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Year In Review: A Snapshot Of 2015



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In January, The Newtown Bee addressed the concerns for elderly housing at Nunnawauk Meadows, which opened in 1975 with 40 one-bedroom units. The community on Nunnawauk Road, has expanded more than once in the past 40 years, with current units now numbering 134. More than 150 residents enjoy the affordable housing, and many more would, said Nunnawauk Meadows Board of Directors President Richard Kovacs and Executive Director Linda Manganaro, if there were more apartments. The wait list number was close to 160 as of January 20.

With a turnover of only nine to 15 units each year, that means only ten percent of those on the waiting list will be accommodated, and every year, at least 15 more people apply to live at Nunnawauk Meadows. To qualify for residency currently, a person must be 62 years of age or older, or a disabled person of any age. Adjusted annual income must be no more than $57,750 for a single person, or $65,200 for two people. For the past four years, a building committee made up of three board members, one resident, and the director have been working toward a plan to build additional units, so that more qualified senior citizens can live at Nunnawauk Meadows.

Melissa Glaser, community outreach liaison for the Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team, located at Fairfield Hills, reminded residents in February that this group provides support and resources for all community members, whether 12/14-related or not. The team works with more than 150 providers addressing mental health, basic needs, and traditional and alternative medical treatments, as well as many other aspects of well-being and how to access that help.

"We are seeing now, two years out, a large number of people coming forward who have not asked for help prior to this," Ms Glaser said at the time, a need that has not abated in recent months. "Because a tragedy such as 12/14 tends to have a ripple effect, there are many who just now are realizing that they continue to grieve and are having difficulties in day-to-day living," she said. That is why Ms Glaser feels that it is particularly essential to find those still needing to address issues of grief, sadness, depression, and anxieties related to 12/14. Originally funded through December 2015 by a Department of Justice grant, funding has been extended through March 2016. Call 203-270-4612 to schedule an appointment.

It turns out bullying is not just kid stuff. In a population of more than 320 million people, 40.3 million are age 65 and older. Of those, according to the National Center for Assisted Living, more than 735,000 men and women live in assisted living situations. Approximately 1.3 million more are housed in nursing homes. Within the walls of residences, homes, and anywhere large numbers of senior citizens gather, a pecking order plays out. At its best, it allows leaders to lead. At its worst, it is bullying, no different than that seen in adolescent circles.

Bullying is a behavior that can compound the sometimes already fragile mental and physical health of others, and takes many forms, whether a person is 8 or 80. The AARP lists behaviors such as name calling, being bossy, being argumentative, and physical aggressiveness as bullying. The National Center of Elder Abuse includes invasion of privacy, verbal threats or harassment of another, destruction of or use of personal property without permission, unwanted sexual behavior, and ostracism as additional forms of bullying seen in elder situations. Raising awareness is an important piece of preventing bullying, said area nursing home, assisted living, and senior center directors. Plans to bring in kindness programs, as well as sensitivity training, were being considered, as well as speakers focused on the positive aspects of aging. Bullying is not acceptable at any age, said experts, and must be thwarted.

It was déjà vu inside C.H. Booth Library the morning of February 18. In the Children's Department at 25 Main Street, librarians looked on in dismay at a sight created when frozen sprinkler system pipes burst the previous day, causing damage to thousands of books in the collection. CHB Board of Trustees President Robert Geckle reported localized damage to books in the immediate vicinity of the break, most likely due to the failure of a heater sensor, allowing pipes to freeze.

The ankle-deep water set a scene all-too-familiar to the library staff: a flood in January 2014 caused extensive damage to two floors of the 1998 addition to the library. Luckily, the library was open and staff was on hand when the second incident occurred. Water damage affected approximately 80 percent of the carpeting throughout the Children's Department and the office of the children's librarian, as well as a small section of the lobby just outside that department's entryway. Rather than months, though, this time it was barely four weeks later when twins Emily and Laura Delp were among the first visitors happy to see the department reopened to the public. New carpet tiles were in place and ceiling tiles replaced. Replacing the gaps in the collection lost to the flood would be an ongoing process.

The wicked winter of 2014 came with a reminder from plumber Pete Wlasuk of Pete's Plumbing, on the importance of protecting pipes from freezing. It also came with the tale of what happens when pipes do freeze. Even thoughtful preparation does not always guarantee that homeowners will avoid an unpleasant winter weather experience. Newtown resident Loree Ogan, owner of Loree's Catering in Bethel, returned home February 1, from a three-week respite in warmer climes. She expected her hometown to feel cold. She did not, however, expect her house to feel colder than the near freezing temperatures outside. Pipes there had frozen while she was away and one of them had, at some point, thawed just enough for water to leak and seep through the floor to the room below, despite having scheduled a neighbor to check on her home. She had left a trickle of water running in the laundry room sink and bathtub, a practice recommended by professionals to prevent pipes from freezing. Hearing through the grapevine of a power outage in Newtown, she called a neighbor; told her that her exterior lights were back on, she did not worry. That the boiler on her furnace would not come back on did not cross her mind.

All's well that ends well, but Ms Ogan took away a few lessons from this chilly challenge. Keeping a cool composure in an emergency is essential, as is being specific on what is needed from anyone watching an empty house. Choose a trusted neighbor who is in walking distance. Report the incident to the insurance carrier immediately. "And," Ms Ogan said, "keep plumber and electrician information close at hand."

After a nearly two-year collaboration, The Animal Center announced April 1 a separation from The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary. Catherine Violet Hubbard, the daughter of Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard, was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14. The Animal Center in Newtown was selected by the Hubbards to receive donations made in their daughter Catherine's memory as a way to honor her love for animals. The influx of memorial contributions and gifts arriving from all over was much greater than the family anticipated. As a result, the Hubbard family together with The Animal Center made the decision in January 2013 to use these funds as the cornerstone for building The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary (CVHAS), a place for rescued and neglected animals to get a second chance. The separation, according to Monica Roberto of The Animal Center, is to return the focus of her organization to the rescue, care, and adoption program. All funds received by The Animal Center for Catherine's sanctuary were transferred to the CVH Foundation.

In the spring, plans for the CVHAS on the deeded 34.4 acres of property within Fairfield Hills continued to develop, said Mrs Hubbard. The foundation set a goal for the year as one in which it would strive to reestablish that property, reviving the natural landscape. The property, on which a large sculpture has been erected, remains open to the public, with only a posted sign requesting people to use care and caution while there, and to abide by local leash laws. CVHAS also hosted a Butterfly Party at Fairfield Hills in June, to promote adoption of rescue animals and celebrate nature.

Liz and Brad Van Gemert figured they could help those who are handy with plumbing and electricity, and the other talents of keeping a home. The couple opened a very different consignment shop, in July, Dad's Consignment at 317 South Main Street. The Van Gemerts' consignment shop specializes in tools for the homeowner or contractor, filling a needed niche in town.

Residents would love to see an expanded Farmers' Market at Fairfield Hills, said Jim Shortt, whose farmstand is one of the anchors there. Other markets in the state offer more variety and cater to the desires of today's shopper, he said, with selections of jams, jellies, baked goods, wines, oils, prepared foods, and sandwiches. But why Newtown's market offers such a limited selection is complicated, agree both town officials and local farmers.

The problem, said George Benson, director of land use in Newtown, is that prior to the market requesting space at Fairfield Hills, a farmers' market was not allowed on the property. A special district, the Fairfield Hills Adaptive Reuse Zone, regulates Fairfield Hills. A special regulation was written to allow a farmers' market at Fairfield Hills, based on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture definition of a Certified Farmers' Market, and "in compliance with the Newtown Zoning Farmers' Market definition." This precludes food trucks, for one thing. Mr Benson and town health inspector Suzette LeBlanc noted that many of the market's growth problems stem from its Fairfield Hills location. Moving does not seem like much of an option, Mr Shortt said, for a number of reasons, so he hopes to take steps that will grow the market next year.

Ingersoll Auto of Danbury, owned by Todd Ingersoll of Newtown, continued offering at least one free movie screening at Edmond Town Hall each month this year. Film lovers enjoyed screenings of Minions, Ant-Man, Hot Pursuit and Into The Woods, among those shared. Newtown Cultural Arts Commission also continued a free movie series this year, with Sunday screenings of classic films, including Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and Breakfast at Tiffany's, among the offers. Film lovers also had an entire weekend to enjoy free offerings at ETH. The inaugural Newtown Film Festival offered three days and nights of screenings of documentaries, feature films, shorts and more, bundled into a series of nine programs. Founder Cristin Carlin timed the offering to coincide with the fourth annual Newtown Arts Festival, also presented September 18-20, at Fairfield Hills.

Looking far beyond the hills of the Fairfield campus, "Where do we go from here?" was a question addressed by The Bee in 2014. It is a question that arises when middle age takes a turn toward "maturity." Deaths, a change of residence, a joining of two homes, or the flight of the last child from the nest initiate the urge to reconsider what is truly important. Decluttering is one place to start, and these specialists say the goal is to end up with a space that brings contentment, and the return of joy in one's surroundings. Rethinking space, reassessing the yard and garden, and the advantages and disadvantages of remaining in Newtown after retirement are all worth considering.

Joan Salbu and Christine Fairchild, real estate agents with Coldwell Banker in town, shared thoughts on the conundrum of moving on, up, or out. Family and finances are the two biggest reasons that older homeowners are reconsidering where they live, said Ms Salbu, recommending people go to an area they are considering and rent for a few months. In a nutshell, consider some of the same questions asked in more youthful days, said Jean Leonard of Jean Leonard Wealth Management - what do you want to be when you grow up, or in this case, what do you want to be when you retire? Health care, future goals, and moving out of or staying in Fairfield County all play an important piece in future plans, she said. A common roadblock with retirement is not accounting for taxes and inflation, she cautioned. Overall, "reduce, rethink, and plan" are positive mantras as one ages, because life is still good.

As the end of the year approached, Newtown's senior citizen welcomed the holidays with a party at Michael's in the Grove in Bethel, Newtown Savings Bank sponsored the yearly Holiday Festival to benefit Newtown Youth & Family Services, and readers were directed to a site that could provide financial closure. There is a single repository for unclaimed property in Connecticut, where citizens can search for lost funds, yet many people are unaware of the existence of the Connecticut State Treasury Unclaimed Property Owners List that as of December 7, held the property (never real estate) of 1.4 million owners, an unclaimed total worth $766 million. Unclaimed property is updated weekly and posted at CTbiglist.com.

Take a moment to check it out. It could prove to be the best New Year's gift, ever.

Just weeks after flooding shut down the Children’s Department of C.H. Booth Library in February, repairs had been finished and books were being replaced on the shelves. More than 10,000 books were destroyed when pipes froze and burst above the back section of the department, a déjà vu to 13 months earlier, when flooding closed the library right after New Year’s.
Applications for housing are far greater than the availability of housing at Nunnawauk Meadows, Newtown’s low-income senior housing.
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