Union at Eastern Gives to Windham No Freeze

Written by Michael Rouleau

Luis Rodriguez, assistant director of Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement; Kathy Cyr, volunteer at the No Freeze Hospitality Center; Leigh Duffy, executive director of No Freeze; and George Whiting, treasurer of Eastern’s SUOAF chapter, standing before the beds of the No Freeze Hospitality Center. The plastic bags are filled with sheets and blankets in preparation for the center’s evening opening.

Willimantic, CT — The Eastern Connecticut State University union chapter of the State University Organization of Administrative Faculty (SUOAF) chipped in to alleviate homelessness this holiday season. At the union’s holiday gathering on Dec. 17, members donated $2,040 to the Windham Region No Freeze Hospitality Center.

“This is a huge donation for us,” said Leigh Duffy, executive director of the No Freeze Project and Hospitality Center, which is primarily supported by hundreds of donations in the 10- to 20-dollar range.

“We started out grassroots, we’re supported by the community, so I know every night when we open up, this community wants us here,” said Duffy. “The community wants to know there’s a place for people to go where they’re not going to freeze.”

SUOAF has been involved with No Freeze for several winters. “A few years ago, we heard that the No Freeze heating system broke down,” said George Whiting, payroll coordinator and Eastern’s SUOAF chapter treasurer. “It has now become an annual tradition to collect monetary donations for No Freeze at our holiday gathering.

“This year we even had members from other unions contributing,” continued Whiting. “The bottom line is that we will be able to contribute $2,040 to assist the less fortunate in the region.”

The No Freeze Project has a two-pronged approach: to serve as a safety net for those with immediate shelter needs in the winter months, and more importantly, to establish a system of advocacy and support that will lead “guests” to permanent homes and self-sufficiency.

“One of the goals of No Freeze is to eliminate homelessness,” said Luis Rodriguez, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement, as well as a board member of No Freeze and a member of SUOAF. “It’s not just shelter, but also the support needed in order to have a home you can call your own.

“The shelter is the most visible aspect of No Freeze, however, it’s the one we want the least,” he added. “We want people to get a home and have a job and be able to support themselves by their own means. Yes, the shelter is important, it’s an immediate need, but the goal is beyond the shelter; it’s to end homelessness in Windham and coordinate with the state to end homelessness in Connecticut.”

Speaking to the importance of providing this safety net, Duffy said, “It’s less costly to house someone than having them live on the street, using municipal services, creating issues that are related to homelessness, criminal activity, going to the emergency room, using that as their primary care.

“These are the folks that are the most ostracized,” she added. “Whatever you’re going through, we want the community to know that it’s okay, we value you as a human being, come in here, get warm, get safe.”

For more information about No Freeze, visit www.windhamnofreeze.com.