Commission On Aging Going For Grant Funds, Indoor Shuffleboard
The Commission on Aging recently conducted a regular business meeting that introduced three new topics for the local agency. Commissioners discussed an opportunity to apply for AARP grant funds, formed a group to handle that application process, and moved to purchase an indoor shuffleboard set for Newtown Senior Center.
COA Vice Chair Barbara Bloom conducted the meeting in the absence of Chair Anne Rothstein, who was out of town. Bloom kept the meeting moving, with all business wrapped in just under one hour.
The meeting was held one week later than the COA’s traditional third Monday of the month due to Dr Martin Luther King Jr Day on January 15. COA will again meet on the fourth Monday in February due to Presidents Day on February 19.
Human Services Report
Director of Human Services Natalie Griffith offered her first report of the new year, looking back at recent senior center events including Christmas and New Year celebrations.
She also highlighted the distribution of cookies to senior households in town. It was a throwback, she reminded the commission, of something that had been done for senior residents during COVID.
Local police officers again assisted with the distribution, she said, to 25 households “which included residents who were homebound or we knew would be alone on Christmas Day.
“It was a great success, bringing some surprised residents to tears and the officers working on the holiday some wonderful feelings of holiday cheer,” she added.
She would like to do the same outreach again in 2024, “and do better with building a list for next year,” Griffith said.
COA member LeReine Frampton said it would be “great to have a running list that we can have it ready when we need it.”
The Senior Center last month launched Java With Jeff, a monthly program that will welcome First Selectman Jeff Capeci.
“It was a time for senior residents to meet with our newly elected First Selectman,” she said. “This is the new version of Donuts with Dan, which we did each month with Dan Rosenthal.
“They talked about a lot, and there were some great questions about his vision for Newtown,” she added. “I think folks got to know him a little bit more personally in this environment of their senior center.”
Care Navigator/Social Worker Alexa Griffin has also been introduced to senior center members, Griffith said.
“She has begun monthly visits to the senior center for ‘Socializing with the Social Worker’ programs,” Griffith said. While many calls for support and resources from senior residents go directly to the Social Services office on Trades Lane, Griffith said requests for assistance also arrive at the senior center.
“We wanted to offer a time for members to have the opportunity to meet with our social worker in their safe and comfortable environment,” she explained. “This month Alexa had the opportunity to meet with several residents, and she looks forward to being back in February.”
Frampton called the offering “a really good” idea.
“When people get to know someone in a casual environment, they’re more likely to call on them in an emergency,” she added.
Griffith also announced she has been asked to join two collaborative community councils, a Community Council with Nuvance and United Way Northern Fairfield Community Council. She had yet to attend her first meeting for either as of that afternoon, but said she looked forward to “sharing more about how these partnerships will benefit our community at our next meeting. Hopefully it will allow us to give Newtown a really strong voice on these community collaborative councils, of what our community really needs and who we are and how we can best partner.”
Griffith thanked Commissioner Michael Stern, who had recommended her for the United Way group.
Stern said he thought having Griffith on the United Way council — of which he has been a member for years, he reminded the group — “would be a really good voice there. Understandably a lot of the focus has been on Danbury. It’s the big community there, but we just haven’t had the input from surrounding towns.”
Gesturing toward Griffith, he said he thought her addition to the council “would be good, both for Newtown and also because it does serve the surrounding towns. We really haven’t had the input from those sources in there.”
Community Conversations, Tax Help
Griffith reminded the commissioners that the Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services State Unit on Aging (SUA) is updating its strategic plan around services for aging people across the state (see related press release, “State Department Of Aging And Disability Services Conducting Community Conversations”). Several community conversations have been scheduled across the state, including one in Danbury and one that will be virtual, she said, sharing copies of the full schedule and details.
Free income tax help has returned for the season, and has moved this year to C.H. Booth Library.
“They have the space available to offer it much more than we can,” she said. “When we had it here we had to cancel programs. They don’t need to do that. Anyone who needs tax help, they can go right to the library.”
Frampton said that may be a better setting, for another reason.
“There, they don’t have to worry about other people overhearing things,” she said. “It’s a little more private there. People might feel a little more comfortable going.”
Griffith introduced a request to purchase an indoor shuffleboard setup.
“We felt like it’s been a while since we approached the COA, asking for money to enhance our beautiful senior center,” she said.
Noting that one of the ongoing goals has been to draw more men to the center, and that two billiards tables and regular games of cards are doing well, a new request was recently raised.
“One suggestion that was brought to us, and we really love, is a shuffleboard table — it’s almost like an air hockey table,” she said, describing the design.
As members looked at illustrations Griffith passed around, she said the measurements of the proposed shuffleboard table would not allow it to be added to the pool room. The new addition will go into the senior center game room, she said.
“We can fit the shuffleboard table and the two card tables in there,” she said. “It would be another place for people to gather. It’s nice and open, people see it walking by, and it should attract a lot of interest.”
Estimates were around $2,600, which Commissioner Pat Bailey felt was “reasonable.”
After Commissioner Judit DeStefano asked about the cost of shipping, LeReine Frampton made a motion to approve up to $3,000 to cover the purchase and shipping of a shuffleboard table. Bill Darrin seconded the motion, which then passed unanimously.
Griffith introduced two grants available for application from the Senior Center/Human Services.
The first is through Western CT Area Agency on Aging (WCAAA), and the second is through AARP.
Griffith said she is already in contact with Friends of Newtown Seniors (FONS) President John Boccuzzi Sr to work on the first application.
“Last year we worked on a grant together and we were awarded the full $5,000 to add some programming to the senior center, so we’re brainstorming some really creative new programming ideas for that,” she said.
“There’s also the AARP grant, which we have all been starting to weigh in on — COA, the Town, FONS,” she continued.
When Vice Chair Bloom asked if Griffith and Darrin being on the council “would knock us out of the running for the United Way Impact Grant,” both responded it would not. Griffith reminded the commission that when John Boccuzzi Sr was a member of the commission, “he would abstain from any related vote.”
Returning to the AARP grant, DeStefano explained that any project covered by the grant would have to be completed by December 15.
“They also don’t want something that will cover a salary,” she added. “It really has to be a project that’s doable, and ends within that time frame.”
Discussion covered adding computer tablets, installing handrails and other safety equipment, and building a garden.
“In looking at past approved projects,” DeStefano said, “they really seem to like gardens.”
With the senior center already slated to have a patio built this year, commissioners liked the idea of adding a garden to that new exterior addition.
“I think there’s a lot of ways to make some neat enhancements,” Griffith said. “We definitely want a partial cover, maybe a privacy barrier with a rock wall or trees or plantings, something that could provide some privacy for others who are out there.
“All of these,” she said, “we could have in place by December. We would have the patio, and these funds would add to it.”
Discussion then moved toward who would write the grant proposal. Bloom, Darrin and Bailey volunteered to be part of the proposal group. The commission agreed to contact and invite Anne Rothstein to join the effort. COA would also invite members of FONS to join the grant writing effort. The grant is due March 6.
“I think this also shows a nice collaborative effort, between the Town and COA and FONS,” Griffith noted.
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