“Five hours one Saturday a year can change a life forever.” That’s what Beth Davalos, coordinator for the Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) Families in Transition (FIT) program, has to say about “A Day of Magical Connections.” The event brings agencies and community members together to support families who are homeless and is the largest of its kind in the country. This past November, 52 agencies and more than 300 volunteers met at Winter Springs High School to help 245 homeless families. Planning for the 10th annual occurrence of this event begins next month.
“The idea behind A Day of Magical Connections was to allow homeless families to meet with the agencies that serve them in one location and at the same time,” Davalos says. “This has improved communication and decreased the stress of finding and asking for help.” Davalos, a licensed social worker, started volunteering at a homeless shelter in 1999. This inspired her to start Families in Transition in 2003 and then launch A Day of Magical Connections in 2005. The event has had far-reaching effects.
This special day gave Norma Deverney— or Mrs. D. as she likes to be called — a chance to start life again. During Hurricane Katrina, Mrs. D. lost her house in New Orleans and all she owned. “When I got to Central Florida, I needed a friend. And then when Beth opened her heart to me, I felt like I’d been given a second chance.” Now Mrs. D. runs the after-school program at English Estates Elementary School in Fern Park. And this year, she headed up daycare for the FIT event. How did it make her feel? “It was a joy to give back,” she says. “I plan to do it in the future.”
Besides providing childcare, volunteers fill in at the registration desk, greet participating homeless families, and so much more. Free resources at this year’s event included housing; mortgage, rent, and utility assistance; counseling; food stamp and Medicaid assistance; legal advice; flu shots; clothing; and haircuts. Door prizes included ten Chromebook laptops, a girl and a boy’s bike, and a $10 Publix gift card. Each family received a bag of food. Free family photos, haircuts and face painting were part of the activities. It was all about making homeless families feel special.
“Sonny’s Bar-B-Q donated delicious meals. They’ve been a valued sponsor for the past eight years,” Davalos says, adding, “We are currently looking for other businesses and even a hospital or other similar facility to help us.” Westgate Resorts and Westgate Resorts Foundation, Clean the World, Life Touch, Orlando City Foundation, Jacobs and Goodman Attorneys, Second Harvest Food Bank, and The Nutty Bavarian were also sponsors, donating time, resources, and finances.