30, 2020: Mirtha N. Aldave, a Hartford HS bilingual teacher showing support as the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) and AFT Connecticut organized a car caravan past the Governor's Residence.
Joe Amon / New England News Collaborative

Parents and relatives got to see what life will look like for socially distanced students at Bridgeport’s Central High School Monday. Superintendent Michael Testani led a group through sparsely furnished classrooms and into a cafeteria marked with caution tape. 

Students around the state must wear a mask on school buses this fall and some districts will employ a monitor on the bus for the first two weeks.
woodleywonderworks / Flickr

Parents across Connecticut are concerned about their children being exposed to the coronavirus in the classroom this fall, but the threat may start before they even get there. The level of safety precautions on school buses will vary from district to district, but most can expect to see mask wearing and thinly populated buses.

Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

A Connecticut postal union official says sorting equipment dismantled under orders from new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy as part of his controversial cuts in service has not returned to operation despite DeJoy’s suspension of the cuts Tuesday.

Joan Levy, director of the Connecticut State Postal Workers Union, said two machines in Wallingford that could process 35,000 pieces of mail an hour were taken apart and left in pieces. 

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

Chants, speeches and a public art installation took over the state Capitol building Wednesday as educators, parents and students called on the state to delay in-person instruction for the coming school year.

Joshua Moses (7) holds his backpack in front of Bellizzi Middle School.
Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public

Marlin Johnson is getting her 7-year-old son Joshua ready to go back to school -- a mix of remote and in-person learning to start. Part of that preparation takes the pandemic into account, like reminding him to remember to keep his mask on and to maintain a healthy distance. 

Bonnie-Brown / Creative Commons

When Jennifer Perez Caraballo decided to keep her 4-year-old child at home for the school year, she had a lot to think about, with two parents at home working full time, her own preexisting health conditions, and back-to-school plans from Hartford public schools that seemed unclear. 

Brenda Leon / Connecticut Public Radio

For the past five years, the Capitol Region Education Council, or CREC, has handed out about 1,200 book bags to Hartford public school students in preparation for the new school year, but this year the annual block party became a drive-thru.

Thomas Gilmer was running for the Republican Nomination for the Second Congressional District. He was arrested Monday night and dropped out of the race Tuesday.
Wethersfield Police Department

Thomas Gilmer is neck and neck with Justin Anderson in the Republican primary for Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District. Though Gilmer dropped out of the contest Tuesday, the race appeared headed toward a recount as a final tally incorporating absentee ballots was underway Thursday.

glegorly/iStock / Thinkstock

Elogia More finished her final shift at the Aetna building in Hartford at 1:30 a.m. on March 19.  The next day, the cleaning company she spent the last four years working for sent a layoff notice.

Assistant City Clerk May Reed, center, hands off the absentee ballots from Tuesday to Head Moderator Kevin Arnold, left.
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

The last absentee ballot dropped off on Tuesday arrived at the New Haven City Hall of Records by bike. With a minute to 8 p.m., the voter threw down her bike and practically dived at the ballot box as City Clerk Michael Smart came by to lock up.

A box of absentee ballots waits to be counted at the New Haven Hall of Records Tuesday night. Ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received by Thursday will be counted. But ballots put in the mail Tuesday may or may not arrive in time.
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

Absentee ballots in the mail for this week’s primary elections have to be postmarked by Tuesday and delivered by Thursday to be counted. But some ballots postmarked on Tuesday may not have made it through the U.S. mail in time to reach municipal clerks’ offices by Thursday. The responsibility for timely ballots lies somewhere between the voter and the postal service.

Official Ballot Boxes outside West Hartford Town Hall have sped up the town clerk’s process of accepting absentee ballots, according to Essie Labrot, West Hartford Town Clerk. Voters can drop ballots in the boxes up until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Putting a
Ali Oshinskie / Connecticut Public Radio

As of Friday, the town of West Hartford had received about 2,000 of 10,500 absentee ballots requested for Tuesday’s primary elections.