Making a difference at Holy Family Shelter

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Oct. 8, 2013
UConn students (l-r) Rebecca Washington, Mark Schuman and Carolyn Luby prepare for their volunteer shifts in the after-school program at the Church of the Holy Family Shelter. Photos by Melanie Savage.
UConn students (l-r) Rebecca Washington, Mark Schuman and Carolyn Luby prepare for their volunteer shifts in the after-school program at the Church of the Holy Family Shelter. Photos by Melanie Savage.

UConn Outreach provides numerous volunteers for the Holy Family Home and Shelter, which helps to facilitate an after-school program for the children who temporarily reside there. The shelter provides year-round, emergency assistance to moms and their children. The after-school sessions, which run until about 5 p.m., are intended to give moms some extra down time and to promote social interaction between the kids.

During the summer education program, when most UConn students are unavailable, the shelter is forced to hire an assistant. “So UConn literally saves us tens of thousands of dollars every year,” said Shep Stearns, the education program coordinator. Volunteers facilitate snack time for the kids, help with homework, supervise crafts and outdoor play time, and engage in fun, educational activities.

“We hope it gives the kids something to look forward to,” said Carolyn Luby, who worked at the shelter on a recent sunny afternoon. A Glastonbury native, Luby got involved through her internship with the Women’s Studies program at UConn. “I researched Holy Family Shelter, came and visited, and I thought it was the most fantastic volunteer opportunity,” she said. “I wanted to do something that was really hands-on.”

Currently working two days per week, Luby hopes to continue her placement after her current commitment ends. “I really love it. It is pretty much everything I was looking for,” she said.

Torrington native Rebecca Washington got involved with Holy Family through the UConn Outreach program. As an urban and community studies major, Washington has an interest in socio-economic issues, and felt that the placement would be a good fit. Involved with three different mentoring programs for older students, Washington said that it was “nice to be involved with younger kids again.”

UConn student Mark Schuman, a Rocky Hill native, is currently in his fourth semester at the shelter. “I think it’s an awesome volunteer experience,” said Schuman. “You really get to see the difference you’re making from day to day.”

“You don’t read about emotional ties [in school]; the attitude of the shelter that’s trying to make a difference,” said Washington. “I’m learning things that UConn can’t teach me through this experience.”

“Homelessness is often touched upon [in testbooks], but there’s no connection,” added Luby. “This puts a face to it.” Referring to the traditional image of the homeless individual, Luby said, that is not the only situation of homelessness that exists.”

As children began to arrive via foot, bus or car, the three volunteers doled out snacks and sat the children down at a long table. After snacks it was time for homework, with each child receiving individual attention as needed. As children completed their homework, they sat down at a large, round table to work on a craft. The atmosphere was warm, calm and relaxed.

“We really try to do as much as possible to mitigate the harm that can come from a transient situation,” said Stearns. Much is made possible through the generosity of volunteers, who provide a myriad of services at the facility. Volunteers help support the full-time cook in the kitchen, sort donations, assist with groundskeeping, and perform maintenance duties. “There’s always something that needs fixing,” said Stearns. Recently, volunteers helped to move in some brand new bunk beds.

Currently undergoing some renovation projects, the Church of the Holy Family Shelter could use the assistance of more volunteers “to simply move items around,” said Stearns. There are always donation items to sort. A core group of dedicated volunteers include Carol Tarbell, Tom Koslowski, Eric Steinhagen and Martin Andrews. Horizons and UConn Outreach both provide help. But there is always more work to be done, including maintenance tasks requiring both high and low skill levels.  “Volunteers save us an incredible amount of money that doesn’t have to go out in payroll,” said Stearns. “Instead, we can put that money into support for our residents.”

For more information about the Holy Family Home and Shelter, or to volunteer, go to, call 860-423-7719 or e-mail

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