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Recovery And Resiliency Team Bids Newtown Farewell As Grant Funding Ends



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This is the first of a two-part report as Newtown's Recovery and Resiliency Team transitions services to a newly-established municipal Center for Support and Wellness.

Like sand through an upended hourglass, federal funding that helped establish an expert team of professionals operating as the Newtown Recovery and Resiliency Team (RRT) has run out.

So on March 30, the six RRT staffers who for 20 months rendered care and support to just over 900 residents and others immediately affected by the 12/14 tragedy, collectively ended this chapter of their careers - turning over the offices they were occupying at Fairfield Hills to two new town staffers who will be taking over a newly established Center for Support and Wellness.

That office will be managed by Director Jennifer Crane and Corinne Ofgang, who is taking on the role of care navigator. Two additional staffers will likely be added in the coming weeks after the town learned it qualified for a three-year funding grant to create those added posts.

Departing RRT members included project manager Margot Robins; case managers Catherine Gaida LCSW, Suzy DeYoung, MsEd, and Eileen Rondeau, RN; community outreach liaison Melissa Glaser, LPC; and clinical recovery leader Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, LPC. None of those RRT members are transitioning into the new agency.

On one recent morning, Ms Glaser, Ms Del Vecchio-Scully, Ms Gaida and Ms Robins sat down with

The Newtown Bee to look back on their work, challenges, and success.

Among their proudest accomplishments was the opportunity to make so many personal connections, almost every one of which required some type of individualized services or support.

The agency's members also partnered with and collaborated on numerous recovery programs and projects for various groups from the Newtown community directly affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy including many of the school staff, emergency responders, local and state police officers, mental health clinicians, and clergy.

One of the last programs the RRT helped establish involved helping local pediatricians better understand and recognize posttraumatic signs and symptoms in their patients.

"We had great collaboration among local pediatricians," Ms Glaser said. "Their referral assistance has been a valuable link and resource for families in need."

That collaboration also included two sets of grand rounds at Danbury Hospital with members of the Connecticut Children's Health & Development Institute (CHDI), who conducted physician workshops on trauma screening procedures specifically for pediatric patients.

The team also conducted a two-part trauma stewardship series that engaged Sandy Hook School staff, local clinicians, and community members, and was instrumental in engaging peer-to-peer support for local law enforcement through Heart 9/11.

That organization first provided a support network for the hundreds of surviving responders to the 9/11 attacks - counseling shocked, troubled, and traumatized colleagues in police, EMS, and fire services.

"That program has reached 100 percent of the local police officers, as well as some of the emergency communications staff," Ms Glaser said.

"Our staff has also maintained a presence in the community, collaborating with in-school clinicians and support staff to create plans for individual children and families," added Ms Gaida, adding that the team did the same "at St Rose and Newtown's Montessori School."

Drop-Ins Welcome

Working under federal Department of Justice grants the RRT maintained an open door policy, welcoming anyone who came calling with a question, needing a referral, or presenting with any level of post traumatic symptoms.

At the same time, RRT members were in frequent contact with a broad network of regional mental health providers, many of whom were engaging or treating individuals affected by 12/14-related PTSD and other after effects. The team also identified and worked to support and secure referrals for about 175 residents who came to the RRT, who were dealing with issues that may have existed prior to the 12/14 events.

"No matter who came through the door - we chose to assist anyone looking for help," Ms Del Vecchio-Scully said. And no matter who came through the door, most required more than a brief consultation.

"It was rarely a one-and-done situation," Ms Glaser said. "Each case had its own unique and sometimes complex needs."

While many may try to deal with the horror Newtown faced that December morning by trying to forget, Ms Glaser said that the three years since 12/14 are a "blink of an eye" when it comes to the anticipated amount of time it may take someone to recover - if they ever do.

"Just because our funding is ending, the need is still great," Ms Glaser said. To illustrate how fresh the trauma remains in the hearts of many, she said the team had 40 first-time visitors in February, and at least one new client each day up until the team's mid-March interview with

The Bee.

"But we have successfully matched the majority of those individuals with therapeutic services they may have otherwise not been able to access," she added. "And in the occasional cases where the first client/professional referral didn't work out, most of those clients came back - which is evidence of great trust in our agency."

That trust and the positive impact the RRT made was evident in a survey the team did with individuals and families receiving services.

"People overwhelmingly voiced that a local and direct liaison was invaluable to them, with 75 percent of respondents saying their home challenges have become more manageable as a result of our support and programs," Ms Glaser said, following the release of that survey.

Among other results were:

*75 percent of those responding said that RRT-related services have been either helpful or extremely helpful with family relationships;

*70 percent said services helped with relationships among friends;

*85 percent were able to follow through on suggestions made by the team;

*67.4 percent received referrals to individual therapists; and

*Nearly 90 percent said the treatment they received or are receiving is helpful, and to their satisfaction.

Transition Tips, Plans

Prior to their departure, the RRT provided several important points for community members to remember, including emphasis on taking the best care of one's self, and being mindful of creeping depression that may be rooted in post traumatic stress, no matter how long after 12/14 those symptoms may present.

"As children begin to mature, their perspectives begin to change, so it's important that they understand there is no need for shame or guilt if they suddenly find themselves upset or depressed and want to reach out for help," Ms Robins said. "Even if they can't really identify in words exactly how they feel. Don't look at it as some kind of flaw or weakness."

"I know I'm speaking for the team when I say what an honor and privilege it has been to serve the Newtown community and its school staff and responders," Ms Glaser said. "We built a first-of-its-kind model for community recovery we hope can serve others."

As the RRT departs, Newtown's new Department for Support and Wellness will continue to work from the same building at the entrance to Fairfield Hills offices providing personalized services for individual needs, establish connections among mental health providers, and create one single point of entry for services.

At the same time, according to a March 30 release, Ms Crane and Ms Ofgang will continuing the referral and personal assessment services previously provided by the Recovery and Resiliency Team.

"The Recovery and Resiliency Team provided an invaluable service to the community," Ms Crane said. "The Center for Support and Wellness aims to expand and sustain those services to ensure the community continues to be supported with a high level of personalized care. There will not be an interruption of services."

On March 30, First Selectman Pat Llodra reported that the town had qualified for a three-year Victims Of Crimes Act or VOCA grant, which should underwrite two additional staffers or clinicians who will join Ms Crane and Ms Ofgang responding to continuing community needs.

Community members can continue to call 203-270-4612 for referrals, and should continue to contact the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation for payment or reimbursement for health and wellness-related services caused by the tragic events of 12/14.

 and its new social network site on Facebook were still in development at the time of publication.newtowncsw.orgIn the coming weeks, the Center for Support and Wellness will be posting information about current events. The agency's website

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