College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines
There are countless events, programs, and sponsorships on campus and throughout the Grand Forks community. Many of them go unnoticed by a majority of people, but make vast differences in the lives of those they support. One such event is Project Connect, a one-day event where individuals and families of a community who are in danger of becoming homeless, or are currently homeless, come and receive services. The event provides information booths regarding mental health screenings, nutrition, education opportunities, hearing screenings and even blood pressure screenings. There is a free luncheon involved as well, in addition to donations of clothing and miscellaneous essentials for those in need.
UND's Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Wanda Koszewski, was the event coordinator for this eventt. Project Connect has been an annual event for the past 5 years. Prior to her leadership as event coordinator, Wanda was a co-coordinator for the food component of the event last year. She became involved with the event due to her interest in food and nutrition needs of at-risk families. Wanda finds it essential that the community gain a deeper awareness of the hunger and homelessness that surrounds us. She stated that hunger and homelessness tend to be "underground social issues"; hopefully events and programs such as Project Connect can aid in spreading awareness and eventually deplete these social issues. They affect more than one may realize, as the health and well-being of an entire community is impacted by the hunger and homelessness of even just a fraction if its members.
Project Connect has not only been a tremendous eye opening and valuable experience for Wanda, it has also helped her to meet and work with some truly wonderful social services. The Nutrition and Dietetics Department here at UND has flourished with its involvement in programs such as Project Connect and the associations it has built with CANA agencies. In addition, the UND students involved with volunteering for the project have gained invaluable experience regarding community nutrition. Wanda continues to promote these kinds of projects and events, and is thankful for CANA's help with Project Connect. They have helped expose UND students to alarming needs of the families right here in our own community. It is Wanda's wish that her department may eventually spread its own wings and do more events throughout the year. She stresses how much of a need there is for food, education and nutrition all around us, and she is continuing her tireless efforts to promote awareness to as many community members as possible.
There have been so many blessings and experiences that Wanda has taken from her involvement with Project Connect. She explained in an interview what the best part of Project Connect is in her eyes. "The best part is you see desperate families and Veterans get services they need to help them get through the tough winter months...To see them get housing, food and some clothing make it all worthwhile." Wanda also expressed how important it is when Veterans receive the care and support they deserve. "Our Veterans give their lives and sacrifice a lot for our country. They should not be living on the street. Seeing them receive mental health services, warm clothes and shelter is the least we can do for them."
Project Connect could not be possible without the steady stream of unwavering supporters behind it and its cause. Wanda is sure to extend her heartfelt thanks to each and every individual and community member that heave helped make Project Connect so successful for five years now. Peggy Kurtz, who is with Housing and Urban Development, headed the event for its first four years before Wanda. Her service and involvement have been invaluable for Project Connect and the services it provides to the community. Rachel Hafner from ARC has also helped Wanda tremendously this year regarding the program. Janet Nelson from the VA, UND Dining Services, Doris Wang and the students in the Nutrition and Dietetics 340 class have also been an enormous asset to Project Connect this year. Additionally, all three departments of the CNPD, Counseling Psychology from Education, Communication Sciences and Disorder from Arts and Sciences here at UND have been essential in the program's success. It is wonderful to see such an array of programs throughout campus assisting in the services of the community. Lastly, the Plus Program in SWK should also be recognized for being a part of Project Connect for several years. Community businesses such as Hope Church (who provided the hosting space for Project Connect), Salvation Army and St. Joseph's (who provided clothing and essentials to the program) have also been instrumental in the services provided to our community members in need.
It is common around the holidays to become much more aware of how blessed we are. In turn, this deepens our awareness of those less fortunate than us as well. Hopefully events such as Project Connect can continue to flourish and increase community awareness to extend past the holidays and seasons of giving. It is a noble cause that not only increases awareness among the community, but hopefully can encourage others to participate in its cause and help those in need.
Ochs, Mary, "Project Connect" (2014). UND News Archive. 912.