The United Way of Southington is a local nonprofit organization managed by a very small staff and supported by hundreds of volunteers each year. By utilizing the time an talent of people from all walks of life, the United Way of Southington is able to invest in nine agencies each year–providing community wide services that range from infants to the elderly. This commitment proves that live do change when a community cares.
Throughout the summer, Darci who is twelve watches her sister, Sara, who is nine, because their single mom works from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. They stay in and around their apartment all day, every weekday. Darci says the days can be long and boring. At school they participate in the school’s free or reduced lunch program, but in the summer this program is not available. Twenty- two (22%) of Southington children participate in the free or reduced school lunch program. Realizing this need, Bread for Life worked with the Southington Board of Education to identify children like Darci and Sara. Bread for Life now provides over 300 lunches each week throughout the summer. The lunches are delivered to 2 apartment complexes (among other locations) along with volunteers who bring jacks, balls, bats, jump ropes, etc. and play outdoors with these kids for an hour each day. “We want to feed them physically and emotionally,” says Donna Ayer, Director of Bread for Life. “Our support from Southington’s United Way helps us ensure that No One Goes Hungry in Our Community.”
Ava is a 26-year-old Southington resident. She met Jeff during her last year of high school. They married right after graduation. Soon they had a child and then another. The realty of life without a trade or profession hit hard. Finding an affordable apartment, bills, doctors’ visits, clothing, daycare, working two jobs, never getting ahead, were huge challenges. Jeff’s personality began to change. He became overbearing, controlling and jealous. He created a daily schedule for her and set rules for when she could eat and shower. He forbid her to visit friends or family. He became abusive. Ava knew that she had to leave but worried she couldn’t support her children. She stayed feeling trapped, hopeless and worthless. The final straw came when Jeff became abusive to her children. Ava heard about and called the Prudence Crandall 24-hour hot line (888-774-2900). Prudence Crandall gave her and her children temporary, safe housing. They provided a Civil Court Advocate to help her file for divorce and stay with her throughout the process. They provided counseling so she could heal, identify her strengths, set goals and achieve them. With Prudence Crandall’s support and guidance, Ava was able to build a new, healthy life for herself and her children. Unfortunately, every year there are Southington residents in similar situations. Fortunately, there is a place to go for help.
Said is a young man who like most of our ancestors left his home, family and friends to come to the United States for the opportunity of a better life. His home is Algeria where his parents and sisters still live. In Algeria, Said graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Italian Language. He is fluent in 3 languages: Berber, Arabic and Italian. He now lives in Southington and works as a pizza driver. His new goal is to return to school for a degree in Information Technology. But to do that, he must become fluent in English -both written and spoken. To help him master the English language, Said contacted Literacy Volunteers. He now meets weekly at the library with Sue Zoni, a Southington Volunteer. Sue is teaching him all aspects of English including our colloquialisms like what is a “Charlie horse” or what does “falling through the cracks” mean. And, Sue is learning about the Algerian culture. She says teaching adult foreign students is interesting and increases her knowledge of the world and it’s cultures. The best part, however, is seeing her students succeed.
As soon as she arrived from Jamaica, Maya, a young single mother of two, began asking people where she could find good, affordable daycare for her youngest child who had medical issues. Several people recommended the Margaret Griffin Center. She investigated this suggestion and found that Margaret Griffin charges clients on an income related sliding scale, their teachers are trained in medical administration, CPR and first aid, and they provide superior education within the daycare program. Feeling secure with her child there, Maya took a job as a waitress, continued to be a mom to her children and enrolled in college with the goal of becoming a teacher. She also studied to become an American citizen. “Never think the American Dream is not alive and well,” says Maya, “With hard work, I was able to achieve my goal of citizenship and am now a teacher working in a neighboring school system. However, I couldn’t have done it so quickly, if I wasn’t secure knowing that my child was in an educational environment that allowed her medication to be administered when needed.”
Mark Pooler, CEO of the Southington Community YMCA, says unexpected, life changing events can happen in a minute. Sudden death, a terminal illness or long-term diagnosis, fire, losing a job, dissolving a marriage can turn a family’s life upside down. If a person does not have family or a strong support system, these challenges can seem unsurmountable. Fortunately, the YMCA’s financial assistance program is designed to help in times like these. A few years ago, Southington Community Services notified the YMCA that a single mom, Katlin, found herself in a desperate situation. Kate’s car broke down in town. She and her two children were without a home, had almost no money and no family in the area. Two organizations, Southington Community Services and the YMCA, worked together to help Kate and her children get on their feet. Community Services helped providing the Southington family temporarily place to stay. Kate found a job as an EMT, a job she had in a previous state. The YMCA provided financial assistance for child care so Kate’s children could attend the preschool program at the Y’s Learning Center along with before and after school care. Kate says that without knowing that her children were in a safe, caring environment, she would not have been able to work and study to become a Paramedic. Katlin and her family are now thriving.
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover is just once of the things our Southington volunteer, Sue, learned as a driver for Senior Transportation Services, Inc. Tom is legally blind, has hearing aids and multiple medical problems including cancer and heart disease. He needs to be driven to St. Francis Hospital, to specialists and physical therapy appointments. Tom is 70 and lived with his parents all his life. When they passed, he had no one – no family and few friends because of his lifelong dependence on others for transportation. Tom looks disheveled and shuffles when he walks. But looks are deceiving. Sue feels that Tom is one of the most amazing people she has ever met. He is a pure soul, full of joy, gratitude, appreciation and humility. Tom works out at a gym, takes online courses at CCSU, loves to study history and can have interesting conversations on almost any topic. “Tom has maximized his strengths while overcoming his physical challenges. He is a role model for my family and me,” says Sue.
Southington Community Services is unique because it provides everything from energy, housing services, and food as well as Back to School packets, Thanksgiving meals, Christmas meals, Children’s Christmas Shopping Party, Shop with a Cop, Holiday Presents, Easter meals, and more. Additionally, individuals, whether business owners or individuals, can come into the office to ask questions or obtain information about state and federal programs. In 2018, Salvation Army Volunteers raised $17,000 for Southington Community Services. These funds, along with money donated by United Way of Southington paid for food in the food pantry, assistance with the holiday programs and energy and emergency needs for Southington residents.
In 2018 Southington Community Services Provided the following:
Food Pantry: 969 individuals
Back to School: 302 children
Holiday gifts: 1,498
Christmas meals: 1,462
Children’s shopping party: 263
In 2018, fifty-nine (59) Southington citizens used the Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline, part of the YWCA’s Sexual Assault Crisis Service. The youngest was seven (7) and the oldest ninety-one (91). Most users were between nineteen (19) and twenty-nine (29). Mary, a young, single woman in her early twenties, was one of these fifty-nine. She recently began dating a young man she thought was fun. She’d only been on a few dates when they went to a party. The music was loud, and someone handed Mary a drink. After a few sips, she felt sick and went into a bedroom to lie down and rest. Her date came in and regardless of her protest, rape occurred. Mary felt frightened, guilty, ashamed, but also angry. Her emotions were overwhelming her. She thought she could trust this person. When a friend told her about the Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline, Mary called it. She went to the hospital where an Advocate from the hotline met her and stayed with her throughout the exam. If she decided to press charges an Advocate would guide and remain with her throughout the process. Mary found it difficult to return to work. Flashbacks occurred. She was afraid to fall asleep. She lost her focus and her job. The Crisis Service, in conjunction with the State’s Victim Services Compensation Program, provided Mary with money to attend therapy. It’s been over a year since this happened. Although Mary will never forget, she has learned how to cope. She now has a job she loves, friends she trusts and is thinking of becoming a hotline volunteer herself.
The money given to the Child Guidance Clinic by Southington’s United Way pays for them to send a social worker, specifically trained in child and family issues, to the Margaret Griffin Child Development Center. Sue, the social work currently assigned to the Center, admits that she has her work cut out for her. Not only are there children from at least 10 different countries, speaking 10 different languages, at the center who, as well as their parents, need support and guidance, there are foster children, children who have lost a parent and others coping with the problems facing families today. Sue remembers one little girl, Mary, whose parents recently divorced. Her father left the state and suddenly had no contact with Mary. Mary and her Mom were dealing with the loss of the dad and the family structure when they went to live with her grandmother. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the grandmother died. The sense of loss and instability caused Mary to withdraw into herself. She no longer laughed. She didn’t play. Her lack of focus and attention prevented her from learning. As a social worker, Sue was able to work with Mary, her mother and her teachers to help Mary express her feelings and support her through this difficult time. She was also able to go into the home, teach her mom techniques to help Mary, and identify support groups to help her mom. Sue says, “It’s truly a gift to be able to help these young children understand, cope and work through the issues facing them at this young age. Once resolved, they won’t have to carry them into their adult lives.