Category Archives: Events

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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Making a Difference in Memory of Martin Luther King Jr.

What a great way to remember Martin Luther King Jr.: bringing the community together to make  a difference.

Hands On HarImagetford organized three projects for youth throughout Hartford and the surrounding areas to beautify and spend time at Salvation Army Marshall House, Peter’s Retreat and Burns Elementary School.

Sunday, teachers from Teach for America joined forces with Americorps VISTAS at Burns Elementary School to paint bleachers, accent doors with school colors and paint murals. One mural the kids even created themselves: an eagle colored in with the Latin states’ colors. Image

“With everybody working together to paint the bleachers, the gym soon transformed into a brighter, bigger space. It was really exciting to see the gym transform.  The gym teacher said all the kids were smiling when they saw the change,” shared VISTA member Tracy Choomack.

Monday, HOH welcomed the Rocky Hill Congregational Youth Group to Peter’s Retreat. They played bingo with the residents, cleaned railings, door knobs and vacuumed and served brunch to the residents. The kids seemed to really have Peter's (Rocky Hill Youth Group)a good time joking with the residents and volunteering their day off to put a smile on some faces.

Finally, HOH partnered with Salvation Army Marshall House Monday to host volunteers from UCONN’s medical school. Ten students came eager to brighten up the living space for the residents. The addition of some yellow paint brightens the whole upstairs. They also put together 37 gift bags for residents full of shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, soap and toothpaste.  The med students took the extra step of writing  positive notes to the residents and attached them to the gift bags.

RememberingImage Martin Luther King through service is one of the best ways to honor his memory.

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Thanks to all the volunteer groups, Teach for America, Americorps VISTA’s, Rocky Hill Congregational Youth Group and UCONN students for all your help and remembering Martin Luther King Jr.  in service.  Also, big thanks to Home Depot, Target, Stop N’ Shop, Max Bibo’s on Main and The Cheesecake Factory in West Hartford for your donations. You truly made the day special.

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Sharing the Holiday Spirit! Toy Shoppe 2012

What are the ingredients for a great holiday party? Festive decorations, delicious food, rocking music, and a whole lot of fun. Fortunately, toy room 2all of these things were in ample supply at this year’s Toy Shoppe holiday party.

Each year, the formula is the same: generous students at Avon Old Farms raise thousands of dollars (usually around $10,000) to purchase toys for Hartford families in need. Toys big and small, for a range of ages, are purchased at Target and brought to Hartford to be sorted.  Hundreds of families then join us later in the week for a fun-filled afternoon and evening.

This year, over 400 people joined us for this festive celebration. Families enjoyed a delicious meal of wrappingpasta and salad prepared by our in-house cooks and donated by Salute. Staff and volunteers provided an array of sweet treats for dessert.

While parents were shopping in the toy room, kids had fun in the party room. They danced to music provided by a DJ, got their face painted, made holiday crafts, and got their pictures taken with Santa!

Toy Shoppe week is one of our favorite times of the year. It is truly magical to see kids, parents, volunteers, and staff come together for such an uplifting and jolly event. Thanks to all who made it possible including: Avon Old Farms, Aetna, Salute, Guida’s Dairy, Panera, and Dunkin Donuts!

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A Leap of Faith with Aetna’s Clinical Consulting, Strategy and Analysis Team

Build bikes in-house or venture out into the community? This was a major Aetnaquestion that one of Aetna’s employees grappled with when contemplating the development of an annual team meeting. The goal of the service portion of the team meeting was to engage a team, typically scattered across the country, in a meaningful health and wellness oriented project lasting approximately 3 hours in duration. Hands On Hartford’s Engagement team did just that for the team of 35 clinicians.
Although it was a Aetna 3wintry day complete with snow, the interior of Marshall House Salvation Army was warmed by the friendliness and enthusiasm exuding from the employee volunteers. The employee volunteers arrived exactly at 3pm and were greeted by Hands On Hartford staff and the shelter’s Director of Operations. After the orientation, the volunteers received a tour of the facility before rolling up their sleeves and delving into service.
The volunteers performed myriad projects including:
• creating health oriented murals in the pediatric room where UConn Medical students see resident children
• creating murals Aetna 2promoting physical activity in the Tiny Tots Room
• conducting three workshops on topics such as – hygiene, nutrition/vitamins and winter illnesses
• preparing hygiene gift bags for adult residents
• preparing nutritious health sacks for the children complete with illustrations Aetna 5promoting good health
• preparing a well balanced dinner consisting of – a fruit salad, green salad, kidney beans, wild rice and stuffed chicken breasts.
The exAetna 4perience was great for all involved and provided the volunteers an opportunity to connect with those in need in a meaningful way as well as learn about the issue of homelessness in the community. We certainly appreciate Aetna’s Clinical Consulting, Strategy and Analysis team taking a leap of faith with Hands On Hartford, purchasing the raw materials to make the event possible and bringing a great can-do spirit to the home of nearly 55 families.

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HOH Family Volunteer Day

Family Service day 2

Family volunteering cultivates positive values (such as caring and empathy) in children/youth and can be done by the whole family together, by one parent and one child/teen, or with extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. When families engage in service it can ultimately lead to the mobilization of thousands of new volunteers and instill in the next generation a lifelong commitment to volunteering. On November 17th, Hands On Hartford participated in its very first Family Volunteer Day, sponsored by Disney’s Friends for Change and powered by our friends at GenerationOn (the youth arm of Points of Light). Family Volunteer Day was created 22 years ago by Points of Light and is strategically held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to “kick-off” the holiday season with giving and service.

Family Service day 5
This event was unique because it was the first of its kind that we organized and because of the volunteer base that we drew from. Hands On Hartford reached out to its non-profit partners, who are typically the beneficiaries of our service projects and engaged them in this specially created service project at Weaver High School. A medley of groups participated in our half-day event including students/teachers from the American School for the Deaf, Wish and ML King Elementary Schools. We were also pleased to see our friends from Marshall House Salvation Army – who brought all of its families to lend a hand. Moreover, we had youth volunteers from girl & boy scouts, RISE UP (a leadership development program associated with Weaver High) and youth from a local Boys & Girls Club.
The volunteers:
• created dazzling Thanksgiving cards to be included in Hands On Hartford’s annual Turkey Boxes – boxes distributed to needy families that contain a turkey and all the fixings for a meal
• cleaned all of the doors within this massive school building
• painted the future main office of the school (including the area outside)
• painted a classroom on the first floor
• created culinary art themed murals
• painted select walls on the 2nd floor (including the cafeteria area).

Family Volunteer Day
All 93 volunteers were eager to participate in the projects and many of the volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to give back. It was wonderful to see a resident from Marshall House sit with his children and make Thanksgiving cards for the Turkey Boxes (which was distributed to our food pantry clients). He commented that he and his family have often received these types of hand outs and he knows how much the cards will mean to the person/s receiving the Turkey Boxes. It was also great to see another volunteer, who happened to be from the same shelter, take the lead directing other volunteers. This opportunity empowered not only youth, but also the disadvantaged.

Family Service day 4
Some of the volunteers even brought turkeys for our Thanksgiving Boxes. The day culminated with lunch and a youth friendly reflection. In honor of Disney and fairy tales, we decided to have a “magicwand” reflection. Each group was provided with a magic wand (chopstick) and asked how the experience was similar to granting a wish. The students loved the activity, in particular the wands and not only did they get the connection but also wished for those who are less fortunate to have many of the material things that they have.

Family Volunteer Day 3
Nine year-old Maria Shrivers shared, “I liked how we made cards for other people that go to the soup kitchen. I liked painting the walls at the high school. The last thing I liked was when we had Subway for lunch. I learned from doing this that I can be of help to others, and you should treat other people how you want to be treated.” We truly appreciate the opportunity that both Disney Friends for Change and GenerationOn afforded us, the youth and our partner agencies; it was a wonderful way to “kick-off” the season of giving.

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Aetna at the Weekend Backpack Program

Aetna NotesThe 275 children who participate in our Weekend Nutrition Program must have been pleasantly surprised when they opened their green backpacks to find the usual suspects and then some. Raisins. Pretzels. Cheese & Crackers. An extra pudding. A fruit cup. Oh my.
When Aetna’s Learning & Performance for Sales and Underwriting contacted Engagement about a team-building community service project a couple of months back, they were immediately drawn to our Backpack Program. On November 28th, nearly 30 employees arrived via school bus to South Church ready to pack 300 bags with kid-friendly foods over a 2-hour period. The company made a $3,000 donation towards the purchase of the food (2 breakfast items, 2 lunch items, snacks, drinks, etc.); this contribution afforded Hands On Hartford the ability to purchase the staple products along
with the extras.
The emploAetna Group Shotyee volunteers formed two lines on either side of the fully stocked assembly tables. At the end of the assembly line, the employees went to the note writing station to pick up inspirational hand written note-cards that their colleagues prepared to include in each child’s sack. Each volunteer had an opportunity to write cards and pack bags. The room was filled with laughs, festive music, a friendly competitive spirit and lots and lots of bags. During the project, we also took small groups down to tour the newly revamped food pantry. The volunteers were genuinely excited about the pantry and even asked great questions such as “when you get new packs of meat weekly, do you turnover thAetna Bags and Signe older content?”
The sales team finished packing the bags well within the 2 hours. They were uber efficient and energetic – one employee even commented on how much time it took him to complete a bag and wondered what the record was. After the bags were completed the team headed downstairs to a more intimate space for a reflection activity. When asked what is one word that you would use to describe today’s experience…many uttered grateful and blessed. We were also joined by two sixth grade students from Grace Academy who shared their thoughts on the Weekend Nutrition Program. They both commented that their absolute favorite food item in the bags are……you guessed it – “Goldfish.”
The reflection was two-folAetna Lined: a time to reflect and a time to celebrate as it was the birthday of two of the employees. Everyone, including the invited students were able to partake in the celebration and cake. At the end of the reflection, employees continued to ask great questions and even expressed interest in returning with their children to pack bags. The employees also collected a cash donation for the Backpack Program prior to departing. It was truly an afternoon well spent. Aetna’s Learning & Performance for Sales and Underwriting truly went above and beyond with their contribution of financial resources, man-hours and enthusiasm. Thank you Aetna for bringing smiles and much needed meals to the children we serve!

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The Biggest Service Project to Date!

Enormous. Gigantic. Monumental.

These are just a few adjectives to describe our biggest service project to date!

The Big Day of Serving was just that, a BIG Day of Serving. On Saturday, October 19th, christian youth (6th grade-12th grade) from congregations as far away as Stamford, Trumbull, Albany and Long Island arrived in Hartford
armed with work gloves, bottled water, tons of energy and an eagerness to make a difference. By 7:30am, the parking lot of Simpson-Waverly, the kick-off site for the event, was filled with vans and buses. The 311 volunteers headed straight to the auditorium post check-in for the kick-off rally that lasted approximately 30 minutes. The kick-off consisted of a praise session, songs, and prayers.
The Big Day of Serving is an opportunity for youth to transform a neighborhood; it occurs nationwide during the fall and spring months. Our Big Day of Serving volunteers focused their efforts on beautifying the North End of Hartford. Their sites included: King Elementary, Weaver High, Simpson-Waverly Elementary Schools and Keney Park.

Over at King volunteers painted hallways, the cafeteria, stairwells, hand rails, door trims, planted mums, cleaned-up debris/leaves and scrubbed stairs in high traffic areas. The outdoor team at King, switched gears after lunch and walked across the street to Keney Park, the largest park in the city, to enhance the space (this was actually the first time that we worked with the Park). They planted approximately 240 tulips, pruned shrubs and removed invasive plant species. At Weaver High, volunteers gave the girls locker room a face lift (removed all traces of graffiti) and applied a fresh coat of paint. The hallway leading to the cafe was also revamped and now sparkles – the enhanced hallway now complements the handsome cafe where culinary arts students display their creations. Additionally,volunteers painted the 1st & 2nd floor hallways.
The Big Day of Serving volunteers at Simpson-Waverly tackled myriad interior/exterior projects. The outdoor team trimmed branches, swept, raked, planted mums & dozens of spring bulbs. They even landscaped the school’s existing garden bed. The indoor teams focused on enhancing common areas – including the cafeteria, conference rooms, staff room and more. Simpson-Waverly named several rooms after historic black colleges – volunteers painted the rooms to match the colors of the colleges and in some cases muraled the college’s logo. In the cafeteria, volunteers also muraled images of fruits & veggies – with messages encouraging the students to eat healthily. The volunteers truly went above and beyond on this day. For example, volunteers unscrewed the covers of the water fountains, sanded them and applied fresh coats of silver spray paint. The volunteers came up with this idea on their own and purchased materials from a hardware store (in the midst of the project). This act of kindness truly enhanced the freshly painted cafeteria and exemplified the spirit of those serving. Murals were also created in the hallways– including one etched in cursive that read the school’s slogan “Entering the Doors of Successful Scholars.”

At the end of the service projects all of the volunteers returned to Simpson-Waverly for the celebration– which included refreshments, praise songs and reflection. It was truly a day well spent and a huge undertaking for us that proved beneficial to all involved. We enabled the revitalization of three elementary schools (and a park) in the North End – an area of Hartford that doesn’t share the same level of resources as other parts of the city. Through the management of this project, Hands On Hartford brought a value of $37,361 to the community (not including material costs) in volunteer time. But, the best part of all were the moments when the youth volunteers connected with the community children.
It was truly magical and fellowship at its best.

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