Borough using grant money to help elderly
NAUGATUCK — The tri-fold letter curls up on Ed Carter’s desk, as if mimicking the felines about which it is written. Carter, Naugatuck’s mayoral aide, receives many requests for borough assistance—his phone has rung almost continuously since the April 15 apartment fire on Cherry Street—but the one before him now is enrapturing.
“This one, it struck me,” Carter says. “When I first got it, I’m like, ‘What is this nuts?’ Then I started thinking, ‘Boy, this is what it’s meant for, the person who lives alone.’”
The author, the person who lives alone, is a woman in her mid-70s. Her companions are two cats.
“They’re my light,” she writes. “I don’t have any family. I talk to them—I’m not nuts—but I talk to them, and I swear they understand me. But it’s time for their shots, and I didn’t get an increase in social security.
“I am not lonely or get depressed. I talk to them, and I think they understand me. I don’t know if you’ll allow money for this but if you can.”
It’s clear Carter has been pondering this plea for a while; he says he’ll consult Mayor Bob Mezzo and Controller Wayne McAllister before making a decision.
Carter is charged with distributing $7,600, which Naugatuck received recently from the Connecticut Community Foundation, as part of the new Elderly Concerned Assistance Program. It’s a rare, non-earmarked pool of money that allows local officials tremendous discretion about its use. The only rules are recipients must live in Naugatuck and must be at least 65 years old.
“They really didn’t give me [guidelines],” Carter says. “They said it’s to help. I said, ‘I can help with yardwork? I can help with medicine?’ ‘Yeah, if you have an elderly person that’s in need of something, this is meant to just make life a little bit simpler.’”
The money came from the 2007 sale of East Hill Woods, a non-profit retirement community in Southbury, to the for-profit Watermark at East Hill. With the $9.2 million it earned from that transaction, East Hill Woods established last November a fund at the Connecticut Community Foundation. According to CCF Assistant CEO Carol O’Donnell, the fund—the foundation’s largest—will generate about $300,000 worth of grants every year.
The purposes of those grants, however, remain undetermined. Neither CCF nor the East Hill Woods Advisory Committee wants the fund to merely replicate an existing program.
“We have already undertaken quite a bit of research,” O’Donnell says. “We are in the process of conducting stakeholder interviews with providers of senior services in our area to understand what the needs are, what is already being done, what the resources are.”
She adds CCF plans to hold a series of focus groups, throughout May and June, with residents, senior service providers and community leaders of the foundation’s 21-town region to help establish grant priorities for the future.
In the meantime, East Hill Woods and the Connecticut Community Foundation authorized the temporary, open-ended Elderly Concerned Assistance Program.
“The East Hill Woods Advisory Committee, while they were going through this process, felt it was important to get funding out into the community to assist needy seniors [right away],” O’Donnell says. “So they awarded $100,000 across our 21 towns.”
Each municipality received money, according to its population, percentage of senior citizens participating in food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs, and percentage of senior citizens older than 80, since that population tends to be the neediest, O’Donnell says.
So with Naugatuck’s $7,600 share to dispense by Sept. 15, Carter solicited the help of the senior center’s gregarious director, Harvey Leon Frydman.
“We’ve helped a lot of people the last few weeks,” Frydman says. “I’ve been going to different groups in town for seniors saying, ‘This is available. We can help you buy a pair of eyeglasses, help you with a dripping faucet, if you need some plumbing in your house.’”
ECAP paid for a man’s first eye examination in 17 years, new lenses for one of Carter’s childhood neighbors, a portion of the cost to remove a tree looming over a woman’s house. Seniors submit applications to Carter and, in general, front the money for a service then receive full or partial reimbursement. But the program’s flexibility has allowed Carter to provide money right away, when appropriate.
“Some of the people that are calling, they don’t have any money to prepay,” he explains. “So what I’ll do is I’ll say to somebody, ‘Why don’t you contact the plumber, get an idea of what it’s gonna cost?’ We generally average anywhere from $250-300, helping out each person.”
At that rate, ECAP could benefit about 30 people.
Carter can’t approve every request, of course—some, for instance, he’s passed along to the Elks’ Senior Home Work Project or another service organization—which is why these cats and their shots are such a conundrum.
“You know what,” he says, “to that woman, she’s probably thinking of that every day: ‘I’ve got to get shots for my two cats, who are 10 and 11 years old, and they mean that much to me.’ And is she giving up something else to pay for it?”
The more Carter considers, the more he leans toward cutting a check.
“I don’t know whether this is something we could do, for shots or something, but you know, in essence, this means a lot to this woman,” he reasons. “And it may be what actually is keeping her going. It could be the medicine she needs. Not everything, I guess, is a pill.”
For more information about the Elderly Concerned Assistance Program, call Mayoral Aide Ed Carter at 720-7208.