Almost Home was launched by neighborhood activist Erika Cooper, who saw a pressing need in our community and stepped up to the plate to fill that need. In her own words, “Many kids in this neighborhood had nothing to do over the summer, had families struggling to provide for them, and were two years behind academically. They needed a place to go where they could learn, enjoy healthy meals, and have fun. We didn’t ask ‘can we do it’ or ‘can we find the money’. We just got together and made it happen. ‘Can't’ isn’t a word we use in our program, and it isn’t part of our vocabulary.”
As Cooper and her team found once the camp got started, many of the kids needed more than just academic assistance. They were coming from homes where there wasn't enough food, where there was no electricity and no hot water, where things that most of us take for granted, like being able to do laundry so our clothes are clean, were luxuries.
When Cooper started putting together the plan for Almost Home earlier this year, she had no money and no resources. What she did have was courage, faith, and determination. She reached out to everyone she could think of, asking for their advice and assistance. When the original plan to use the Kingdom 1st Church building on Ives Street fell through (the building didn't meet code requirements for the summer camp), she reached out to the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center to see if they would be willing to host the camp, which worked out well for everyone. When there weren't enough funds available for every camper to go on a field trip, Cooper posted requests for assistance on Facebook, and people from the WOW neighborhood and from all over Waterbury chipped in.
The community collaborations, the volunteerism, and the financial donations that came together for Almost Home exemplify what is best about Waterbury and humanity--selflessly helping those in need, doing what it takes to uplift the lives of our neighbors.
Over the course of the summer, more than 70 kids participated in the summer camp. Volunteers pitched in from the neighborhood and from organizations including Brass City Kings, Bridge to Success Community Partnership, Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council, Cheshire Horse Council, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Kingdom 1st Church, Literacy Volunteers of Greater Waterbury, Waterbury Recycling Coordinator Cyril "CJ" May, Neighborhood Housing Services, Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury, Uplifting a Life Parents Committee, and the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center. Individuals not associated with any particular organization volunteered countless hours to the camp, including Arlene Arias, Board of Education Commissioner Juanita Hernandez, and Tyquanda Johnson.
|Almost Home collaborators who received the 2015 Connecticut Community Foundation Trustee Award at South Farms in Morris, August 20, 2015. Erika Cooper is second from left. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Community Foundation.|
Summer may be over, but Almost Home is still going as an after school program, thanks in part to the funding provided by the CCF Trustee Award, but mostly thanks to the determination of Erika Cooper to improve the lives of children in her community. She is an inspiration, accomplishing more in one year than many people do in a lifetime.