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Food insecurity is a real and growing issue for many families in Hartford. Consider this: Hartford is the most at-risk town in Connecticut for food insecurity being 169 out of 169 on this topic; before the pandemic, 35 percent of families (one in three) in United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut’s service area were ALICE*, struggling to make ends meet. Today that number has increased to 40 percent.

These and many other factors were considered by young professionals summoned by Emerging Leaders Society (ELS), a membership volunteer group at United Way. The group decided to tackle hunger through different initiatives including the ELS Case Competition, a “Shark Tank” style competition to allow for innovative thinking, problem-solving and professional development, all while offering ideas that may have a long-term impact on our community.

Specifically, for me (Alondre), I entered the 2021 ELS Case Competition looking for more than just another great networking opportunity. I found a passion, a food desert – Hartford, that needed to be watered. The journey started when my team at HSB won the 2021 ELS Case Competition in recognition of our campaign idea, “La Cocina de mi Abuela” (My Grandmother’s Kitchen), aimed at Spanish-speaking lower-income families in the south end of Hartford who continue to bear significant impacts from COVID-19 job disruption.

As a result of this effort, our team launched a Public Service Announcement (PSA) in Spanish and English looking to spread the word about food pantries. We are currently working along-side CT Murals and local artist, Michael Rice, on a mural to address the stigma around accessing local assistance.

Participating in the 2021 ELS Case Competition was a rewarding experience. Winning was gratifying. But being the first team to implement a community campaign has been transformational. Assuming the role of Chair for the 2022 Competition is allowing me to be an ambassador for the many returns this experience provides emerging leaders and the communities we live, serve and work!

For me (Joe), as President of Bank of America of Greater Hartford, participating as a judge in the 2019, 2021 and currently the 2022 ELS Case Competition, has been a gratifying journey. Bank of America and the United Way are aligned in our belief that critical local issues can’t be solved by one organization alone. As a convener, United Way brings people and resources together to make sure we can respond and meet our community’s current needs.

Additionally, as trusted advisors, my teammates initiate conversations about succession planning both internally and externally. We ask our clients what they are doing to empower people today to become leaders tomorrow. I think this is a key component that the ELS Case Competition brings to the table, acting as a catalyst in mobilizing emerging leaders to respond to local challenges.

We invite everyone to follow the 2022 ELS Case Competition as we continue to develop ideas that tackle hunger and access to healthy food in our communities because, unfortunately, this continues to be a struggle for many of our neighbors.

Join us as we #DoSomethingBIG together!

Follow ELS on social @UWELSCT. Learn more about the ELS Case Competition at

*ALICE is a United Way-coined acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Learn more at