"We're off and running!"
That was the closing comment from First Selectman Pat Llodra after the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a $500,000 funding resolution, that upon final acceptance, will activate grant funding to re-purpose a vacant duplex at Fairfield Hills for the Newtown Parent Connection.
Now in its 20th year of service, this grassroots organization works to educate and empower the community in its continuing efforts preventing substance abuse, while providing support and referrals to families who are either dealing with a substance abuse issue, or who have lost a loved one to drug or alcohol-related tragedy.
The Parent Connection works in conjunction with town agencies, the police department, Newtown schools, and local faith-based communities.
On October 8, the group hosted a public forum with renowned speaker and author Norm Bossio, and regularly hosts three different support groups from their temporary offices in Edmond Town Hall. The Parent Connection also recently partnered with the Newtown Prevention Council hosting a family Dinner Night.
During the October 20 selectmen's meeting, Mrs Llodra explained that the Parent Connection was identified as a qualifying agency to receive the grant, originally slated to develop a permanent location for the regional public health clinic, Kevin's Community Center.
But logistical issues in the pre-development stage prevented the clinic from relocating into the converted duplex, which formerly housed Fairfield Hills State Hospital staff when the facility was in operation. Kevin's Community Center is now operating from offices in a medical and professional complex at 152 South Main Street.
The resolution now moves to the Board of Finance and Legislative Council for consideration and approval. Provided the grant is endorsed by those panels, the appropriation will come back to the selectmen for a public hearing before being released.
Parent Connection co-founder Dorrie Carolan told selectmen that she and colleague Donna DeLuca established the cause two decades ago after they discovered each family was dealing with a substance abuse crisis.
Ms Carolan said that as a result, she lost her son to a drug overdose, and her partner's child has is currently living clean and sober in recovery. She explained that since their earliest days working together, both Newtown residents have embraced other families from the community and beyond who call for help when facing similar situations.
The Parent Connection helps those families transition loved ones into institutional rehabilitation centers out of state, while offering both one-on-one and support group assistance to other family members.
The group currently offers groups catering to those with current or active substance abuse issues to grandparents who in many cases have taken over parenting duties when their own children are grappling with substance issues; and for those like Ms Carolan who have lost a loved one.
Ms Carolan told the selectmen that as recently as dinner that evening she was approached by someone whose child remained clean and sober thanks to the efforts of the Parent Connection. She also thanked the selectmen for their support, noting the group has been forced to move from discounted or donated space three times since its formation.
"We want to expand further and host other programs," Ms Carolan said.
"I think this is a perfect location," Mrs Llodra replied.
Architect Gene Vetrano was on hand, and told the selectmen that his assessment is that the duplex is structurally sound, although an existing sun room would have to be razed. He said the windows and doors would need to be replaced and that some roof work was also required on the facility.
The architect said interior renovations would include the removal of some interior walls to make a huge, handicapped accessible ground floor community room, and a bid alternate would include rebuilding one, or possibly two sun rooms at the site.
Since the finished project as envisioned is estimated to cost upwards of $700,000 including a contingency fund, Mr Vetrano said the organization would likely complete structural work and ground floor renovations, while continuing to raise funds to eventually complete the second floor work.
The lease would require an initial $1 per year for 10 years, with two ten-year options. The agency would also be responsible for the same 42-cents-per-square-foot common charges paid by the neighboring Newtown Youth Academy, and all other future lessees at Fairfield Hills.
The Parent Connection is also responsible for the costs to bring utility services to their new facility.