A Year-Long Project: Project Homeless Connect

“Project Homeless Connect was the most inspiring event of humanity that I have been part of in a while. We need more compassion and acceptance in our world today, and being at the event reminded me of all I have and all I can give to others. Thanks to everyone who organized and was a huge to small part of this tremendously valuable event!”

This quote from one of our 35 ACC volunteers at Project Homeless Connect says it all.

Sponsored on November 15, 2018 by Mile High United Way, Denver’s Road Home, and the City and County of Denver, over 750 volunteers helped connect those in need to an array of offerings, ranging from ID services, housing information, resume workshops, haircuts, legal assistance, and various healthcare service—like massage and diabetes testing—to specific help for veterans, children, and pets. Plus, 157 people were offered jobs on the spot. ACC is proud to have been a provider and sponsor for this remarkable event, each of us becoming more educated about homelessness, as well as better understanding issues of diversity since culture, race, age, learning and physical challenges, gender, sexual orientation, and religion were all represented in one day.

On that sunny, unseasonably warm, 60-degree day, ACC helped our most vulnerable population access much-needed resources to become self-sufficient for themselves and their families. But this annual, one-day event—open to people of all ages who are experiencing homelessness or facing housing instability—did not begin and end on November 15.

Beginning back in Fall 2017, ACC’s Service Learning Center began collaborating with Phi Theta Kappa, Student Life, our Library, and various other departments to collect 1,000 coats for the Fall 2018 event. We fell short of our coat count, but our community did step up, and generous students, staff, and faculty donated 450 coats right up to the night before the event took place.

Phi Theta Kappa students Savannah Lewis-Sweed, Carli Rodriguez, Josephine Thibodeau, and Ryan Holmes.

Phi Theta Kappa students Savannah Lewis-Sweed, Carli Rodriguez, Josephine Thibodeau, and Ryan Holmes.

It was quite daunting to collect and store hundreds of coats for two and a half semesters, but it was worth it to know some of our teachers were planning worthwhile Service Learning assignments for their students. Dina Hornreich’s Interpersonal Communication student, Rachel Anderson, and Karen Rojenko’s Nursing student, Josh Mickelson, spent time volunteering at our ACC Coat Table at the event by showing up at 7:30 a.m. to help set up and staying through the morning to hand out coats while learning about the many families looking to stay warm this winter. Chris McKellip’s AAA assignment focused on Service Learning, helping Jonathan Rumley and Carol Capuano learn first-hand about the homeless situation by guiding guests through the many services offered, while Tamara Haynes, being a licensed cosmetologist, adorned 15 guests by cutting their hair.

ACC students Rachel Anderson and Josh Mickelson

ACC students Rachel Anderson and Josh Mickelson

If collecting and storing hundreds of coats was a task, how did we plan to get them to the Denver Convention Center 10 miles north of ACC? That was easier than realized, knowing how helpful and collaborative our departments are across campus. Brendan Bieker and Adrian Medina from our Facilities Department drove us and our dozens of trash bags filled with coats of all sizes in two enormous pick-up trucks to the event center in the middle of afternoon traffic—and back—with no complaints at all.

Loading up the ACC coat donations the day before the event. Pictured are Brandon Bieker, Diana Hornick, Josie Mills, and Adrian Medina

Dropping off the ACC coat donations the day before the event. Pictured are Brandon Bieker, Diana Hornick, Josie Mills, and Adrian Medina

But at 10 a.m. on November 15, it was show time, so we had to have our coat area set up and ready for the more than 1,400 guests who would soon be arriving at our table, planning for another Colorado winter. Good thing a small group of our volunteers entered the event center nearly three hours earlier that morning energized because we needed a lot of time to tear apart those bags and organize the coats neatly in sections on our 24 tables for men, women, and children—along with a miscellaneous items’ table of hats, gloves, and even t-shirts. We instantly knew we had more tables than coats, but then we introduced ourselves to Linda and her staff of three from Coats for Colorado who brought another 750 coats. We also worked also alongside Juanita from Servicios de la Raza and two friendly folks from Home Aid Colorado who dispensed 1,000 pairs of socks. We even gave away over 20 of those plastic bags that originally held the coats—without rips or holes—to some guests asking for ways to store their new coat or socks or whatever else they were procuring for themselves.

English and Literature faculty Juliet Hubbell and Assistive Technology Specialist for Student Access Services Enrique Castro Franco volunteered at ACC’s Coat Table. Their blue volunteer t-shirts tell guests that they are bilingual.

ACC Library and Learning Commons Director Lisa Chestnut and eLearning Specialist Cherri LaMarr volunteered at the ACC Coat Table

ACC’s Workforce and Community Programs staff volunteered at the ACC Coat Table. Pictured: Kelly Locascio, Amber Toliver, Julie Beggs, Anthony Silio, and Shao Yeung

But serving the community while hearing people’s stories about living in Denver without a place to call home is more than supplying coats to those in need. Brad Bartholomew, a member of our photography faculty, incorporated a unique and valuable Service Learning project for his class by bringing 12 students out to their own booth so they could learn to take high-quality portraits and communicate with the public. Brad had this to say: “We had a wonderful and positive experience. I had many students say that it was one of the most positive things they have ever done. They thanked me for getting them involved. I set it up, but they did all the work. We were all proud to represent ACC as we helped our neighbors.” And ACC was not alone in educating students about poverty and inequity, as Regis University’s Service Learning students worked the Welcome area to pair up volunteers with over 1,400 guests that day.

ACC Photography professor Brad Bartholomew and his Commercial Photography students

ACC’s Portrait Studio at Project Homeless Connect

Humans were not the only ones receiving care and support that day. Quite a few dogs—small and large—were getting checkups and immunizations, picking out toys and snacks and bags of food, taking time to be petted by volunteers representing non-profit animal shelters, and even getting baths. And one or two got to have their portraits taken by Brad’s students while posing with on their humans’ laps.

Some dogs accompanied their humans to Project Homeless Connect this Fall 2018

By 3 o’clock, the event was over and people were meandering out the door with smiles and new outlooks on life. At our now-empty coat tables, the remaining five volunteers had only three coats left that Servicios de la Raza—which serves as an integral chamber in the heart of Metro Denver’s Latinx community—took with them for their upcoming Thanksgiving event.

Reflecting back on the event just a few weeks after it ended, it felt good to leave knowing so many people that we live alongside in our communities would be warm this winter, because in spite of the balmy temperatures we had for the event, a big cold front with lots of snow was heading towards Denver in the next few days. It was also sad to think so many individuals, especially the children and dogs we saw, needed to have those resources in the first place and couldn’t simply spend that day nestled in their own, safe homes. Sometimes, we take what we have for granted, but it’s good to know we can help again in other areas of support next year. Any ideas? See you next Fall at Project Homeless Connect 2019!

ACC Service Learning Center Coordinator/Communication faculty Diana Hornick and Math faculty Heidi Barrett

by Diana Hornick and Josie Mills

Service Learning at Project C.U.R.E.

Front of Project C.U.R.E. Denver Warehouse

Front of Project C.U.R.E. Denver Warehouse

Entrance to Project C.U.R.E.

Entrance to Project C.U.R.E.

I learned so much during my time at Project C.U.R.E. I discovered how much I enjoyed being out in the community. I was skeptical at first because it was the first time I had done something completely by myself without taking someone with me. I ended up liking going in alone. It allowed me to open up to others, which meant the most to me. I realized how much I genuinely cared about my community and being an active member. Although it was a little intimidating at first because many of the volunteers were already established, they made me feel a sense of belonging and answered every single question I had. I found that I am an effective communicator when I focus and try to understand what the task means on both macro and micro levels of society. Being a part of something bigger than myself allowed me to see the bigger picture and look at why the others were volunteering and why this work meant so much to them.

“Mid-sorting” table inside Project C.U.R.E. Warehouse

Warehouse full of medical supplies waiting to be sorted or shipped

“Dual-sorting” area where items are sorted again.

I worked with Michelle for my first experience service learning at Project C.U.R.E. in the “mid-sort” section of the warehouse. This station was dedicated to determining what we need to keep from the medical supplies donated to Project C.U.R.E. from medical offices. Since many of the items may not be used in the countries that may not need them or they do not have access to electricity we ended up throwing away many supplies. Michelle had been volunteering at the organization every Wednesday for the past year. She’s a retired nurse who knew how to effectively communicate with someone like me who had never volunteered before or knew what any medical supplies were when we sorted through everything. Michelle’s communication skills helped me focus and work on my communicating and listening skills.

“Kits for Kids” medical kits are assembled in this area

She gave me the confidence to make decisions regarding things that I thought were acceptable to keep without asking. All the volunteers at Project C.U.R.E showed me how selfless my community is and how the work being done is just as important as interacting with others in the community. I saw the same volunteers every Wednesday at the time. I now understand why they do it and I will be back to help because of the positive experiences I had there.

“Mid-sort” boxes on pallets prepared for sorting

Wall that tells people what trash is. There are so many items donated that cannot be used.

Boxes that have been sorted through and others that need to be sent out.

During my experience service learning at Project C.U.R.E, I learned that I am a better communicator than I had initially thought. I went into the situation with something I wanted to work on such as listening and showing people I am listening attentively. It all came so naturally when we all started talking and asking questions about the work and each other which brought us together. Being in an environment where I wasn’t afraid to ask for help showed me how my community supported me and others they had never met before.

by Leah Buchart, ACC Student

My Experience at Dumb Friends League

Lily - Denver Dumb Friends League dogThis is Lily! She was a puppy that I cared for when I first started volunteering. I bonded with her throughout the weeks and ended up adopting her! I adopted her on my 3rd day volunteering and she is now 10 months!

Dumb Friends League play roomThis was one of the playrooms that the dogs got to play in. As you can tell, I took a lot of interest in Lily. Sometimes we allowed dogs to play together so they get to bond. I got to monitor them to make sure nothing happened. This was always fun and exciting to watch!

Angel - pitbull mixThis is Angel! He is a pitbull that I learned to love and adore! He is the sweetest puppy I have ever met. He loved to play fetch and tug a war. Everyone has this idea that pitbulls are these scary and dangerous dogs. I am a 5’3, 110-pound teenager and I couldn’t have felt safer with Angel.

Someone I worked with was a gal named Alex. She was such a bright and happy soul. She helped me learn throughout this experience. She has been working here since 2012 and is now a leader here. She has adopted 3 dogs and 2 cats (yay!) here. She and her fiance, Ryan, take some of the dogs on hikes and walks when they have free time. the location I volunteered was surrounded by mountains and fun hikes (for humans and the dogs!).

Another person I met was Amanda. She was a teenager who volunteered on the weekends. She has been volunteering here for the past 4 months and has learned a lot. She helped “mentor” me here and help me get the hang of things quickly. She first volunteering for a school project but fell in love with it and has continue to volunteer (like me!).

Something I learned about my community was how well we work together. When we volunteer together, we are able to achieve great things. A task that would’ve taken 3 hours only took an hour with extra volunteers. Something else I learned about our community is some people are awful! Throughout my volunteering, I saw too many abused dogs. We had to care many dogs back to health and watch them learn to trust and love again. It was extremely tough for me to see animals in that condition. I have always been an animal lover and seeing dogs abused and crying, really took a toll on me. Throughout my couple months of volunteering, I was able to see the struggles they face at a simple yet intense shelter.

Something I learned about myself is I am such a shy person! I have always been a shy person. I’ve been at my job for 3 years and I totally forgot how scary it is to start at a new place! I was awfully shy when I first started. Once I met someone around my age that I could connect with, I started to open up a little more. I learned that I’m a great listener and communicator while I volunteered. I listened extremely well to instructions and the commands that needed to be done. After I got the hang of it, they started to have me help new people. I wasn’t in charge, whatsoever, but I was able to help the new volunteers when they needed it! This was truly an honor because I was able to master and help a shelter that truly impacted people and animals!

by Hannah McNeese, ACC Student

A Day of Service at Audubon’s Nature Center

It was a hot day. Yes, it was sunny and clear and dry, so it was a “nice” day to do some gardening outdoors with the Audubon Society of Greater Denver near Chatfield State Park here in Littleton. But it was hot.

The Service Learning Center, along with ACC’s ViTaL (Volunteering To Learn) Team, helped get faculty involved with this year’s “Day of Service” on Saturday, April 14, 2017, sponsored by Student Life. We ended up with seven able-bodied volunteers around 1 p.m. to help dig out mint, grasses, and rabbit brush from a bird garden area at the entrance to Audubon’s Nature Center very near the parking lot, and very near the unrelenting construction taking place at the main road. But the noisy trucks did not deter us from helping beautify this community area for Audubon, whose motto is “Connecting people with nature through conservation, education, and research.”

 

Steven and Ashley -student volunteers

Steven and Ashley (our two student volunteers) dug right in (pun intended!) to help Audubon for 3 hours on Saturday in the heat and sun, with plenty of birds chirping in the background.

Rebecca from Veterans Services removes invasive grasses along the perimeter of the bird garden.

Whitney from Student Life helps Ashley in the bird garden with bird-catching nets in the background. The nets are used during bird banding days in April and March each year, teaching the public about some of Colorado’s feathered friends.

Register for a bird banding event here.

Rebecca from Veterans Services removes invasive grasses along the perimeter of the bird garden.

Rebecca from Veterans Services removes invasive grasses along the perimeter of the bird garden.

Our ACC student teaches Sarah (also from Student Life) and Whitney, along with Rebecca, how to dig a proper hole.

Our ACC student teaches Sarah (also from Student Life) and Whitney, along with Rebecca, how to dig a proper hole.

Jennifer

Jennifer (a teacher in our Psychology Department) battled (and won!) her fight to clip off and dig out rabbit brush roots in this dry, yet quite rocky, soil.

birds in tree

And…we actually saw a few birds at Audubon. These two Red-winged Blackbirds coached all of us volunteers that day from the newly blooming trees above.

The Service Learning Center, Student Life, and the ViTaL Team look forward to future volunteering events at Audubon! Learn more about Audubon in our area.

by Diana Hornick, Service Learning Center Coordinator

ACC’s Volunteering to Learn (ViTaL) Excursion to the Humane Society

ACC’s Volunteering to Learn (ViTaL) team headed out for their first volunteer excursion last Friday, January 15, 2016. A group of four ACC faculty and staff took pet supplies donated by the ACC community and spent the morning volunteering at the Littleton’s Humane Society of the South Platte Valley.

Here we are departing from ACC with all the wonderful pet supplies donated by the ACC community:

ViTaL team outside ACC

Left to right: Meredith Tofield, Josie Mills, Amanda Johnson, Diana Hornick

Erin Liebner of the Humane Society of the South Platte Valley welcomed us, and we took a short visit to the cat room while she arranged our plan for the morning.

White cat on scratching post

Adoptable cat at Human Society

Amanda petting cat

Amanda pets Starvin’ Marvin

black cat

Adoptable cat at the Humane Society

vital-tortie-cat

Another cat for adoption at the Humane Society

Erin then set us up with the task of cleaning out the shed where they store food and supplies for the animals. It was a chilly but sunny morning, and we worked together happily rearranging the bags of food and treats so that the floor was clear, and everything was easy to find.

Before and after photos below

BEFORE:

Food storage

Humane Society food storage before.

DURING:

Amanda and Meredith organizing.

Amanda and Meredith organizing pet food storage.

AFTER:

Humane Society pet food storage after ViTaL team organized it.

Humane Society pet food storage after ViTaL team organized it.

Once we’d finished our work in the shed, we headed back inside where we were rewarded with some time to visit with the dogs.

Dog available for adoption from the Humane Society.

Dog available for adoption from the Humane Society.

Close-up of dog

Another dog available for adoption

Another available dog at the Humane Society

Another available dog at the Humane Society

Another dog ready to find its forever home.

Another dog ready to find its forever home.

We then helped out washing dishes, refilling treat containers, and mopping the floor in the main meeting area.

We loved spending the morning at the Humane Society meeting the wonderful volunteers and visiting the animals who need a home.

Left to right: Meredith Tofield, Diana Hornick, Josie Mills, Amanda Johnson

Left to right: Meredith Tofield, Diana Hornick, Josie Mills, Amanda Johnson

ViTaL welcomes students, faculty, staff, and administrators to join us in serving the community. Many more opportunities will ensue in the coming months. Contact Josie Mills or Diana Hornick for more information.

by Josie Mills, ACC English Department Chair