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Homeless Norwalkers Enjoy Home-Style Party

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalkers Michael Monroe and Melonita Samuel took advantage of an opportunity for some home-style movie-watching Wednesday and got a reward for staying late: the icing on the cake arrived.

A gingerbread house – larger than any of the people present had seen before – was delivered to the room next door. Samuel joked that it would be her "future house."

Samuel and Monroe spend their nights at Norwalk's Open Door Shelter. By day, they are participants in Hope Works, a job and life training skills program run by the shelter.

Career counselor Trisha Haynes arranged a Christmas party for Hope Works clients Wednesday at the center, the former Norwalk Community Health Center. Participants decorated their center with garland and other items donated by Diageo. The Rev. Sonja Merrill of Church Without Walls donated a country breakfast, and Herb of Herb's Place donated lunch – so much food that partygoers couldn't eat it all.

Breakfast was "slamming," Michael Baboval said.

"I was trying to make a home atmosphere because a lot of times, when people are at the shelter, they start getting sad around the holidays, missing family," said Haynes. "So I decided to set it up like a family setting and have a large feast for breakfast, large feast for lunch."

She also brought in some movies so participants could sit in front of a television all day and relax, if they so chose, as if they were at home for "a nice holiday experience."

"I've been teaching them a lot about family and being connected, that kind of thing," she said. "Lately they understand the feeling of family, they've been treated each other like family and that's the main reason I did this for them."

Bill Okwuosa, director of the shelter, hung out with the Hope Works crew for a while, watching part of a movie with them. He said similar steps had been taken to make the holidays pleasant at the shelter and said food would be out all day on Christmas. Santa Claus visited the children last week, and presents are sitting under a tree for them.

Two massive gingerbread houses were brought in, donated by BLT, Building and Land Technology. Okwuosa kept one at the shelter for the children to enjoy.

Haynes found the house inspirational and said she might have participants make a gingerbread house Friday for a "nice bonding experience."

Hope Works is a program run by and through the Open Door Shelter.

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