Youth Immersion Project

IMG_2468Recently, we had a group of 12 young people (ages 10-15 years old) and three adults from the  United Methodist Church of Rockville here at Hands On Hartford. This group dedicated three full days to service, putting their own  hands on our city. While they were here they did many projects, including cleaning up the neighborhood, running a food drive, serving at community meals, and preparing rain/snack kits to be shared at our community meals. In addition, they participated in two programs whose purpose was to help them learn more about homelessness in Hartford. It was amazing to watch the faces of the young people as they listened to a speaker from our Faces of Homelessness program. Their rapt attention, and  their thoughtful questions demonstrated their interest and concern for helping others.


Watching this group learn about the needs of others, and then seeing them take  action to make a difference, was a powerful experience for me. How fortunate we are to have dedicated volunteers of all ages here at Hands On Hartford. With groups like this one, there is hope for a IMG_2482future filled with compassion and caring!



Edith Tresner 

Volunteer Coordinator

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Harvest Supper 2017

Photo for BlogLast Thursday’s Harvest Supper was a resounding success and lots of fun!  Please visit our Facebook page for lots of photos of the event, thanks to our photographer (and Backpack Nutrition Program coordinator) Tabatha Cosme.  For those who weren’t able to attend, guests partook of beer tastings from Hog River Brewery, delicious soup, salad and bread provided by Chefs Mark Georger and Jason Collin, Jen Acuna of Loafing Around LLC, Chef Jay Lewis, and our own Chefs Kim Bunton and Helen Colon.  In addition, a special treat of port and dark chocolate donated by Craig and Anne Diamond rounded out the evening as we enjoyed live jazz courtesy of the Straight from the Hart band.

We owe a heartfelt thanks to all of the guests who bought tickets and who donated and participated in our silent and live auctions.  Special thanks are due to John Merz of AIDS Connecticut who served as our auctioneer, and to guest speaker Ralph Gagliardo of Faces of Homelessness.  And last but by no means least, we are truly grateful for the support of Sustaining Sponsor PNT Data Corp.; Signature Sponsors Aetna, Crosskey Architects, Housing Enterprises, Naek Construction Company, and The Hartford; and Contributing Sponsors Acorn Consulting Engineers, BlumShapiro, Fiduciary Investment Advisors, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Hoopes Morganthaler Rausch & Scaramozza, Imagineers, Montagno Construction and Phoenix.


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Let’s Talk About Crêpes

…by Kathleen Reynolds, Café Assistant Extraordinaire

[In addition to specialty coffee and tea, paninis, salads and sandwiches, The Café at Fifty-Five, here at 55 Bartholomew Avenue in Hartford, offers sweet and savory crêpes for breakfast, snacks and lunch.  Kathleen  has a few things to share about crêpes today!]

Kathleen“Crêpe” is pronounced with a flat e as in “bed.”  That was news to me, and I took 4 years of French in high school and have traveled to France a few times!

So what’s the difference between a crêpe and a pancake, you ask?  Crêpes are a flour-based food item as are pancakes, but crêpes are so much thinner and usually filled with something tasty, whether sweet or savory.

The term “crêpe” is a French word that comes from the Old French term “crespe,” that originates from the Latin words “crispa” or “crispus” meaning “curled.”  I know, boring facts, right?  What you need to know is that they are delicious!  The Café at Fifty-Five’s crêpes tend to be larger than most crêpes.  The bigger the better, I say!

goat cheeseSo back to the boring facts.  Flour, eggs, milk and butter are the main ingredients for the basic crêpe, but here comes the interesting part:  you can opt for a savory or sweet batter by adding some secret ingredients (talk to one of our chefs in the kitchen to find out more about those secret ingredients).  And the fillings complete the picture; there’s something for everyone, whether it’s bacon and eggs, bananas and Nutella, goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, or PB&J .

Whatever culture you are from and whatever your palate, I am certain that the Café will have a crêpe for you to discover and enjoy.  We are most definitely a Hartford destination.  Plus we have the friendliest and most accommodating staff within a 60-mile radius – just read our customer comment cards.

I hope everyone will stop by soon to enjoy a crêpe at the Café at Fifty-Five!

[Check out the Café at Fifty-Five menu here:


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2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event

The April 6 Volunteer Appreciation Event was, once again, a fun event with tasty food, live music (courtesy of Straight from the Hart, jazz players from the Hartt School of Music) and lots of recognition for our awesome volunteers.

This year’s award winners were Avon Old Farms School (School Volunteer Award), Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hartford (Faith Group Volunteer Award), Travelers Insurance (Corporate Volunteer Award) and Jesy Clausell (Superhero Volunteer Award).


In honor and memory of long-time volunteer Carolyn Arvidson, who passed away this January, we have re-named our annual Exemplary Volunteer Award to be the R. Regner and Carolyn S. Arvidson Exemplary Volunteer Award.

Nancy with captionThis year, the Exemplary Volunteer Award winner was Nancy Jacobs.  Nancy lends her talent to Hands On Hartford numerous times through the week, covering the registration book at Community Meals as well as coordinating a dinner group once a month. Nancy also is a volunteer leader, training and guiding fellow volunteers at the MANNA Community Pantry while also engaging with staff for Pantry Dream team meetings and other Neighborhood and Pantry services initiatives.  Nancy’s love for the community extends beyond the walls of Hands On Hartford. Her work with Christ Church Cathedral, Church Street Eats  and Church by the Pond is well known. She is a person the community has come to both admire and count on in times of need.

We are so grateful for all of the men, women and children who volunteer their time with Hands On Hartford – volunteers are an integral part of the work we do and of our mission.  To quote Reg  Arvidson, “The vast majority of people I meet at the pantry are beautiful in spirit and soul:  caring humble, and unselfish people who, through no fault of their own, are caught in a life that demands resources they lack.  These people are my friends, and I regard my work with them as sharing, not giving…. My heart smiles when their faces smile, and we are both changed.”  [Quote taken from Be the Change!, ed. Michelle Nunn, © 2006, by Hundreds of Heads Books, LLC]

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Spotlight on Jaime Ortega, Senior Case Manager

jaime-ortegaThis morning, I sat down with Jaime Ortega, a Senior Case Manager with Hands On Hartford’s Housing Services Program to find out a little about him and the work he does here.  Since Jaime was young, he has had an interest both in social justice issues and in the arts.  When he got his bachelor’s degree, he majored in film, but when it came time to think about a career, he wanted to do more hands on work helping people, and chose to get a master’s degree in social work.  He has now been with Hands On Hartford for over 10 years and in that time has clearly made a huge difference in the lives of the folks we serve.

Jaime explained that his role as a senior case manager is to provide intensive one-on-one support to help individuals find and maintain safe and affordable housing.  He sees his work as falling into three phases.  The first phase is the “getting to know you” phase:  finding out what a client’s past housing issues have been, what their housing goals are and what other issues or barriers in their life they might want to address.  Phase two is finding housing that will meet a client’s needs in terms of location, cost, size and so on and helping the client to settle into life off the street.  Phase three is ongoing.  Jaime meets regularly with all his clients to help them stay stably housed, to teach them life skills and to work with them to achieve other goals around medical care, job training and employment and reconnecting with family.

In talking with Jaime, it became clear how challenging it can be for someone who has never lived on their own, to be successful once they do find housing.  From learning to prepare meals, shopping on a budget, making medical appointments to dealing with landlords and utility companies, it’s all new, and part of Jaime’s job is to teach and act as a liaison to make the transition go smoothly.  It’s also amazing to see what’s possible for folks once they do have housing.  Once the burden of trying to survive day-to-day on the street is lifted, folks can start reconnecting and re-engaging with medical professionals, and thinking about life goals.

When I asked Jaime what he liked the best about his work, he said he deeply appreciates being able to connect with people on a human level, developing a level of trust and connection that makes this very intense one-on-one working relationship possible.  And he loves to witness the moment when a client is handed the keys to a new apartment, and watch the way a life is changed knowing that he contributed to it.

When he is not working or at home with his family, Jaime spends time on a screening committee for Connecticut’s 30th annual LGBT Film Festival, which takes place in June.  And if we play our cards right, we’ll put Jaime’s interest and background in film to good use making videos about Hands On Hartford to share with our friends.


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Basking in the Glow of the Holidays

It’s hard to believe we are already halfway through January in a new year, and it seems like we are just catching our breath here at Hands On Hartford after a wonderful, warm, generous and exciting holiday season!

ready-for-familiesStarting with Thanksgiving, there was an incredible outpouring of support from many of our friends all for the benefit of our Hartford neighbors.  Employees at Travelers donated 4,000 pounds of Thanksgiving food in beautifully decorated boxes, along with $8,000 in gift cards.  And Virtus Investment employees donated another 3,600 pounds of food, all for Thanksgiving.  Altogether, in November, we received 17,698 pounds of food donations to help stock the food pantry and make sure all of our clients could enjoy a bountiful Thanksgiving Meal.

volunteersOn top of this, we received a special donation from Whole Foods Market of 50 fully prepared Thanksgiving Dinners for two which were especially helpful for our clients who are not able to cook their own meals because of disabilities or limitations on mobility.  And we had over 300 families visit in the days before Thanksgiving to bring home a turkey and all of the fixings for meals they would cook at home.  Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, 173 guests attended our Community Meal prepared by Chefs Kim and Helen (with help from Governor Malloy and other volunteers), and enjoyed a wonderful event with special support from the Goodman and Howe families who have been supporting this event for years.

toy-shoppe-collageBefore we turned around, we were hosting the annual Toy Shoppe holiday celebration, where parents “shopped” for gifts for their children, while the children enjoyed a party with pizza, cookies, arts and crafts, dancing and a visit with Santa Claus.  As in past years, the toys were provided by Avon Old Farms School and the event was sponsored by United Health Care, Infoshred and First Church Simsbury. The next week we hosted a rocking party for HOH tenants, staff, interns and friends, and DJ Jon Eastman kept us dancing all evening.  5 days later, we hosted a Christmas Day community meal, where everyone enjoyed a delicious meal (with seconds and thirds) and gifts bags for all thanks to The Hartford and Girl Scout Troop 10264.

new-years-dayWe started the year out with a bang at a New Year’s Day community meal, with much help from a group from First Church Simsbury who brought decorations, balloons and bingo prizes, along with tasty treats for dessert.  And this year, we were able to offer special holiday gifts for all of the children attending the New Year’s Day meal – what fun the kids had picking out their own gifts.

Being involved with all of these holiday events, and witnessing all of the support this community provides to our Hartford neighbors, reminds us what a great community we live in and how powerful we are working together to make the world a better place for us all.

Happy 2017!


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Connecting Communities

defeo-willMy name is Will DeFeo, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Hands On Hartford whose service year – and therefore time working at Hands On Hartford – ends November 18. For those unfamiliar with AmeriCorps, it’s essentially the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps, where its members are from all across the country. Each VISTA spends a year behind the scenes of a non-profit, though sometimes thrown to the front, building out programs that will continue to grow and serve beyond their year.

My mission this past year was focused on creating capacity in Hands On Hartford’s economic security services, and, as enabled by AmeriCorps and a wise, helpful staff, is something I’m proud to say I accomplished.

My progress began with advice and guidance from both our (former) VISTA leader Logan Singerman and executive director Barbara Shaw (and helpful and friendly ear of Wanda Guzman, community engagement manager who oversees us VISTAs). Their advice was simple: as we move into the Parkville neighborhood, let’s find out what’s out there already, and then proceed. My going out into the community was predicated on Logan introducing me to the concepts of Asset-Based Community Development, which operates on two fundamental assumptions: first is that a community’s most lasting solutions will always come from the inside, and second is that we all have gifts to offer, as well as to the many people he knew.

This process took me all over Hartford: Connecticut Association of Human Services, Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs, Greater Hartford Reentry Council, The Village for Families and Children, Connecticut Asset Building Collaborative, Capital Workforce Partners, Parkville Neighborhood Revitalization Zone meetings, the Urban League, Mutual Housing Association, Goodwill Career Center, Literacy Volunteers, and countless people, volunteers, and passionate community members in between.

With all said and done, I’m proud to say what I’m leaving behind at Hands On Hartford is a connection for our neighborhood services clients to those community resources, but also a larger network that, though still in an early phase, is eager to take a grassroots approach to self-sufficiency issues. Each of the non-profits mentioned above met for morning meetings I organized (again, with much help and gratitude to Barbara and Wanda) to talk about their perspectives and program offerings. I thought it would center on resource sharing and referrals, but over time the conversation has shifted towards grassroots organizing and how to better represent program’s clients who might be going for GEDs, employment services, or budget coaching. I’m glad to say they will continue beyond my year here.

Of course, in the first paragraph I wrote VISTAs are “sometimes thrown to the front.” In the time I wasn’t working to organize all these agencies, I was helping with moving into the building, working alongside volunteers, getting major events setup and broken down, and, most humbling, speaking the Spanish I learned in high school communicating with many of our clients. Over the last several months we’ve transitioned to a new client data system, requiring an intake form we used temporarily. I completed one form completely speaking in Spanish – in high school I wondered when it would come in handy, and thanks to my year here, I got an answer.

I’ll end this post with a thank you and shout out though to everyone who’s collaborated with me – fellow VISTAs, staff, volunteers, and those at the many other non-profits as well. In particular to one of our pantry volunteers, Andrew, who, when I first met him explained it pretty straightforwardly: “kick *** for the workin’ class.” And, for anyone about to walk a same path or do the same work I did, the best advice I can give comes from the late Maya Angelou: “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Will DeFeo

Hartford Thrive! AmeriCorps VISTA

Econonomic Security and Program Development

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Harvest Supper Coming Soon

HS photThis year’s Harvest Supper will be held on Thursday, September 29, 2016 from 5:30-8:00 p.m. at our Center for Community at 55 Bartholomew Avenue in Hartford. We’ve all been having a blast planning for this event which will have some fun new features.

In keeping with our traditional “soup and bread” theme, The Hartford Baking Company will provide handmade breads, and guests will enjoy soup and salad pairings from local chefs including Tyler Anderson from Millwright’s, Prasad Chirnomula from Thali, Tevin Beckford from Popover’s Bistro & Bakery, and Power Minor and Sean Farrell from CT Provisions, and our own chefs Kim Bunton and Helen Colon.  We’re also excited that the new Hog River Brewing Company will provide beer tastings [please drink responsibly].

“Straight from the Hartt,” a student group from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, will keep things lively with an excellent jazz

We’ve been collecting some awesome donations for a silent and live auction, including a stay at a Caribbean villa, a private gourmet dinner, and a wide range of items for all tastes and pocketbooks.  We’ll have the finalized list of auction items out soon to preview.  In addition, former Hands On Hartford VISTA leader, Logan Singerman, who has become a true Hartford change-maker, will give a guest presentation that evening.

As in the past, all proceeds from the event will benefit Hands On Hartford’s programs focused on food, housing and economic security services for Hartford residents in need.  If you haven’t received your invitation, just let us know, or contact Kate Shafer at; 860-706-1505.  Tickets to the event are $65 per person, VIP tickets are $100 per person.

We are grateful for the support of our Harvest Supper sponsors:  Sustaining Sponsor Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Signature Sponsors Aetna, Crosskey Architects and Naek Construction Company; and Contributing Sponsors AmWINS Brokerage of New England, BlumShapiro, Acorn Consulting Engineers, Housing Enterprises, Montagno Construction, Reid and Riege, Mizzy Construction, Hoops Morganthaler Rausch & Scaramozza, Phoenix, and Thrivent Financial.

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Settling in at the new Hands On Hartford Center for Community

One of our community partners asked the other day, ‘How are things going at your new building?’  As I drew a deep breath to give an answer, I realized that we are really here, and so much is happening!

55BThe thirteen supportive housing tenants upstairs at the 55B Apartments are settling in and getting to know the vibrant and diverse Parkville neighborhood.  Four of them are building their resumes and getting job training as maintenance support for Hands On Hartford.  The HOH Housing Services staff also continues to work with all of the former residents of Peter’s Retreat, as well as providing housing support services and homelessness prevention assistance to a number of other folks across Hartford.

pantryThe MANNA Community Pantry and the Backpack Nutrition program areas are clean, beautiful and light, with more room to store and distribute fresh produce (along with fresh milk, eggs and bread), and also more room to store donations of regular pantry staples.  With a loading dock in the back of the building, it is easier than ever for us to receive large food drive donations and deliveries of food obtained from Foodshare.

screeningNeighborhood services are going strong.  Because the new location is on two major bus routes and a CT Fastrak station is located directly behind us, clients from across Hartford find it easy to get here.  We continue to offer referrals, utility assistance, limited security deposit assistance, training and employment opportunity assistance, health screenings and even a new diaper bank, made possible by some truly generous donations and the extra storage space we now enjoy.

serviceLarger customized service projects, immersions and “Dash for a Difference” events now kick off in our Community Room and Café space, and community partnerships and collaborations on service events continue throughout the city.  Individual volunteers help out at the pantry and backpack program on a daily basis, and groups participate in special events for the 55B tenants, as well as diverse service projects at other nonprofits, parks and schools in Hartford.

eventThe Community Café space, community room and training & conference room enable us to host events (like our annual Volunteer Appreciation Event) and community meetings, as well as serving as a host site for  Coordinated Access Network Assessments, a collaboration intended address homelessness and housing crises more efficiently and effectively.

CMTwo programs which are not yet operating from our Center for Community are Community Meals, which provides hot meals and vital assistance to homeless individuals and working families, three days and two evenings a week (still located at 45 Church Street) and Senior Community Café, our weekend senior meals program.  Very soon, we will be receiving and reheating the weekend senior meals at our Community Kitchen at 55 Bartholomew!

kitchenWith funding provided by a grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, we have undertaken a very exciting planning initiative focused on new uses for the large commercial kitchen and café space at the HOH Center for Community, not the least of which will involve operating a Community Café.  This process is nearly complete and we will soon be announcing our short and long term plans.

powerhousePlanning is also well underway for the development of our second building, which will have an additional 30 units of affordable housing.  The Powerhouse Apartments (so named because the building formerly supplied power to businesses all along Bartholomew Avenue) will be a combination of one-bedroom and efficiencies, some single-floor and some townhouse style.  We are currently in the process of selecting a general contractor, with a goal to “break ground” in 2017.

Finally, a general invitation:  Come for a visit!  We love to share our programs and plans with friends, old and new.

With best regards,

Kate Shafer, Communications Manager, May 12, 2016


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Hands On Hartford Center for Community is Open!

outside buildingAfter years of planning (and hoping and praying and collaborating and connecting and more planning), the day is here – we have moved to the Hands On Hartford Center for Community!  The last week has been a whirlwind of activity, but as I catch my breath at the end of the week, I am simply overwhelmed with the hard work, generosity of spirit, teamwork and collaboration that has made all of this possible.

two menVolunteers helped us pack and unpack the entire pantry full of food, not to mention our offices.  William B Meyer Moving Company moved boxes and furnishings from three different locations with speed and courtesy.  TWO MEN AND A TRUCK donated 90 hours of moving services over a 12 hour day to move thirteen tenants into brand new apartments at 55 Bartholomew.  Our construction team continued to work to finish up the commercial kitchen and last details of the building renovations, even as we moved in.  IT Resources had our computers up and running the day after we moved in, no mean feat!

We wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the incredible generosity of so many, including the financial donors to our special campaign, “Moving Together, All Hands On.”  Their gifts made the renovations to the building possible and will support our expanded operations, allowing us to serve more people, more comprehensively.  Stephanie Boyce and Trevonn Coleman, housing case managers, deserve special acknowledgement for working long days shopping with tenants and helping them pack, assembling furniture, and soothing frayed nerves of those around them.  And the master of this move, Director of Finance and Administration Pam Fitzgerald, made the whole endeavor, with all of its complications, work seamlessly – and not only work, but she kept us all in line with great humor, confidence and grace.

first inkind donationVolunteers, food pantry shoppers, and in-kind donors showed up at the Center for Community even as we moved in, and Board members brought plants to brighten tenants’ apartments.  MANNA Community Meals continued to operate as we packed and unpacked, our weekend Backpack Nutrition Program deliveries were uninterrupted, and Senior Community Café operations are on schedule even as I write this.  We are thrilled and almost used to seeing each other every day in one place.  And throughout it all, I have been moved and incredibly grateful to be working in a community of colleagues, clients, collaborators, tenants, volunteers, donors, neighbors and friends who are all committed to working together to put their caring in action to strengthen community in Hartford.


Barbara A. Shaw, LCSW

Executive Director

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