Newtown residents who have been receiving financial assistance from Newtown Lions Club to help offset out of pocket costs for post 12/14-related mental health and counseling services can continue receiving assistance uninterrupted.
Robert Schmidt, a spokesperson for the local unit of the global service club, told The Newtown Bee on February 18 that money in The Sandy Hook Elementary Fund is running out. SHEF is a special fund set up by the Newtown Lions to help local individuals afford counseling for themselves or family members since the Sandy Hook shootings.
Fortunately, the Lions have teamed with Newtown Rotary Club and Newtown Memorial Fund to help ensure residents tapping support services are not forced to stop because of the burden of out of pocket expenses for counseling.
Current recipients of Lions assistance will only need to make a one-time application through the Connecticut Office of Victims Services so the underwriting entity can be shifted from the Lions to the new consortium.
According to a letter being sent to Lions recipients and the mental health providers in the club’s database, the local group has already passed on $280,000 for counseling services for 250 individuals who were affected by 12/14.
But since donations to the Lions have dwindled, those already receiving assistance in the form of direct payment to them or their therapist will end on February 28.
Before that date, recipients are being urged to contact the Office of Victim Services (OVS) to apply for continuing benefits. The benefits through OVS will be comparable to what was being received through the Lions fund, the letter states.
Anyone who is concerned that that they or their therapist may have a problem switching over should talk to OVS about it. There is also a $2,000 state grant available for children who were enrolled in Sandy Hook at the time of the tragedy, the memo states.
The number for OVS is 860-990-1984 or toll-free at 888-286-7347.
“As more money is donated to the Newtown Lions Foundation, we will continue to provide funding for counseling by joining forces with our friends in the Newtown Memorial Fund, the Newtown Rotary Club and the United Way of Western CT,” the memo concludes. “We will all use the same process in cooperation with OVS.”
Alan Clavette, a representative of Newtown Rotary, said his agency and the Memorial Fund both agreed to contribute $15,000 per month toward compensation for out of pocket mental health costs, with the Lions continuing to contribute $5,000 per month until its funding runs out.
Mr Schmidt said, however, that with the upcoming Great Pootatuck Duck Race and a summer golf tournament fundraiser, plus any continuing donations, the Lions hope to maintain their role in the consortium.
“I would not want anyone to worry that there will not be any more funding for counseling,” Mr Schmidt told The Bee. “People will be able to get the same services as they did with us by calling the Office of Victim Services.”
Mr Clavette echoed the sentiment, saying the Rotary fund still has in excess of $300,000 available for this underwriting.
Newtown Memorial Fund spokesperson Brian Mauriello said Connecticuts Office of Victims Services has done an outstanding job working with hundreds of Newtown families with total anonymity, helping to facilitate directing support dollars to those in need of financial assistance.
"When we joined Rotary's existing program, they had transitioned to a focus on medical and mental health needs," Mr Mauriello said. "Those needs have continued to increase."
He said since the Lions Club is providing essentially the same type of support for mental health needs, it makes sense as their funding runs out, that the families they serve get absorbed into the OVS process.
"This is going to increase the financial burden on those still providing the funding - and it is compounding," Mr Mauriello observed. "The needs continue to increase while finite bank balances of the funds diminish. Provided the current needs do not outpace fundraising proceeds, the intention is to continue to provide as much support as possible within the scope of our mission."
Anyone wishing to help can learn more about the Newtown Lions fund by visiting: newtownlions.com
To donate to the Newtown Memorial Fund, visit: newtownmemorialfund.org
For more information on the Newtown Rotary's efforts, visit: newtownctrotary.org/SandyHookSchoolFund.cfm
This report was updayed February 19 to include comments from the Newtown Memorial Foundation.