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‘Community Connect’ event links people with services

Chasity Ommodt, a supportive housing specialist with the Heartland Community Action Agency in Willmar, is one of the organizers of this year’s “Community Connect” event that will be held from Tuesday at the Willmar City Auditorium. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR — For working people who are living on a shoestring — or those living on a friend’s couch because of homelessness — the process of getting access to services that could give them a boost up can be so difficult that many don’t try.

“I see how hard it is for them,” said Chasity Ommodt, a supportive housing specialist with the Heartland Community Action Agency in Willmar. “They give up.”

For someone who’s homeless in Willmar, for example, the process to find shelter for a couple nights can include knocking on the door of a nonprofit agency, only to be told they must first be denied emergency services at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building located on the far northern edge of town.

That’s a tough trip to make without vehicle in the dead of winter, said Ommodt. And she said transit buses can’t wait while a person is inside filling out paperwork, and by the time a return bus is boarded, the downtown Willmar agency may be closed for the day. That would leave the option of the person traveling back to the north side of town to the county jail to seek a hotel voucher.

“That happens all the time,” said Ommodt.

Ommodt is one of the organizers of this year’s “Community Connect” event that will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Willmar City Auditorium. During the day, about 30 different service providers and volunteers will be under one roof in a “welcoming environment” to let people know about the variety of agencies that are available and how to access services, she said.

This is the sixth Community Connect event held in Willmar, although this is the first year it’s being held in the Willmar City Auditorium. In past years it has been at Bethel Lutheran Church downtown.

The auditorium has a larger space that will accommodate the vendors and several hundred participants — including senior citizens, teen moms, low-income residents and homeless individuals — who are expected to attend, said Ommodt.

Community Connect gives individuals and families an opportunity to learn about services and programs they may not have been aware of before, said Christie Kurth, director of the Willmar Area Food Shelf.

Everyone knows about the food shelf and county family services, she said, but they might not be aware of the different types of assistance offered by local agencies that could help fill an economic gap. She said sometimes people are disqualified from social services, such as food support, if they “even make a dollar over the set guidelines.”

Losing that support could derail their road to economic independence, said Kurth. “Sometimes people get frustrated.”

But there are other services available they could qualify for and keep them “moving forward,” she said.

“We really want to get these resources out to people,” said Mary Sundin, who’s volunteering for the fourth year at Community Connect. “It’s very informative.”

Besides connecting clients with services, Kurth said the Community Connect event also helps agency workers learn about each other and how they can work together to help people.

The mission of the different agencies in the county is to “work as a team to help people in our county,” said Sundin.

The event is open to the public, which Kurth said gives people an opportunity to “see what there is for their neighbors or people they might know who need assistance.” It’s also a chance to see the types of services that are provided through community donations.

Given the uncertainty of the current economy, Sundin said anyone could be at risk and eventually need services that will be featured at Community Connect.

The event isn’t just about filling out documents for services, though.

A free sack lunch is provided, along with opportunities for a free haircut, a five-minute massage, a mini-manicure, a family photograph and door prizes. A style show featuring clothes purchased at thrift stores will show people how to be fashionable on a budget.

“It gives them a little bit of joy and they can feel good about themselves for the day,” said Kurth.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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