Week 3: Birthday Buddies at Homeless Solutions Transitional Housing Program
Homeless families working to get back on their feet struggle to provide their children with necessities like clothing and food. They struggle to find affordable housing, pay bills, get medical care and pay for child care. Non-necessities which our society often take for granted, such as the ability to buy your child toys, books or gifts, to throw them birthday parties, to take a trip to the movies, etc. – are privileges these families simply cannot afford.Homeless Solutions Transitional Housing Program (THP) offers support and training to families who are making the move from homeless to independence. They provide semi-permanent, fully-furnished apartments in a safe, self-contained environment, where these families can reside for up to 18 months as they work towards self-sufficiency. THP is a supportive program. Upon being admitted into the program families are set up with a team of counselors and transition experts who provide structured supervision and guidance. The families meet regularly with case managers. Together they work to set employment and income goals, identify counseling needs and set up life skills training and parenting education as needed. THP also connects the families to services such as medical care, child care, job placement and more. Families set savings goals as part of their plan and THP will work with the families to secure independent housing by the end of their stay. Thus far this year, over 20 families have been successfully placed throughout Morris County. The program is designed to combat repeat homelessness by giving the families the best chance of success. After leaving THP the families are still connected to case workers with regular check-ins for up to two years.
The Birthday Buddies program offers groups or organizations the opportunity to visit the shelter each month to throw a birthday party for all the children with birthdays during that month. Every child in the shelter is welcome to come and participate in the festivities.
Volunteers plan and bring everything – from games, music and activities/crafts, to the cake, food and snacks and even goodie bags for the children to take back to their apartments. Both the parents and the children look forward to these monthly events with great anticipation.
I and my fellow group of volunteers (all co-workers at Wiss) had the privilege of being the Birthday Buddies host for June. We had a blast planning the crafts and games, the food and goodie bags. The children hovered around us with great excitement as we decorated the yard and got ready for the event. Finally, it was time! The next hour and half was spent in a chaos of bubbles, balloons and laughter. Craft-making, Frisbee and tag followed by birthday singing, bingo and coloring… time flew by and we ended the party exhausted, elated and energized by all the love and happiness from the children and their moms. The children, as they left, blew us kisses and gave us hugs. As we finished the clean-up and took one last group selfie, we each said what we’d been thinking…. That we can’t wait to do it again!
Important Note: While there were approximately 10 – 12 children at the event, due to confidentiality, only a few of the children could be photographed. Permission included the two June birthday celebrants which is why we only really see them (+ 1 other) in the photos.
Special Shout Out to Consolidated Service Distributers of East Hanover, NJ for donating a ton of blue candy and treats to use at our Ocean/Finding Dory themed party! You helped make the event extra special and the children took home tons of treats in their goodie bags too! Check out their website at: https://www.candycentral.com/
Another shout-out, this one to Harry – our contact at THP. He was a tremendous help to us at the event and answered our myriad of questions about the program! Thanks Harry (pictured in back row)!
The Transitional Housing Program is just one piece of the services and programs Homeless Solutions provides. Family shelters, shelters for single men and women, housing for older women of limited means and a special shelter program (unique in NJ) for homeless individuals who are mentally ill are all part of the umbrella of services. To find out more please check out their website at: https://www.homelesssolutions.org/
To learn more about THP’s Birthday Buddies program or to volunteer to be a Birthday Buddy host, please visit: http://birthdaybuddies.weebly.com/