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Empowering Community Change:

Coffee with Abe Hilding-Salorio

Order: Batch Brew
Location: Grounded Coffee Co., Willimantic
Hometown: Mansfield, CT
Current Town: Tolland
Career: Community Outreach Manager at Sustainable CT

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CT for Abe

Q1: So, why did you choose to live and work in Connecticut?

After attending UConn, I first moved to Beijing with my wife to teach English. That was an amazing experience. But when we were ready to take the next step in our careers, we decided to return home to Connecticut to be closer to our friends and family. Once we returned, I went back to UConn to earn my Master of Public Administration. From there, I knew I wanted a mission-based job that mattered to me — not one where you just punch in and out without any passion for what you’re doing. I found that kind of job working at Sustainable CT at Eastern Connecticut State University.

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Q2: What career opportunities have you found here in Connecticut?

Working in outreach for Sustainable CT’s Community Match Fund has given me the opportunity to work with change makers at the grassroots level. All across the state, I can actually visit their projects and experience the impact that they’re having.

Just one example is a campaign by Love Fed New Haven. This organization works with people in the greater New Haven area who may not have access to, or feel welcome to participate in, community gardens. Love Fed New Haven built raised-bed gardens for them so that they can grow their own food — something that’s especially important because of COVID-19.

During the pandemic, it’s been inspiring to see how many people have still made their projects happen. There have been virtual composting conferences, community gardens, pollinator pathways, public art, and even responses to the pandemic like green boxes and community fridges with fresh healthy food. Project leaders are basically saying, “Alright, let’s just do this” — and many have come forward with new projects as well.

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During the pandemic, it’s been inspiring to see how many people have still made their projects happen.

Q3: What’s a myth about Connecticut that you’d like to bust?

That our unofficial uniform is boat shoes, polo shirts, and pastel shorts. No. just no.

Q4: Any local favorites you recommend?

Downtown Willimantic — “Romantic Willimantic,” as they call it — is such a cool little city. They’ve got the Boom Box Parade, 3rd Thursday street fests, and tons of great small, independent shops and restaurants. It’s a city that’s creative, quirky and embraces all that it is.

Connecticut also has great soccer; I play year-round in leagues and with different pickup groups across the central and eastern parts of the state. There’s one long-standing game that must have been going on for decades at this point, called Mansfield Post Office Pickup Soccer — in a field next to an old post office. It’s an informal game, three times a week, where locals come to play. And of course, there are great running and hiking trails nearby, like along the Fenton River in Mansfield.

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Q5: What would you tell someone your age who’s considering moving here?

Connecticut really is a great place to live. Here you have access to so many things. And you can be just about anywhere in 30 minutes. Our bigger cities are still small enough that you can make connections and see familiar faces. And there are just tons of interesting and cultural things happening here.

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