Brighter futures ahead for Hannibal residents through Project Community Connect event

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Jay Fohey, owner of Schmidt & White Barbershop, cuts an individual's hair at the Project Community Connect event on Thursday. There were three hairstylists giving free haircuts. Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. –  Brighter futures are ahead for some in Hannibal who attended the Project Community Connect event this week at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center.

The event hosted fifty-two service providers ready to offer a hand up to those in need of help to get on their feet. Many who came through the door were looking for a home, healthcare, a job–or all three. 

Starla Dunn, a nurse at the Hannibal Regional Hospital and the Hannibal Free Clinic, has watched lives transform from Project Community Connect in the years since she volunteered at the first one in 2015. She recalled one year when a gentleman came in unable to work after suffering from a stroke.

The utilities were shut off in the home he shared with his 15-year-old daughter. A volunteer guided him to each table he needed to visit, where he was able to get help for his utilities and receive further help from Douglass Community Services.

They were able to get him help at the Hannibal Free Clinic because he didn’t have any insurance, and he was able to get on multiple blood pressure medications. He also did a sleep study where it was discovered that he had severe sleep apnea and he was provided with a CPAP machine, which keeps airways open while sleeping.

He then began working on his physical health and rehab through exercise and now works a full time job. 

“There are so many stories here,” she said. “And all because they came down here and got connected with services.”

One focus of the event is to gauge homelessness in Hannibal. Each participant filled out a survey about their living situation, and other needs, before moving onto the tables.

When the event started in 2015, it was called Project Homeless Connect. Hannibal was chosen by former Gov. Jay Nixon’s Committee to End Homelessness. The Hannibal event was the seventh in the state to receive a grant from the committee. 

In 2015, 111 documented homeless households were served, and 790 services were utilized in one day. 

Many services provided at Project Community Connect are vital to taking the first step to a better life.

Hannibal Regional Medical Group and Ralls County Health Dept. was on site with applications for birth certificates or IDs. These vital documents are often an obstacle for the homeless or others who have had their paperwork stolen or lost it while moving around. 

Carrie Fogle, director of nursing at the Ralls County Health Dept., said the event brings awareness about homelessness to the volunteers.

The volunteers, who accompany each person who comes in the door from table to table, often hear their stories as they walk together. 

“It’s so nice to see our community come together for our community members, because at any point in time, any one of us could be in the same place,” she said. “They didn’t just choose to be in this situation. They deserve this help just as much as you and I.”

The health department also gave out free narcan, which is an antidote to drug overdose. In July,  Narcan was approved in Missouri as an over-the-counter drug, in the form of a nasal spray.

Fogle said there was a demand for the Narcan, and she had already gone to the office to get more less than two hours into the event. She said the nice thing about Narcan is that it will not hurt anyone.

“You might be at the gas station and see someone passed out in their car–it might be a drug overdose. If you use Narcan, and it turns out to be a heart attack, the Narcan will not hurt them,” she said. 

She added that 911 should always be called before using the Narcan or doing anything else.

Fogle said the services described at the event are available all year, and you don’t have to be a Ralls County citizen to receive benefits. At the event they also handed general and feminine hygiene items and more.

Visit https://www.rallscountyhealth.org/ to see a full list of services provided at Ralls County Health Department.

The event also prepared job seekers for the job fair next week.

The Hannibal Job Fair will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on Oct. 12. 

The Hannibal Job Center was at Project Community Connect to provide resume help and career planning. Manpower gave information regarding current job openings. 

Preferred Family Healthcare was also onsite to help with clothing needs for job interviews and basic needs. They currently have winter items for the upcoming cold season.

The clothes came from their Community Clothing Closet, which is something available to the public all year. The closet is stocked by employee and community donations, and stemmed from caseworkers helping client clothing needs by storing items in a tote. 

Katelyn Gregory Burns, caseworker at Preferred Family Healthcare, credited coworker and caseworker Shelby Kenison in deciding to build a closet where anyone in need could come in for clothes.

The wide variety of clothes solicited through social media posts and word of mouth allow those who come in to enjoy the experience like a shopping trip.

“We all have our certain style preferences. We all want to feel comfortable in our clothes, which makes us comfortable in our skin,” Burns said. “Why not build their confidence by wearing something that you want?” 

Kenison said allowing the general public to come in is also a great way to let more people know about their services. Not only do they offer mental health and substance abuse help, but they also provide help with health and wellness including help with teaching about daily hygiene, budgeting, and more.

Learn more about their services at https://pfh.org/.

If you are interested in donating gently used clothing, feminine hygiene products or food pantry items contact Preferred Family Healthcare at 573-603-1460 for a drop-off time.

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