REDMOND, Ore. - Project Connect, the region's largest single-day social services event, will be changing lives for the eighth straight year on Saturday, Sept. 13th at the Bank of the Cascades Arena, Deschutes County Fairgrounds.
Known for serving nearly 3,000 homeless and low-income people each year, the event has also changed the lives of hundreds of volunteers.
"By looking a Project Connect guest in the eye, hearing their story and then working to serve them, thousands of volunteers have reached a deeper understanding of the human condition," said 2011 Project Connect coordinator Cindy Pasco.
At this year's event, a team of about 800 volunteers is expected to join forces to provide free medical, dental and social services. The volunteers include doctors, dentists, lawyers, veterinarians, social service workers, hairstylists and more — professionals drawn from more than 100 businesses and nonprofits across Central Oregon. Many other volunteers will offer general assistance, from serving meals at the event, to supporting guests and agencies in the arena.
NeighborImpact Executive Director Scott Cooper recognizes that Project Connect is special because of the connections it makes across the community. Online help has its place he says, but, "People still need to get customized information specific to their individual situations. Project Connect enables those one-on-one conversations. It makes a difference."
Growth in homelessness affects event
The event's current coordinator, Katya Spiecker, said she expects this year's event to serve hundreds more individuals than last year, largely because the region's homeless numbers have risen. The January "Point in Time" count found 2,410 self-identified homeless people in Central Oregon — a jump of 420 people from 2013. Perhaps the most alarming statistic is the increase of chronically homeless individuals from 256 (2013) to 522 (2014).
"It's looking like the need will be greater this year than last, and fortunately we're seeing people from across the community step up to donate as well as to volunteer — in some cases for the eighth year in a row," said Spiecker, who is the Program Coordinator at Volunteer Connect, which organizes the event.
Changing lives for eight years
Since it began in 2007, Project Connect has served more than 16,000 people and provided an average cost savings to the region of $450,000 per year, based on data collected of the quantity and estimated value of services provided each year.
Spiecker notes that the event's objectives include helping homeless and low-income participants improve their lives, as well as informing and educating community members about what they can do to help.
"That's something we've seen over the past eight years, is more people in Central Oregon now recognize that homelessness and poverty are continuing issues that we can work together to address. Project Connect is one of many ways to be part of the solution," said Spiecker.
In addition to medical care and mental health services, Project Connect offers urgent dental care, legal aid, birth certificate services, housing and shelter information, financial counseling, children's services, haircuts, addiction services, employment services, first aid, immunizations, clothing, veterinary services, and two hot meals — all at no cost.
"It has been humbling to see hundreds of business partners, community leaders and other volunteers come together with such passion and commitment to this year's event," said Spiecker. "These are strangers serving strangers, and everyone walks away a better person for the experience."
Project Connect is seeking additional volunteers. Please visit www.projectconnectco.org to learn more about Project Connect or to sign up as a volunteer.
Project Connect is a one-day, one-stop event serving guests who are low-income, homeless or at risk of homelessness. The event takes place on Sept. 13, 2014, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond, and serves guests from Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Project Connect is a program of Volunteer Connect.
Volunteer Connect links community members with rewarding volunteer opportunities to enhance Central Oregon. They partner with non-profit and public organizations to recruit and connect volunteers, matching volunteer interests and skills with community needs.