Alyssa Rossmiller (left) and Emily Silbilski work on their cardboard box shelters for their night of “homelessness” Nov. 5 in the St. Charles Church parking lot.

Lesson in homelessness generates needed funding for agency

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

While homelessness is still largely viewed here as a problem exclusive to urban areas, there is a group of local teens who’ve gone out of their way to not only understand the problem that exists in the Burlington area, but to do something about it.

Life Teen, the Catholic youth group serving three Burlington-area parishes, held its eighth annual Cold Hands Warm Heart event in early November to raise funds for the Transitional Living Center of Burlington.

This year’s group established a new record for its fundraising efforts, collecting $21,579 – enough to cover basic nightly operation of the emergency shelter for nearly six months. They’ve also earned the distinction of providing the largest single donation to the agency in the past year.

The 2011 campaign blew away last year’s record take of $15,500.

“In addition to the money raised, the teens raised awareness for the important work done by TLC,” said Kathy Martin, who is co-director of the Life Teen program along with her husband Jim. “The teens put their faith in action, stepped out of their comfort zone and embraced the opportunity to see our community through the eyes of others – the generous donors and the people being served by TLC.”

Cristen Chaffee, director of operations for TLC, called the Life Teen effort “amazing” and said it’s vital to TLC’s mission.

“It’s one of our biggest fundraisers on a yearly basis and they’ve raised the bar every year,” she said.


Firsthand experience

The Cold Hands Warm Heart event culminated Nov. 5 when many of the Life Teen students agreed to experience a night of homelessness by sleeping outside in cardboard boxes at the St. Charles Church parking lot and limited themselves to a soup kitchen meal.

The students collected pledges to sponsor their night of homelessness. In the month leading up to that event, the students also held bake sales, went door-to-door with donation requests and collected donations at Sentry, Gooseberries and Pick ’n Save.

For the Martins, who’ve been the driving force behind Cold Hands Warm Heart since 2006, the project is more than a fundraiser. It’s a great learning opportunity and a chance for the teens to show their commitment to the Burlington community, Kathy Martin said.

In addition to raising funds for TLC, the event reinforces many of Life Teen’s principles including social justice and teamwork, according to Kathy Martin. Many of the teens who participate in the program have become committed volunteers and babysitters at the TLC shelter.

Chaffee called the program “priceless” for both the teens who participate and the community at large.

“If they learn it at a young age, they take that lesson with them and learn to look outside themselves,” she said. “I’m just amazed with the Life Teen students who volunteer here. They’re so non-judgmental and so helpful.”

This year the Cold Hands Warm Hearts project also got help from students at St. Mary’s and St. Charles grade schools and Burlington High School, where individual fundraisers were held to benefit the drive.

Eighty-five business and individual sponsors were also integral to the success of the drive.

Life Teen is the high-school age religious education program serving St. Charles and St. Mary’s parishes in Burlington and St. Joseph’s in Lyons.


TLC’s mission

Since 2004, Cold Hands Warm Heart has raised more than $71,000 for TLC. According to Chaffee, this financial support is critical to TLC being able to meet the needs of the homeless in Burlington during these difficult economic times. Currently, more than half of those served by TLC are children.

It costs roughly $125 per night for the Transitional Living Center to provide emergency housing for up to homeless 20 women and children.

In addition to the emergency shelter, which houses women and children, TLC also operates the Morrow House, which can accommodate two families.

“We’re full the majority of the time,” Chaffee said of both the shelter and the Morrow House.

With the average stay now at 90 days, TLC’s mission extends well beyond providing temporary shelter. The agency requires its guests to receive financial, career and life counseling designed to give them the skills needed to avoid homelessness.

“We make them do some things to keep them from having to return,” Chaffee said.

For additional information or to make a donation, contact TLC at (262) 767-1478.


How you can help

                  Transitional Living Center of Burlington requires roughly $125 per night to house up to 20 women and children needing emergency shelter. The agency, which also operates the Morrow House for homeless families, also needs volunteers in addition to donations of personal care items, cleaning supplies and furniture. For additional information or to make a donation, call (262) 767-1478 or visit