Project Connect Wood County

Project Connect links people with the help they need

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Justin Stricklen was in serious need of a haircut when he showed up at Project Connect on Wednesday. It had been six months since his last trim, and he wasn’t particular about how it was styled. “Whatever she does, I’ll like it. I’m not picky,” Stricklen said as he sat in a makeshift barber chair as a volunteer stylist used clippers on his hair. Stricklen was one of about 300 people who showed up at the annual Project Connect Wood County event Wednesday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. He was there for more than a haircut – looking for help with employment and some winter clothes. Project Connect is an annual event bringing together health, employment, housing, food and other services all in one location on one day. When the doors opened at 9 a.m., people were waiting to get in. “At 8:30 we had a line around the building,” said Kathy Mull, one of the coordinators of the event. “The benefit of Project Connect is we can bring 57 providers in one space together,” Mull said. “People can come to one location and go from one to another.” People attending don’t just get a brochure about services available – they get the services that day, or get help navigating the sometimes complicated path to receiving help. “Folks aren’t always sure where to start,” Mull said. They may need help with utility bills, or dental care, or food. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. So Project Connect brings all the help to one location. Jenessa Holtgrieve, of Bowling Green, came to Project Connect for help with food, winter clothes and diapers. “It helps a lot. They’ve been very generous here,” Holtgrieve said. Charlie Jones, of Bowling Green, waited in the hallway as his wife got an eye exam. Jones said he came in search of Christmas gifts for their son, employment help, and winter coats for his wife and son. Brandie Guinn, also of Bowling Green, has been attending Project Connect for the last three years. She came to get flu shots, her blood pressure and vision checked, and to get birth certificates. “This place is amazing,” Guinn said. “It’s a really great resource.” Project Connect brings together many governmental, health and educational agencies. Some agencies offered several services during the day. For example, the Wood County Health Department offered smoking cessation help, WIC assistance, nutrition and budget advice, relaxation skills, and free birth certificates paid for by Zonta and BG Exchange Club. In the area of medical care, people attending were offered dental screenings, podiatry examinations, PAP screenings and mammograms, blood pressure checks, relation therapy and yoga, eye exams and glasses, blood pressure checks and breast health evaluations. Aid offered for children and families included help applying for child support, holiday assistance, child care assistance, Headstart enrollment, developmental screenings for children, and WIC cards. Other benefits offered included legal services advice, referral for health human resources, health care for Medicaid/Medicare recipients, nutrition and wellness assistance. Personal care assistance included chair massages, haircuts, clothes, and personal hygiene products. Several agencies offered help with transportation and assistance for senior citizens. There were also library resources and pet food supplies available. Help with housing and utilities included assistance with home repairs, homeownership and fair…

Project Connect in need of more volunteer hosts for next week’s event

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The  volunteers’ t-shirts are made, now Project Connect needs to get more people to fill them. On Tuesday afternoon, students in Janet Ballweg’s screen printing class at Bowling Green State University put their skills to good use, printing 170 yellow t-shirts that will be worn by the hosts at Project Connect. Those hosts help guide guests through the dozens of services that will fill every corner of St, Mark’s Church next Wednesday (Oct. 17) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Project Connect is, according to organizers: “A one-day, one-stop event with free goods and services for Wood County individuals, families, elders, and veterans in need. This event is to get individuals that are in need in Wood County more aware of the broad range of organizations and resources available for their benefit.” In 2017, Project Connect, an initiative of the Continuum of Care Coalition of Wood County,  helped 574 individuals from 278 households. More than 200 people volunteers and 52 providers and agencies set up shop. Project Connect provides same day services as well as long-term connections.  The hosts are key players in this. They help the guests navigate the event so they get what they need, whether it’s legal help, food assistance, a winter coat, or a haircut. One week out from Project Connect those hosts are in short supply. An email sent out Tuesday said 46 hosts were still needed. Click to volunteer. It takes more than 200 volunteers to stage the event, said Erin Hachtel, one of the Project Connect co-chairs. And these students are a part of the effort. “For me it’s a way to show the many ways people can use their talents to help people. You see people using art to make a difference in the community.” This is Project Connect’s sixth year, and Ballweg’s students have printed the t-shirts each year. Some years they’ve done more and in multiple colors. Hatchel was wearing a red shirt, which signifies that she’s a member of the organizing committee. On the day of the event this lets people know, she’ll have broader knowledge about what’s going on. Because there were extras from previous years, only yellow shirts are being printed.  “It’s a way to give back to the community,” Ballweg said. This service learning project has elements of both. Given it’s early in the semester, the students have only completed one printing project so far. Taking this  on accelerates their learning. They have to work together, and teach other while printing the shirts, Ballweg said. While their schedules don’t allow them to volunteer on the day itself, she does encourage them to stop by to see for themselves what happens at Project Connect. Those who do are impressed, she said. They don’t realize that this kind of poverty exists in Bowling Green. Hatchel said: “I hope this is something that lasts beyond their student years and they take with them.” 

Project Connect begins hooking up volunteers & donations

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Project Connect Wood County is more than a one-day event. Project Connect provides direct services to people who are homeless or in poverty, or in danger of becoming homeless or in poverty. The benefits accrue to the guests all year, and to the volunteers who make it happen. “It’s very gratifying. I see people in the store, and they ask if we’re doing this again,” said volunteer Marisa Hutchinson. She’s happy that she can answer yes. And she’ll be there to help out again. “Once you volunteer,” she said, “you start planning for the next year.” Planning for Project Connect gets started months in advance. About 30 people gathered for the kickoff meeting Thursday morning at St. Mark’s Church. The church will host Project Connect on Oct. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Project Connect was started in 2013, launched by the Continuum of Care Wood County. It was spurred by concern about homelessness. But shelter insecurity has many dimensions. People also need food, sanitary products, mental health services, legal assistance, and haircuts. Rhonda Stoner, a social worker with the Wood County Community Health Center, said she was surprised to see the change in people after they’d gotten their hair cut. The guests reported just that made them feel so much better about themselves, she said. Last year project volunteers cut the hair of 118 guests. Those seeking help are not clients, they are guests, neighbors stopping over for a helping hand from other neighbors. “We approach everything from the aspect of hospitality,” said Erin Hachtel, one of the co-chairs for the event. Each guest first talks with someone to determine what they and their families “need to be healthy, safe and secure,” Hachtel said. Then they are assisted by a host who guides them through a maze of stations to help find just what they need most. What brings them in varies. Last year, the biggest need was help getting through the holidays, Hachtel noted. That was the first time this was mentioned. The survey of the top reason they came included seeking employment, desire for more education or training, stress management, legal assistance, mental health treatment, housing, and internet connectivity. By having hosts and guest navigate the event together, Hachtel said, “we’re saying we’re all in this together. Let’s walk together to find what will help you and your family.” In 2017, Project Connect helped 574 individuals from 278 households. More than 200 people volunteers and 52 providers and agencies set up shop. During the day 235 bags of food were distributed. Also 44 people had their vision checked and 84 received blood pressure and blood sugar screenings. More than 200 hygiene kits were distributed, and 110 people were able to get birth certificates. The ability to get their birth certificates “was extremely well received,” said co-chair Felicia Otte. “We hope they can get their needs met the day of the event,” Otte said. That includes wholesome meals through the six-hour event as well as childcare. But doing that takes a lot of volunteers the day of Project Connect and the weeks leading up to it. Service providers must be lined up. Donations solicited and collected. Susan Clanton, of United Way, said that coats for kids as well as in adult…

Organizers set gears in motion to stage Project Connect

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Shannon Fisher, co-chair of Project Connect, said someday she’d like the program to go out of business. Project Connect is one-day program that provides direct services and connections for the community’s most vulnerable residents. She told 30 or so people attending the kickoff meeting Thursday morning: “We would love not to do Project Connect Wood County because that would tell us everyone in our community has a safe place to live, enough food, and a job to support their family. Until we get there, though, we need to do this.” This is planning. This is putting the gears in motion to stage the multifaceted festival of community care. The kickoff meeting was held at St. Mark’s Lutheran where four and half months from now guests needing a plethora of services will arrive. Project Connect will be held at the church Oct. 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. When people arrive, Fisher said, they are not “clients” or “patients,” they are “guests.” Each guest is assigned a host, who helps guide them through the array of services. The aim is to breakdown the usual formality of a client on one side of a desk, covered with paperwork, and the service provider on the other side soliciting information. Project Connect takes a more personal approach to determining what someone needs, and then meets those needs if possible on the day of the event, as well as helping guests make connections that will assist them for the rest of the year. Jamie Brubaker, who chairs the provider committee, said, Project Connect is about being more than a resource fair where someone comes away with a fistful of pamphlets. It’s about getting help that day. That may be a bag of food. May be a new coat. May be a personal hygiene kit. Or it may be a haircut. “You wouldn’t believe the smiles coming out of haircut room,” Fisher said. “People are coming out with a fresh look.” Massages are also popular. Brubaker said guests can also get birth certificates. The Wood County Health District brings out a machine to print them on the spot. The cost for the project is $23 a certificate. Last year 110 were provided. Those certificates are a key to applying for other services. Last year, Project Connect served 773 people, who are either homeless or at high risk of becoming homeless. They represented 282 households, 43 percent of which had children. They were assisted by 58 service providers, and almost 300 volunteers. The kitchen served 485 hot meals. The steering committee, which Fisher and Erin Hachtel chair, has 25 people on it. Thirteen committees handle the various functions needed to stage the event. That includes getting the word out to guests and the press, to taking care of the logistics the day of the event, managing parking, putting together food bags, recruiting providers, cooking and serving hot meals, and more. Project Connect is looking for people to chair the food bag, volunteer and publicity committees. Volunteer opportunities are available the day of the event as well as leading up to the day. Those wishing to help can reach out via the Facebook page: or by emailing or Organizing all that is why the kickoff meeting was months before…

Project Connect provides help with a lasting effect

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Project Connect Wood County is more than a one-day event for those who use its services. The goods and services received can make life better for months, even years, to come. Kathy Hunt and her friend Susanna Herman both use the eye glasses service. Some of the toiletries in the bag that Hunt received will last her months, she said. And she’s planning ahead to the holidays, she was able to put in her request to the Salvation Army for a Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Even the massage, her favorite part, has a lasting effect. “It works out kinks, align my head it just relaxes you,” she said. She can still feel the effects a month later. “It just makes it so much easier. It’s one of those things worth waiting for.” And she’ll have to wait because being on disability, she certainly cannot afford to pay for regular massages. Hunt has been attending all four years Project Connect has been held. Project Connect is aimed at those homeless or in danger of being homeless. It’s goal is to link up people with needed services, provides dental and eye exams, health screenings services on that day and hot meals. “You get the squares,” Hunt said, as she ate a breakfast of strawberry yogurt and a banana. “They always have great food.” Project Connect was held Wednesday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. An estimated 300 households received assistance, said Jamie Brubaker, of United Way-Wood County. Project Connect runs on volunteers, about 250, she said said. Hunt planned to spend the entire day there. She makes a point of visiting as many booths as possible because there’s always a new service and information available. Plus, she sees a lot of people she knows. She and Herman are such big supporters they make a point of encouraging others to attend. Hunt distributes flyers throughout their apartment complex. Both have cars so they brought people with them. “As a community project, it’s super,” Hunt said. “Every little bit helps,” Herman said. The eye glasses are a major saving, and she also got herself a new coat. Everyday items such as light bulbs are welcomed. “They’re expensive,” she said. One of the people she brought with her is on disability and Social Security, the other is in the process of trying to get disability benefits. “They need all the help they can get,” Herman said. “While I’m not homeless, I am on Social Security. You don’t get rich.” “I think it’s great for people who truly are homeless,” she said. Dustin Smith, of Weston, falls into that category. He and his parents are living with a friend, but until recently they lived in a tent at Mary Jane Thurstin Park in Grand Rapids. They spent two months there. He’s been unable to work since he started experiencing black outs while doing a morning newspaper delivery route. Project Connect allows him and his parents meet many needs in one place at one time. For Smith that includes getting information on obtaining a GED. They also need some winter clothes. For Christen Giblin, a community editor for the ADAMHS Board and NAMI, said providers feel the need to take part. Often they will learn about new services available….