Familia Ijeh Fund
Est. 2023 Yari and Richard C. Ijeh
Yari Ijeh still remembers how it felt to not have enough. “As a kid, I wasn’t involved in any extracurricular activities because my parents didn’t have the time or the resources,” she recalled. Growing up the daughter of working-class immigrants – her father from the Dominican Republic, her mother from Puerto Rico – Yari watched her parents spend most of their waking hours working to simply make ends meet. “My dad worked the late shift and my mom worked overnight because that’s what they needed to do,” she said.
It's an economic struggle that many in the Latine community continue to face – and one that Yari and her husband, Chiké, hope to address through the Familia Ijeh Fund which they created in honor of the Progreso Latino Fund’s 20th Anniversary. “As citizens in this community we have a civic duty to ensure that [we help make] it what we want it to be,” Yari said. For the couple, that means creating greater access to opportunities to address societal inequities that often create barriers to upward mobility for the Black and Latine community.
According to a 2021 McKinsey report, Latine Americans make just 73 cents for every dollar earned by white Americans. The report estimates that Latines are underpaid by $288 billion annually and shows that annual median wages for foreign-born Latines ($31,700) and U.S.-born Latines ($38,848) are significantly lower than median annual wages for white workers ($52,952).
“Structural racism doesn’t allow for some people to move beyond where they’ve been placed,” Yari said. “We need to help fill in those [opportunity] gaps.” Through their family fund, Chiké, 44, and Yari, 46, want to provide access to a broad spectrum of opportunities and experiences for Latine youth and adults – from music lessons and summer camps for kids to leadership development and job training programs to build skills.
Chiké, a photographer and videographer, says that even small opportunities and positive influences can change a person’s mindset and worldview. “I grew up with very little in Bridgeport but had [role models] who showed me there was more to life than what I saw in my neighborhood,” Chiké said. “I want our fund to [show] others that opportunities exist and eliminate obstacles.”
For Yari, Chief Business Development Officer with Clifford Beers Community Health Partners, philanthropy is about representation and empowerment. She credits the Progreso Latino Fund co-founders John and Frances Padilla with providing her a sense of community and educating her about the importance of giving back. “I was drawn to the group because I had never seen so many professional Latines having conversations and addressing issues that are so important to the Latine community,” she said. “I felt represented in the work that they are doing.”
Yari has volunteered with the Fund for the past ten years, and currently serves as its Co-chair. “It has allowed me to help elevate the voice of our Latine community,” she said. Representation is a big priority for both Chiké and Yari. They are also founding members of the Black Futures Fund. Often, she says, marginalized groups aren’t represented at the table when decisions are made that impact their communities. She hopes their family fund – and the broader Progreso Latino and Black Futures Funds -- can play a role in changing that. “We want to create change makers and decision makers in our community,”
It's a legacy the Ijeh’s want to leave behind for their children, Nnaji, 7 and Nnenna, 3, and the New Haven community. “I hope [our fund] helps make things better than we found them and can teach and inspire others.”
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