Carrying the youth services torch

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Volunteers reshaping nonprofit to provide services

Youth and Family Services Advisory Board Chairman Dr. Geoffrey Drawbridge talks to the tri-boards of Finance, Education and Mayor and Burgesses about the agency becoming a nonprofit organization in February. -FILE PHOTO
Youth and Family Services Advisory Board Chairman Dr. Geoffrey Drawbridge talks to the tri-boards of Finance, Education and Mayor and Burgesses about the agency becoming a nonprofit organization in February. -FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — A nonprofit organization is preparing to step up and look out for the borough’s youth.

During its May meeting, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses officially designated Naugatuck Youth Services, Inc. the youth service provider of the borough.

This move was nearly two years in the making. It stems from a long-term strategic plan developed by the West Hartford-based consulting firm Blum, Shapiro & Co. The plan recommended looking into privatizing the borough-run Naugatuck Youth and Family Services.

“When the Blum Shapiro report came out it was fairly obvious we were going to be given two choices. One of them was to become a private agency. The other choice was probably going to be become a part of somebody else. Actually three choices, we might have gone out of existence,” said Naugatuck Youth Services member Geoffrey Drawbridge, who is the current chairman of the Naugatuck Youth and Family Services Bureau Advisory Board.

A nonprofit organization — Friends of Naugatuck Youth and Family Services — already exists to help raise funds for the department. Once the recommendation came down from Blum, Shapiro & Co., members began to reshape the nonprofit into an organization that could succeed Naugatuck Youth and Family Services, Drawbridge said.

“It seemed that that pretty much fit in with what we were told would be a good move by the Blum Shapiro report and the goals of the burgesses,” Drawbridge said. “So we were encouraged by that and moved forward. We took Naugatuck Youth and Family Services and it became a part of Friends of [Naugatuck Youth and Family Services]. We took the name and abbreviated to Naugatuck Youth Services, Inc.”

On paper, this means the borough-run Naugatuck Youth and Family Services ceases to exist July 1, Drawbridge said. The independent, nonprofit Naugatuck Youth Services will then step up to take its place.

However, it is not as simple as it looks on paper.

“In essence we are no longer part of the town, but we are still part of the town. We’re dependent upon the town still,” Drawbridge said.

The nonprofit will still be reliant on the borough to match about $26,000 for a grant from the state Department of Education.

“The town is obligated to match it,” Drawbridge said. “They have been doing it, and they have agreed, at least in principal, to keep doing that.”

Naugatuck Youth Services also requested approximately $30,000 from the borough in the 2014-15 budget for interim support to help get settled. Earlier this year members of Naugatuck Youth Services told the borough that it will also request an additional two years of interim support. Additionally the organization asked the board to rent it the building at 13 Scott St. for $1.

“So when you start thinking about this poor lone agency on its own, we aren’t on our own. We have a lot of support from the town,” Drawbridge said.

Now that officials have made the organization the official youth service provider for the borough, the next step is to prepare to take the reins and ensure a smooth transition in July.

“We’re really behind schedule with coming up with programs. We have to be concerned about who’s going to be running things. We go from an advisory board to a board of directors. The town is being generous in renting the building to us, so we’ve got to come up with business insurance. What’s our telephone number? There are things that happen when you are no longer a town agency that you begin to think about if you’re going to be at all independent,” Drawbridge said.

Drawbridge said the organization will begin to focus more on a variety of programs to offer the youth in the borough.

“If you stop to think about programs that have been run in the past, whether it be a YMCA program or summer program that the Parks and Recreation [Department] ran, if you had the expertise to expand on these or bring them under the same roof, you might be able to do more for more people,” Drawbridge said.

One program he is hoping to bring to the borough is Girls on the Run, which helps promote both confidence and running ability in girls in grades three through eight. The program concludes with a 5K running event.

The organization also wants to team up with the Naugatuck YMCA and the Whittemore Library children’s department to run additional programs.

However, Drawbridge knows the organization needs to start out slow at first.

“We can’t be too ambitious or we’ll be stretched too thin, and we won’t do anything well,” Drawbridge said.

One of the aspects the nonprofit will have to figure out is how much counseling it will be able and willing to offer.

“We’re getting away from the therapy aspect. Where do you draw the line between counseling and therapy? It doesn’t help when you look it up in the dictionary,” Drawbridge said. “The reality of it is we have Waterbury Family Service and we have [Waterbury-based Wellmore, Inc.] who probably see most of the clients that require therapy.”

Drawbridge said the organization hopes to continue to provide counseling to some of its patrons, including those who are part of the Juvenile Review Board. However, the amount of counseling the organization will be able to offer will be based on the type of director it can attract.

“How much of that we’ll be able to continue will depend on the level of expertise, whether a new director would have a master’s degree, what their training would be in therapy,” Drawbridge said.

Christina Gamble, the current acting director of Naugatuck Youth and Family Services, was offered a retirement package by the borough earlier this month.

Drawbridge said the organization has not ruled out hiring Gamble as its director.

“We put out a job description of the person we want, and she’s going to be able to apply for the position, as would anybody else,” Drawbridge said.

Drawbridge knows that the organization will be able to fill the shoes left by its predecessor, but is aware that actions speak louder than words.

“The proof in the pudding will probably be the next two or three years. We’ll show the town we can do that,” Drawbridge said.

1 COMMENT

  1. What’s the upside of this move? The town terminates its support of social services and access to low-cost therapy options, but promises enduring financial support to a “Youth Services Agency”? Sure the town won’t shell out the full $175,000 previously committed to the agency, but it’ll encourage “private agency” consumption of state and federal grants to make up for its lack of support? This kind of short-term, short-sighted thinking hurts the common taxpayer in two ways. The low-income taxpayer now has to go elsewhere and pay a premium for needed critical services (mental health counseling, family therapy) and gets a service already duplicated in the community? How does that make sense? High schools, middle schools, YMCA’s, churches, and other private and charitable orgs already cover this niche Youth arena. Seems like the town just completely missed the boat on the lessons of the importance of “Mental Health” issues in our state. Newtown anybody?… Why isn’t the town supporting a marriage of mental health and youth services under the same Non-profit umbrella? That seems like it could make some sense.