A city is only as strong as the community within it. And over this past year, Covid-19 put our community to the test in multiple ways. But last week, after a long period, where many of us felt at an all-time low, something extra special arrived to lift us back up — a collection of hand-made 8-foot hearts on the lawn of Connecticut’s State Capitol.
Many took notice — citizens, legislators, and community leaders, alike. But, not much has been said about how they came to be there. The story began, with our very own Jazna Stannard, who recently moved to Hartford from outside of Boston, after joining the Launc[H] team.
As a newcomer to Hartford, she was in search of ways to join and create community. And, she was inspired by Dr. Jill Biden’s display of Valentine’s Day hearts on the White House lawn. Watching lawns around her in her hometown of Boston being filled with their own hearts and words of encouragement had also provided her with joy during the pandemic. “It was their way of telling essential workers that as you do your work and save lives, we’ll do our part by staying home,” said Jazna.
So, when Jazna moved to Hartford in January to work for Launc[H], she decided to spread a little joy here, and find a way to connect with her community through a larger-than-life display here too. “Capitol Hearts is meant to bring our greater community and country together in these turbulent times we find ourselves in. I’m hoping it unifies our community through the strength of love. I hope it reminds people of the love of those lost from Covid.”
Through the connections that she started to build in Hartford, with everyone from her landlord, Aaron Gill, to other young professionals in MetroHartford Alliance’s HYPE program, and Leadership Greater Hartford’s QUEST initiative, she began to see a way that she could actually bring her vision to life. The first critical partnership came from the leaders and volunteers at MakerSpaceCT.
When she shared her idea for creating memorable, massive wooden hearts — hand-painted with the words Love, Amor, Strength, and Unity — Parker Smith and Andre Rochester, both part of the MakerSpaceCT community, responded, “Sure, we can do that!”
From there, Jazna connected with Julio Concepcion, who serves as both a State Representative in the City of Hartford, and as director of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. Julio was impressed with Jazna’s vision, helped to get the permit necessary to install the hearts on the Capitol lawn, and connected her with representatives at Hartford Hospital, who provided a grant to cover the cost of supplies.
Kylah Hudson, the Special Events Coordinator for the City of Hartford, helped Jazna connect with the right people at the parks department to help make sure that everything was in place for the installation, including having a freshly mowed lawn.
Then, it was time to figure out how to transform the hearts from a public art installation into a community activation tool. The City of Hartford’s Health and Human Services department helped organize a pop-up vaccination tent, and the United Way sponsored a resource fair for neighbors impacted by COVID-19. Suddenly, there were not only hearts, there were community-outreach efforts, family-friendly games, and a volleyball tournament happening in the park all at the same time.
“I was impressed with how fast it all came together. In a matter of 3 weeks, I was able to connect with makers, artists, volunteers, community organizations, and elected officials, like Senator Blumenthal, Mayor Bronin, and Governor Lamont. It’s incredible how well connected the individuals and organizations are within this city, as is the state with one another.” Stannard said.
Jazna is quite aware of what it takes to bring new things to life. She’s been active in the nonprofit sector since the age of 14, and prior to joining Launc[H] she’s led several efforts that have reached national scale and been recognized by the likes of the Clinton Global Initiative for her leadership.
Launc[H] director Michelle Cote added, “A big part of the magic of this story is Jazna, but I also think that it’s a powerful example of what’s possible in the City of Hartford. Our community is full of people who are ready and willing to help make things happen, and the best part is that with a little ingenuity, and the right spirit, it’s fairly easy to connect with just about anyone.”
In fact, the strength of Hartford’s local networks is something that Launc[H] feels makes it uniquely suited to become a powerful hub of innovation. With a regional population of just under 900,000, the community is big enough to provide something for people with just about any interest. But, for innovators, it offers something even better — accessibility to thought leaders, subject-matter experts, and decision-makers.
Particularly, after a year where people were forced to distance from one another and many plans were put on hold, Launc[H]’s goal of strengthening local connections and rebuilding community is being met with even more enthusiasm by local citizens and leaders in Hartford.
So, if you have a big idea or see an opportunity to create something amazing, come to Hartford. Launc[H] is ready to help you make the connections that you need to succeed. And, we can’t wait to celebrate your accomplishments when they come to life!
We’re so grateful to Jazna for providing an incredible boost to our spirits through Capitol Hearts. We hope that it provides others in our community with inspiration to make their mark as well.
Capitol Hearts went up on May 6th in honor of National Nurses Day and closed with a community event sponsored by the City of Hartford, and United Way on May 15. For more news, events, and ways to get involved in our community, follow us on Linkedin and Instagram.