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Andréa Hawkins has been making an impact in the Hartford Region for decades. As CEO and Founding Partner at Leading Culture Solutions and a member of the MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) Racial Equity and Economic Development Committee, she’s committed to efforts that improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our region. As Co-Owner of the Berkins café chain—which now has three locations, one in Glastonbury and two in Hartford—she and her husband Doug Barber are helping to create a community and uplift other small business owners, including Disheveled Diva and Nyam Bakery.

At the recent Hartford Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting for Berkins on Main, Andréa and Doug announced plans to give back to the community through a new fund set up with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. MHA Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Andréa to learn more.

NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How, when, and why did you develop the idea for the Berkins Family Fund?

ANDRÉA HAWKINS: My husband and I had been working so hard this year. I wanted to mark Christmas with something luxurious and fabulous, so I asked him for a diamond ring. On Christmas morning, I opened my gift from him, which was an absolutely stunning ring.

I put it on and it was nice—but I didn’t feel good about it. I realized it was something only I could enjoy. The more I reflected on it, the more I realized I’d much rather have done something meaningful with my family or used the money to somehow help someone else.

So, we returned the ring and used the money to start this amazing fund through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. Just setting it up, I felt so good about the possibilities and the impact it’s going to make in the community. I look forward to fundraising for it so it can really grow and make an even bigger impact in the community.

NAN: Why did you choose to align the fund with Hartford Foundation for Public Giving?

ANDRÉA: I’ve been around this community more than 50 years. I’ve been involved with several local nonprofits, including the Amistad Center for Art & Culture, where I’ve been a volunteer for more than 23 years. Through them, I was aware of the good deeds the Hartford Foundation had been doing.

I ended up having some leadership and interim executive director roles at some other nonprofits. And, because of relationships developed with members of The Foundation, I was able to navigate their processes and help the organizations secure vital operating resources.

When we were deciding how to execute the fund, they were the first organization that came to mind. We could have done other things, like used a local bank to set up a donor-advised fund. But I feel the impact the Hartford Foundation is making is so great to so many organizations here. I trust them to steward these dollars and ensure they’re provided to organizations aligned with our philanthropic direction.

NAN: Is there a specific target recipient for the Berkins Family Fund?

ANDRÉA: It’s specifically to support nonprofit organizations that support people of color or entrepreneurs of color who are interested in starting a new program. Over the last six years, we’ve started four new businesses. We know what it takes to start up. It’s really hard. You need a lot of support. We’d love to help folks who are on that path and help them down the road.

Money and opportunities are available for well-established nonprofits, but we’d like this fund to be for early-stage nonprofits that are standing up and doing good in the community.

We would like to see more organizations consolidate—the pie is finite—we’d love to see more impact with the nonprofit dollars that are spent. I think one of the biggest problems we have in our community is there are more than 18,000 nonprofits in the state of Connecticut and everyone’s trying to get a slice of the pie. We’d love to see two organizations with similar missions combine their forces and resources and deliver solutions and support in alignment instead of two organizations trying to get half of one slice. I think that’s more beneficial to us than having two more fundraising events.

NAN: What’s next?

ANDRÉA: We’re in the beginning stages of setting everything up. Our young adult children know that we want them to have input into the types of organizations we, as a family, support, because this is really from our family. When you set up a fund, you relinquish the money. You give it away right at that moment. It may be part of your legacy, but it’s no longer part of your bank account. So, the Berkins Family Fund has a full family impact. And, hopefully, a full legacy impact.

Our entire family is excited about it—and they all have different ideas and different inequities they’re passionate about addressing. We’ve let them know they can expect that an upcoming gift might be allowing them to designate donations to a charity of their choice from the Berkins Family Fund. We’d be happy to have you join us in our goal to support our local community—feel free to give to the Berkins Family Fund.

Learn more about Berkins 

Berkins Blend, Glastonbury | Facebook |Instagram | Twitter

Berkins on Oak, Hartford | Facebook

 Berkins on Main, Hartford

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