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On the Edge…At the Center
Stories from the Manchester Homeless Services Center
By Christopher Emerson, Manager
The other day I was chatting with one of my lead volunteers, a fellow who is homeless himself. He is in an excellent position to know the homeless community and see what’s happening on a day-to-day basis.
I was intrigued by his description of the change he has seen in the homeless since the Center opened. He summarized the change in two words: enthusiasm and hope.
Certainly our primary purpose is to link the homeless and nearly homeless to vital provider services, and we are proud to offer other benefits like showers and a hot lunch, but those two intangibles, enthusiasm and hope, speak to something even deeper.
As we all know, attitude is key. Whether we see positive possibilities or constant roadblocks often comes down to attitude. How can the homeless best avail themselves of services if they are caught in their own inner maelstrom of swirling negativity? If, however, they are enthusiastic about what the Center and its partners provide, if they feel fresh hope in their hearts, if they feel at home here, then good work happens.
My volunteer’s testimony makes me even more proud of what we all are accomplishing at the Center.
Child and Family Services of New Hampshire
A recent article in the Union Leader highlighted Manchester’s Child and Family Services of New Hampshire’s Teen Resource Center. This unique program has been in existence since 1996 and provides a key service to homeless youth in the city. Staff members devote 30 hours per week to doing outreach to locate youth who are in need of housing and services. Once they are identified, the program works closely with these youth to make sure that they have access to housing, food and other key services. The article provides numerous examples of how the Teen Resource Center has helped many youth to get back on their feet and on a path towards healthy and successful living.
Christine Montelione, Americorps VISTA at the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester
What is your name and where do you work?
My name is Christine Montelione. I’m a VISTA for The Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester in the development department, and also assist the In SHAPE program.
How would you describe it (job)?
I definitely get to work with things I love. I graduated with a degree in exercise science and absolutely love to run, so I have the best of both worlds. My main project is acting as race director for The Center’s Lite Up the Nite 5k—a job where I get to plan a fundraising event. It’s great having experience running a lot of road races and now getting to see what sort of work goes into all of the marketing, planning and fundraising. When I’m not in business casual, I actually get to wear sweat pants to work! My degree comes in handy when I develop exercise, nutrition and healthy living resources for the In SHAPE program.
So you volunteered for the Point-in-Time Count. What was it like?
I didn’t know what to expect from the volunteer experience besides the fact that we would be walking around at 2am. It was a wonderful opportunity to do direct service. As a VISTA, a lot of our work experience is behind the scenes. Sometimes you really need to be reminded why you’re doing this work and who you’re doing it for. When I used to think of the words “homelessness” and “poverty”, they were these big, abstract terms that were hard to pinpoint exactly. When it’s 3:30am, in the middle of winter, and you see someone in a sleeping bag in the park, it really hits home. It was humbling to be reminded that that person could be me if I had different circumstances. Sometimes I feel powerless to help others because of the enormity of poverty and to see someone living it is a powerful experience. The Point in Time Count is one of the highlights of my experience as a VISTA and here in Manchester.
Did you feel like it was a valuable investment of your time?
The Point-in-Time Count was absolutely a worthwhile event to volunteer for. The event was very well run, and I felt safe the entire time. I learned a lot about homelessness from the staff that were leading the groups, all of whom were very knowledgeable. It feels good to know that the he numbers from the count will be used to further help those who need it.
What are the big projects coming up for you?
The biggest project I have coming up is the 5k for which I am serving as race director. Lite Up the Nite for Mental Health is a 5k on the evening of June 21. Proceeds from the event will go directly to our charitable care fund, helping those who could not otherwise pay for mental health services. There are so many unique things about this race that make it a really fun community event. It goes through Derryfield Park, so it’s not just another road race. It’s a nice break from the city. We are sponsored by Brooks Running, so there are some great prizes as well.
What do you love most about your job?
I came into this job not knowing much about the mental health field. I’ve grown to appreciate what MHCGM does for people, and how others’ positive beliefs about mental health care and recovery can be contagious. One of the main goals of the race is to reduce stigma around mental health. I recently received a few comments from people who truly believe in this goal. It was inspiring to receive this note from a registrant of the race– “I have bipolar, and it doesn’t run my life, I run it!” I’m just glad I can be a part of this positive care and thinking.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m a runner, so I’m usually entering a race on weekend mornings. It’s been a great way to see New England and get to know people around here. Since I’m originally from the Midwest, I’m also looking at my VISTA year as a study abroad experience. When I’m not running, I’m exploring what New England has to offer.
Thank you, Christine Montelione, for your continued support and participation in the Manchester Continuum of Care!
The Child and Family Services’ Drop-In Center for homeless and runaway youth is looking for 6-8 computers to establish a computer lab and increase educational opportunities for homeless youth. The new Computer Lab will provide youth with the ability to attain high school credits by utilizing an online program that promotes a self-paced learning strategy. If they are not working towards high school graduation, the computers will provide them with the ability to prepare for a GED.
Because the traditional high school model does not fit the learning needs of all students, this lab will provide homeless youth a centralized and inclusive location where they can work towards their educational goals. The establishment of a new computer lab at Child and Family Services will forge another vital partnership between CFS and the Manchester School District. As a part of this partnership, the District has agreed to share software licenses with CFS which will benefit all parties involved. The computers simply need to be able to access the internet and have the capability to do some basic word processing for students to write essays.