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Success Stories

Click below to learn how your gift through the United Way Community Campaign helps people right here in Greater Hartford.

Open Airways for Schools

Wheezing, coughing, struggling just to keep breathing would be unimaginable – frightening – for most of us. For 11 year old Jaron Thomas (pictured left), sixth grader at St. Rose School in East Hartford, this struggle was a part of everyday life. Asthma kept Jaron from doing what other kids his age took for granted like playing outside with friends and going to school regularly. Every time he had an asthma attack, he feared he might die.

That was until Jaron participated in the American Lung Association of Connecticut’s Open Airways for Schools (OAS) program at school.  Through the program, Jaron learned how to better control his asthma, and, more importantly, how to participate in all of the activities that are a normal part of the lives of most children his age. Jaron no longer fears for his life every time he suffers from an asthma attack.

The American Lung Association of Connecticut, one of 35 health–related charities supported through Community Health Charities of Connecticut, provides elementary schools around the state with this school-based asthma educational program targeting children between the ages of eight and eleven. To date, an estimated 4,300 students statewide have been through the program.

The goal of this interactive program is to help children take control of their asthma. It is designed to be fun as well as educational. OAS has a track record of success that includes fewer and less severe asthma episodes, a reduction in the number of school days missed and improved grades.  Through stories, games, and role- playing, children learn what causes asthma episodes and how to manage them. Facilitators of the program can be school nurses or other medical professionals.

To bring OAS to your school, call Angie Testa, manager of School Health Programs, American Lung Association of Connecticut at 1-800-LUNGUSA or visit www.alact.org.

 

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Courage Award presented to young Windsor mother who helped herself and now helps other victims of domestic violence

Heather Major, recipient of the United Way Community Campaign’s 2004 Courage Award is shown here with her daughter and Community Campaign Chairman Grant Kurtz, chairman emeritus of Advest Group.

 

(Hartford, Conn.), Heather Major of Windsor received the United Way Community Campaign’s eleventh annual Courage Award on Friday, June 18, 2004. The award is presented annually to an individual who has triumphed over adversity with the assistance of an agency funded through the United Way Community Campaign.

Major is a family violence victim advocate who works in the courts for Interval House, the state’s largest nonprofit domestic violence intervention and prevention organization. She knows how to help victims and their families, in part, because she received help for herself and her young daughter five years ago.

After three years of being in an abusive relationship that began when she was 17, Major called the Manchester police after receiving a threatening phone call from her young child’s father. “Making that phone call was the single most courageous thing I’ve ever done,” says Major. “Up until that day I was scared of the repercussions, but on that day, I knew I had to do something to get my daughter and myself out of that situation.”

In addition to a restraining order being issued against the father, Major was contacted by one of Interval House’s victim advocates who talked to Major about safety planning and actions she might want to consider. Her resolve was shaken but not broken when the restraining order was violated on the very same day it was served. But with continuing help from Interval House and personal determination, she followed up on warrants and worked her way through the criminal court system, the family courts and Department of Corrections to make sure she kept herself and her daughter safe.

After resolving her issues, Major felt she wanted to share what she knew about the court system and safety planning with other victims and their families. She enrolled in Manchester Community College and graduated with an associate’s degree in social services in May of 2003. She is currently enrolled at Springfield College, where she is an honors student. She expects to graduate in May of 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in human service.

Four months ago, Major was hired at Interval House. On her first day in court, an accused abuser twice threatened the woman Major was accompanying, right there in the courthouse. Knowing her role as an advocate, Major notified the opposing lawyer, the prosecutor and testified about the threats, resulting in a stiffer sentence being handed down by the judge.

“Today, my daughter and I are happy and safe. She knows I help women who get hurt, as she puts it,” says Major. “Honestly, it’s the best feeling in the world to help someone get out of an abusive relationship and help them feel safe and happy as well.”

The Courage award was presented to Major during the United Way Community Campaign’s training conference for local campaign volunteers entitled Jumpstart 2004. It was held at Capital Community College in Hartford. Grant W. Kurtz, chairman of the 2004 United Way Community Campaign, presented the 2004 Courage Award. Kurtz is chairman and chief executive officer of Advest Group.

United Way created the Courage Award in 1994. Five judges selected this year’s recipient:  Jeffrey Blumenthal of Hartford Life, a member of the board of Community Health Charities; Lisa Curran of the Lincoln Financial Group Foundation; Ricardo Jones of Hamilton Sundstrand; Helene Shay with AFSCME Council 4; and Hartford Courant Columnist Stan Simpson.

Through the United Way Community Campaign, individuals have the opportunity to support the causes and nonprofit organizations that are important to them. In 2003, the United Way Community Campaign raised more then $26 million to help children to succeed, families to be strong and healthy and communities to thrive in our 40-town region.

From offices in Simsbury, Hartford and Manchester, Interval House provides comprehensive services ranging from community education to crisis intervention in 24 towns from Avon to Andover. Interval House staff and volunteers have offered their expertise to victims of domestic violence and their children for more than 26 years. Since 1990, Interval House has helped 140,000 women and children, an average of 10,000 a year.

Courage Award recipients and the agencies from which they received assistance

1994 Harrison McKinstry Greater Hartford Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center
1995 Margaret Khoury East Hartford Visiting Nurse Association
1996 Janet Norton American Red Cross Central Connecticut Chapter
1997 Randy Moody Connecticut Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse
1998 Joe Roberto American Red Cross – Greater Hartford Chapter
1999 Christopher Montes Lyme Disease Foundation
2000 Patty Haynie North Central Counseling Services
2001 Addie D'Agui Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford
2002 Philip Lual Ajok and Abraham Deng Catholic Charities/Catholic Family Services, Inc.
2003 Jose Gonzalez Boys and Girls Club of Hartford
2004 Heather Major Interval House

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Price is Right on Job-Training Program

“I’m going to make it. I’ve survived the penny-ante jobs and now, thanks to CNA, I have more to offer.” Those self-assured words come from Maxine Price, a graduate of the YWCA of New Britain & Berlin’s Certified Nurse’s Aide (CNA) training program. She is employed at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.

Caption: After years of temporary and minimum wage jobs, Maxine Price is all smiles about being on course to a nursing career.

The CNA program trains adult students to provide basic care for long-term and elderly patients. The program began in 1997 at the YWCA, an agency funded through United Way of New Britain and Berlin. The 10-week CAN course is offered three or four times a year to eight to 16 students. The 140 hours of training offered at the Yare more than are required by the state. At the end of the course, the trainees take the Connecticut nurse’s aide exam. When they pass, they are added to the state registry of nurse aides and are eligible for employment.

According to CNA instructor Marge Halleran, many of the program’s students have spent years in minimum wage and temporary jobs prior to entering the program and they want better jobs. “They’ve been laid-off, on and off assistance or under-employed,” says Halleran. “More often than not, these adult students are motivated. They are here because they want to be here.”

“Pounding the pavement” for a job

Price is a case in point. In 1991, she became a divorced mother of an infant with no job training or work experience. For several years she lived with her mother in New Britain and worked as a waitress, at fast-food restaurants or in temporary jobs. In 1997, she heard about and signed up for the CNA training course. After the first two weeks of the course, there is a selection process to determine who will continue in the program. Those selected must have no absences, no problems, and no excuses for why they might not complete the course. Price’s grandmother was ill in New York City at the time and she was going back and forth from New Britain caring for her. Rather than continue in CNA, she took on the responsibility of caring for her grandmother.

Things were looking up for a while. She landed a job as an office assistant at a local company and her grandmother got better. But in less than a year, she was laid off from her job and her mother was diagnosed with kidney failure.

“It was back to the labor department in search of temporary jobs,” says Price of that time period. “To save bus fare, I’d walk downtown at 3:30 a.m. to get in line because the jobs were first come, first served.” Price’s mother was at home with her son. On days her mother had dialysis, Price went with her to the hospital instead of to the labor department.

“I was struggling,” Price says. “This is not what I expected of my life.”

In the summer of 2001, Price took her son to camp at the New Britain-Berlin YMCA each weekday. Rather than go back home, she’d stay downtown all day. Often she went to the Spanish Speaking Center to make phone calls and
to the unemployment office to check for jobs. It was this persistence that caused her phone to ring “out of the clear blue sky one day” and change her life.

The caller said the unemployment office was familiar with her because of her visits there and wondered if she would be interested in entering the CNA course at the YWCA. The caller said the Y remembered Price from her earlier enrollment in the course, especially the fact that she was always so friendly. “You should come into the program,” the caller said. Price says the call was like a dream come true.

Learning changes a life

The first five weeks of the CNA course is classroom instruction. The second half involves clinical experience under a nurse’s instruction. The classes are small so that the students can request and receive extra help if needed. The students also receive help in how to fill out applications and prepare for interviews. If they need assistance with other issues, such as child care, they can be referred to other YWCA programs.

“I’m so grateful to have been selected for the training program,” says Price. “Only once did I have any concerns. It was midway through the classes when it was time to do the skills. I said ‘Oh, my goodness, can I handle this?’ But I held up and did what I had to do.

“I’m just so happy to be working in the medical field. It has helped me understand my grandmother’s and my mother’s illnesses better. Everything was made simple and understandable. I think that if I’d been lucky enough to have a teacher like Marge Halleran when I was in school, I’d be a doctor now.”

Caring manner and CNA training lead to a job

Soon after Price’s CNA training ended, she took her mother for an appointment at the Hospital for Special Care. While there, she picked up a job application. It was a very hot day and on the way out Price’s mother began to feel weak. Price asked a woman in an office for water and a wheelchair. Price cooled and calmed her mother and wheeled her to the car to go home.

The next day, Price returned to the hospital with her application. Coincidentally, it was to be returned to the office in which she requested the water and wheelchair. The woman in the office recognized her from the day before and commented on how impressed she was with the way Price helped and comforted the lady in distress. The woman in the office looked at Price’s application, saw the CNA training and granted Price an interview.

“I was very nervous. I didn’t have any experience yet but I did have very good training so they decided to give me a chance. I’m so grateful for everything I’ve learned and what people saw in me.”

“If they could see me now, that old gang of mine”

After she was hired, Price was given the choice of working with pediatric or respiratory patients. She chose the respiratory patients because she feels a special affinity to them. Respiratory patients often have a tube in their throats and have to find a way to communicate other than by talking. Price can identify with that.

“I didn’t feel confident speaking until I was 19 years old. I had a speech problem. I saw a speech therapist for five years, but most of the time I just didn’t speak, so I understand what my patients are going through.”

Price says she was fortunate to have classmates and friends who didn’t tease her about not speaking. In fact, they learned to sense what she felt or wanted without words. She says they also protected her.

Price says she had one teacher who tried to help her overcome her speech problem by having her read in front of the class. She says it once took her three class periods to read two pages but her classmates never ridiculed her.

“If they could see me now they’d never believe it. I love to talk now. I believe in miracles. Don’t let anyone tell you they can’t happen.”

Do a good deed every day

Maxine Price says that prior to her CNA training she couldn’t even be hired as a housekeeper in a hospital. Now thanks to her training, she has skills that are marketable and she’s doing a job that she loves.

Price adds that her grandmother taught her to do a good deed every day. “She told me that if you help someone’s loved one, someone will help yours. That’s why, both at home and at work, I try to do a good deed every day.”

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A Recipe for Success in Hartford Classrooms

With a blend of teamwork and dedication, United Way continues to cook up a recipe for success for kids through its partnership with Hartford Public Schools, the Hartford Federation of Teachers, and Girls and Boys Town. Now in its third year, the partnership has brought Girls and Boys Town’s Classroom Management Program to 12 schools in Hartford, mixing social skills with classroom learning. The program has helped the participating schools
red
uce office referrals, after-school detentions and student misconduct. And what does this recipe all “boil” down to? Heartier portions of learning everyday.

Thanks to the Classroom Management Program, disruptive behavior has been reduced and students are acquiring skills that will help them in school and in life. For example, one school experienced such a dramatic reduction in office referrals that school staff saved 20 hours per month of time previously spent disciplining students.

In June, fourth- and fifth-grade students from Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School (MLK) demonstrated what they’ve learned from the program to community leaders, school administrators, and friends of United Way at a reception for Father Val Peter, executive director of Girls and Boys Town. The students did role playing of one of the social skills they have learned through the Classroom Management Program–following directions. Shirley Paddyfote, a fifth-grade teacher at MLK, topped off the presentation by sharing her classroom’s recipe for success.

In addition to effective classroom management, another important ingredient for childhood success is effective parenting and family relationships. Toward that end, United Way, with additional support from Fleet Bank, is assisting The Village for Families and Children (a United Way-funded agency) in developing The Institute for Successful Parenting. Using Girls and Boys Town’s Common Sense Parenting program as the foundation of its curriculum, the Institute will help parents throughout the 40-town Capital Region raise responsible, healthy children.


“Common Sense Parenting provides practical strategies and tools for parents of all ages and backgrounds to help protect and nurture their children,” says Howard Garval, president and chief executive officer of The Village for Families and Children. “It focuses on setting clear expectations for children, teaching social skills and providing ways to help parents deal with issues such as the influence of the media and peer pressure.”

The partnerships that brought Girls and Boys Town’s Classroom Management Program and Common Sense Parenting to Hartford schools serve up generous amounts of positive learning and a safe and supportive community–made with care.
 

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United Way Presents Tenth Annual Courage Award to
Young Man Dedicated to Helping Hartford Youth

The United Way Community Campaign presented the tenth annual Courage Award to Jose Gonzalez of Hartford on June 13. The award presentation was held during the lunchtime program of Jumpstart 2003, a training conference for local campaign volunteers, held at Capital Community College in downtown Hartford. Dona D. Young, chairman of the 2003 United Way Community Campaign and chairman, president and chief executive officer of The Phoenix Companies, Inc., presented the award.

Jose Gonzalez is a longtime resident of Hartford’s Dutch Point housing development. As a child, he watched as his two older brothers became involved in gangs. Tragically, one of his brothers died as a result of that involvement, and Gonzalez resolved, at age 11, that his mother would not have to see the same thing happen to another of her children. After he graduated from Bulkeley High School, Gonzalez worked with the Hartford Youth Peace Initiative program to help steer children away from gangs. He became involved as a Boys & Girls Club volunteer as soon as a club opened in his Dutch Point neighborhood last year.

Gonzalez’ nominator, Jackie Bethea, wrote: “Fifty-six percent of Dutch Point residents are age seventeen or younger and sadly these youths are exposed to crime on a daily basis. Jose has taken it upon himself to try and protect and nurture these young people and help them to rise above their current conditions.”
At age twenty-one, Gonzalez is like a big brother to the children served by the Boys & Girls Club. After helping out as a volunteer, he is now employed at the club full-time. Bethea wrote, “He has discovered that his natural inclination to care about and nurture others, in particular children, is a viable and rewarding career choice. His self-esteem has risen dramatically and he eagerly undertakes training opportunities.

The best part of this story is that Jose’s hope is contagious; the children who live on an urban battlefield now hope they can be like Jose.”
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford has been serving the city’s youth since the founding of the first Boys Club in the nation in Hartford in 1860. Today, the organization serves more than 3,500 Hartford children at seven locations. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford seeks to enable children from distressed communities to become responsible, productive and caring citizens, by way of programs that focus on character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and sports fitness and recreation.

United Way created the Courage Award in 1994 to recognize those who have triumphed over adversity through the assistance of a United Way Community Campaign-funded agency. Four judges selected this year’s recipient: Edna Berastain from Latinos/Latinas Contra SIDA; Venton Forbes of the Aetna Foundation; Liz Gagne from Lincoln Financial and a member of the board of directors of United Way of the Capital Area; and Doby Hall from the National Organization for Rare Disorders and a member of the board of directors of Community Health Charities of Connecticut.

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Community Tackles Substance Abuse in Quiet Corner

Northeastern Connecticut is often referred to as the “quiet corner” of the state. But there is nothing quiet or unassuming about the spirit and energy of the people who call it home. That is why it came as no surprise when local residents and the nonprofit community “made some noise” and rallied together after The Hartford Courant published a series of articles about the drug abuse problem in Willimantic, entitled Heroin Town, last October.

“I received a call from United Way within a day of the first article being published. They wanted to help channel the community’s energy that had been ignited by these articles into something positive and productive,” recalls Deb Walsh, executive director of Perception Programs, a United Way member agency, in Willimantic. Within 48 hours, United Way, along with the First Selectman’s Office, organized a community forum on substance abuse. And within a week of the Courant’s series being published, more than 300 Windham-area residents gathered in Windham High School’s auditorium for the community forum to ask questions, voice their concerns and, more importantly, find out how they could be part of the solution.

But the community’s response did not end that night. After the community forum, nearly 100 residents signed up to participate in a series of study circles organized by United Way that would further discuss the issues that had been raised in the Courant’s articles and at the forum. The group’s charge was to compile a list of recommendations to present to the Selectman’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, which had been formed in response to the articles.

 

Pictured left: Bill Powers, a Windham
High School teacher says, "I am so
grateful that I was given the opportunity
to participate in the study circles."

 



Bill Powers, a special education teacher at Windham High School, attended the community forum and was one of the 40 study circle participants. “I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to participate in the study circles,” he says. “It was a learning experience for all of us and it made us realize that substance abuse is a complex community issue.” Mr. Powers and another participant, Kathryn Talbot, presented the study circles’ recommendations to the Task Force in December. The community volunteers based their recommendations on six areas: community building/civic engagement; law enforcement; support services; prevention and education; resources; and economic development. “We recognize that some people in our community are struggling, and we have a commitment to take care of one another,” says Murphy Sewall, a University of Connecticut professor and study circle participant.

The Windham community’s commitment to taking care of one another was present long before the Heroin Town series in the Courant. Perception Programs is one of the largest substance abuse services providers in Windham Region United Way’s 10-town service area. “This [substance abuse] is not an unsolvable problem. We have hope. We know what works—what the solutions are,” says Ms. Walsh.

One of the solutions is Perception Programs’ ARROW (AIDS Risk Reduction Outreach Worker) program, which receives more than 30 percent of its funding from United Way. The ARROW program works with a population that is at high risk of contracting the AIDS virus. “It’s amazing what one tiny program with one and a half staff can do to change people’s lives,” says Ms. Walsh. “This program would’ve been shut down years ago if it weren’t for United Way,” she notes.
Walsh believes the ARROW program works because it is based on trust. The program’s two caseworkers spend less than 10 percent of their time in the office. Most of their time is spent on the streets and where their clients live. ARROW focuses on AIDS prevention, getting clients into substance abuse recovery and providing a support network for those in recovery. “This work is so rewarding, because it’s challenging. If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be worth doing. The ultimate reward is when you help someone get clean, get a job and resume a productive life. That’s making a difference,” says Ms. Walsh.

Months after the Heroin Town series in The Hartford Courant, Windham-area residents and the nonprofit community are still energized and focused on improving the quality of life for everyone who calls it home. The study circle volunteers have remained active and continue to be a strong voice at the Selectman’s Blue Ribbon Task Force meetings, which are open to the public. And the remarkable work being done by Perception Programs and other health and human service agencies will continue to help people win their battle with substance abuse. “We will keep doing what we’re doing with what we have. I love this community,” Ms. Walsh says with a smile.

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A Safe Place

“A safe place to go after school” is how 18-year-old Terese Stovall describes ConnectiKids. But the program has offered even more to Terese and her four younger brothers and sisters. “ConnectiKids is really an extension of our family,” she explains. Terese first enrolled in the ConnectiKids after-school tutoring program 10 years ago, when she was a fourth-grade student at West Middle School in Hartford. The experience was so positive that her mother decided to enroll all five of her children in the tutoring program, as well as in a summer camp run by ConnectiKids.

Today, Terese is a senior at Hartford Public High School who volunteers as a ConnectiKids tutor and works part-time as a program assistant. She also participates in the Youth Advisory Council, which is a way for ConnectiKids’ “graduates” to offer feedback to staff about their experiences with the program. The alumni also participate in a youth community group called DemocracyWorks, meeting with state and local legislators to discuss community issues such as crime and school safety. “Being a part of this group has improved my confidence and people skills,” explains Terese.

"Our programs offer kids structure and reinforce what they're learning in school,” explains Sandra Sydlo, executive director of ConnectiKids, “but we also engage them with arts and recreation." The tutoring program matches children, kindergarten through sixth grade, with an adult mentor. Tutoring sessions focus on reading and writing, but the student-tutor relationship in itself is also a learning experience. “It was cool to connect with an adult that wasn’t a family member or teacher,” says Terese. “I always looked forward to seeing my tutor. It really is a special relationship.”

ConnectiKids’ summer camp is a recreational program, but each day begins with an educational component. In the morning, campers have math and reading lessons. The afternoon brings a variety of activities such as cooking with a professional chef, karate, and swimming. “The best part about the summer camp is at the end when the campers have a chance to show their families what they’ve learned all summer by performing skits,” says Terese.

As an alumna of the ConnectiKids program, Terese is giving back to the place and people that helped shape her character and future. “I’ve been lucky to see both sides of the ConnectiKids experience. As a tutor and a program assistant, I understand and appreciate the patience that the staff had with me, when I was a student in the program,” says Terese. Many of the ConnectiKids alumni have become tutors and staff for the program, just like Terese.

“The difference between ConnectiKids and other youth programs is the staff,” explains Terese. ConnectiKids’ open-door policy and caring staff are what continue to keep students like Terese close by, even after they’ve “graduated.” Terese’s experiences with ConnectiKids have helped her set career goals, too. “I know that I want to help kids and their families,” says Terese, who plans to attend college and pursue a career in family law.

ConnectiKids is a United Way member agency that has served thousands of children from Hartford Public Schools, since its inception in 1978.
 

 

Courage Award presented to two of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan

 

Recent media coverage, such as a story on the CBS news program “60 Minutes,” has brought attention to the “Lost Boys of the Sudan,” a group of refugee children separated from their parents in their country’s civil war.

 

However, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services has been aware of the boys’ plight for years and has been working to resettle the refugees in this country. In June, Chandler J. Howard, chairman of the 2002 United Way Community Campaign and president of Fleet Bank – Connecticut, the Community Campaign’s Courage Award to two of the refugees, who are brothers. Philip Lual Ajok and Abraham Deng, polite and soft-spoken young men, currently reside in New Britain. The two brothers left horrendous conditions in the Sudan to begin a new life in a country for which none of their previous experiences could have prepared them.

 

 

Pictured above, left to right: Philip Lual Ajok; Chandler J. Howard,
who presented the award; Sister Dorothy Strelchun of Catholic Charities/Catholic Family Services, Inc., the agency which nominated the young men; and Abraham Deng. The United Way Community Campaign presented the 2002 Courage Award during Jumpstart 2002, a training conference for local campaign volunteers.

 

Their story begins in the Sudan in the late 1980s. Forced from their homes and separated from their parents by a violent civil war, 33,000 Sudanese boys, including Abraham and Philip, lived as a migratory city of children for 13 years. The group of boys fed and protected one another, fought off wild animals and enemy soldiers. They walked, hungry and afraid, eventually crossing over into Ethiopia. In 1991, Ethiopia was engulfed in its own civil war, and the children were forced to march back into Sudan. This time, they walked another 300 miles, into Kenya. Eventually the remaining 5,000 boys who survived and stayed together settled in a refugee camp in Kenya. Many of them, including Philip and Abraham, have no idea what became of their parents. Thanks to a U.S. State Department plan to resettle many of the boys across America and with the help of agencies like Catholic Charities, many of the boys found homes across the United States. Philip and Abraham are particularly lucky. They have been reunited with their sister and now live with her in New Britain.

 

For Philip and Abraham, everything about life in the U.S. was initially a new experience – the language, food, customs, even basic items, such as refrigerators and can openers, were a surprise to them. The first time they encountered snow was a shock. They were taught British English in Sudan, so many American phrases and idioms were difficult to understand. Both brothers are beginning college at Central Connecticut State University in January. According to Sister Dorothy Strelchun, director of the local Migration and Refugee Services chapter, “the Lost Boys have a saying that ‘education is my mother and father.’”  The young men often volunteer their time to speak to groups about their experiences. “They have a great sense of their history,” says Sister Dorothy, and “promoting knowledge about their experience is important to them.” They also eventually want to return to the Sudan, she says, because, “there is this desire to become educated and bring their expertise back to the Sudan to help their countrymen.”

 

Since 1975, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services has worked to resettle more than 20,000 refugees. The program strives to provide employment to the refugees within four months of their arrival to the U.S. English as a second language classes and a food pantry help in the adjustment to a new way of life. The program also helps the refugees find housing and provides household and furniture items to help them get started on their new life. Catholic Charities/Catholic Family Services provides many other services to the community, including youth after-school programs, senior centers, and job training programs.

 

“We were given the opportunity to transform our lives. Our life in Sudan was desperate,” says Abraham Deng. “Here we’ve found security, an education, supportive people, and lots of friends.”

 

The Courage Award was created in 1994 to recognize individuals who have triumphed over adversity through the assistance of an agency funded through the Community Campaign.

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Independence, One Home at a Time

 

Interest rates are at record lows, and more Americans are living in their own homes than ever before. Buying a house has never been easier. Yet for individuals who simply do not have the money for a down payment or the income to carry the load of a mortgage, home ownership is a dream.

 

With the help of two United Way-aided programs, a family in Manchester and an individual in Hartford have seen that dream become a reality. One used a matching funds program to save for a house. The other, a client of the Greater Hartford Association for Retarded Citizens (HARC), bought his home with support from HARC and a new program at Co-op Initiatives.  

 

A Home of Their Own

 

Angela and Sherman Johnson bought an 1,800-square-foot townhouse in Manchester this summer with help from the Hartford IDA Collaborative (HIDAC). Individual development accounts – or IDAs – are part of a national housing initiative that started about six years ago, and is gaining momentum throughout the country. The program has two goals, says Tim Cole, director of the Economic Development Division of Co-Opportunity, Inc., a non-profit agency in the Hartford area that works in the fields of housing, job, and economic development and is the lead agency of HIDAC.

 

 

The Johnson family enjoys their spacious new home.

 

“On an individual level, it exists to help low- and moderate-income people develop or build assets,” he says. “Typically, people in those categories are hobbled not so much by low income but by the fact that they have trouble acquiring and holding onto assets. So this is an asset-building strategy.”

 

“Second, the program supports and increases home ownership, improves career development opportunities, and strengthens the local economy,” Cole says. National studies already have established that homeownership strengthens family and community bonds. Programs such as the IDA not only help individuals save money toward the purchase of a house, but educate them too, which may, in the end, be the most valuable help of all.

 

To be considered for participation in the program, a household cannot earn more than 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline, and there must be a steady source of income from employment. Once accepted, the money the family deposits into the IDA must be wages and not a gift. Participants may save up to $2,000 for a down payment on a house, as the Johnsons did. The program matches the money, and doubles it. That gave the Johnsons $4,000 in matching money for a total of $6,000 for the down payment on their house.

 

“We were living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment,” says Angela Johnson, the mother of five boys and a full-time administrative clerk at the state’s office of juvenile detention. “I needed space like, yesterday. And I would say to myself, ‘Oh, my God, we’ll never get a house with five kids and the savings we’ll need.’ Then along came IDA. So we talked to the children and told them, ‘we’re trying to buy a house, we’re going to be making some sacrifices, we can’t do the same things we were doing before we got on this mission.’”

 

In January 2002, Angela Johnson and her husband, Sherman, who works in film processing, opened their individual development account at the offices of the Community Renewal Team in Hartford, an active partner in the collaborative. They were required to attend a three-hour financial education class once a week for eight weeks, referred to as “our financial training” by Mrs. Johnson. Participants learned about credit issues, how to write a budget, and how to develop their short- and long-term goals.

 

Once the eight weeks ended, IDA participants were then required to attend lectures once a month for several months with a variety of speakers, including mortgage company and bank representatives.

 

“I thought the class was excellent, the instructor was very informative,” Mrs. Johnson remembers. “The time went by so fast I never realized I was there three hours. We learned through everyone’s experiences how to better ourselves financially. I would tell anyone – anyone – who is planning to buy a house who can meet the criteria, participate. It is worth every minute that you spend in those classes.”

 

Agencies involved in the IDAs will say the same thing: Financial education is the answer. “It is interesting,” Cole says. “If you ask me to assess whether the education or the money is of greater value, I would say the education. Sometimes you’re dealing with people who have never had a bank account, never cashed their checks anywhere but the corner check casher, never been inside a bank.”

 

He applauds member agencies and institutions that have supported the IDA program, including Fleet Bank, the Hartford Courant Foundation, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, People’s Bank, United Way of the Capital Area, and Webster Bank, as well as the State of Connecticut and the federal government. Fleet has invested about $400,000 in the IDA program in matching funds, operating support and training and was involved early on, when a Hartford-area IDA program was still just an idea.

 

“These programs are about personal empowerment,” says Carol Heller, a community development officer at Fleet Bank. “These are people who had no financial training, and we wanted to help. How do you get them to the point where they can move toward saving, then build their future? This is the kick-start that gets them going.”  

 

Just as Fleet and several other institutions have provided matching funds for the program, HIDAC is still in search of more. Federal match dollars are available if additional local funding for accounts can be secured.      

 

“Our primary goal is to increase the scale of the program,” says David Chabot, chair of United Way’s Emerging Needs Committee, which awarded United Way’s portion of the funding. “We want this program to grow so that many more people in the Hartford region can have their own IDAs. There’s a long waiting list.”

 

Angela and Sherman Johnson and their five boys will attest to the worth of those matching funds. They are true believers in IDAs, now that they are living in an 1,800-square-foot townhouse on the Tolland Turnpike, with three bedrooms, two baths and a fenced-in backyard. “It’s true I had to come up with my own money, but not nearly as much as I would have had to otherwise,” Mrs. Johnson said.

 

A Proud Homeowner

 

Danny Tryon’s housing success story is similar only in the assistance he received from dozens of people and agencies, some supported through United Way. Tryon, who has an intellectual disability and uses a wheelchair, was renting a condominium on Woodland Street in Hartford when his landlord informed him he needed to sell the unit. The landlord, Charles Miller, asked Tryon if he would like to buy the condo. Tryon, not wanting to leave his home, said yes. He had a paying job at the state Department of Revenue Services, communicated well by using sign language, and had dedicated support staff from HARC that makes sure his quality of life is high. Together, they thought he could do it.  

 

 

Mr. Tryon, in front of his condo on Woodland Street in Hartford.

 

Then the troubles began. Tryon became seriously ill and was hospitalized. “They weren’t sure he was going to survive,” says Diana Appleton, the coordinator of community affairs at HARC, a United Way member agency. So much time went by that Miller, now truly pressed to sell the condo, put it back on the market. A buyer appeared, but before a deal could be sealed, Tryon needed to vacate the premises. That was impossible, since he was incapacitated in the hospital. The deal fell through, and the condo was back on the market.

 

While Tryon was in the hospital, a program sponsored by Co-op Initiatives called Home of Your Own, which helps secure home ownership for disabled people, accepted Tryon as a client. Soon after Tryon recovered, the landlord again offered him the condo, and the deal was back on. Although Tryon had no established credit history, in an unprecedented move, the landlord wrote a letter of recommendation to the mortgage company to support Tryon.

 

A closing day was set. But then a glitch occurred. Another closing day was set, then another. Four closing days came and went. But on the fifth day, March 27, with Danny Tryon’s support staff, Marsha Zipkin from a Home of Your Own, a sign-language interpreter and two lawyers present, Tryon became a proud homeowner.

 

Even that day didn’t go according to plan. Although the lawyers had other appointments, the final signing took three hours, partly because Tryon can only speak in sign language. “Still, they hung in there,” Appleton says. “His supported-living staff and Marsha Zipkin from a Home of Your Own played a huge part in this story,” she says. “This is really a triumph of many people not letting the ball go.”

 

Tryon has been living on his own for a while as a renter, but now he can call himself a homeowner. This is priceless to those long dependent on landlords and others for housing help. As Diana Appleton says, “Fifty years ago, when HARC was founded, people with intellectual disabilities were often institutionalized. Now, our clients are able to purchase their own homes and live on their own.”

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Helping Kids Succeed

A parade of giggling backpacks fills the halls of Annie E. Fisher Elementary School as children hustle to class before the first bell rings. Students file into Mrs. Derocher’s fifth grade classroom and take their seats for attendance and the daily homework check. Suddenly Mrs. Derocher playfully shouts, "Freeze!" Silence falls over the classroom and every child stops what he or she is doing—even in mid-step. It is time for the school’s morning announcements over the P.A. system. After the announcements, Mrs. Derocher says, "Thank you, team. Please take your seats and have your homework ready." A small roar of chatting begins, but Mrs. Derocher raises her hand indicating that it is time to be quiet. The classroom is silent.

Does this scenario sound too good to be true? Thanks to a unique partnership between United Way of the Capital Area, Hartford Public Schools, the Hartford Federation of Teachers, and Nebraska-based Girls and Boys Town, it is a reality for students and staff at Annie Fisher Elementary School, as well as five other Hartford public schools and Windsor Locks Middle School. With the help of Girls and Boys Town’s Classroom Management program, school staff are spending less time disciplining students and more time teaching social skills that will help students succeed inside and outside of the classroom. "I am a strong supporter of the Girls and Boys Town model, because it teaches children to hold themselves accountable for their actions," explains Mrs. Derocher. "And it also gives the entire school staff the tools and strategies to maintain consistent behavioral and academic expectations."

The program reinforces the Girls and Boys Town philosophy that every moment is a learning moment for a child. And every adult that interacts with a child throughout the school day is, in effect, a "teacher." All school staff, including teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, and security personnel received training in the Classroom Management program. John Crooms, the security guard at Annie Fisher School believes the Girls and Boys Town partnership helps school staff and students communicate more effectively with each other. "Staff and students don’t always agree with each other, especially when it comes to discipline," he explains. "What I like about the Girls and Boys Town program is that it teaches kids how to express their feelings in a way that is respectful to themselves, their peers and school staff."

The Girls and Boys Town partnership is the latest example of United Way’s commitment to children through the Every Child Succeeds initiative. Every Child Succeeds is supported by the Community Care fund of the United Way Community Campaign. Community Care supports innovative partnerships and initiatives in the community such as the Girls & Boys Town partnership. In just a few short months, Annie Fisher Elementary is seeing positive results from the Girls and Boys Town partnership. "There is a positive energy among the staff and there is a stronger sense of community throughout the school," remarks Wanda Ramos, a social worker at Annie Fisher. Besides creating a positive classroom environment and increasing morale among school staff, the Girls and Boys Town program is decreasing office referrals, school suspensions, and aggressive behavior among students.

Ronald Copes, vice president of community relations for MassMutual is the chairman of the Every Child Succeeds committee. "My hope is that the Girls and Boys Town partnership will expand to all Hartford public schools and throughout the Capital area," he recently commented. "This is a remarkable opportunity for other community partners to join forces with us and make a difference in children’s lives."

The Classroom Management program is also planting the seeds of success in four other Hartford schools including: M.D. Fox Middle School; Martin Luther King, Jr. School; Hartford Transitional Learning Academy; the Learning Corridor’s Magnet Middle School, as well as Windsor Locks Middle School.

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A Courageous Hero: Addie D'Agui

 

One of our local heroes is Addie D’Agui, an adult student in the basic reading program at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford. In 1997, with minimal reading ability and no writing skills, she made a commitment to herself and her education. And she continues on a journey of learning that inspires everyone around her.

Born with Cerebral Palsy, Addie was misdiagnosed as an infant with mental retardation. Medical professionals considered her a "hopeless case", and at three months old, she was institutionalized at The Mansfield Training Center. As a teenager, Addie moved to the Hartford Regional Center, where she learned independent living skills.

Addie came to Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford four years ago, with Sister Mary Bello as her first tutor. "I just wasn’t getting it at first," Addie remembers. "But Sister Mary kept telling me to study my vowels, practice my vowel sounds. After about six months, it all clicked. I felt such a sense of accomplishment." Since enrolling in the Basic Reading Program, Addie has made remarkable progress, beginning her autobiography and setting long-term goals, such as acquiring her GED. She leaves each class regularly requesting extra homework from her tutors. And while doing this, Addie has managed to maintain a perfect class attendance record. "I have never met anyone else with such a commitment to learning," says CJ Hauss of LVGH.

Addie has shown her tremendous courage not only in stepping up to the tasks of learning to read and write, but by doing so while dealing with challenging health issues. Recently, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent a mastectomy and has started chemotherapy. However, her attitude in dealing with her cancer is typical of the spirit with which she has approached the many challenges in her life. "I’m going to beat this and I’m learning a lot from it," Addie says.

On June 22, 2001, the United Way Community Campaign presented Addie D’Agui with the 2001 Courage Award. United Way created the Courage Award in 1994 to recognize an individual who has triumphed over adversity through the assistance of an agency funded through the Community Campaign.

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A Second Chance for Success 

United Way Capital Area Patty Haynie photo
Patty Haynie is a remarkable woman. Her triumph over adversity and her courage to seek help makes her a role model for people who live with mental illness. Ms. Haynie, an Enfield resident, receives counseling for her mental illness at North Central Counseling Services, Inc., a United Way funded agency. Patty has a mental illness for which she has been receiving both counseling and rehabilitative services for nearly nine years. She has learned to live with her illness by re-engaging in an active social life and preparing to rejoin the workforce.

Ms. Haynie helps to facilitate several activities and programs at the agency’s Second Wind Clubhouse, a program that provides socialization, support, and vocational training for other people suffering from mental illness. The Clubhouse sells items such as coffee and snacks. Patty is responsible for ordering supplies, and hiring and managing staff. Mental illness and depression often make individuals isolate themselves, so the Clubhouse is open daily for clients to socialize.

“I feel very honored and proud to be receiving such a special recognition from the United Way,” says Patty, “I hope that others who suffer from mental illness may learn from my experience and not be afraid to face the challenges before them.”

The Second Wind Clubhouse is a program of North Central Counseling Services, one of more than 125 health and human service agencies supported by your donation through the United Way Community Campaign.

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Yes, I can!

Shamara Scott was only 9 when she was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, and her immediate reaction was to tell no one in her circle of friends. “It was very difficult at first,” the 15-year-old Windsor resident recalled recently. She “was ashamed and afraid” to let her friends know of her affliction.

Shamara quickly learned of the Sickle Cell Disease Association, one of 34 health-related organizations supported by the Community Health Charities of Connecticut’s workplace giving programs. These charities offer prevention, treatment, research and wellness programs in local Connecticut communities.

She began a journey that brought knowledge of the disease and its effect on her. In the process, Shamara says, she developed an increased self-awareness and a boost in her self-esteem.

Shamara is in most ways a typical student at Windsor High School. She works on the school newspaper in addition to her studies, and her after-school activities include volleyball and dance. But too much activity can aggravate the disease, and in some cases it leads to painful joints, Shamara says, especially her knees and shoulders. On occasion, she says, the whites of her eyes turn yellow from jaundice brought on by the disease.

But she also faces her condition with a stoicism not often seen in someone so young. “I’ve only been in the hospital once,” Shamara says, adding that she knows of others with sickle cell who must receive monthly transfusions.

Shamara says she quickly became active in the Sickle Cell Association’s activities, learning about the disease and how to respond to it through the Association’s programs and seminars.

One of her favorite activities was the “Yes I Can” program, which builds self-esteem, encourages academic excellence, and fosters peer relationships. Shamara says the program helped her understand more about managing her symptoms. She also was motivated by regular exposure to speakers who came to the program each month, especially the coaches and athletes from area colleges.

Spending some time during the summer at a farm camp has been another highlight. Without the Sickle Cell Association many of these activities would not have been available to her.

Thanks to the efforts of Community Health Charities of Connecticut, and the Sickle Cell Disease Association, her biggest victory has been one of attitude. “Now,” Shamara says, “I have no problem telling people I have sickle cell.”

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Girl Scouts lift their voices in song

United Way Capital Area Girl Scouts photo What do you get when you combine a devoted volunteer, an innovative nonprofit organization, a group of inspired and motivated young girls, and a little music?

The Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council Choir was created three years ago when Virginia Pertillar, Director of Membership at the Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council, was searching for a way to retain girls who often drop out of scouting after sixth grade. She saw the choir as a tool to help keep the girls involved. Today, its members come from Enfield, Hartford, and West Hartford for weekly practices at the University of Hartford.

Ivy McFadden, a trained classical pianist and recent graduate of the Hartt School of Music, has led the choir for three years. “I decided that it was a wonderful opportunity to give back,” she says. Ms. McFadden finds time in her busy schedule for the weekly practices, while also working at the University of Hartford and attending graduate classes during the evening. Ms. McFadden is an accomplished musician and choir director, but more important than her technical skills, according to Virginia Pertillar, is “her ability to develop confidence in the girls who are members of the choir.”

When the choir held its first practice, the girls were unsure of themselves. But under the guidance of Ms. McFadden, the group has transformed itself and now does not hesitate to open a Hartford Wolfpack or Ladyhawks game with a rousing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. “Seeing the girls progress over the years is really inspiring,” comments Ms. McFadden. Jazzmine Pertillar, a member of the choir, adds, “You learn a lot about music, and you get to meet new people that you’ve never met before and go to places that are very fun to see.”

Elaine Roberts’ daughter, Camille, has been a member of the choir since its inception. “Camille is proud of what they’ve accomplished and happy to be part of the group.” Ms. Roberts originally encouraged Camille to join the choir to meet new people. “Her shyness has decreased and her confidence level has improved. Her most exciting moment was performing at the Hartford Civic Center for a high school all-star basketball game.”

The choir is always looking for new voices and is open to any girl served by the Council. The Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council serves girls ages 5 to 17, and one out of every five girls in the Greater Hartford area is active in Girl Scout programs and activities. The Girls Scouts mission is, in part, to instill girls with strong values, social conscience, and conviction about their potential and
self-worth. Kindergarteners learn to play an instrument or visit a local farm. Elementary-age girls learn new computer skills or work on a craft project. Older girls organize a fashion show or plan an overnight hiking or camping trip. What is important is not so much the individual activity, but the opportunity it presents to interact with other girls and mentors and the confidence that comes from trying new activities. The impact that the Connecticut Valley Girl Scout Council has on so many local girls is hard to grasp because the effects are so far-reaching. How do you measure the impact of self-confidence instilled at an early age over an entire lifetime? In the case of the Choir, it all starts with one volunteer, making a difference and helping a group of young girls lift their voices in song.

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Red Cross role model

United Way Capital Area American Red Cross photo
In 1991, Joe Roberto suffered a spine-crushing back injury, forcing him to take an early retirement from his job as a construction foreman. This once robust, hardworking man suffered with severe depression. As though this weren't enough, Joe subsequently lost his sight. Disabled because of his injury and blind, Joe felt unable to give of himself in any significant and meaningful way. Then he was referred to the American Red Cross-Greater Hartford Chapter, a United Way member agency.

Joe was looking for some sort of activity and social connection. What he found at American Red Cross was a way in which he could utilize his fine motor and engineering skills, and his limitless energy, motivation and enthusiasm. He currently volunteers in three departments, assisting with general office duties, but more important, acting as an inspiring role-model for other volunteers, many of them troubled youth who perform community service with the American Red Cross. Joe also interacts with other physically and mentally challenged volunteers, bringing a positive and lively outlook with him.

"Through a lot of good people at the American Red Cross, I've worked out my problems," Joe says. His volunteer career at the American Red Cross has helped him regain a positive perspective on the rest of his life, opening up ways for him to contribute.

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Halting the chain of violence

United Way Capital Area Prevent Child Abuse photo
By the time he was in the tenth grade, Randy had a criminal record and was serving time in a maximum-security prison. He was released from jail but soon returned to his old lifestyle of drugs and gangs and was incarcerated again, even though he now had a family. It was during his second jail term when things changed for Randy. "My heart ached. I swore that when I got out that I would be the best father I could be to my children."

After leaving prison, Randy remained drug-free but wanted to learn as much as he could about raising his four sons. His only role model was his own father, whose answer to discipline was violence. So Randy joined Parents Anonymous, a program at Prevent Child Abuse Connecticut, a United Way member agency. Randy credits the program with changing his life, teaching him how to cope with the challenges of parenting and disciplining his children.

Today, Randy celebrates more than a decade of drug-free years and owns his own business. His is also the founder a support group for fathers and speaks to prison inmates about improving their own lives and parenting skills. "I feel like a miracle," Randy says of his path to recovery.

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"A PBJ and some self esteem, please."

United Way Capital Area ConnectiKids
Haben is one of many children who climbs on a bus at the end of the school day and is dropped off at one of ConnectiKids' many tutoring and enrichment sites. She grabs a quick snack-an apple, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk-and settles in to review that week's lesson with her tutor.

Each day, Haben participates in a different activity-computer class, cooking, Afro-Caribbean dance and tutoring. While the programs keep Haben off the street and busy during critical afterschool hours when many youth have nothing or little to do, she is also gaining valuable skills that will last a lifetime-discipline, critical thinking, trust, confidence, self-esteem. Haben is one of 450 children from five schools participating in ConnectiKids' afterschool program.

"This program is so important," Abeba, Haben's mother, says. "I have to work, but I know Haben is safe when she comes here."

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New start in Willimantic
By Christine Mitchell

Mayda Reyes and Luis Arriaga, parents of three children, are in the process of buying a house. Mayda is delightful; she has bright eyes, beautiful dark hair, and a great smile. One might never guess that she and her family spent more than six months in the Holy Family Shelter in Willimantic.

After living in Puerto Rico for three and a half years, Mayda and Luis decided to return to the mainland for better opportunities for themselves and their children. Upon landing in Connecticut, they were unable to secure employment and quickly used up all of their savings. Down on their luck, they arrived at the Holy Family Shelter where they spent 6 1/2 months with their children, Amy, Priscilla, and Anthony.

While at the shelter, the children attended school, Luis worked temporarily and Mayda worked toward her high school equivalency diploma. "The shelter became my home," said Mayda. An opportunity arose for Mayda to be the protégé of a woman at the Thames River Mentoring Program, and she attended a 20-week respite program while Luis moved into a new job with the town of Windham.

Throughout the months that the family spent in the shelter, they saved as much money as possible so that they could one day be self-sufficient. Their savings allowed Mayda and Luis to move the family out of the shelter and into an apartment in Willimantic. Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM), an agency funded through Windham Region United Way, provided many things for the family including linens, some furniture, and clothing. The family was also part of WAIM's Adopt-A-Family program at Christmas, which provided a tree, trimmings, food, and gifts from a donor family. One teacher from the children's school bought beds for the three children and another supplied the family with silverware and some furniture.

Once in their apartment, Mayda continued to work on her high school equivalency and completed an internship with United Cerebral Palsy. Mayda is thankful that she took the steps to further her education saying, "without it I wouldn't have been able to get a job." She now works full time.

Luis volunteered as a teacher's aid at Natchaug School and was hired full time by the town of Windham. As a result of their hard work and determination, the couple saved enough money for a down payment on a home of their own in Willimantic.

Mayda and Luis show their gratitude for all of the help that they received by volunteering their time to organizations like WAIM that helped them through difficult times. In addition, they are a part of the Windham Parent Leadership Program and donate clothing and household items that they no longer need to WAIM and other organizations.

Virginia Fulton, Executive Director of WAIM says of the family, "They went from having absolutely nothing to figuring out how to take advantage of services offered by the shelter and by WAIM to turn things around and make life good in a year. Mayda and Luis are quite a team."

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United Way of the Capital Area
30 Laurel Street
Hartford, CT 06106-1374
Phone: (860) 493-6800
Fax: (860) 493-6809