By: Katie Sobiech
Over 1,500 people showed up at The Chapel, Tuesday May 10th, to put on the annual Project Homeless Connect (PHC) community event. In just two hours after the doors opened, 400 people showed up in need. Over 800 were expected to turn out by the end of the day.
“To someone who hasn’t stepped foot on the premise of the Chapel until today, it’s just mind blowing that this many agencies could collaborate together this well and create such a one-stop-shop of all these absolutely necessary services that a human being needs to survive,” said Abby McGinty, AmeriCorps volunteer with the Battered Women’s Shelter.
“The point of today is to let people who are homeless and struggling know about the services that are available” Sue Pierson, Chairwoman of the Akron/Summit County Continuum of Care for the Homeless and Vice President of InfoLine, Inc., said.
Eighty-two percent of their clients last year said that they learned about services they never knew were available.
“It sends a good message to our community that we care about them and want to make sure they know what’s available to help them get stable again,” Pierson said.
Hollie Ashworth, Outreach Coordinator at Safe Landing Youth Shelter, welcomed volunteers.
“Volunteers help navigate people through the building so that they can get lunch, a shower, go to the clothing room and get the services they need,” Ashworth said.
Doctors, lawyers, dentists…you name it, they were there.
And something new this year, people were able to get new birth certificates and ID’s.
“This is an area that our guests said was very difficult for them. If you don’t have a birth certificate because you’re living in a tent and it got rained on, or if it’s been destroyed or lost, then you can’t apply for benefits. If you don’t have an ID you can’t apply for many of the things that are available,” Pierson explained.
“If they were born in Ohio they can walk out with their birth certificate today,” she said.
This year, a total of nearly 650 volunteers and 50 agencies showed up.
“When you look at the list of agencies here today, to think that all of these people agreed to come and provide services on this day for no pay… it’s collaboration at its best and really says a lot for Akron and Summit County,” Pierson said.
Among those who arrived was the Salvation Army.
“Our entire staff is here today,” Olivia Wakeling, Resource Development Director at the Salvation Army, said, “It’s been very exciting! Everyone’s having a great day. It’s really a blessing to be here and serve. I’m so glad to be a part of it.”
As far as collaboration goes Wakeling says, “This is a very collaborative, giving community. There are a lot of people that are willing and ready to help.”
CVS Pharmacy was also on site this year.
“We’re happy to be here and be part of such a great event,” Ed Chessar, CVS Pharmacy Supervisor, said, “We decided to help out the community by providing antibiotics and some pain medications. It’s been very humbling,” Chessar said of their experience.
Prior to the event, CVS had donation bins set up in their stores for their colleagues and customers to purchase items and donate.
“It’s a fantastic event,” Maynard Randles, CVS District Manager, said.
“We’ve formed a great relationship with InfoLine that will grow through the years,” Chessar added.
Nursing students from Akron University were also there to help.
“We set up stations for people to see a doctor, ask specific questions and get exams if they need to,” Jessica Harrah, Nursing Student at Akron University, said.
Blood pressure checks, blood cholesterol screenings, podiatry and vaccinations were among the services offered.
Through the Eyes of Volunteers
“I heard the advertisement on the radio this morning and thought ‘What a thrill that I get to be a part of something like this’. It’s amazing. It’s a great day and lots of people are walking out with smiles on their faces,” Katie Browning, Director of the Learning Zone at the Salvation Army, said.
The Battered Women’s Shelter also arrived on the scene to educate women and offer them hope.
“We’re giving out toiletry bags and making sure they have information to link themselves up if they need shelter for abuse or domestic violence issues,” Brittany Paliswat, Outreach Coordinator at the Battered Women’s Shelter, said.
“We’ve talked with some women with personal issues. They’ve had questions about court and legal assistance that we were able to answer. It’s great that they are getting the resources that they are desperately in need of,” Paliswat continued.
Christmas in May
This annual event has been compared to Christmas for the needy by some.
Jordan, just 21 years old and in a wheelchair, found himself at PHC after being cut off of his mother’s insurance plan.
“I don’t have anything,” he said, explaining that he came for glasses.
“The charitable events that happen here are amazing,” he said with much enthusiasm and gratefulness.
Sheri Castro, a volunteer who was once homeless herself has a big heart for the homeless. She even lets them stay in tents in her backyard.
“It’s been a great day. So many agencies are here today that care about people that are on the street and have nothing. There’s so much here for them,” she said happily.
Nobody leaves the Chapel empty handed. With bags full of clothing, valuable community resources, hair products and more they also each received a ten-pound bag of non-perishable food purchased from the Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank.
Planning and preparation for this event happens year-round. If you are interested in getting involved to help prepare for next year’s event, please contact Helen Tomic, City Planner at 330.375.2090.