Monthly Archives: March 2013

Collaborating in our Community

We at Hands On Hartford are so grateful to be working in the community that we do. We are always on the look-out for opportunities to work in partnership with other local groups to build relationships, support each other’s work, and have fun doing it. Be sure to look into the Connecticut Historical Society’s  Community Cook-Off event April 5th. They have been generous enough to host a food drive for our MANNA Community Pantry at the event. They are encouraging people to sign up to register their best recipe and compete against others in categories such as the “Not-So-Secret Ingredients Challenge,” “ From Grandma’s Kitchen,” “ What’s in that casserole, anyway?” and “ I didn’t Know you could do that with Jell-o!” If you don’t want to be a part of the competition, join the party! You can enjoy the competition, food and refreshments, and guided tours of the exhibit, Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart. The event looks like a really great time and gives us a great opportunity to also help those in need through the food drive.

The MANNA Community Pantry is now serving over 400 households each month since the renovations last September. This food goes to families, senior citizens and disabled residents in Hartford who are struggling to make ends meet. We also have been able to provide more nutritional education and other assistance to clients at the pantry. Thanks to a grant from Lincoln Financial Group we have been able to provide milk and eggs every week. And recently Stop & Shop has provided us with gift cards to purchase fresh produce each week.

With the help of our community partners, we are making an even bigger difference in people’s lives. Thanks to groups like the Connecticut Historical Society we are having  fun doing it.

For more information about the CT Historical Society and the Community Cook-Off please visit:

For more information about ways to partner with Hands On Hartford please email Kate Shafer at

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Alternative Spring Break with Boston University

BU blogMore likely than not, the vision that comes to mind when thinking of “Spring Break” is one of beaches, sun, and care-free relaxation.  But, for 15 Boston University students (who were mostly first-years and sophomores), their Spring Break was spent in an alternative way.  They chose to spend their week in Hartford, Connecticut working very hard to provide services to our most vulnerable community members.

With dozens of Alternative Spring Break trips to choose from all over the country, ranging anywhere from environmental clean-ups to working in a retirement home for nuns, these students chose to spend their week with Hands On Hartford, for a “fusion” trip.  The two trip coordinators, junior Emma Rehard and sophomore Sheena Chatterjee, were drawn to this trip because they were able to spend each day at a different Hands On Hartford site, getting to see the different needs  of our community.  BU Alternative SB

Students participated in a number of different activities throughout the Hands On Hartford sites: painting at Peter’s Retreat, playing BINGO and serving lunch at Community Meals, shopping with guests at the Community Pantry, packing hundreds of bags for our Backpack Nutrition Program, collecting 341 pounds of canned goods at a food drive, amongst many other important tasks.  Along with providing services, the students (who came from as close as West Hartford and as far as San Francisco) also were able to learn more about the Hartford community through a walking tour of the city with a Faces of Homelessness speaker, and a tour of the Connecticut Capitol Building.

At the end of the weekBU students, all students walked away with a smile on their faces, and a better understanding of the needs of the Hartford community and an experience they can bring home with them.  When asked to respond to the statement  “I’m glad I chose this Alternative Spring Break trip”, all 15 answered “Strongly Agree.” And what the students are taking away from this experience can be summed up with these two quotes:

“The feeling I’m taking away from this week is: really seeing how lucky I am to have so many people and things in my life, and seeing how it’s possible to have a positive attitude in a really negative situation.”

“The feeling I’m taking away from his week is: a greater commitment to service. I feel like a lot of the values and beliefs that I talked about before coming here have been validated and strengthened by this experience and I feel energized and excited to take what I’ve learned back to Boston to continue to try to make a difference.”

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A Winter Service Activity that Melted Hearts and Warmed Souls

Fourteen passionate and committed young ladies from Miss Porter’s had a transformational experience this winter.  Hands On Hartford planned a multi-week service project for student volunteers – the first of its kind.  Although we have accommodated numerous mission groups and planned multi-day projects in a single week, this 9-week winter service activity was different on many levels.    It gave us an opportunity to bond with the student volunteers and expose them to myriad non-profits, community needs and individuals – individuals who left a lasting impression on the students.    Miss Porter’s created this winter community service activity as an alternative to a sports class.  For nine weeks between December and February the volunteers engaged in 4 hours of service weekly.


The season kicked off early December with visits to Community Meals, Simpson Waverly Elementary School and Salvation Army Marshall House.  The students organized and overhauled the storage room including all of the food products and paper goods at our soup kitchen, brightened up the interior of the school by applying fresh coats of paint to worn doors/converted off-white walls to royal blue, spruced up a resident’s room at the shelter with fresh coats of paint and prepared holiday cards for the residents.

We resumed our weekly engagements once the students returned from their holiday break.  For the month of January, the students were introduced to additional organizations including Ebony Horsewomen and ML King Elementary.   At Ebony Horsewomen, the volunteers were given a tour of this urban agricultural center; they enhanced the animal science classroom (which was filled with ferrets and other living creatures) with fresh paint and created a special bulletin board to recognize the student and rider of the month that now hangs in the hallway.  Prior to this, Ebony Horsewomen did not have a formal way to recognize students – the beautiful cream and purple board that was erected can now be used to recognize well behaved students who have worked hard – it will serve as a great esteem-builder. 


The project at ML King school differed significantly from others – it was the longest recurring project that included heavy client interaction.  The students from Miss Porter’s worked closely with 1st and 3rd grade students in the after-school program.   The students visited ML King a total of 4 times during the month of January and assisted with homework help, fitness related activities and prepared the students and school for the upcoming Black History Month.  As part of Black History Month, the Porter’s students came up with a creative depiction of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that included lots of yarn (which represented tracks) and tissue paper.  Moreover, they helped the children memorize poems that correlated with the theme of the month.   In a very spontaneous act, the volunteers also sang with the children during the school’s PTO meeting. 

Even though the duration was short, the volunteers and children developed a very strong and meaningful connection.  As the Parent Educator, who leads the after-school initiative commented, “the girls have connected with the students beautifully.”  The Parent Educator also shared that the one-on-one interaction led to an improvement in the behavior of the students and that the children truly looked forward to the visits – there were many hugs and many smiles on both ends.   When the bond became evident to us, we recognized that we had to amend the volunteer’s schedule to allow for more interaction with the children during the month of February.  During the month of February the volunteers returned to the after-school program and led photography workshops with the students.  One of the Porter’s students has expressed an interest in returning to work with the students, “ I would love to come back in the spring to MLK and do more art workshops with them.  I am really, really serious.”  We recognize that the connections that we make are intangible and sometimes life altering. 

For the the final monthImage of February, the student volunteers served at our Community Pantry, Peter’s Retreat and Wish Elementary School.   The students helped pack backpacks with kid-friendly meals for our 270 recipients, arranged a special game of Bingo for the residents of PR and also served them dinner.  The 9-week service project culminated with a visit to Fred D. Wish where the students were greeted by the principal, given a tour, treated to pizza and painted three beautiful and vibrant murals in the pre-k/kindergarden wing of the school.  Currently, the walls of the school are covered with uninspiring faux beige cinder block walls – the images of happy children in bold colors has truly transformed the space into a more child-friendly/inviting environment and both the staff and students at Wish Elementary are anxiously awaiting more.  According to a graduating senior, the best part of the whole experience was “getting a greater appreciation for Hartford and all the great programs HOH runs.  I loved getting to know the people who work/live in the these communities.  I’m so sorry I’m graduating.”

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