Category Archives: Hands On Hartford

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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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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Expanding Awareness with Celia

As promised, here is an introduction to another VISTA helping the Hartford Community. HOH is so excited to be working with so many enthusiastic young people!

Celia Caffery is the new Opening Doors: Greater Hartford AmeriCorps VISTA at Journey Home. She will be working on a number of projects including creating a coordinated entry system to allow households who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to go through a single system to determine their eligibility for public benefits, rental assistance, and shelters. She will also be working in communications, development, and planning numerous awareness-raising events throughout the year (keep an eye out for more information on Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week this November and a Sleep Out in the spring).

Celia is a recent graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota where she majored in Classical Studies.  While in school, Celia’s classes, internships and extracurricular activities continually steered her towards her passion for human rights and civic engagement.  During college she interned in the district office of Congressman John Olver (MA-01) and as a court monitor with Watch MN, an organization focused on protecting the rights of women and children through public scrutiny of court hearings.  She is particularly interested in the intersections between different human rights issues and interested to see how her previous work informs her work on homelessness this upcoming year.

A native New Englander, Celia is excited to be back in the Northeast working at Journey Home and getting to know Hartford.  Through her work at Journey Home, she hopes to expand awareness about homelessness in the Greater Hartford community and help make the homeless crisis response system more efficient for clients and providers.

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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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National Day of Service and Remembrance

The Group.

Hands On Hartford was proud to plan a volunteer project for the National Day of Service and Remembrance, which is held on September 11th. AmeriCorps/Peace Corps current, alum and aspiring all came together at one of HOH’s program sites to continue the renovation process of the MANNA food pantry, pack backpacks for the Nutritional Weekend Backpack Program and share experiences of service with each other.

The group gathered from all over Connecticut and New York and was broken up into two teams to better accommodate the projects that were planned for the evening. The first team tackled the food pantry to clean and organize the room where the new full-shopping-model Community Pantry will be, and stock the shelves in the current food pantry. They also put together 6 shelving units to create aisles in the room. The upstairs team formed an assembly line and packed 225 backpacks with nutritional snacks and easy to make meals for the kids who are on free or reduced lunches during the school year and would otherwise go hungry over the weekend. Both teams did an efficient and amazing job at all tasks at hand.

Coming together to make a difference and to share their favorite part about service was something that everyone in the room could relate to and enjoyed on the anniversary of September 11th. Everyone had something to share, which made it an encouraging, motivating and fun space to be in.

Re-organizing the new room for the Community Pantry.

Re-organizing the current pantry shelves.

The assembly line, stuffing backpacks.

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Caring in Action

One of our focuses is on children and their success, in our Family School Connection program. So what better way than to partner with Our Piece of the Pie (OPP) and give high school students in the Hartford area some work experience this past summer. We welcomed 3 summer youth employees to three of our sites, Peter’s Retreat, MANNA Community Pantry and MANNA Community Meals.  The students were placed according to their interest and worked for 5 to 6 weeks, learning the ins and outs of each site, getting to know the clients and learning what it meant to help those who need the services that HOH provides.

Over all the students enjoyed working with HOH. Emily Kaas, Hands On Hartford’s Volunteer Coordinator, had the opportunity to meet with them every Friday to check in with them and to promote further community engagement and emphasize service learning, something that HOH prides itself on.

The youth came up with a great idea one Friday to have a food drive for the Community Pantry. “It was great to see them identify the need they’ve been seeing through their work in our programs, and then come up with a plan themselves as to how they can help” said Emily Kaas. They were able to collect some food and be proud of what they accomplished not only from this food drive but throughout their time with Hands On Hartford.

“It was so inspiring to watch these youth grow and mature in just a short few weeks.  I had the opportunity to not only watch them do some pretty hard work at our programs, but also interact with our guests and clients in a genuine way. These three youth had the unique summer opportunity to grow their connections within Hartford, and so did Hands On Hartford,” Emily adds.

For more information about OPP please visit:

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