“We’re helping the Hartford community launch new startup businesses from minority women who are looking to create their own legacies,” says Tenesha Grant, Director of Women’s Services at the CRT’s Women’s Empowerment Center (pictured at the ribbon cutting event in July 2019)

The Community Renewal Team of Greater Hartford opened the Women’s Empowerment Center in July 2019. Tenesha Grant, Director of Women’s Services, spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about her new role and what it means to be a woman leading by experience and example.

NAN PRICE: Why did the Community Renewal Team (CRT) open the Women’s Empowerment Center (WEC)?

TENESHA GRANT: The WEC was created to help women the CRT serves achieve and thrive personally, professionally, and economically. The WEC provides them with opportunities, skills, resources, and the support they need to do so.

NAN: What skills are you bringing to your role as Director of Women’s Services?

TENESHA: I offer women real-life experiences from having children at a young age and wanting to do more with my life—but not knowing how to get to where I wanted to be. And then, once I arrived at a status where I could live comfortably, learning to navigate different systems to avoid imposter syndrome.

I’ve also learned to network with people to support me and provide insight about how to handle different situations once I had made it into a leadership role. I attend all kinds of networking events that may benefit me or the women who come to the WEC.

I’ve always aligned myself with like-minded women who have also been there, done that and can offer their expertise. It’s all about the questions you ask. If you ask the right questions, you’ll get the right answers.

NAN: How has the guidance and mentorship you received helped shape you and how are you paying that forward?

TENESHA: It helped boost my self-esteem. When I was in my late teens and became pregnant with my second child, I was working at the City of Hartford Summer Youth Employment Program. My director took me under his wing and convinced me I was capable of doing so much more. With the pregnancy, I was going to stop working but he saw my potential and helped create opportunities for me to work from home. Then, every time he saw me, he would provide encouragement, telling me: Stay focused! You got this!

I knew I definitely wanted to be like him and provide that kind of encouragement for someone else. I realized I wanted to work with youth, particularly young females involved in teenage pregnancy, to offer them hope and inspiration and let them know that they, too, can do it and they have a choice. They don’t have to be another statistic if they don’t want to be.

NAN: Let’s talk about your role as Director of Women’s Services.

TENESHA: I engage closely with women to find out what kinds of program and services they’re interested in having here in the WEC. Then I help coordinate and create classes so they can develop personally and professionally.

NAN: In terms of providing professional resources, in what ways does the WEC encourage female entrepreneurship?

TENESHA: We provide classes with some simple steps to help women start their own businesses. We offer some evening classes to reach the target population who works during the day, too.

NAN: Have you collaborated with other organizations to provide those resources?

TENESHA: We partnered with Greater Hartford SCORE, which has facilitated a six-day program. The classes teach women how to start their own business—how to do marketing research, create a business plan, find out where they can get funding, fix their credit, or determine what type of credit they’ll need when they launch a new business. We also show them resources in the community for minority-owned women business owners.

Half of the class who recently graduated from the program are now receiving case management services as well. They didn’t originally come to the WEC to receive these services. They came because they wanted to start their own business. But, when they became aware of the case management and behavioral health assistance we offer, they felt they could also use some support with those services. And, because they’ve already been coming to the WEC, they feel comfortable accessing those services from us.

NAN: It sounds like the WEC is helping women build self confidence in all realms.

TENESHA: Totally. Many women who have accessed the workshops we offer are taking steps to start their own businesses. We encourage and guide them to register their business name and start their market research. And we offer them opportunities to showcase their business here in the WEC to see whether or not they have a viable business plan, or they should pivot and do something completely different.

We’re helping the Hartford community launch new startup businesses from minority women who are looking to create their own legacies. So, it’s a win-win.

We’re also helping them tap into resources in the community, like the Swift Factory, which has a shared commercial kitchen for those interested in jobs in the health and food industry. Finding these local resources also promotes another organization that people may not know about.

In terms of helping women build self-confidence and leadership skills, our personal and professional development workshops along with our peer-run support group help with that aspect. We encourage women looking to change their life situation to become more comfortable approaching their employer to ask for a raise or ask for time off to pursue personal growth interests. We’re helping create a stronger, more confident workforce of women in our community, one that gives back and helps other women along.

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