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Interfaith Council Exploring Ways To Further Support Residents



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Newtown Interfaith Council (NIC) spoke with special guest Director of Human Services Natalie Griffith to discuss issues in the community and ways they could potentially help at its Tuesday, April 30, meeting at Trinity Episcopal Church.

The discussion came after Newtown Congregational Church Lead Pastor Matt Crebbin and Love Has a Home Here Founder Bill Donaldson talked about wanting to do some kind of “larger interfaith activity” during the previous NIC meeting. To that end, Crebbin said he would reach out to Social Services and see if anyone was interested in coming to one of their meetings and touch on issues present in the community.

Griffith was happy to attend and kicked off the meeting by giving a history of how her department came together. She passed out flyers detailing who current Human Services employees are, what they do, and how they work to get those who might need help to actually reach out.

“We really try to be an initial access point for resources, programs, and information, between emergency housing support and emergency fuel needs to longer-term support regarding mental health, food assistance, and more,” Griffith said.

Griffith continued that while Human Services works hard to create diverse programming at Newtown Senior Center and engage the elderly community, they know the building is not for everyone and that there are seniors who prefer to not go there.

“We know the folks engaged in the Senior Center and what their needs are, but it’s constantly, ‘How do we stay engaged with our senior community beyond that?’ and I think through the churches is a big piece of that,” Griffith said.

When asked if Human Services has seen an uptick in certain identifiable needs in the community, Griffith noted that transportation, housing, and lack of downsizing options are all areas of concern.

Concerning transportation, she said Human Services tries to connect those who experience transportation challenges such as seniors and disabled residents to ride services like Newtown Rides, Be Driven, and SweetHART Dial-a-Ride. An increase in demand since COVID means that there is greater strain on these services, she cautioned.

Griffith said her department applied for transportation grants to help resolve some of the stress they face having their resources spread out.

Other issues, such as affordable housing, Griffith said there were not really great solutions for. She said it is apparent across people of all ages, and that Human Services has seen an increase of those who cannot meet their housing cost but make too much money to be considered ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

“Now they’re stretched to the point they’re not okay,” Griffith said. “We have people calling needing assistance with a gas fill-up so they can get to work because they’re that tight when they weren’t tight before.”

Donaldson brought up Sticks and Stones Farm, which is home to his interfaith/interspiritual organization. He said it might be a nice place for seniors to take a trip to since it is physically accessible while being surrounded by nature. The property, he said, is pretty flat, which makes it easy to move around in, and has several walking trails.

Griffith thought the location sounded great, believing that it would be nice to set up a trip for seniors to go over there sometime and act as an avenue for seniors to walk around and stay connected to the community.

Crebbin and Donaldson also brought up doing some sort of rotational event at Newtown Community Center. Specifically, Crebbin brainstormed a potential series on different religions, with different members of the interfaith council leading and helping people understand more about different religions.

“Maybe it could be a series or just a one time thing, but you know, we want to find ways where we can get folks who wouldn’t otherwise come together to talk to one another and feel closer to their community,” Crebbin said.

Reporter Jenna Visca can be reached at jenna@thebee.com.

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