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New London - Maryam Elahi, the new president of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, kept her remarks brief Sunday afternoon during the first of four events designed to introduce her to local philanthropists and nonprofit leaders.
At the Garde Arts Center event, Elahi said that, for now, she was focused on listening to the foundation's partners to learn about the major challenges and concerns in the region.
Elahi said she was attracted to the foundation because it is a "wonderful organization that knows how to put its arms around the community" and listens to people's problems rather than lecturing them.
The Old Saybrook resident said she's also excited about making a difference close to home. Elahi, who replaced the retiring Alice Fitzpatrick on Sept. 19, has an impressive global résumé. She helped found the first undergraduate human rights program in the country at Trinity College in Hartford and has worked with Amnesty International and the Open Society Foundations.
Director of Gift Planning Alison Woods said the foundation, which encourages local philanthropy and provides grants and scholarships, was impressed with Elahi's credentials. She said Elahi has experience working on a local level to solve problems around the globe.
Sunday's event attracted influential community members, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
The senator, who spoke briefly before heading to another event, called the organization "a change agent and warrior for justice." Criticizing partisanship and gridlock, he said Washington should take a lesson in community support from the foundation.
Catherine Zall, the executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, a nonprofit organization that works with the foundation, introduced Elahi to the guests.
Zall said the new director is interested in making the world "a more just, livable, hospitable, beautiful place" and will bring a breadth of knowledge to the organization.
"I'm thrilled to think where we might go from here," said Zall.
Elahi praised the homeless center and several other local nonprofits before soliciting suggestions from the nonprofit leaders in attendance. They spoke up to encourage work on a diversity of issues, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, working with child abuse victims, open space preservation and using historical sites for educational purposes.
These meet-and-greet events are meant to provide a sense of the needs and challenges of the community, said Elahi. She said she will focus on defining her goals after the organization has a strategy session in January.