Sixth annual Weld Project Connect a labor of love | MyWindsorNow.com

Sixth annual Weld Project Connect a labor of love

Tommy Simmons
tsimmons@greeleytribune.com

The backs of the shirts worn by volunteers Friday at United Way's sixth annual Weld Project Connect are dotted the logos of organizations that contributed to the resources fair. High up on the shirt's right shoulder, though, is a small inscription. It's not a logo and it doesn't represent an organization.

It says, "remember Sandi."

It's in honor of Sandi Meier, who was the project's manager for years. She passed away in March, but her daughter, Kelli Johnson, said her mom's memory is strong here.

"This is her legacy," Johnson said, gesturing to the spread of tables, signs and balloons that filled the events center at Island Grove Regional Park, 501 N. 14th Ave.

Every year has its own unique flavor, Johnson said, but the basic structure of Weld Project Connect isn't much different from the fairs her mom helped coordinate in the past.

The event is aimed at helping Weld County residents meet with providers of services they need — whether that help be financial, educational or medical. Those attending could rent a library book, get their hair cut, get a copy of their birth certificate, and talk to representatives from North Range Behavioral Health, along with myriad other things.

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"This is a great way for volunteers to see the realities of what people are going through," said Michael Muskin, who volunteered his time Friday.

Muskin was a "navigator." His job was to pair with individuals attending the fair and help them determine which services they need, as well as guiding them to those services through the massive events center.

"The woman I'm working with — I could see she was stressed about some financial issues she was having," Muskin said. "She went to social services today — normally, she would've had to wait in line for that. Everything she needs is all right here — normally she would've had to drive, and she doesn't have the money for that."

Muskin has taken part in Project Connect every year since its inception — he worked for United Way the first year the fair took place and was charged with signing up 400 volunteers to help.

"It seemed overwhelming, but we were able to do that and more," Muskin said.

One of the places he looked for volunteers six years ago was UNC. The university — especially the nursing program — still has a strong presence at Project Connect. Hannah Rossman, for example, is a UNC nursing student who volunteered as a navigator as well.

"This is my first year and this is actually my first family," she said, meaning Melissa Robles and her son Teagan Yvarra, who was getting a hair cut nearby. "They only had two places to go, though, so they were easy."

Others residents had more complex needs, which is why they are paired with a navigator.

"Sometimes, if someone is already on a downhill, if they go to a service for help and hit an obstacle, it's easier to give up rather than persevere," said Margie Martinez, the project's current manager. "A lot of people don't realize how many of their neighbors need help."

Martinez took over the position this year after Meier passed away.

"It was very easy for me to slip into this position because Sandi built and left a great foundation," Martinez said.

For Johnson, the event was a labor of love. She and her volunteers were at Island Grove at 8 a.m. Friday morning to set up tables, computers and chairs and unpack books. Her day would not be over until an enormous truck arrived to load everything out of the events center around 6 p.m.

But it's worth it.