WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH — WISH Fest is a new initiative in Waterbury focused on helping students recover from the pandemic and see a path toward achieving their future goals.

WISH stands for Waterbury Innovation Sustainability and Health. WISH Fest will become an annual event through a partnership between the UConn Waterbury Campus and the city of Waterbury. For its first year, the theme is focused on helping students recover from the pandemic.

“This year’s theme is well-being, emotional physical and brain health, so we really want to focus on health this year,” Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, the director of the UConn Waterbury Campus, said. “We have had isolation for the last couple of years, and we really want to bring people together.”

Sophia Schade, a Waterbury Arts Magnet School sophomore, said it feels like she and her classmates are working to catch up following remote learning during COVID-19.

“A lot of teachers didn’t know how to teach online, so it kind of put us at a setback,” Schade said.

Schade is looking to pursue a career in the medical field and is excited to have institutions like Waterbury UConn so close to home.

“It’s not that far from where I am, so it’s an easy access,” she said.

Opening students to local opportunities is something WISH organizers are hoping to get across to students during the event, and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary hopes for the same.

“Sometimes urban students don’t recognize that there are so many opportunities for them, especially because many of them are challenged financially,” O’Leary said.

The year’s WISH Fest and those to come are funded by a $1 million endowment made to UConn Waterbury in 2014.