Lions Clubs across the nation and here in Newtown are known for their support of community service programs as well as their commitment to helping protect and preserve sight.
But in the wake of 12/14, the Newtown Lions also exhibited foresight by establishing The Newtown Lions Club Foundation Inc./Sandy Hook Elementary Fund, a fund to help residents, regardless of their economic situation, to cover the cost of mental health counseling sessions and co-pays.
Bob Schmidt, chair of the Lions’ Sandy Hook Elementary Fund committee, club member Walt Schweikert, and local club President Ray Keegan spoke recently to The Newtown Bee about a recent fund milestone. The group has written checks totaling just over $60,000 to date to cover counseling fees, while continuing their work fundraising to ensure financial help remains available to those who need it months, years, and even decades from now.
“This Lions Club Foundation fund is unique in that is the only one that has formally teamed up with the professional therapists associations to provide reimbursement of all costs, whether it is to cover entire therapy sessions, co-pays, or other out-of-pocket expenses for local families seeking support or counseling,” Mr Schweikert said on May 27.
He said that most of the 144 payments made up to the past week are to members of the statewide network of practitioners including colleagues of Mr Schmidt, himself a licensed therapist and former president of The Connecticut Counseling Association.
“This is the only fund we know about that will reimburse individuals for their costs, even after therapy has been rendered,” Mr Schmidt said. “Many of the bills we helped pay are on behalf of Sandy Hook School staff members, students, and local emergency responders. But the fund is available for anyone in the entire community.”
Donations From Afar
While the fund still has a measurable balance, and continues to be infused with donations pouring in from Lions Clubs throughout the country and around the world, Mr Schweikert said his club and its targeted efforts are in it for the long haul.
“More than 500 Lions Clubs have sent donations since [12/14],” Mr Schweikert said. So far the localized effort has raised more than $177,000.
“We are so very appreciative of all the help we received so far from Lions Clubs and private donations, and we invite people to go to our website or contact any club member to make a contribution,” he said.
“Over the next ten years, we estimate the need for assistance to exceed $1.3 million, so we need ongoing support from anyone who can help,” Mr Schweikert said.
In talking with Lions Club colleagues serving the Columbine, Colo., area, he gained insight about the ongoing and long-term mental health needs of that community following its own school shooting.
Mr Keegan also recognized a number of therapists and mental health practitioners in Sandy Hook and Newtown who are extending no-cost sessions and help to local families and responders.
“Many of these professionals are discounting their sessions — some by more than half of what they would normally get for a counseling appointment,” he said.
The local Lions provided other means of supporting those most affected by 12/14, including partnering with the local Rotary Club hosting a day of healing for Sandy Hook families and responders at Newtown’s Sunny Brook Farm; a dinner at The Waterview facility in Monroe; and a dinner honoring Monroe School Resource Officer Todd Keeping.
This summer the Lions are teaming up with the Moyer Foundation and The Cove, a mental health agency, to help bring recovering Newtown children to its bereavement Camp Erin for children. For information on that effort, interested families can call Karen Denver at 203-634-0500, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The three volunteers say they are bolstered in their efforts by the feedback coming in from those who have taken advantage of the assistance. One first responder wrote, “If the Lions did not have this fund, I probably would not have gone for counseling — and now I realize I really did need it.”
One recipient wrote to say, “Thank you so much for sending me this check. I will at least be able to keep going [to therapy],” while a parent wrote, “The sessions have helped the nightmares and with sleep.”
Funds are available for those who lack insurance, or whose health coverage does not include mental health counseling, as well as covering deductibles and related out-of-pocket costs. The foundation, which is overseen by local Lions members, screens and monitors requests for reimbursement to ensure there is a need, that services are rendered by a licensed therapist, and that charges are within reasonable and customary limits.