Readers give needy help, hope at Christmas

A stranded couple, twin boys with autism and two families rescued from domestic violence are having a much better Christmas than they would have had, thanks to help from readers of The Day and theday.com.

For the second year, the newspaper invited community agencies to select a person or family badly in need of help from others.

Twenty-one agencies responded, and they report that people who read the short, front-page "Make A Difference" stories gave gift cards, cash and specific items requested such as furniture, household items, clothing and toys.

In most cases, the organizations said, enough donations came in to help not only the selected individual or family, but others.

Only the first names of those needing help have been published in order to protect their anonymity. Here are some examples of the series' impact, as reported by the agencies:

• Two Norwich natives, Eve and Keith, are back home in Virginia thanks to donations that paid for gas.

The two were stranded after their RV's transmission and engine died on a trip to southeastern Connecticut from Virginia in September to visit family. Repairing the vehicle used up all their money, and their relatives weren't in a financial position to help.

St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich gave them a place to take showers, do laundry and stay warm, and then shared their stories in a Make A Difference article.

Executive Director Jillian Corbin said the two were flabbergasted and overwhelmed by the generosity of others.

"To all who have helped Eve and I, we would like to express our deepest thanks. The last few months have been extremely trying times for us. Without your assistance we would not have made it through. We will forever be grateful and will 'pay it forward' every chance we have in the future," Keith said in a note to St. Vincent De Paul Place.

• The Arc of New London County asked for a Wii gaming system for Alex and Ben, 12-year-old twins with autism. The boys have limited communication skills and have lived with their great-grandmother, who is their guardian, and their aunt, since they were 3. They have been enrolled in The Arc's Individualized Home Support Program for two years.

The family wanted to get Alex and Ben a Wii for Christmas, but they couldn't afford it. The boys use a Wii at The Arc and it has helped them in interpersonal and coordination skills.

Kathleen Stauffer, executive director, said the agency received three Wiis and four more offers. Arc was able to use the two extra systems for its day program. Alex and Ben also got clothes, Wii games and accessories and gift cards.

"I was really touched by how quickly people responded and how they were just so willing to donate to someone else in need," Stauffer said.

• Susan Noyes, of the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, said people who normally might not donate stepped up.

"It was amazing. We are just so grateful to live in this community," Noyes said. "This is a community that cares."

The Women's Center referred Adrianna, who is pregnant, and her daughters, 8-year-old Elana and 3-year-old Ava. A victim of domestic abuse, Adrianna brought her children to Connecticut with the help of her sister, who drove through the night to rescue them.

Adrianna and her children had time to leave with only the clothes they had on. They are setting up their new home from scratch.

Noyes said Adrianna was overcome with emotion when she learned she was receiving a laundry basket filled with household items, gift cards, cash and warm winter clothing.

"She said, 'You've got to me kidding me,' cried, and put her hands over her face," Noyes said. "Not only was Adrianna given the resources to begin her life here, it showed her that southeastern Connecticut is a great place for her to live and build a new life."

• Others who needed and received help include James, a young Montville resident with a debilitating, incurable disease, who needed money to buy his medications; Tabatha, a survivor of domestic violence who is unable to work because of injuries she suffered; and Steven, who recently ended his marriage and went to the Martin House in Norwich to make a fresh start and continue his road to recovery.

"I was amazed by the outpouring. They went out of their way to bring happiness, and it really wakens my Christmas spirit," said Mary Lenzini, president of the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut.

On Thursday, the gifts for James were still arriving: a $1,000 check from the Mohegan Congregational Church and another check for $50, adding to the gift cards and cash donations already in. Altogether, local residents made contributions worth $1,593 for James, Lenzini said. He'll be able to buy his medications for the next several months, and by then he should be receiving government assistance. The first thing he bought with the donations, Lenzini said, was a winter coat at Goodwill.

"This really, really makes a difference for him," she said.

• People stepped up to adopt Carrie, a single mother of one daughter, who was referred by the Madonna Place because she is under a doctor's care for an ailment that makes it difficult for her to walk and at times impossible to work. The family received clothes, toys, household items, perfume, candles and a tricycle.

After Carrie and her daughter were "adopted" through the agency's Christmas Supplemental Assistance Program, people still volunteered to adopt other families.

"God bless every single person who responded to the 'Make a Difference,'" said Vicki Anderson, executive director of the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center. "I got to see a family's happiness at receiving all of your donations. It was everything you could imagine. I've seen Christmas now."

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