Giving voice: who we are and what we do at Brunswick’s The Gathering Place

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A longtime friend from Gathering Place came to visit me a few weeks ago and wanted me to know that he had noticed conversations on social media about some of our guests and how and why The Gathering Place (TGP ) was helping. His concern was that there was confusion over the types of programs and services offered at TGP. To begin with, I am very grateful to have so many wonderful supporters looking out for the best interests of TGP. It’s also a great reminder that not everyone knows who we are and what we do. I have been very fortunate to be a part of this organization over the past six and a half years and have been touched by the generous spirit of our guests, volunteers, donors, community partners and friends.

But there is still a stigma associated with people who are homeless, struggling with substance abuse disorders and / or suffering from untreated mental illness. All of them conjure up an image that does not reflect the human spirit, just the outward struggle and brudens that many TGP guests wear. My son shared a book written by Gregory Boyle with me this summer. I found a beautiful quote there that so clearly reflects the foundation of The Gathering Place: “This is what we are looking for: a compassion that can be impressed by what the poor should wear rather than judge how they wear it. “

The judgment our guests experience elsewhere is absent at The Gathering Place because our guests are part of a community that shares their experiences and dreams. If someone is alone, the volunteers sit down with them and after starting a conversation, they listen attentively. Just by hearing their stories, we recognize them as equals. This component depends on establishing real connections with others – to be with them, to respect their dignity and to have ours respected.

Many TGP guests come to The Gathering Place because they have found a community of friends. As a result, we provide daily social activities such as puzzles, card games, chess games and board games. Now that COVID restrictions have been lifted statewide, we are hosting social events again. We recently partnered with the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Humana to host an ice cream party. As always, the joy and gratitude of our guests were there. Many of our guests sat outside to share a summer treat and to express their appreciation for all we do to bring joy into their lives. It started off a bit of a trend as each of the past few weeks different guests have donated their own ice cream to share during their stay at TGP. Today we had Ice Cream Sandwiches and last week we had Magnum Bars. Next month a volunteer will be hosting a dyeing workshop and this fall and winter we will continue to provide additional socializing opportunities.

Our mission has not been to change people or even to approach people with an offer or suggestion to help effect change. We focus on providing many basic necessities of life that are unsustainable when one has no stable housing or limited resources. This includes food, shelter, access to toilets, toiletries, clean clothes in cooperation with the nearby clothing bank, telephone, postal service and assistance in obtaining ID. It is almost impossible to receive mail or conduct business transactions without a permanent address or valid identification. The Gathering Place is a safe place for family, potential employers, and others to direct mail.

At TGP, we have set up a strong hygiene bank to promote a sense of self and better health. Items include menstrual hygiene products, clean socks, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, deodorant, brushes and combs. Customers can access these items during our business hours. We are back open Monday to Saturday. In addition to health and hygiene products, we provide supplies and equipment for people living in transitional living spaces – for example, outdoors, in cars, on a couch, or in living rooms. unsanitary accommodation – clients may bring as needed if inventory permits, tents, sleeping bags or blankets, towels, cold weather supplies (mittens or gloves, scarves, hats, hand / foot warmers).

Due to the generous nature of our volunteers and donors, we sometimes have Hannaford Gift Cards to offer as well as Brunswick Explorer Bus Passes that our guests use to get to their appointments or to access the TGP and at MCHPP. We don’t donate money, but we’ve worked hard to create a network of community partners we can count on to help find solutions to many of the difficult situations our clients face.

We have improved technology to allow better access to computers to prepare online claims, resolve landlord issues, search for a job, access unemployment benefits, resolve social security or disability issues, help with Mainecare, stimulus financing, rent assistance, legal assistance. This continues to be a great addition to our programs as we have more and more guests accessing technology.

We have found that without support services, stability is difficult to achieve. With changing social, economic and public health dynamics, it has become clear that a more aggressive and dedicated shift towards direct service delivery is needed in our community and surrounding areas. area. In response to the changes that have been observed, The Gathering Place is diligently expanding its efforts to connect those in need within the community with the resources and connections necessary for healthy, safe and fulfilling lives.

The vision of The Gathering Place’s service delivery program is one that includes flexibility, inclusion, and thoughtful thinking to address issues for all members of the community who may need or want assistance. While the needs of our community are vast and quite often unpredictable, the goal is barrier-free service delivery that encourages self-determination, partnership, community collaboration, and equal access for all levels of need.

At The Gathering Place, we see the results of hospitality, safety and respect for human dignity in the way our guests and volunteers treat each other. It is these relationships that give our clients the confidence to pursue their goals. By design, we do not adhere to formal admission procedures in order to maintain a welcoming, inclusive, non-threatening and non-judgmental environment.

Mary Connolly is the Executive Director of The Gathering Place. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration between four local nonprofit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.

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