Poverty is a problem that all countries and cities face but not every student knows the extent to which poverty is a problem in Storrs and surrounding communities. Some University of Connecticut students work with the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM) to address this issue in the community.
“Everything seems great in our UConn bubble. Students don’t realize what is going on outside. They don’t realize how much poverty is just outside,” Maggie Balogh, a sixth semester psychology major and program director of WAIM, said.
Balogh came into college with a history of community outreach involvement.
She said WAIM provides clothing and furniture to low-income families in the Windham area. They accept numerous donations of house goods and clothing that are redistributed to families in need in over fifteen towns in the greater Windham area.
Families involved in the program can shop at WAIM’s clothing boutique, which offers free men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. WAIM also offers a “career closet,” with items set aside for those needing professional wear, such as candidates in a job interview.
In addition to the shop, WAIM has many programs including financial assistance, holiday programs, fund raising, adult mentoring, transportation assistance and more. Balogh said they help over 8,000 people each year with a variety of their needs.
“WAIM has thought of every way to help not just alleviate the symptoms of poverty, but to target it at the source to help people get on their feet,” Balogh said.
Student volunteers assist in various programs depending on the season such as Back to School and the holidays. Students sort clothing and interact one-on-one with clients by checking them into the store and helping with shopping.
Balogh believes this one-on-one interaction is an important experience for student volunteers.
“It is important to see the population you’re helping,” she said.
These interactions also help expose the volunteers to the reality of poverty, third year dual degree actuarial science and finance student Tami Stawicki said.
“Volunteering at WAIM has really opened my eyes to the fact that poverty is real in America and a lot closer to home than a lot of people seem to realize. I've seen individuals come in to WAIM looking for something as simple as a pillow and are overwhelmed with joy when we hand them two with a comforter,” Stawicki said.
The realities of poverty in the contemporary United States are often shocking to students and volunteers. Stawicki suggested that if poverty is a problem in a community like Windham, then thousands of communities might face similar hardships.
“Although it makes me happy to know I am helping them, I'm saddened that this is such an issue in America in 2016,” Stawicki said. “Willimantic is just one city so I know that there must be thousands more in the US facing these same hardships.”
The founders of WAIM sought to help those in need. The program is titled Windham Area Interfaith Ministry because local churches came together for the common purpose of helping others over 30 years ago. They saw beyond their differences to really reach out and help the community, said Balogh.
In addition to the many programs and material goods involvement WAIM offers, they manage a thriving community garden. Starting The 17 year-old community garden can be found at Lauter Park in Willimantic. The garden is great for kids and the community takes pride in its beauty.
The organization is largely volunteer oriented. It is almost completely volunteer run.
Students can get involved by contacting Balogh via email at email@example.com and voicing their interest in the program. A short application and interview process is involved, but Balogh says it is just to get to know the volunteers better.
“It is a wide reach, helping over 15 towns,” Balogh said. “Volunteers are very important to WAIM. It really is a great program.”
Kharl Reynado is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.