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September 18, 2014

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Editor's Note: This opinion piece was submitted by a member of the public to The Day's community website, www.Zip06.com.

Community Engagement Associate of Access Community Action Agency

Posted By: Elisha S

Published 12/17/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 12/17/2012 04:08 PM

Access Calls to the Community to Help Sponsor a “Giving Tree” to Bring Holiday Cheer to Adolescents in Transitional Living Arrangements Danielson and Norwich, CT — It's the season for giving, but for the adolescent residents at the Access Community Action Agency’s Hawkins House and Crossroads transitional living programs, the gift of the Holiday Spirit can often fall short. The need to bring the Holiday Spirit to these youths is made clear by Crossroads Supervisor, Katrina Kettle, as she expresses, “As we all make plans for the upcoming holidays I am sure that your plans are surrounded by close friends and family as well as holiday traditions and gift giving. For our youth the holidays can often mean a completely different thing. They are reminders of the family they do not have, or the family they do have but are not the family that they hope to be and need. ‘Friends’ mean friends that they have acquired along the line of living in different homes, different locations, different towns and cities, and often different states which separate them. So, what they are faced with are the ‘here and now friends’ of their current living situation. Individuals often say it should not be about the presents but about spending time with our loved ones, unfortunately these youth often do not have any family members or close friends that they can spend the holiday season with. As a program we try to give these youth as ‘normal’ of a holiday season as possible, which does include gift-giving and holiday traditions. However, with the limited amount of funds each year we are finding it more and more difficult to get the gifts that these youth want.” The “Giving Tree” is decorated with ornaments that have a residents’ wish for a particular gift. For the past two years the Mansfield Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation has provided a “Giving Tree” to Hawkins House, a nine bed P.A.S.S. (Preparing Adolescents for Self Sufficiency) level group home that serves female adolescents between the ages of 14 and 20 years in Danielson. The volunteers deliver the gifts to the group homes and place them under the tree. The adolescent gift list include: blank CD’s, boys/girls curtains, bath and body works lotions, body sprays, men and women socks, art supplies, nail polish, make-up, head phones, speakers to connect to ipod or computer, chocolate, movie passes, magnetic dart boards, Itune gift cards, Dunkin Donuts gift cards, battery operated handheld games , Iron Gym Pull up Bar, gloves, white t-shirts. “We at Access are so thankful for the generosity of these people in helping our girls enjoy the holiday season”, says Jolene Berard, Supervisor of Hawkins House, that Access is now expanding the initiative to include Crossroads, an eight bed S.W.E.T.P. (Supportive Work Education and Transition Program) that serves adolescent females – and more recently, adolescent males between the ages of 16 and 20 years, in Norwich. Deborah Smith, Director of Homelessness Prevention at the Emergency Shelter, echoes Katrina when saying, “Adults and children in shelter during the holidays often generates a sense of grief and loss. Observing the hustle and bustle of people preparing to spend time with family, friends, and loved ones invokes a stark reminder to homeless individuals of their loss of the basic essentials every human being has a right to - food, clothing, adequate health care, and safe housing. For some, relatives or friends with whom they had been staying have asked them to ‘move on’, and so they have – to shelters, motels, wooded areas, abandoned buildings, to other relatives or friends – or parents have dispersed their children among various relatives who can take a child or two, but not the entire family.” Deborah Smith goes on to say, “Those who are kind and generous enough to share during the holidays, will hopefully realize that many have lost everything except for the clothes on their back when they end up in shelters, and often have been in this transient state for a long time. Add to these stressors - seasonal affective disorder (the depression that many have over the holidays), separation from families, children, and frustration over their state of housing, it really becomes a busy and difficult time for shelter providers and any help that people can provide is greatly appreciated.” Deborah says, “The good news is that the entire homeless services system for families and single adults is gradually changing, partly because the 'Housing First' philosophy (which emphasizes rapidly re-housing people from homelessness) is more logical than a 'services first' approach. Also, a transformation of the Continuum of Care to implement 'Housing First' strategies is now mandated through the federal government by the HEARTH Act. The best gift that ANYONE can give to those less fortunate at any time of the year...is to show you're legitimately concerned for the human condition, and be the change necessary to make the difference.” Access is asking the community to help us keep the spirit alive this Holiday season for our youths and bring the “Giving Tree” to the Hawkins House and Crossroads. Community members who would like to continue this wonderful act of charity can contact the Community Engagement Associate Elisha Sherman at (860) 450-7400, ext. 7456 or elisha.sherman@accessagency.org. Access is a federal and state designated Community Action Agency (CAA) that serves eastern Connecticut. Access provides food, emergency shelter, energy assistance, job and life skills training, youth mentoring, affordable housing for seniors, and more. For more information about Access services, call 860-450-7400 in the Willimantic area, 860-412-1600 in the Danielson area, or visit www.accessagency.org.

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