Briana Jewczyn: Sit Yourself Down
Briana Jewczyn is used to people getting stuck trying to pronounce her last name. But she has an easy solution. She tells them to pronounce it just like “frozen,” but starting with the letter J.
Briana is part of the organizing committee for Chairs for Charity, a benefit for the Chester Leadership Fund, at the Chester Meeting House on Thursday, June 1, from 5 to 8:30 p.m. The event will take place rain or shine.
More than a dozen artists are decorating chairs, whatever kind of chair each chooses, thereby turning an object of daily living into an original creation. Each of the decorated chairs will be auctioned off at the event.
There is no admission charge for Chairs for Charity. Food trucks will sell drinks and barbecue. Honey Cone will be on hand to sell ice cream. A local band, Butter Jones, will provide the music. The Chester Leadership Fund will raise money through the chair auction.
The fund started two years as a part of the ReOpen Chester initiative after the pandemic lockdown. They have made contributions to the outdoor classroom that was constructed with community participation at Chester Elementary School and to the local soup kitchen. They are also providing camperships for local young people to attend art workshops at Shell and Bee Studio in Deep River and working with Chester residents to both develop and support programs to benefit the town.
Briana is not only a Chester resident, she is also a Chester business owner of The Hive, a coworking space with different kinds of accommodations and varying membership plans for people who need or want space outside of the home to do work ranging from real estate to writing. The idea is not only to create working space but to create a sense of community among people who would likely otherwise be alone, either in an office or at home.
The Hive also has hosted activities as varied as local business networking events, book club discussions, and at least one baby shower. Two authors have held book launch parties in the space.
Briana explains the choice of a name for her coworking space came from her own family nickname: Bee.
“It just had to be bee-themed,” she says.
When people at the Chester Sunday Market saw The Hive on the front of her coworking space, some inquired if she sold honey. She does now from Three Sisters Farms in Essex.
The Hive is a second career for Briana. She is a graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in New London and spent 11 years on active duty as a Coast Guard officer, most of that as a physics instructor at the Coast Guard Academy. Six years ago, she left full-time military service but remains a Coast Guard reserve officer with the rank of lieutenant commander. In fact, she has just finished a three-month stint of teaching on an active-duty contract at the academy.
Her first tour of duty was on a Coast Guard cutter in Hawaii. Then, after she applied to teach, the Coast Guard sent her to Yale, where she got a master’s degree in engineering and applied science. The advanced degree is a requisite for teaching positions at the academy.
Briana’s husband Matthew, also a former Coast Guard officer, now works in Hartford, and the couple looked for a town to settle in that would accommodate commutes to New London and Hartford.
“We found Chester and we loved it,” Briana says.
They have been here 10 years and now have a son and a daughter at Chester Elementary School.
When she went from active duty to the reserves, Briana knew she didn’t want to work at home, and in researching business opportunities, she discovered the growing popularity of coworking spaces. Though coworking was a new idea for Chester, she thought it was a viable one.
She created a business plan, but she had not planned on what would happen in March 2020; The Hive opened at the same time as the COVID-19 lockdown.
She networked with other business and civic groups, used social media, and got a grant from the Red Backpack Fund, set up by Sara Blakely Foundation, to help women entrepreneurs through the difficult economic times created by COVID-19. The fund shut down at the end of 2022. (Sara Blakely founded Spanx.)
The Hive has given Briana herself new networking connections within Chester.
“When my kids started school, I knew the parent community, but I didn’t anticipate, and I really like the community connections I have made,” she says.
Briana and the other organizers are looking forward to making even more community connections at the upcoming Chairs for Charity fundraiser for the Chester Leadership Fund,
“The idea is to make Chester an even better place to live and work,” she says.
Chairs for Charity, an auction to benefit
The Chester Leadership Fund
Thursday, June 1, from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Chester Meeting House
Event is free; food for sale or
bring a blanket and a picnic
Rain or Shine