While many residents surveyed by volunteers of the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation continue to express a high degrees of anxiety, fear, and stress, it has also become evident that efforts to raise funds to assist these individuals with ongoing counseling are challenged to maintain the level of fundraising required to cover the related costs.
These are among a number of important points outlined in the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation’s newly released findings derived from a survey of community needs resulting from the tragedy of 12/14. The Second Distribution Committee of the Sandy Hook School Support Fund used the findings to make decisions regarding the release of funds into the community.
That volunteer committee is comprised of a cross section of the community impacted by the tragedy and includes Chris McDonnell (chair), Joeline Wruck (vice chair), Gavin Arneth, Dr Rob Bazaro, Jennifer Clark, Kevin Cragin, the Reverend Rob Morris, Scott Ruszczyk, Addie Sandler, Bob Schmidt, and Connie Sullivan.
“The committee has spent the past several months meeting with the community to better understand the unmet needs that exist while simultaneously working to understand the focus and work of the many other groups in the community so as to avoid duplication and collaborate where it makes sense,” said Jennifer Barahona, executive director of the Foundation.
The public input process included an anonymous survey distributed throughout the community, which solicited over 1,600 responses. The report includes information learned through the survey and the recommendations for funding in the first of what will be two rounds of funding this year.
Highlights of the report include the high level of anxiety, fear, and stress still being felt by the community; the need for long-term mental health support; and the need for increased communication and access to services.
Ms Barahona told The Newtown Bee Monday that residents interviewed affirmed concerns that mental health and resiliency response will be a long-term need, and she and foundation volunteers want to make sure those services are available and funded to the extent that they are needed – for as long as they are required.
A Lack Of Clarity
One thing that may be working against efforts to maintain funding for these critical response services is a growing concern expressed about the “lack of clarity related to what the various funds already in place are doing, and how they are delivering services” with the money being raised, she said.
“But we’re having success working with some groups to streamline and in some cases, merging funds to maximize efficiencies,” Ms Barahona said, adding that her foundation recently partnered with the Newtown Memorial Fund, Rotary and Lions Clubs to designated pool funds.
“I was relatively new to the community when we started soliciting feedback for this report,” she said. “But it was affirming to hear that others who had been around since [12/14] also felt some confusion, or found information hard to come by related to a number of related fundraising efforts – and about the missions and purpose of these various groups [raising money].”
She said it is exciting when groups come together to pool funding or otherwise collaborate when it makes sense to do so.
Ms Barahona said to date, funding is focused on four main areas and includes support for out-of-pocket mental health costs for those most impacted by the tragedy; support for other health and wellness programs for individuals that will assist them in their recovery; funds for community wide programming; and funds that will be released through a request for proposals (RFP) process to expand public education and training to help members of the community identify, understand, and respond to signs of trauma and mental health concerns.
“Our committee was very appreciative of all the people who came forward to provide information, but it’s also important to remember that the 11 committee members also represent key constituent groups as well,” she said. “I hope community members will continue to come forward to discuss their concerns. That is the only way we’ll know if needs or continuing needs are not being met.”
Nonetheless, Ms Barahona said, hard decisions need to be made regarding any new or remaining funding coming under the control of the Newtown Sandy Hook Community Foundation.
“I believe the greatest concern is related to long-term needs. Donations are drying up for a lot of the groups who set out with great confidence they would be able to sustain funding for mental heath and related support services,” she said. “Unfortunately, in some cases, I don’t think they anticipated the sheer amount of services that would be needed.”
Based on research and review of existing needs and resources as well as the data collected from the public input process, the Committee recommends funding for the initial distribution in 2014 as follows:
*$75,000 towards the support of out-of-pocket mental health costs related to the tragedy.
The foundation will tap into a partnership initially created between the Newtown Rotary and the United Way of Western CT, and later joined by the Newtown Memorial Fund and Newtown Lions Club Foundation, to join efforts and continue to discuss ways of maximizing efficiency in support of out of pocket mental health costs associated with the tragedy.
The Sandy Hook School Support Fund will join those other funds in pooling only their resources dedicated to out-of-pocket mental health costs to create a Collaborative Recovery Fund that will be managed by the foundation.
Using the current process of intake through the CT Office of Victims Services (OVS), the foundation will take over the role that the United Way of Western CT has been providing with back office support of reimbursement to providers of out-of-pocket costs. To ensure a seamless transition it is expected that this process will occur over the next one to two months.
Other groups who also wish to support out of pocket mental health costs are invited to participate in this partnership. Representatives from each contributing fund will make up a distribution committee and will be charged with monitoring the spend down of the dollars and making any necessary adjustments along the way in order to continue to maximize efficiency so that dollars remain available for the longest possible time.
*$75,000 towards support of a “Financial Needs Fund” that will help alleviate stress or crisis among individual and families throughout the community who have been impacted by the tragedy.
It is expected that grants will be made to programs already in existence who have the capacity and expertise to work with individuals to determine unmet needs and utilize the funds as a bridge for families where needed. It is expected that funds will be used to support the health and wellness of individuals in their trauma recovery that falls outside the scope of traditional “mental health” treatment that will already be supported through the Collaborative Recovery Fund.
*$10,000 to support efforts to bring community wide programming to Newtown.
This will address multiple areas of identified needs that include ongoing education about trauma, the ability to connect with others within the community and other communities who have experience similar tragedies, and an opportunity to come together as a community. Again, the foundation is working in collaboration with other organizations around town to work on joint programming and avoid any duplication with existing efforts.
*$40,000 to support the expansion of public education and training that will help those that come into contact with adults and young people (i.e. community members, parents, school personnel, clergy, medical professionals) to identify, understand and respond to signs of trauma, mental health concerns and/or address barriers that keep those who need mental health services from accessing them.
Funds will also be used to develop, strengthen or expand therapeutic programs/interventions that assist with the recovery from those impacted by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Examples include programming in non-traditional therapies in order to provide comfort and relief from symptoms of trauma. These funds will be issued through an RFP process.
The foundation, in partnership with Walnut Hill Community Church (Sandy Hook Restoration Fund) is also planning a series of activities May 31 bringing local residents together with survivors of a number of other mass shooting incidents like Virginia Tech, Columbine and the Amish community to share their stories and support for Newtown.
The committee plans to monitor its efforts and make adjustments for the next funding cycle if necessary.
“The public input process is continual and the needs of the community will change overtime,” said Ms Barahona. “The committee recognizes that this report represents a snapshot in time.”