Kelly’s Kids among grant recipients

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BY ANDREAS YILMA
CITIZENS NEWS
PROSPECT – Kelly’s Kids, a nonprofit that uses animal therapy to help children with disabilities reach their potential, has received a $50,000 state grant toward its summer camp programs.

The Prospect-based organization was among several grant recipients including one in the borough as part of a two-year, $2 million program to support the delivery of mental health programming for students during the summer months.

Gov. Ned Lamont Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker announced on June 27 the release of more than $2 million in grants for 36 school districts and summer camp programs across.

Some of them receiving the grant funding include Greater Waterbury YMCA for $21,521; Waterbury public schools with $85,000; Naugatuck YMCA for $85,000; Northwest CT YMCA in Torrington, with $19,380 and Torrington public schools for $85,000 according to a news release from the governor’s office.

This competitive grant program uses funding the state received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. This is the third of three rounds of grants the department has issued with ARPA funding that are aimed to increase access to mental health support services for state’s youths. Eligible costs incurred beginning in summer 2024 through summer 2025 are reimbursable under this grant program, the release states.

“The need for mental health services for our youth continues year-round, and by enhancing existing programs and creating new initiatives tailored to their needs, we are investing in the future success and well-being of Connecticut’s youth,” Lamont said in the news release.

“The collaboration between school districts, summer camps, and mental health professionals is key to this effort, ensuring that our students receive the necessary support during these critical periods.”

Kelly’s Kids Director Kelly Cronin said the funds will be used to help train staff members in how to effectively work with kids who may struggle in more traditional settings.

“We were thrilled to get it,” Cronin said. “We do a lot of outside work with the kids. It’s a farm life. They have chores they have to do and it really brings out the best in them because they actually feel needed. … If you feel needed, you feel a sense of purpose.”

Kelly’s Kids suffered a ban fire in February of 2023 which caused to the nonprofit to loose nearly 60 farm animals. A GoFundMe page raised over $100,000 in the wake of the fire where they used some of the money for the shed and some of the animals.

Naugatuck YMCA CEO Mark LaFortune said that YMCA officials know that since the pandemic, when it comes to the youth, Y workers are seeing a lot more instances of mental health issues.

The borough Y looks to partner with Naugatuck Police social worker Sheri Hatfield and potentially partner with Stokes Counseling, Youth Services and the school district, LaFortune said.

“Figuring out what is the biggest need in our community to try to stay ahead of those trends and try to ensure we can create an environment that’s inclusive for everybody,” LaFortune said.

The Y also plans to work with April Vaughn of the borough school district.

LaFortune said one of the Y’s goals is to bring in others to train the staff to understand the mental needs and identify potential triggers, and what to look for and how to work through situations. Part of the plan includes the Y working with Naugatuck School District Special Services Secretary April Vaughn to work on getting the Y staff certified through the National Mental Health Institute.