Part of HYPE’s mission is to help young professionals become better engaged in community life, expand professional and social opportunities, and become ambassadors for the Hartford Region. HYPE encourages cross-collaboration among agencies and organizations that offer opportunities to volunteer in the community. The Community Conversations series focuses on interviewing professionals in a local nonprofit to bring awareness to their mission, highlight their impact in the community, and to provide information on how to get more involved with the organization. For the September edition, HYPEster and Community Involvement Committee Member Liz Patterson interviewed Kate Shafer of Hands on Hartford.
What is the mission of your organization?
Hands On Hartford takes a multi-pronged approach to solving the problems of hunger and homelessness in the city of Hartford. Their mission is to work with other organizations and volunteers to strengthen community in Hartford by responding faithfully to people in need through programs that change lives and renew human possibility. To do this, they provide food, housing, and health care support to Hartford’s neediest residents. Hands On Hartford begin in 1969 as Center City Churches, and has a longstanding commitment to providing respectful, comprehensive services to the community.
What is your role within the organization?
Kate Shafer is the Communications Manager at Hands On Hartford, but, like so many in the nonprofit world, she wears many hats. She serves as an outward face of the organization and also provides behind the scenes development support. Their small staff of 21 full time and 19 part time employees is supplemented by the support of four Hartford Thrive! AmeriCorps VISTA members, social work interns, and the work of many volunteers.
How do you implement your services or programs?
The scope of Hands On Hartford’s work is huge. To tackle the problem of food insecurity and provide supportive services to the neighborhood, Hands On Hartford has the MANNA food and neighborhood services program. This includes a soup kitchen (located near the Hartford Stage in downtown Hartford), a food pantry, neighborhood services center, and weekend meal programs for children. Staff at the food pantry does more than simply pack up groceries; they also take the time to talk to families about what other needs they might have and can direct them to other community organizations or government agencies that might address those needs. The weekend backpack meal program for kids offers information to parents alongside food for children.
The HOH Housing program currently has 13 units of on-site supportive housing for individuals and supportive housing assistance provided to dozens of individuals and families throughout Hartford, with plans to add 27 more units of affordable housing. They offer supportive services to the residents of the George Beach Home and individualized housing case management and related support services through the Healthcare & Housing (CIHHN). Housing assistance includes security deposit and utility assistance.
The Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau raises public awareness about homelessness, a crucial element of building community. Members of the speakers’ bureau are either currently or formerly homeless and tell their stories to schools, churches, businesses, and other groups across Hartford.
Hands On Hartford collaborates with other service organizations and volunteers from across the Hartford region to implement each of these programs. It is only by working together, as a community, that we can make a difference for our neighbors.
In what ways has your organization been impactful to your cause?
Each year, Hands On Hartford serves about 8,500 people. As Kate explained it, in many ways, the problems of hunger and homelessness can be most efficiently solved by large scale government action. In the meantime, Hands On Hartford acts as a safety net for the community, helping anyone they can achieve self-sufficiency. Hands On Hartford recently moved to their new Center for Community at 55 Bartholomew Avenue in Hartford, and one of the exciting offerings there is the Café at Fifty-Five. Open to everyone for breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm, the Café serves coffee, crepes, sandwiches, soups, salads, and more. But the Café does more than serve up delicious food – it also serves the neighborhood by providing jobs to folks with barriers to employment, engages volunteers who are an integral part of the operational team, and connects communities by keeping prices low and offering a pay-for-a-neighbor option.
How does someone get more involved?
Volunteers are at the center of everything Hands On Hartford does, and support all of HOH’s programming. They cook and serve meals in the soup kitchen; they stock shelves, shop with guests, run food drives, and pick up and deliver fresh produce for the food pantry; pack and deliver backpacks for food-insecure elementary school children; and donate weekend meals and run community activities for the housing program. Volunteers also put their expertise to good use by helping with finance, communications, marketing, governance, entertainment, training, and education. Hands On Hartford also offers customized service projects for schools, churches, businesses, and other groups. Service programs like Dash for a Difference allow groups to serve the community while getting to know the city better. To get more involved, contact Wanda Guzman, Program Manager – Community Engagement at 860-706-1507 or by email.