Another year comes to an end. A time when we thought about coming home, coming together, helping one another, and appreciating life’s blessings. It is often more difficult for some to view the holidays in this way than it is for others. While it is a joyous time for so many, for some it was also a time of struggle and hardship.

Jim Zumpone and Cheryl Duquette of The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ recognized in 2017, a need to bring happiness to many who are down on their luck. In 2018, they continued to bring hope again this holiday season. When another toy drive program left the area, Jim and Cheryl partnered together to bring The Holiday Toy Drive to life within just a few weeks. This included expanding their website, seeking volunteers, and partnering with local businesses and organizations, The Stourbridge Line, Wayne County Ford and Bold Gold Media to make their toy drive a reality. In a few short weeks they had seven pick-up trucks full of toys and this past year was more of the same. After the overwhelming support from everyone in 2017, they knew this had to continue as long as there is a need. “The toy drive is a program that grew out of necessity, one that is a gift to the community,” says Jim who is the Chief Visionary and Founder of The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™, “It would be nice to see this toy drive get smaller over the years as a result of people getting to better places in their lives.”

Although the hope is to become smaller as people are hopefully able to sustain a better quality of life, there is no doubt they are the talk of the town. One could even see that in the Honesdale Christmas Parade as their large float presented itself as center stage. There are seven school districts that were able to sign up for toys in Wayne and Pike counties and The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ has many opportunities for the community to become involved as well, such as volunteering, donating toys, and having their business as a drop off site for toys. I recently read a quote from Jim, and was so moved that our community could play such a vital role that could impact so many people at one time, it read:

“For several weeks, and specifically the last few days during distribution, I worked alongside some 50 individuals with hearts so big that their love and compassion for others is almost limitless. These angels on earth are white collar and blue, students and teachers, business owners and retirees, a full cross section of our community. They worked together tirelessly to assure happiness for others. I am in awe of them, inspired by them, humbled by them. This selfless group of incredible people listened to a pretty nutty guy’s ideas and took it on as their own. They turned it into something that should inspire everyone to see the good, and work together towards a worthy and common goal. I sincerely thank this group of people I am so lucky to call my friends. Thank you to them for being part of The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ team, and for bringing round two of The Holiday Toy Drive to life for hundreds of deserving kids.”

Community Vocational Services (CVS) has been involved with the toy drive since they started in 2017 and have proven to be a great asset to the organization. “Seeing the pride in the faces of CVS clients and the outcomes as a result of their experiences with us was something you just have to see for yourself. We observed them using skills they didn’t know they had or used skills that maybe their job coaches didn’t realize they had,” says Cheryl, “Every experience is an opportunity, they just need a chance to show what they can be great at.”

Cheryl’s perspective relates to the entire theme of what The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ is really all about. Many people see their logo but may not understand who they are or what they do. Some may be surprised to learn that the toy drive is only a small part of their entire entity. The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ focuses on possibilities by Leveraging Skills, Igniting Passions, and Building Futures. They focus on five FACETs, Fitness, Arts, Citizenry, Education, and Trades. “The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ is more about what makes people tick and turning people’s passions into self-sustainability,” explains Jim. Within these five FACETs, they look to grow ZIPPER JUNCTION™, an “outside in-town” that connects all of the inner workings of the Project together.

“The actual place ZIPPER JUNCTION™ will be An Experience and Opportunity Factory operating within an open source environment,” says Cheryl, “It’s going to be a place where people can come and visit and do many different things.”

The goal is to have this “Place” in our local area with all of the FACETs for people to experience. If a person is unsure what they want to do, if they want a career change, or even if they just want a better life, they can come to this “experience and opportunity factory” to spark something inside them then connect with local resources to reach that goal. They will have the ability to realistically try out anything found at ZIPPER JUNCTION™ and choose the path to make it a reality. This pertains to anyone of any age and ability.

This may seem like a huge undertaking to someone who can only dream about something like this. But as Cheryl explains, “The biggest take away we want everyone to learn about the Project is that this place is meant to enhance what is already available in our region, it’s to offer our community experiences some may not have and bring people here to experience and utilize the area.”

I wondered how this concept was born and Jim explained, “What began several years ago, with a desire to create something that could fill a void for schools, and while faced with internal struggles and seeing a significant rise in drug activity within the community, there was a need to create happiness within our region. Questions soon became a reality, “How does one solve a situation like this, and can a facility of massive proportions be built? With passion, perseverance and a willingness to solve underlying problems, travel ensued, a business plan was developed and introductions to the idea received a positive and excited response, but will it make jobs? After 18 months of the same, I asked myself, should development of this project continue? Attraction to the concept was difficult and not as expected, spending concerns were evident, is this the right time, do we have the people we need to make this happen? It was all a slow process causing hesitation. Then just as quickly as the questions deepened, positive conversation materialized, the buzz had started again, and people are talking about possibilities. Possibilities that can turn this idea into a reality!”

As expected, the biggest question on my mind, and likely many of you reading this, how much this could cost and where would the money come from. Jim explained that he has to be creative in his funding approaches but has been looking at many things such as operations budgets, capital projects, and estate planning. As Jim explains for example, “If people want to leave or give money to the project they certainly can. If this were to never get off the ground, however, people’s money will go towards another donation of their choice. The return on investment will vary from person to person but the ultimate goal is people helping with a project to make the community a better place. Money follows effort.”

Community Vocational Services has had many opportunities to work with The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™. “When we partner with CVS to bring a client in to assess their skills, each experience is very different. Some like repetition, some would prefer to do a variety of tasks. Each person comes with an unknown set of skills and it is wonderful to see how proud they are for the work they are accomplishing. Certain things spark when individuals are doing certain activities. Making a connection, while knowing you are making a difference in their life, makes a difference in mine, every time. For each person to do something they may only be exposed to during their assessment or come to the realization of new skills they have, those are the reasons we want to help by offering opportunities,” says Cheryl.

If you would like to learn more about The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ or help out with The Holiday Toy Drive in 2019, you can visit their website at www.zipperjunction.org. They are also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. As Jim says, “If you have a question about what we do, just ask! We are happy to talk to you about the work that we do. We are easy to find!”

The ZIPPER JUNCTION Project™ and The Holiday Toy Drive have the positivity and ideals that we as a society need in this day and age of so many things we cannot control. One thing we can control is how we choose to live our lives and the attitude we want to have when we wake up every day no matter what challenges we are faced with. We can choose to be happy and we can choose to make ourselves better. This year, my wish for all of you reading this is that you will take the time and effort to make your life better and the lives of those around you, to be as positive as you can be in times of challenge, and to know that whatever you are facing, you are never alone. People are out there who want to help you. With a little faith, empathy, and kindness, we can all make our community and this world a better place to live. Happy New Year!