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Local Agencies Ready To Support Anxious Residents



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With Governor Ned Lamont’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” initiative less than 24-hours old, and the growing likelihood that schools and many businesses could be shuttered or downsized for some time to come, a number of local support agencies told The Newtown Bee March 24 that they were preparing to support residents experiencing heightened anxiety.

One day earlier, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal informed municipal employees that a number of them should be prepared to pivot from their current duties to assist Newtown’s Human Services agency and its Director Natalie Jackson if — and more certainly when — public demand for support services surges.

At the same time, other local nonprofits, including the Resiliency Center of Newtown (RCN), Newtown Youth & Family Services (NYFS), and the Newtown Parent Connection (NPC) were already positioning themselves to help mitigate any stress that begins bubbling up in local households.

“Right now we’re just monitoring any calls to determine what the needs are,” Jackson said mid-morning on Tuesday. “As for now, we’re in a good place with the team we have able to cover everything coming in.”

But Jackson said she is striving to be increasingly thoughtful about what it could look like as issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic increase, acknowledging the first selectman has committed additional support if her agency needs more administrative assistance. Jackson said any calls coming in are routine.

“So far, the calls coming in are typical of what we get,” Jackson said. “There’s just a slight uptick in calls related to the virus, mainly from those who have been laid off who are trying to figure out what resources are out there. There have been some emergency needs we’ve been able to help with, as well, like with food and fuel assistance.”

The Human Resources director recognizes that every call for assistance is individual and unique, “so we’re handling every call coming into our office on a case-by-case basis.

“We want folks getting in touch with us so we know what’s going on, and we can figure out the best community or regional partners to connect them to that will be most helpful and appropriate,” she said.

“When it comes to the mental health piece, we’ve always played a big role in helping folks access the right providers. That is continuing, although the call load is a bit heavier,” she said.

Partnering With NYFS

Among Jackson’s most responsive community partners is Newtown Youth & Family Services.

“They have been very proactive with us about how they can be a resource,” Jackson said. She is also in the process of scheduling a meeting with local school counselors to look at how they and the Human Services agency can collaborate to better serve Newtown’s younger population.

“The key message is reach out to us,” she added. “We are continuing to respond when calls for help come in. We don’t want somebody sitting there struggling with things and trying to navigate this situation without support — that’s what we’re here for.”

Jackson said her agency is already receiving referrals through 2-1-1 Infoline, the state’s clearinghouse number for things like crisis support. As supervisor of the town’s Senior Center, Jackson said she is always concerned if there are local seniors who are isolated, or do not have a strong local social support system or family.

“People are reaching out for some basic necessities. So we’re working with the FAITH Food Pantry and other organizations to ensure those more isolated folks are getting what they need,” she said.

At NYFS, Executive Director Candice Bohr said the agency is fielding calls at their office, and is offering her agency’s clinicians and those taking calls a few talking points about things like “how to deal with social media, keeping a routine, and talking to your kids about what’s going on.”

Bohr said up until Tuesday morning, NYFS is not seeing any measurable call volume increase, and that may be because the agency began preparing clients for possible dire or fast-moving developments as the coronavirus situation just started becoming more dire “a few weeks ago.”

“We helped them with coping mechanisms and made sure they knew if they were beginning to experience heightened anxiety, that it was normal, and we helped them learn things they could do as time progressed,” Bohr said. “We have about 400 clients, and we have not seen any new requests for service coming in from the [general population] or our clients.”

Bohr said NYFS is currently working with several other regional youth agencies to establish telehealth networks, if needed in the future.

“It’s a good alternative if people are unable to come in,” she said. In the meantime, Bohr encourages residents to minimize stressors that often come when they see posts on various social networks.

“Take social media with a grain of salt or avoid all together,” Bohr said. “Many parents are posting Pinterest perfect lessons; do what is best for you and your children. Don’t compare yourself to others.”

She also suggests families keep a routine.

“Get up, eat breakfast, get dressed, pack your lunch as you would normally do,” she said. “Create zones in your house — office space, school space.”

And when it comes to feelings of anxiety that begin creeping in, Bohr said, “Your feelings are normal, everyone will be experiencing things differently; that is okay.”

Bohr is also recommending residents with children at home consult https://childmind.org/coping-during-covid-19-resources-for-parents/.

NPC And RCN Responds

NPC Founder Dorrie Carolan said she is inviting residents and constituents to a scheduled virtual Zoom meeting for the agency’s Hope & Support Group.

“We realize that within this rapidly changing environment, it is normal for us to find ourselves dealing with additional fear and anxiety which seem to be exacerbated by the amount of uncertainties we now face on a daily basis,” she said of those either struggling with substance abuse or the challenge of staying clean.

To those family members involved, Carolan said, “Our normal life of worries for our loved one who is actively using or in recovery has now been intensified by our new ‘norm.’ As many of us are now isolated, it becomes vital for us to stay connected as a community in a manner which is safe and risk free.”

To that end, the Parent Connection is going to begin offering virtual Hope & Support meetings each Thursday, from 7 to 8 pm.

In addition, she is inviting anyone who may need her agency’s support to contact her “at any time to discuss any concerns or fears you may have.”

“Please reach out and say ‘hi’ if you are feeling secluded or alone... I’d love to hear from you,” Carolan said, adding that NPC facilitators “are all here for you.”

Those who prefer can e-mail concerns or questions to dorrie@newtownparentconnection.org.

Anyone wishing to attend the NPC Zoom meetings is encouraged to do so using the Zoom mobile app, or by visiting the NPC meeting site on the web and use meeting ID: 430 292 386, and the password: 329426. The same ID and password can be used in the mobile app.

Carolan suggested practicing or preloading the meeting ID and password to help expedite access when the meetings convene.

The Resiliency Center is also remaining operational with as little impact to its mission, staff, clients, and community as possible said Beth Hegarty, MBA NRC’s Client Relations & Administrative Support Specialist.

She said effective immediately, RCN is closed to any individuals who are not staff. However, the agency’s therapists will be offering online sessions to their clients.

“We want to reassure you that we are here for you to talk about your concerns, and we want to encourage you to take advantage of our online sessions options,” Hegarty said.

Newtown Human Services Director Natalie Jackson said she is striving to be increasingly thoughtful about what her agency’s response will be as anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic increases, acknowledging that First Selectman Dan Rosenthal has committed additional support if her agency needs more administrative assistance. A number of other Newtown support nonprofits are stepping up preparedness, as well. —Bee file photo
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