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For 13 years, Connecticut College students in the Holleran Center for Community Action have helped organize the Walk to End Homelessness, an annual fundraiser for the New London Homeless Hospitality Center (NLHHC). The walk, which takes place rain or shine every April, usually draws hundreds of people to downtown New London.
This year, of course, was different.
Since the in-person walk couldn’t take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers quickly moved to make the walk virtual, with participants pledging to walk on their own in whatever capacity they could.
“I knew it was possible. New London is an incredible community, and so is Conn,” said Holleran Center scholar Mia Barbuto ’22, a film studies and theater double major from Red Hook, New York, and one of the student organizers.
“I know so many people who were going to attend the walk in groups. The energy created on campus could no longer be physically brought into the town of New London. However, it could be brought virtually to our online community,” said Barbuto, who recruited friends from home to walk two miles with her—at a safe social distance—around her high school track.
“People were so thrilled and excited to help out, and those who couldn’t donate still did their part in sharing, liking and spreading the word with the hashtag #walkwithme2020.”
More than 400 people signed up to walk on April 19, including at least 88 from the Connecticut College community, raising more than $20,000.
Catherine Zall, executive director of the NLHHC, said cancelling the fundraiser outright simply wasn’t an option.
“Homelessness goes on in the midst of this pandemic. In fact, the need to provide a safety net for our most vulnerable neighbors is all the clearer when we see how interconnected we are as a community. We need the support generated by the walk, as state funding covers only a portion of our costs. Without generous private donors, we would not be able to do what we do,” she said.
“I am just thrilled to see the support of our community—locally and across the region. There are so many people who care and this should give us all hope.”
Ricardo Lombera ’22, a government and sociology double major, American studies minor and Holleran Center scholar from East Palo Alto, California, also helped organize the walk. He is staying at Conn this spring and said he was happy to do his part and get outside.
“Volunteering at the Homeless Hospitality Center, I really got to know the staff and the guests. They are amazing, selfless people. They work so hard and anything that we can do to help them and ease their worries, I was all for it,” he said.
Numerous student-athletes also participated in the walk, including members of the men’s and women’s soccer teams, men’s and women’s swim teams, women’s crew team, women’s field hockey team, and men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams. Dulcie Everitt ’20, a member of the women’s swimming and diving team, was one of them.
An English major, government and philosophy double minor and Holleran Center scholar from London, England, Everitt helped organize the walk when she was a sophomore. She said that while the walk felt a bit different this year, “there was still a strong sense of connection throughout the New London and Conn community to support an organization that works so hard to protect people in our city.”
As a former volunteer for the NLHHC, Everitt says she understands how important the walk is not only for the center’s operations, but to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness in our communities.
“It’s more important than ever to demonstrate one’s support for those who are protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Everitt said.
“Quarantining at home is a privilege that many of us have, but which many of us also take for granted, and I wanted to recognize that by giving back to those who don’t have anywhere to go.”
To make a donation to the NLHHC, click here.