Wood County Project Connect

Project Connect serves with no strings attached

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   They started lining up in the darkness at 6:45 a.m. – waiting for Project Connect to open Wednesday at 9 a.m. “Before the doors opened we had a line around the building,” said Erin Hachtel, co-chair of the fifth annual Project Connect coordinated by local social services and held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. The one-day event is a one-stop shop for goods and services for people in the Bowling Green area. “It’s to bring together people who have needs with people who can provide for those needs,” Hachtel said. The needs were varied. People came for a warm meal and bags of food to take home, for dental exams and vision checkups, for flu shots and birth certificates, and for winter coats for entire families. They went home with all that and more at no cost to them. As always, those seeking help were not called patients, consumers or clients. They were called “guests.” “Project Connect is a hospitality event where everyone is welcome,” Hachtel said. Help is offered with no strings attached. “We don’t ask at the door for them to prove they are in need.” Each guest was assigned to a volunteer, who helped them navigate through the sea of services offered. Barbara Ramsay, of Bowling Green, had come to the program before – but this year she was using a wheelchair. Her goal was to get food, a winter coat for her “grandbaby,” some leads on rental housing that is handicapped accessible, and a copy of her birth certificate. The Wood County Health District printed off the certificates for 110 people, with a donor paying the costs. “I think it’s awesome,” Ramsay said, holding her certificate. Further down the hall, Danielle Lashaway, of Rudolph, was getting her hair cut for the first time in more than a year. “I always wear my hair up. It’s time for a change,” she said, smiling. Lashaway also had plans to pick up some food and winter clothing for her seven children. She was hoping to find winter coats for all of them, aged 10 to 4. “It really helps tremendously,” she said of Project Connect. “Stuff is expensive.” Alva Barnes, 71, of Weston, said he came to Project Connect because his daughter brought him. But while there, he planned to get help with his checkbook, and get his eyesight checked since it had been several years since his last eye exam. “I think it’s a good idea,” Barnes said of the event as he waited his turn for the vision testing. A couple doors down, another guest was having her teeth checked by Dr. Scott Louderback. In the makeshift exam room, the dentist was primarily screening for oral cancer and trying to direct people to a dental center. “The biggest thing is having a dental home. Without that, things fall through the cracks,” Louderback said. Though some guests came to address immediate needs, the program also addressed needs that can have lasting effects. They were linked up with agencies like Salvation Army, Job and Family Services, the Health District, the Cocoon, the Child Support Enforcement Agency, and senior services. “We try to provide for long term needs so families can deal with whatever they need to deal with,” Hachtel said. Last year, Project Connect was visited by 592 guests, representing 297 households, said Shannon Fisher, the other co-chair of the event. Less than two hours into this year’s event, the program had already seen people from 240 households. “It’s the fifth annual. People are aware of us,” Fisher…


Project Connect takes people-to-people approach to helping those in need

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Project Connect employs a personal touch to link up those in need with those who can help. People coming to seek services are guests, and the volunteers who help them one-on-one are hosts. Project Connect was started four years ago to address the problem of homelessness. It serves both those who are now homeless, and those in danger of becoming homeless. On Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., those in need will show up at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 315 S. College St., Bowling Green, where volunteers will help them find the services they need from among the about 50 represented. Those can range from legal help to a haircut. Each of these guests will be paired with a host who will help guide them to find the help to make their lives easier. That could be education, employment, food and counseling for the ills that hold so many back. It could be a massage for the body, or counseling for themind. Last year more than 300 people representing 312 households attended. Those households included 782 adults and children. Jamie Brubaker, of United Way in Wood County, said of those guests, 30 percent had been homeless sometime in the last three years. Esther Nagel, who chairs the event’s publicity committee, said that homelessness is invisible. You may see people, but you don’t know they are homeless. They may be living in their cars, or sleeping on a couch at a friend’s or relative’s home. The federal government, she noted, does not consider those people homeless. The Department of Housing and Urban Development only considers those living in a situation unsuitable for human habitation to be homeless. Though the event starts at 9 a.m., people will start lining up to get in at 7 a.m., Nagel said. They’ll be able to have a cup of coffee, and hot meals will also be available throughout the day. The guests will be greeted, and then paired up with a host. Each guest will then list three or so of the needs they most want to have addressed during the day. If someone is currently homeless, they will be directed first to the Salvation Army to get set up with temporary housing. At the 2015 Project Connect: 516 hot meals were served; about 300 bags of groceries distributed; 350 personal hygiene kits for women, men and kids were given out; more than 100 birth certificates were applied for; 115 haircuts given; over 80 vision and dental screenings done; and 61 flu shots administered. This year more attention will be paid to tracking whether guests followed through on receiving services, Nagel said. Delivering these services requires more than 300 volunteers. Nagel said it was gratifying that over 90 percent of those who volunteered last year said they would come back this year. For information about volunteering call 419-352-2390. “Volunteers,” she said, “learn about all these resources that they may not have known about. It opens their eyes that there are people who need these services, people just like we are.” Susan Clanton, of United Way in Wood County, said she recently got a call from a woman in Perrysburg. She was in desperate straits needing food for her husband and disabled son. The woman, Clanton said, told her that she had never been in this position before. She didn’t know where to turn. Clanton gave her some ideas, and encouraged her to come to Project Connect. The woman told her: “I’m the one at church who always supplied the peanut butter; I’m the one who always brought…