Making It Happen
When Wanda Connelly moved into 1515 Fairmount Avenue two years ago, she had no idea what awaited her. With the encouragement of other residents, she decided to check out some of the programs available to Project HOME residents – art, advocacy, volunteering, Speakers Bureau.
In a short time, Wanda has emerged as an important leader in our community. She seems to be everywhere. She works several hours a week at our Hub of Hope in Suburban Station, offering her support to guests who are trying to break the cycle of homelessness. She is a passionate member of our Advocacy Committee – and last month, she spoke at a press conference in the state Capitol in Harrisburg on the urgent need for affordable housing.
In 2017, as part of our organization-wide mission nurture initiative, Wanda spearheaded a Women’s Health Group for residents and staff. Tapping into available resources, including staff at our Stephen Klein Wellness Center, she organizing a series of informative and well-attended health workshops, with sessions on breast cancer awareness, diabetes, and mental health.
Wanda is but one example of Project HOME residents taking initiative, working in tandem with staff and others, and making things happen that might not have happened without their leadership. (See the accompanying article, “All of Us Together.” [LINK])
Last spring, residents Juanita Jones and Lykeshia Coles participated in a panel discussion at our Rowan Homes residence. It was geared toward Project HOME’s women residents, particularly mothers and persons in recovery, and shed light on issues and obstacles in getting back to work or being employed for the first time. Lykeshia and Juanita, who are both in recovery and are currently employed at Project HOME, shared their personal stories and the wisdom they have learned along the way – as did other staff and former residents. With a combination of practical recommendations and powerful inspiration they modeled just in their life stories, Lykeisha and Juanita stirred hope and energy in the residents who attended. “I want to encourage them to know that there will be obstacles, but to stay strong, stay focused, stay determined,” said Juanita. “With love and support, you can do anything.”
Kai Oceans has been with Project HOME for two years, but in that time has made himself a friendly, creative, and inspiring presence. Long involved as a participant and a resident leader in our Arts Program, Kai has more recently shared his gifts as an important part of our Social Enterprise Team. Early this year, Kai and the rest of the Team held a brainstorming session with a group of supporters and volunteers to pick new products and a new direction for our HOME Made gifts line. Kai’s ideas were tremendously fruitful, especially in developing the vision for HOME Warming gift baskets and how those baskets would convey our mission. Once our new products began to arrive, Kai used his graphic design and photography talent to help with advertising and promotion.
Kai says it was a wonderful feeling when the first fully wrapped Welcome HOME baskets were ready for sale. “It was great to see our ideas come together,” he says, “and to be part of something that has a real impact on residents, showing off their art and creating more jobs.”
In his first year, Kai says, “I dove into everything at Project HOME and soaked it all up.” Now he is finding his niche and figuring out his path. “I try my best to make people feel good, to be a positive force.”
After over twenty years on the streets, David Brown moved into our James Widener Ray Homes when it opened in 2013. Tall and stately in his elegant Muslim over-garment, he is a pervasive presence throughout Project HOME, lending a helping hand at almost all our public events and encouraging fellow residents. One of our most effective ambassadors, he frequently speaks to visiting students, civic and religious groups, and potential donors.
After moving into Ray Homes, David and fellow resident Kenneth Ingram saw the many needs in the surrounding community. Over time, they developed a program for neighbors, reaching out to at-risk youth, providing garden plots, encouraging small businesses, and holding regular cook-outs. By creating a positive atmosphere as well as being personal role models for the kids, they are doing their part to turn the neighborhood around – and their efforts have caught the attention of Congressman Dwight Evans, among others, who has personally come to see their work.
Initiative, leadership, action: All these efforts will have ripple effects that we can’t even imagine now.