Off the Streets houses the working homeless

 

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Many working people are homeless simply because they can’t come up with a security deposit. Off the Streets is a spin-off of the Dorothy Day House that was established to get people with a source of income out of the shelters and into housing.

The program was initiated by middle school students and has now boasts four chapters, two in Conn., one in Penn., and one in Calif.

In the eight years since the program was established, Off the Streets has helped 1,500 people get into housing.

According to the Administrator, Joe Simons, the program is constantly looking for ways to expand the operation because the concept can be applied in any community.

“It’s simply that there are a lot of people out there who are homeless, not because they don’t have income, but because they can’t get over the initial hurdle which is the security deposit,” said Simons.

“So we provide that, and also some furniture and basic household goods for when they move int because a lot of time when they move in they have nothing.”

The program collects furniture the first Saturday every month from 10 a.m. to Noon behind the First Methodist Church in Bethel.

Anybody who wants to donate small table and chairs, twin beds, chest of drawers and other basic necessities or money to help pay security deposits can visit the website at http://offthestreetsnow.com/ for contact information.

deacon-olesThe program’s founder, Deacon Mike Oles, was a volunteer at the Dorothy Day House who is often asked to speak about homelessness to religious education groups at middle schools. He brings homeless people to his sessions to add a face to the concept he is addressing.

During one of Oles’ sessions in Norwalk, the students were so taken by the homeless person who tagged along that they decided to take up a collection to get the man out of the shelter and into housing. The man was a hard worker who simply needed a security deposit.

Students continued pestering Deacon Oles about when he was going to get the man housed. At that time, Oles had mostly worked with people in the shelter, but had no experience with getting people housed.

Deacon Oles eventually used the money to pay the security deposit. And after that, another collection was taken, and another. Oles finally realized he could do this as a program, which turned into a separate mission from the Dorothy Day House.

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Susan Pagan got involved with Off the Streets due to  her platform in pageantry, which is centered on reaching out to the homeless, refugees, and those living in compromised conditions.

Pagan travels with her husband throughout the world on mission trips reaching out to those in need, but she wanted to do more. She was introduced to Off the Streets through a friend. After reading Oles’ book, she contacted him and they developed a plan to have her as a spokesperson for Off the Streets.

She recently shared her story at the Bridgeport chapter fundraising event on Oct.1, and also attended the Danbury chapter fundraising event on the same evening.

In the coming months, she will focus on trying to get more areas to sign on with chapters. Pagan is determined to travel and speak to congregations or groups of people to encourage them to start a chapter of Off the Streets in their own communities.

Pagan is passionate about helping those who are struggling with homelessness because she emerged from a similar situation where she did not have a place to call home for many years.

“I would like to tell readers that it is very simple to begin a chapter of Off the Streets in your own communities because it literally takes no money to start and there is no overhead, no employees, no office spaces, etc.,” said Pagan.

“Everyone and anyone can help, and finally… never take your home for granted.”

Western’s student nurses take on homelessness

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Western’s student nurses got a glimpse of what it’s like to be homeless at Danbury’s City Shelter on Thursday. The Community Health Nursing program exposes students to the full range of people they will encounter in healthcare. The program focuses on visiting nursing, which tackles the health of the community at large. Orientations include the City Shelter, rotations in schools, hospices, and the senior center.
nusreshlterShelter Program Coordinator, Mike Finn, began his introduction expounding the importance of treating homeless people like individuals by asking questions about how they are feeling and engaging in friendly conversation. He explained that homeless people are often ignored on the streets and treated as less than human. He then summarized his life at his dream job working for T.J.Maxx, and how it led to a more fulfilling job working at the shelter.

Finn went on to tell the story of a homeless man who Finn spent a lot of time talking to. When the man died, his sister came to Finn and told him that her brother spoke about him all the time because Finn was the only person who made him feel like a man. Finn said that’s why he makes sure everyone on his staff greets all their guests and talks to them in a friendly manner.

The students were then taken on a tour through the shelter. Finn explained the basic rules of the shelter, and precautions made to ensure no drugs or violence enter the building. He gave an overview of the services provided by the shelter to help people become independent members of society.
“Everybody ends up in hospitals whether they’re poor or rich. It’s important for us as nurses to understand where our patients are coming from, and what they have available to them, not everybody has the same things available to them,” said student Kyle O’Malley.

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“Pay it forward. You never know where you’re gonna end up. I think it’s a good idea. I think he gave a great overview of our community services, and I thought it worked well with the other agencies. It was pleasing for me,” said Assistant professor Patricia Cumella.

“I think we need to do more. Maybe just little things where you’re putting together toothbrushes, toothpaste, things that we wouldn’t normally think are that important. We should donate more or volunteer. Maybe put it around the campus how we can help,” said student Devyn Keller.

“I like how they have sort of a tiered system. First they pick up their lives, then they have an apartment that’s free, then after they’re employed they raise the rent incrementally because obviously those same resources need to go to somebody else,” said student Travis Maas.

“But I did notice that if one of the reasons you’re in the street is because you have an active substance abuse problem this isn’t gonna work out because you can’t be here.”

Danbury’s City Shelter Rehabilitates the Homeless

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Danbury’s City Shelter is more like a rehabilitation center than a place to rest one’s head. In comparison to other shelters in the area, which are solely focused on providing shelter for the night, the City Shelter offers a structured system of services to assist the process of recovering from homelessness.

According to Shelter Program Coordinator, Mike Finn, intake for the City Shelter is more extensive than other shelters. Chronically homeless people must go through the Coordinated Access Network (CAN) due to a statewide focus on getting them housed. All other applicants must get listed through 211.

 

bedsThe shelter then has its own intake, which asks for extensive background information including health history, education, work experience, criminal history, and veteran status. Finn said the purpose of the intake is to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the applicants so he can refer them to the resources necessary to improve their situation.

All shelters in the Danbury area allow a maximum amount of 30-days for time spent at a shelter. However, the City Shelter provides extensions for those who are either working, going to school or receiving help for their addiction.

The shelter coordinates with CT Works to help people find jobs and write resumes. A medical team and therapist comes to the shelter every Tuesday to offer services. MCCA offers an addiction recovery program during the weekend. Flu shots are provided during the flu season.

Other services that are extended to the homeless from other shelters include a place to stay from 9a.m. – 2 p.m., lunch held Mon-Fri at 12p.m., and showers.

“Danbury is one of the top areas in the state to serve homelessness. There are more services here than anywhere else,” said Finn.

kitchen“People are sent from 15 towns all around just to come here, and we have every service that they need. Sometimes we get too many people.”

Finn said for most of his life he was like everybody else. The only time he ever saw homeless people was when he stepped over them in Manhatten. One night he was walking down the street in Manhatten where a lot of people sleep on cardboard boxes, waiting for the breadline in the morning.

As he saw a homeless man approach, Finn turned to his brother and said, “Watch, he’s gonna ask you for money.” The man then approached Finn and said, “Do you have a spare ten dollars, I’m trying to get my swimming pool fixed?” Finn thought that was the funniest thing ever so he said, “Yes, you deserve the ten dollars.”

Finn thought about the man who had nothing, was about to sleep in a cardboard box, waiting for a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee at six in the morning, but did not lose his sense of humor.

“I woke up that day. Everybody has some value in them. Homeless people are exactly that, people. Most people recognize them, don’t see them, don’t want to see them, don’t talk to them, go right by, and they’re like invisible to them,” said Finn.

“And that woke me up to people. From then on I would buy big bags of bagels, some with cream cheese, some with butter, and I would hand them out on the streets.”

Western hosts a Community Service Fair

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Western students were encouraged to roll up their sleeves and get in the habit of volunteering at the Community Service Fair on April 6.

Becky Antonaccio organized the event. The purpose of the event was to bring organizations together, and get more students involved with volunteering.

“Volunteering is important because it provides hands on experience. When you volunteer for an organization you can develop an internship or job,” said Antonaccio, “When you tell the organizations your major, they will find a job that will fit you.”

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The Youth Volunteer Corps of United Way engages youth from diverse backgrounds in service projects.

According to Casey Lavene, students can go to uwwesternct.org to search for volunteering opportunities from numerous organizations throughout the community.

“People who are looking for volunteer opportunities can look up an event or an organization they’re interested in, and find what they need at just one site,” said Lavene.

“Volunteering offers the opportunity for people who maybe don’t have a particular skill set to help build that skill set, and make them a little more marketable,” she added.

Morgan Greening said,  “We do a lot of service learning with our youth volunteers, and we teach them youth employment skills, organization, being on time, compassion and empathy.”

20160406_125936Jericho Partnership Inc. is a broad Christian based social service organization. According to Michael Ronan, Director of Operations,  Jericho is in need of mentors and tutors for after school programs on an ongoing basis, bilingual translators for the clinic, volunteers for the overnight shelter, drivers, cooks, and reading buddies.

Grace Manne, Administrative Coordinator, said Jericho also hosts social-work internships, and internships at the summer camp for at-risk children. Students can sign up for volunteering opportunities and the Jericho newsletter at JerichoPartnership.org.

“Volunteering is a great opportunity to get a very broad range of experiences,” said Manne.

20160406_132840 - CopyAnimal Assisted Therapy Services (AATS) offers opportunities for volunteers to help train therapeutic horses and therapy dogs. The programs offers therapy for paralysis, multiple sclerosis, motor skills, speech and cognitive reasoning, autism, down syndrome, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury, or amputation.

According to Ryan Murphy, a volunteer at Western, volunteers can help with farm clean up days, which are one day events; and volunteer programs in the spring and the fall, which run for about six weeks. AATS seeks commitment for the whole six weeks because consistency is important for kids. Students can sign up at AnimalAssistedTherapyServices.org.

“Volunteers learn how to work with kids with different disabilities, and they also learn how to work safely around horses and other animals,” said Murphy, “We don’t need any experience with horses or other experience working with kids.”

20160406_132349Anne’s Place is a community based cancer support center that supports anybody who has been diagnosed with cancer as well as their loved ones. The services are provided at no charge.

According to Lynn Stubbe, a volunteer, Anne’s Place uses volunteers for all sorts of opportunities such as events, fundraising, office work, groundskeeping, reception, reiki, yoga, wellness, support groups, and committee work. Volunteers can request information at AnnesPlace.org.

20160406_131741 - CopyThe City Center of Danbury is the downtown business improvement district, focusing on economic vitality of Main Street and overall revitalization. According to P.J. Prunty, Executive Director, the goal is to bring businesses downtown and have them prosper.

City Center currently focuses on events such as the Summer Concert Series, which is capped off with a marquee event called the Taste of Danbury. Prunty’s focus for attending the fair was to inform students how to sign up for a mailing list at CityCenter.com to be reminded of upcoming events in Danbury.

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The Pratt Nature Center is a 205 acre nature center New Milford featuring hiking trails, summer camps, education vegetable garden, and a greenhouse.

According to Diane Swanson, the center offers volunteering opportunities for events such as Earth Day and an annual auction as well as weekly volunteering, which involves working with farm animals, trail work, and vegetable gardening. The center is also looking for two paid staff members.

Students can apply for paid or volunteer opportunities by emailing Diane or Haily at PrattCenter.org.

20160406_131409 - CopyThe Women’s Center offers direct service volunteering, which mean volunteers act as staff members, manning the hotline when paid staff members are unavailable. Volunteers answer distress calls during nights, weekends, and holidays. Sometimes the volunteers will make hospital, police or school visits acting as staff counselors.

Students who are interested can fill out an application at wcogd.org. Applicants will go through a rigorous 44 hour state mandated training to be a staff counselor.

T-Shirts from The Clothesline Project are ready for pickup

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Over 100 students voiced their support for the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence during The Clothesline Project’s national awareness event. The Women’s Center and Western’s CaRT team organized the event, which lasted from March 8 until Tuesday.

womensAccording to Rayna Havelock, counselor and advocate for the Women’s Center, the project is a way for victims and people who support victims to have their voices heard.

“You can write on a t-shirt however you feel. And it’s really a therapeutic thing to be able to do something creative and put your voice out there,” said Havelock.

The t-shirts are ready for pickup at 105c in Higgins Hall Annex. Students who want their t-shirts can email Havelock at havelockr@wcsu.edu to arrange for pickup.

clothesline9Jalyn Walton is a junior at Western majoring in communication studies. Walton volunteered to help with the Clothesline Project.

“Seeing the different ways students here expressed their support and awareness of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence was eye opening,” said Walton.

“I think that keeping the shirts hung up was a great idea. It is a reminder to us all that there are people who face these issues everyday and with our help we can be a voice for someone who decided to stay quiet,” she added.

 

Newman Center opens a food pantry for students in need

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Hard times call for a helping hand, which is why Western’s Newman Center opened a food pantry for students who have their student IDs on Thursdays from 3 – 5 p.m.

According to Father Jeff, the pantry has been servicing students for a month, and has already given over 75 bags. Volunteers at the Newman Club packed the bags for the first few weeks to establish a system that works. The Campus Ministries Office will extend volunteer work to the Greek Club, and other campus organizations in the near future.

Father JohnThe club offers free dinner to students every other Wednesday at 5 p.m. About 150 students show up for the homemade meals.

Michelle Hossan volunteers to cook the meals. Hossan has been working as business manager of the Newman Center for 10 years.

According to Hossan, the center is open to all students who want to hangout, watch TV or do their homework. Father Jeff is always there to talk to students when they feel overwhelmed.

“We’ve been here for a long time, and it’s not all religious. We do our religious stuff, but it’s mostly all for the students,” said Hossan.

Faith Jano is a freshman majoring in Biology, “I thought it was a really nice thing to do, all the things in the bag were the basic college necessities for the dorm,” said Jano, “I wish that they would advertise more. It seems that everyone finds out through word of mouth.”

 

 

Student Philanthropy Committee raises money for scholarships

Maria Langan | News Editor

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Spontaneous acts of love decked the halls of Western as the Student Philanthropy Committee raised a whopping $630 for scholarships last week.

Student Philanthropy is a committee under the Student Government Association (SGA) that was established last year by Louise Carrozza as a means to raise money for scholarships. Last week’s sale was the committee’s first Valentine fundraiser.
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The current chair, Ryan Hawley, said he has ambitious goals for this semester. He wants to re-instill Carrozza’s vision, and give back to students by the end of this year.

According to Jenna DiCiacco, a member of the committee, students showed appreciation for the fundraiser, and many generously donated even if they didn’t buy anything.

“It was a huge success overall,” said DiCiacco, “And it was made clear the profits are going to a great cause that could potentially benefit the buyer at the end of the semester.”

ryanalisonThe committee aims to give away a tuition scholarship. Otherwise, book scholarships will be dispersed as gift cards to Western’s book store.

According to Hawley, the committee’s 2nd annual Lip Sync is going to be a major upcoming event, whereupon the scholarship may be announced. The Lip Sync will feature awards, gift cards and refreshments.

“The vision is to let students know there’s a committee that’s looking out for them and their financial hardships,” said Hawley, “We’re just trying to give back to students, and instill hope so they won’t be worried about college.”

Germantown Volunteer Fire Department hosts its first open house

20151108_130001Sunlight danced on the bright red trucks as a cordial young man, decked out in his Class A uniform, welcomed children and their families to the Germantown Volunteer Fire Department’s first open house since 1912. The firehouse opened its doors on Nov. 8 to invite community members to take a tour of the firehouse and firetrucks, meet the volunteers, eat, socialize and take home souvenirs.

justin DotyJustin Doty, 20, became a volunteer because he wanted to help out in the community as much as possible. He said the department provides an education that he would never learn anywhere else. Doty is training to be a firemedic, and volunteering teaches valuable skills in the fields of technology and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

Danbury consists of seven paid and 12 volunteer fire departments. According to a report from the NewsTimes, the infrastructure is in need of an estimated $63 million makeover. The report recommends setting up an entity for collecting funds to aggressively seek possible grants.

Fire Chief Anthony Rongetti said the department is always looking for volunteers so he decided to go out on a limb, and plan an open house to earn trust and establish a relationship with the community.

The team holds at least four donation drives each year. The next drive will start after Thanksgiving. Community members are invited stop by the department, buy a Christmas tree, and see what the department is doing for the community.

According to Assistant Chief John Cole, anybody who wants to volunteer can stop by the firehouse on Mondays at 7 p.m., see what they do, and fill out an application for a $5 fee. On the first Thursday of every month, applicants come in and decide what services they want to provide. The team then votes to accept or deny the applicant. Beers stated that he’s never seen a person get denied.

“We work together like a family,” said First Lieutenant Mike Beers, “Nobody is better than anybody else… There is a chain of command, but we’re all good friends.”

11 students volunteer for CT Publics Make a Difference Week

escapegroupWestern’s turnout for the first annual “CT Publics Make a Difference Week” was bleak in comparison to the “Day of Service” but the payoffs were just as rewarding. 11 students committed themselves on Oct. 23 to four hours of service at two locations: ESCAPE to the Arts and Danbury Museum and Historical Society.

Volunteers kicked off the event at 8:30 a.m. with bagels, orange juice and coffee at the faculty dining room in the Midtown Student Center. The two groups then went their separate ways at 9 a.m. to embark on a productive day of painting and working with children.

The six lovely ladies who volunteered at ESCAPE to the Arts spent their time painting the hallway leading to the classrooms.

Among the volunteers were Haley Argiento, Lindsey Englander, Krista Verrastri, Carolina Orlandi, Christina Anacta and Maria Langan.

Lindsey Englander is a freshman majoring in elementary education who says she volunteered because she had some time off and wanted to do something productive. Englander volunteers in Southbury for the Cystic Fibrosis Walk every year.

Krista Verrastri is a senior majoring in elementary education who is in the process of completing her certificate for the Leadership, Compassion and Creativity (LCC) program. Verrastri will be one of two seniors to graduate with the LCC certificate.

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Students who volunteered at the museum included Fangyao Su, Xuemei Wang (Chuck), RuoHong Huang, Li Zhi Lin (Anna) and Qin Lin. The group helped children make mummy, cat and mouse pumpkins.

Fangyao Su is an international student majoring in biology, and Xuemei Wang is an exchange student from the UK majoring in business management. The group unaninmously agreed that they enjoyed working with the children because working with children teaches kindness and patience.

Everyone who volunteered said they signed up because they enjoyed the Western Day of Service so they decided to give it another try.

According to the Administrative Assistant of ESCAPE to the Arts, Joan McCaffrey, many high-school students and college interns volunteer at the organization to clean, set up classrooms, help kids with homework, and assist in activities such as painting, woodworking, printmaking and pottery.

WCSU was among 22 colleges that signed up for the week of service. The event is inspired by National Make a Difference Day, which is sponsored by USA Today. Connecticut Public Schools of Higher Education decided that one day wasn’t enough and that Connecticut schools wanted to extend it to a full week of service projects.

 

Western’s permaculture garden had another great turnout for Community Day

weinstineSigns of fall are beginning to sweep in as dozens of students and volunteers gathered to harvest herbs and garden-vegetables in Western’s own back yard on Oct. 14. This summer was the first year of harvest at the permaculture garden located behind the science building at WCSU’s midtown campus.

Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Laurie Weinstein, started the permaculture garden three years ago as an initiative with the Jane Goodall Center. After three years of fundraising, winning approval and prepping the soil, the garden was finally ready for harvest September of this year.

“There’s a whole process of permaculture. First you weed, then you put down compost, then cardboard and then mulch. And then you let the ground set, and then you plant,” Weinstein explained as students and volunteers gathered around the garden to learn how to harvest.

kenney 3A student majoring in social work enthusiastically demonstrated various methods for harvesting plants. Ashley Kenney is a food activist who spent the past decade teaching about GMOs, and encouraging people to eat and buy locally and seasonally.

“The interest is there because people do ask a lot of questions, but I think they don’t really get it. I think what professor Weinstein is doing is great because we are exposing people to where their food comes from,” said Kenney.

“I’m not a huge expert. It’s a huge passion of mine and it brings people together. That’s why they call it a community garden,” she added.

In preparation for the garden, Weinstein held design forums with students who wanted to help decide what plants to add to the landscape. As a result of the forums, the garden now has Native American corn, Native American beans, herbs, kales, brussels sprouts, berries, pear trees, and next year there will be squash.

The garden is partnered with Danbury Food Cooperative, which is overseen by United Way. One of the main goals is to provide locally grown food to organizations, on and off campus. Since the harvest began, most of the food was given to Sodexo. This harvest will be donated to Hillside Food Outreach.

The next Community Day will be held on Nov. 5 from 10 p.m. to noon. The public is invited to participate in activities such as cardboarding, composting and mulching the garden in preparation for the winter. Tools and snacks will be provided. Volunteers are asked to bring gloves and wear appropriate clothing.