By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart Univ.)
Fairfield, CT – They were on a mission, a mission from God… to raise funds to continue their good work serving the hungry, homeless and addicted of Fairfield County.
Mid-morning Saturday, September 10, over 250 people – young, old and in between – gathered together on Sacred Heart University’s 5151 Park Avenue campus to literally “Walk A Mile” loop to benefit the Bridgeport Rescue Mission (BRM) at 1088 Fairfield Avenue in the Park City. Each walker pledged a certain dollar amount and sponsors kicked in more monies to help fund the Mission’s operations. At the same time, through creative dramatic depictions of homelessness staged along the route, participants learned more about the deep-rooted problem in Connecticut.
BRM Pastor Harry Carrillo said SHU was an ideal host “in part because of its Jesuit mission and the school’s concern for the City of Bridgeport.” Carillo added that planning for the Walk had begun several months ago, with Director of Development Jennifer Jump helping map the route and plan the various installations. The theme was “The Road to Homelessness”. To that regard, Carillo said, “Homelessness can affect anyone – the wealthy man on Wall Street, someone who’s lost a job like a single mom who can’t make the mortgage… it’s not just drug addicts and alcoholics. It’s a sad condition.”
Terry Wilcox, BRM’s director, expanded on the pastor’s thoughts. “The issue of homelessness is not just about putting a roof over someone’s head,” he said. “There are reasons why someone is homeless.”
Take, for instance, the case of Tom Romatizick. “Tom was a young man with great promise, who spent a lot of time in addiction,” said Wilcox. “He came to the Mission, got rehab and went back to independent living.”
Sadly, the story did not end there. “Not long after, about three years ago, he was supposed to meet his mom to go to church,” began Wilcox. “When he didn’t show, she went to his place to see what happened – the fear was that he’d relapsed. They found him at home, dressed for church, Bible open and in his lap, dead. People that had known him thought he’d overdosed but an autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol in his system. It was a heartattack. He was only 39.”
Wilcox continued, speaking about some of the specific activities of the Mission. “In the last three years, we’ve seen people at our shelters that you’d never dream of seeing,” he said. “Last year, we gave away 580,000 meals, largely in Bridgeport and South Norwalk. Last Thanksgiving alone, we gave out 7,000 coats and jackets. We offer an addiction recovery program for men and women, which has 45 participants. Those people get three meals a day, shelter, clothing, work assignments. We run two shelters, both in Bridgeport, a women’s and a men’s. Most nights, we have 15 to 19 women and 26 to 40 men sheltered.”
Wilcox expressed thanks for the university stepping up as host of the Walk and commended participating students. “Our relationship goes back many years before,” he said. “Students volunteer every week to serve meals at the shelter. I was telling the university president that students have such a great attitude. They smile, are pleasant, talk with clients. They’re not there because they have to be.”
Added Linda Casey, BRM’s Director of Development, “They were right here at 8 a.m. ready to go, and even brought us coffee and tea.”
Speaking from a participant’s perspective, Kathy Hitchcock of Norwalk, who was walking with Allysa Barnett of Trumbull, “We are employees of a local accounting firm, which participates in a pedometer program through United Healthcare. We were informed about today’s event through United’s website – United is an event sponsor. We thought it would be a productive way to spend our morning, while benefiting the homeless. The stats we read along the route were surreal and we’re startled homelessness is so widespread through Connecticut, here in suburbia. We’re fortunate to have what we have.”
To learn more about the BRM and its work, call 203-333-4087 or visit www.bridgeportrescuemission.org