“I’ve been in and out of shelters for the past two years and always felt inferior. Today, I felt like the most important person in the room. I felt listened to and I got the help I needed. Thank you so much.” -Project Homeless Connect participant
That’s just one of many stories from the first-ever Project Homeless Connect in Harford County, Maryland. On January 28, hundreds of caring volunteers joined us to help more than 400 Harford County individuals and families in need.
The day was full of hope, smiles and tears of joy, thanks to dedicated volunteers and service providers who took the time to make sure everyone – from infants and children, to single mothers and families, to young men, veterans and seniors – knew that somebody cared about them and was there to help.
Services offered included haircuts, dental exams and extractions, eye exams and glasses, identification cards, flu shots, employment services, housing, food and clothing giveaways, and much more.
Volunteers were matched one-on-one with participants, guiding them through more than 50 critical services. Sarah, a volunteer, was previously facing homelessness but had recently found a job working in retail in Harford County and is now proud to be back on her feet. She said she volunteered at Project Homeless Connect because she “knows what it’s like.”
Another volunteer who had recently lost her job said helping the families at this event put her own challenges in perspective.
Even students played a part, packing and passing out hygiene kits full of shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste. One of the youngest volunteers, nine-year-old Angelina, personally made “blessing bags” to distribute to those in need at the event, accompanied by her mom. Other volunteers cuddled babies and played with small children so their parents could focus on getting the help they needed, like meeting one-on-one with a workforce development coach or getting a vision test and glasses.
Early results show that more than 90 children and adults received haircuts and dentists performed more than 40 dental extractions, with many more scheduled following the event – all pro bono. At first, Mike, a veteran about to turn 60, was worried about how much the dental services were going to cost and that he couldn’t afford them. He just couldn’t believe that everything was provided at free of charge. As he waited in line to get a free emergency phone, he said the first person he was going to call was his volunteer guide to say thank you.
In addition to volunteers, scores of dedicated service providers spent all day administering flu shots, checking blood pressure, answering questions about government benefits, helping with employment applications, passing out food and providing countless resources to everyone in need. And thanks to Pat’s Pizzeria and Subway, no one left the event hungry.
Project Homeless Connect Harford County was a huge success, made possible in part by generous partnerships with Harford County Government, Healthy Harford and Jones Junction, as well as the unwavering leadership of United Way’s Harford County community partnership board. And we can’t thank our volunteers and service providers enough for giving up their day to be there for our neighbors in need.
Project Homeless connect is also held annually in Baltimore City, where it served nearly 2,000 individuals and families in need last year, making it one of the largest events of its kind in the country for the last four years. For more information, visit uwcm.org/phc.