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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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Family Volunteering at Hands On Hartford

“Do you allow children to volunteer?”

As the Community Engagement Program Manager, I get asked this question from parents, teachers, troops and youth leaders quite frequently. I am then happy to explain how Hands On Hartford values the time, perspective, and jovial spirit that children often provide when volunteering at our programs.

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2015 Family Volunteer Day

In fact, Hands On Hartford recently had the honor of partnering with over 100 volunteers or 33 families for Family Volunteer
Day on Saturday, November 21st.  Family Volunteer Day is a day of service that celebrates the power of families who work together to support their neighbors and neighborhoods.

Presented by generationOn and sponsored by Disney Friends for Change, this event provided an opportunity for volunteers of all ages a chance to make a difference, while learning about the issues of poverty, food insecurity and homelessness, affecting the Hartford Community.

Families worked together, moving through several project stations to complete a no-sew scarf, decorate a gift bag, decorate a Christmas card, assemble a health kit, and finally place a pair of gloves, deodorant, and granola bar to complete one gift bag. Completed gift bags will benefit guests at Hands On Hartford’s soup kitchen at our Christmas Day Community Meal.

It was an educational and eye opening experience for most volunteers involved. While moving through project stations, families were challenged to dialogue with Hands On Hartford staff on why this project and our services are needed.

So, why does Hands On Hartford not only allow but actively encourage children to volunteer?

It’s quite simple. Volunteering is learning outside the classroom walls.  Volunteering not only provides assistance to a nonprofit but it introduces engagement, service learning, and awareness to youth at an early age. Children, who are encouraged to volunteer, grow up viewing this time as beneficial, both to themselves and those being served. As a child matures, volunteering becomes natural and intertwined into his or her everyday life.

Volunteering as a family also leads to new connections and friendships. It provides the opportunity for youth and adults to cross the invisible boundaries that are often formed between those in need and those who lives are currently stable. Volunteering bridges this divide, leading to one community for all.

Wanda Guzman

Program Manager – Community Engagement

Hands On Hartford

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A Happy VISTAversary

Anniversaries are a time when people set off fireworks, buy flowers, and buy chocolate too if the year before they forgot the flowers. Anniversaries are a time to remember, to reflect, to celebrate. This past weekend three AmeriCorps VISTAs in the Hartford Thrive! project celebrated their 6 month VISTAversary. I’m not going to light off fireworks, but I am going to reflect and celebrate.

Just six months ago, they packed up their cars and left the mountains of New Hampshire, crabs of Maryland, and shoo fly pies of Pennsylvania to dedicate a year of service to fighting poverty in the city that Mark Twain once called home. While they were driving out, I was freaking out, not really sure of what it meant to really lead a team of VISTA members and to orient them well.  I had the same feeling that I get when I’m asked to hold really small babies. I get nervous, afraid that I’m going to break them or sneeze on them the wrong way.

But now that sensation has subsided and I feel more like a proud parent. I’ve learned that it’s not really up to me to make the project fully successful. All of the VISTAs have strengths  they can use to figure things out for themselves and leave behind a trail for future AmeriCorps members to follow. In these six months I have seen them forge trails by giving Faces of Homelessness presentations to 500 high schoolers in Hebron and use their deep passion for housing justice to move towards a sustainable speakers’ bureau. I have seen them form connections with local churches to start community gardens to support our pantry. And I have seen them draw from their deep wells of creativity and engagement to receive funding from the Hartford Wolfpack to make our back packs healthier for the elementary schoolers who receive them.

And as a proud parent  I’ve gotten to see our family grow, to 10 VISTA members at five non-profits all working tirelessly so that members of our community have access to food, housing, and economic security. They are helping create job pipelines for people who are homeless, increasing the financial literacy of 500 youth, and helping women of our community break beyond living paycheck to paycheck through savings matching programs. At Hartford Thrive! we really do have a lot to be proud of and celebrate. Maybe I should get those fireworks out after all…

Logan Singerman

Americorps VISTA Leader | Hartford Thrive!

Hands On Hartford

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