Youth Leadership Group Collects Items For Donation Center

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HARTFORD-- A group of teenagers spent months collecting household items for a community service project to help create stock for donation center through a local non-profit organization, Chrysalis Center.

The organization's donation center for its Recovery and Empowerment Center will open Thursday.  The store is filled with 2,600 items of household items available to  members who rely on the non-profit, which provides social services and develops affordable housing for around 3,000 people.

"It's going to be opening up to people who are specifically working, who are in school, said Michelle Finch, program manager of the Recovery Empowerment Center at the Chrysalis Center. "We offer training programs,  even members who already volunteering--whether it's here or any other capacity.  We wanted this to be a hand-up, not a hand-out,"

The donation store was created by empty space in the Chrysalis facility, however the non-profit lacked the resources to fill and stock it themselves.

Chrysalis Center submitted a request to Common Ground, Leadership Greater Hartford's 15-week program that engages high school students from the Greater Hartford area for training in leadership, diversity awareness and community problem solving.

The Common Ground class of 39 teens, who are from diverse backgrounds and from both urban and suburban schools, worked to secure basic household items and collected over 2,600 items for those in need in the community.

"This offered any opportunity to use their leadership skills and lessons they've learned to come up with innovative, creative ways to go their schools and come up with their donations," said Andre Santiago, program director of Leadership Greater Hartford's youth-run programs.

The students had an initial goal of collecting 1,500 items.

"My cousins actually showed up at my house with a pick-up of donations. I couldn't believe I got that much," said Lizzie Szunski, a 16-year-old Glastonbury High School student involved in Common Ground.

Each student was responsible for collecting the items through their own school and community.  Each student solicited the items in different ways.

"Some schools did challenges amongst the grades, some schools did bake sales, some wanted to do a car wash, and reached out to the churches, boy scouts and girl scouts," said Santiago.

All 2,600 items were eventually delivered on a school bus to the Chrysalis facility on Memorial Day. That's when the students, along with Chrysalis volunteers, started to work together to finish the donation center.

"It just felt so good to donate a piece of my time, when I could have been sitting home and playing video games, I actually decided to come and help people and this could change their lives," said Brianna Johnson, a 17-year-old Middletown resident involved in Common Ground.

According to Maryellen Shuckerow, chief development officer of Chrysalis Center, Inc., "We were thrilled to have the students take on our project and would not have been able to fully stock the donation center without their efforts."


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