Around Town

Collection drive underway to help homeless teens

Janet Gravel, center, a site coordinator for Domus Incorporated’s Prospect Hill School, Catherine Tansey, a social worker at Westfield High School, and Ann Lentini, executive director, Domus. plan a past fundraiser to benefit “Our House” on Broad Street. (Photo by By Lori Szepelak)

WESTFIELD-For homeless teens, a safe haven on Broad Street will soon celebrate its third year of providing a secure home, as well as group activities and services, ensuring that residents thrive and strive for their highest potential.

“We continue to see an influx of homeless kids in Westfield,” said Catherine Tansey, LCSW, who offers supervision, consulting and problem-solving services at Our House, a program of Domus, Inc. Tansey, a retired social worker at Westfield High School, worked in collaboration with Carrie Hildreth-Fiordalice, also a Westfield High social worker, several years ago with Ann Lentini, executive director of Domus, to bring Our House to the city.

“We had experience with homeless students at Westfield High School and asked Ann if she could help us address the need for housing because she knows how to do that,” said Tansey.

While teens may experience a variety of factors for being homeless, Tansey said there are several key issues including the lack of foster homes, parental death, parental incarceration or domestic violence in the home.

“Some kids are destined not to live in the intimacy of their family,” said Tansey. “At Our House we currently have 10 kids and still have five kids on a waiting list.”

While day-to-day supervision and services are provided at Our House, Tansey said the city’s church collections that are conducted throughout the year are helpful for the “essentials” for a resident’s daily living needs.

“Not only has the City of Westfield embraced us, we are also so grateful for the church community who collects school supplies and personal items,” said Tansey.

For members of the mission committee of the UCC Second Congregational Church on Western Avenue, answering the call of the homeless teens residing in the city is an important part of its ministry.

“We hold a collection a couple of times a year,” said Holly Lurgio, spokesperson for the mission committee.

Lurgio explained that the committee learned about the plight of displaced and homeless teens attending Westfield High School several years ago and wanted to help.

“We reached out to a couple of counselors there who worked with these kids and asked if there was anything we could do to help,” said Lurgio. “Our first collection was at Christmastime and we collected things like socks, slippers, personal hygiene items, sweatshirts and sweatpants, and leggings.”

The committee also asked church members for “healthy food” including granola bars, apple sauce, oatmeal and soups.

“We also collected gift cards to grocery stores, Walmart, Ocean State Job Lot, as well as bus passes,” said Lurgio, adding, “The response from the congregation was amazing – we collected hundreds of items.”

After the initial holiday collection, the committee once again sprang into action – this time seeking school supplies to help high school teens “get their school year off to a good start,” noted Lurgio.

“Again, the congregation was so generous,” she said. 

Lurgio noted that children who attended the church’s summer camp also chose to get involved in the collection endeavor.

“They donated backpacks and all kinds of school supplies,” said Lurgio. “We ended up with boxes and boxes of stuff for elementary school aged kids all the way up to high school kids.”

Committee members brought the supplies appropriate for older students to the counselor they were working with at Westfield High School, who in turn, distributed the supplies to her students as well as some to the residents at Our House.

“The supplies for the younger kids went to a couple of elementary schools,” said Lurgio.

Once again with the current collection drive underway until Aug. 11, all items will be distributed by school personnel. Donations may be dropped off at the church office from 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

New, unopened products currently needed include shampoo and conditioner, deodorant for boys and girls, boxer briefs – athletic dry fit fabric, undergarments for girls, feminine products, individually packaged nonperishable snacks, black leggings for girls, long athletic shorts for boys, and small laundry detergent containers and dryer sheets.

As the fall school season fast approaches, the mission committee also welcomes donations of pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, calculators, notebooks, binders, backpacks, combination locks and pocket folders.

“We want to help make these kids’ days easier, they’ve got lots on their plate,” said Lurgio. “If we can supply them with a gym locker and a few notebooks so their school day goes more smoothly, then we want to do that. If we can provide them with some snacks to put in their backpacks so they aren’t hungry after school, we want to do it.”

Lurgio added that in addition to the church family, the mission committee welcomes donations from the Greater Westfield community.

“If there are other people out there looking to help, we welcome their donations,” she said.

If area residents prefer to donate by check, the memo portion should note “Beacon of Hope” to signify the local outreach project. Checks can be mailed to the Mission Committee, UCC Second Congregational Church, 487 Western Avenue, Westfield, MA 01085.

“No donation is too small or too big,” said Rev. Barb Hesse in a recent Facebook post. “Our mission is to be ‘The Beacon of Hope’ within Westfield.”

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