Local agencies thank town for block grant money

There was something unusual about the meeting that took place Monday night at Town Hall and Carol Burns, head of Greenwich Adult Day Care, was able to identify it when she took her turn at the podium.

“This is the best meeting,” Ms. Burns said. “Everyone is happy and saying thank you. It’s so much different than usual town meetings.”

Ms. Burns was one of many on hand on Monday for a public hearing on proposed funding for local social service agencies for the 2014 program year through the federally funded Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) program. That program allows for federal funds to be distributed locally, and for 2014 there are 680,000 in projected dollars going out to various Greenwich non-profits as well as nearby programs that serve Greenwich residents.

The allocations were made by the town’s Community Development Advisory Committee, a group of 30 town residents including members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and the town’s Board of Social Services. First Selectman Peter Tesei chaired Monday’s hearings and it will be up to him which of the committee’s recommendations will go forward. But while he can overrule the committee, he noted he was not likely to do so.

“This is my sixth year serving in this capacity and I believe I’ve only made allocation changes one out those five previous years,” Mr. Tesei said. “That’s not a precursor of things to come, but do know we value the input we receive at these hearings and we value what the committee does.”

Mr. Tesei added that he agreed with Ms. Burns’ sentiments as she thanked the town for $5,000 to help keep a nurse and health aides on staff.

“Believe me, I enjoy this too,” he said with a laugh.

At Monday’s hearing, the discussion was centered around representatives of the groups slated to receive CDGB funds thanking the committee for their support. In addition to Ms. Burns, many others spoke directly to Mr. Tesei and Princess Erfe, the town’s community development adviser, to say how much the money will mean to their organizations.

Greenwich resident David Rabin spoke in favor of the $90,000 allocated to help renovate the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center (BANC).

“This is going to help the neediest children in Byram,” Mr. Rabin said. “We’re going to be able to refurbish that tired old building. I don’t know if you’ve seen it lately, but it needs some work and we’re going to be able to do that now.”

Mr. Tesei said he was glad to see this work going forward and related it to the ongoing discussions the town’s Board of Education is having with the state about the two schools in western Greenwich, New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue School, being out of racial balance. Mr. Tesei said he had spoken to members of the state Board of Education about this and offered to take them on a tour of Greenwich to see the impacted areas. He thanked those speaking on behalf of BANC and said it was “because of you, we’re able to do this.”

“When we’re talking about issues of educational enrollment and capacity and perhaps relocating students we need to illustrate the point that within the Byram community we not only have a very vibrant elementary school, we have a very vibrant public library adjacent to it and the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center that we went through great efforts to license and indoctrinate new programs at to support the student population,” Mr. Tesei said. “As we think about what’s being asked of us or imposed upon us, what’s missing is an understanding of community and what’s provided for in that community. BANC is an integral part of it and I know many people have worked hard to see it continue to thrive and adapt to the changing demographic.”

Dan Fitzgerald appeared on behalf of Meals on Wheels of Greenwich to thank the committee for $5,000 that had been set aside.

“We appreciate your continued support and your support this year as we undergo a special effort to get to know our clients better and get to know their needs in case we have another major emergency like Hurricane Sandy,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “We serve elderly and infirm Greenwich residents who are unable to cook or grocery shop by delivering nutritious meals directly to their door. In addition to meal delivery our volunteers provide personal contact to these people that may be their only personal contact during the day.”

Mr. Tesei added his personal support for the program, noting a visit he took earlier this year with Meels on Wheels volunteers to a client’s house right near Town Hall.

“It was an eye-opening experience to see the interaction but to illustrate the point you made about checking on the welfare of residents,” Mr. Tesei said. “I was very impressed with the level of service.”

Further appropriations are being recommended like $16,000 to purchase a new handicapped accessible vehicle for the Transportation Association of Greenwich, $10,000 for domestic abuse services crisis intervention at the YMCA of Greenwich, $10,000 for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, $10,000 for the Kids in Crisis teen talk program at Western Middle School, and allocations of $101,079 and $50,000 to the town’s Housing Authority for a kitchen renovation at Adams Garden and an emergency call system upgrade at Parsonage Cottage.

Anthony Johnson, head of the Greenwich Housing Authority, said this would help low income families and the elderly and would pay off as investments because it allows them to reduce operating costs. Another group looking to make an investment is Abilis, which serves adults with developmental disabilities. There is proposed funding for $30,000 for an emergency generator at its 50 Glenville Street facility to allow it to serve as a shelter during a power outage, but more help is needed.

“If there is anyone out there in the community who wants to make a direct impact in support of a vulnerable population as it relates to emergency preparedness, this is how they can help,” Mr. Tesei said. “This can benefit our town as a resource for those who are disabled and need a specialized environment in which to seek shelter with licensed and trained people they are comfortable with. Having the funds to put a generator there will truly enhance the town of Greenwich’s overall resiliency.”

Jay Boll, executive director and vice president of Laurel House, a Stamford non-profit that provides resources and opportunities for people with mental illnesses, read a letter from Linda Autore, the president and CEO, thanking the committee for $17,220 that will help with bathroom renovations at their housing facility.

“With your grant funding over the last three years we have been able to accomplish the most critical renovation needs for our resource center,” Ms. Autore wrote. “With this year’s grant request, we shifted our focus to our housing and residential program… This will allow us to renovate three deteriorated bathrooms serving nine housing and residential clients. These new shower stalls will promote client safety and hygiene and will minimize maintenance costs going forward.”

There is also $40,000 for the Stamford-based Shelter for the Homeless and Jerome Roberts stressed that despite this being out of town, it is a help to the Greenwich community. Mr. Tesei said what the shelter does is “an essential service for all humanity.”

“The money we get from this town is vital to continue our services,” Mr. Roberts said. “Every year since I’ve been here, Greenwich has been on board with us. We know we’re not located here but we definitely serve Greenwich folks… With these funds we are able to keep our doors open.”

The $680,000 in allocations put forth by the committee came after more than $1.6 million in requests, causing Mr. Tesei to wish that “money did grow on trees” so it could all be funded. And even the money that is pledged is not guaranteed yet. The allocations are made based on projections from Ms. Erfe on how much in CDBG funds the town will receive, but with sequestration cuts threatening to hit these kinds of social services spending by the federal government, the money is not guaranteed.

At Monday’s hearing, Mr. Tesei again stressed his support for the program and his hope that the funding would come through while acknowledging that he believed it would either remain flat or be cut.

“I think this is an example of public/private partnerships that works exceedingly well,” Mr. Tesei said about the CDBG program.


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