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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Learn More About Youth Homelessness with Ashleigh

Ashleigh Eubanks is a native of Hartford and grew up in the north end. She recently graduated from Mount Holyoke College in May with a Bachelors Degree in Gender Studies and a Minor in Sociology. She hopes that her time as an Americops VISTA will help her figure out her next steps as far as grad school and future career plans. Ashleigh is very passionate about social justice issues and is committed to working with disadvantaged populations.

Ashleigh is currently an Americorps VISTA member serving as a Homeless Youth Coordinator. Some of Ashleigh’s goals  for this year as Homeless Youth Coordinator are to expand the overall awareness and knowledge around unaccompanied youth homelessness; form advocacy groups for youth who have experienced homelessness to make recommendations as to how to better address the issue;  work with service providers to be more youth friendly and to keep in mind the unique situation of unaccompanied youth; and to identify a group of stakeholders interested in being a part of the development of a youth only shelter or drop in center.

Ashleigh has a special interest in this work because about two years ago she participated in a Doctoral research project where she interviewed youth who had been unaccompanied or homeless in the past. The objective of this project was to assess the social supports and resources available to youth when they need a place to stay. As a researcher on this project most of the people that Ashleigh interviewed were her friends and peers.

Ashleigh is in the process now of organizing a Panel Discussion on Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness in Hartford. The panel will discuss the issue of youth homelessness in Hartford and why these youth are often referred to as an “invisible population”. This event is free and open to the public. It will take place in the CCC room at Downtown Hartford Public Library on Tuesday November 13th from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

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Four Parks + 150 Volunteers = One Great Day of Service

Four parks. One hundred and fifty volunteers. Two new non-profit partners.

When Insurity approached us about planning their annual Day of Service, this year held on October 11th, we pondered a number of possibilities – including a river clean-up, painting shelters and more. However, the perfect option presented itself affording Hands On Hartford an opportunity to accommodate the employees’ interests and partner with two new organizations. We partnered with Riverfront Recapture and The Metropolitan District (MDC); this partnership allowed us to focus on a
new area – the environment.

Employees spent half a day beautifying and cleaning four parks in total – 3 in Hartford and 1 in East Hartford: Charter Oak Landing, Riverside Park, Great River Park and Mortensen Plaza. At Charter Oak Landing, volunteers weeded, cut down day lilies, trimmed branches, and revamped the entire front entrance. The front entrance had become overgrown with low-lying shrubs that were unsightly and intractable. The volunteers replaced the shrubs with more apropos plantings which resulted in an enhanced entryway. Over at Great River Park volunteers planted grass seeds, painted railings, trimmed trees and cleaned-up debris. At Mortensen Plaza, a jewel on the banks of the Connecticut River and centerpiece of the Riverfront Park System, volunteers removed grafitti by applying fresh coats of paint. The majority of the volunteers spent the morning at Riverside Park. Here Insurity employees trimmed the day lilies, mulched the flower beds, spread wood chips on walking trails,
trimmed trees, weeded the entrance/planted mums & bulbs, made a baseball field and 6 picnic tables.

Insurity Employees are truly committed and industrious evidenced by the woodworking team arriving on-site at Riverside Park about an hour before the “official start time” to begin the table construction. The company was truly able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time just in time for the Hartford Marathon, which occurred two days later, and RiverFront Recapture’s annual fundraiser.

“I would like to thank Hands On Hartford and all the wonderful folks from Insurity who participated in today’s successful program. The entrance to Charter Oak Park looks fabulous. The caulking of the Mortensen Plaza masonry was professionally done and looks fantastic. The new picnic tables are first rate, and we now have an impressive baseball field. The painting, grass seeding and overall cleanup enhance the look of these picturesque parks. They will be shining for this weekend’s Hartford Marathon.” James Mazza, Maintenance Superintendent, MDC.

Thank you Insurity for your continued commitment to service and for bringing much needed human resources and skills to the RiverFront Parks.

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Connecting with the Community

The Team!


Friday, September 14, 2012 was a beautiful late summer day – perfect for landscaping and painting. On this morning 27 employees from Altria convened at Weaver High School with two things in mind: team-building and community service. The team of volunteers, many of whom work remotely throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, arrived on-site bright and early. Prior to entering the school, they met in the parking lot to do an activity. It became very evident at that moment, just how important this day was to them. As they entered the school, they were welcomed by a sea of students from the Culinary Arts Program and led to the cafe where they were greeted by the Principal and Hands On Hartford staff.
The team worked feverishly both indoors and outdoors. The outdoor team weeded 12 beds, planted a dozen tulip bulbs per bed, a total of 36 purple mums, and laid mulch. It was arduous work that led to an enhanced entrance. Prior to Altria’s service project, the perimeter (in this case main entrance) lacked color – there wasn’t a single flower in sight. Moreover, the flowers have additionally created service opportunities for students who are now responsible for maintaining them. We are looking forward to visiting the school in March/April to see the 144 harbingers of spring (tulips) that will flood the entrance with color – just think about the countless smiles that will result from this action.
On the inside, we had three teams that focused their efforts on painting the ground floor – the hallway and the future main office of the school. The teams had a great time painting walls shades of blue, orange, green and white as well as sharing laughs along the way. The students were pleased with the outcome and commented as they passed in the halls; they even gave official thumbs up when one of the teams elected to add some color – changing one of the white walls green. The team in the office space had a huge undertaking painting multiple offices within a larger office and met the challenge with a positive attitude and three coats of paint.
This project was exciting for our organization on a number of fronts: it was the first time that we worked with Altria and a first with our newest partnering organization Weaver. Altria’s corporate team from District 1173 truly embodied the spirit of service and reinforced that community service not only makes a difference but can also be loads of fun. Thank you Altria for contributing just over 160 hours of your time to the Hartford Community.

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