Yesterday was one of the most eventful and eye-opening days I’ve had here at UWSECT. I went on an Agency Bus Tour, along with some employees from Foxwoods and Zachry Nuclear Engineering. I was a little nervous before the tour because I’ve volunteered in some pretty disorganized and inefficient nonprofits, and, to be honest, I was worried that I might be disappointed by the agencies we work so hard to support (which is really the point of everything we do).
I was completely wrong.
We started our tour at the Edward and Mary Lord Family Health Center in Norwich, part of United Community and Family Services. We got some information on the structure of UCFS, and I was impressed by the sheer quantity of the services they provide. The one building we were in houses primary care, pediatric care, women’s health, dental and behavioral health services, and a pharmacy (and this list doesn’t mention all the other services and programs UCFS has). We learned that this centralization of services is intentional, because it allows people with inflexible work schedules or unreliable transportation to receive multiple services in one visit. UCFS sees over 18,000 patients a year, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured. The professionals there also train medical, dental, nursing, and social work students from universities such as UConn, Quinnipiac and Yale. On our tour, we happened to meet a medical student in training and the doctor he worked with, and we saw patients ranging from those who looked younger than six to those older than 60. Overall I was struck by UCFS’ adaptability and the way it responds to need. For example, when doctors realized that their patients were hungry, UCFS started a food pantry right within the building. When patients requested separate waiting rooms for different services, UCFS responded with according renovations, allowing receptionists to develop relationships and rapport with patients.
After touring UCFS, we braved the rain, got in the van (thank you Foxwoods!) and headed to our next stop: Thames River Family Program. TRFP provides transitional housing to families headed by people ages 18-24, and provides training related to parenting, education, and other life skills. We met with Kathy, the Executive Director, who talked about how the service runs, how it has changed over the years and how federal and state policy affects them. She placed importance on the need to meet people where they are, set up meetings and trainings that residents will want to go to, and, in the end, make sure they have the tools to be independent. We then heard directly from a young woman who went through the transitional program and had stopped by again that day to volunteer. She told us her personal story about ending up in Connecticut, homeless and knowing no one, and how TRFP provided housing, helped her overcome addiction and taught her how to care for her baby son (who is now an adorable toddler that we got to meet!). It was inspiring to hear the way she had taken control of her life and succeeded with the help of the services that we partner with. We got to tour an apartment in the residence that was being redone, and then it was off to our next stop- Martin House!
This stop, our last one, was especially touching for us because we heard so many stories from people whose lives were improved by Martin House. While the services provided by TRCS are transitional, Martin House is focused on providing long-term, even permanent, stability for its residents. This includes housing and 3 meals a day for people of low income, many with histories of mental illness, addiction, poverty, or homelessness, some of whom are also managing physical illnesses or developmental disorders. They welcomed us into their living room and we sat with about ten residents who were relaxing there. Every resident in the room got up and spoke to us, many of them several times. Some spoke a little about their histories, and it was breathtaking to see the change in their tone and faces when they began to talk about their lives now and the impact that Martin House has had. They talked about how it gives them the comfort of structure, the benefits of social interaction, the ownership and pride that they developed from having their own rooms and jobs that give them a sense of purpose (some in the community and some within Martin House). I think it’s safe to say that everyone on the tour was blown away by these raw and honest stories of hope.
As we drove away upon completion of the tour I felt a lot of things: energized, hopeful, inspired, and most of all, re-committed to the work we do at UWSECT every day, because now I know some of the names and faces of the people whose lives are directly affected by our efforts. As we drove, Alice, our Leadership Giving Director, asked what she can say to people to really explain how their donations are important to those we had just met. A man immediately raised his hand. “I’ve got four words for them” he said, “Go. On. The. Tour.”
So that’s what I have to say to you: Go on the tour. Get an inside look at the services that are available to your friends, relatives, and neighbors who might one day be in need. Understand how these agencies impact the people in your community. Spend a morning having an experience that will stay with you. Go on the tour, go on the tour, Go. On. The. Tour.
P.S. These are only 3 of the programs we support. To see a more complete list, click here.