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Following a brief public forum that drew a handful of residents to the Municipal Center April 11, members of a task force working to help the Newtown Center for Support and Wellness (CSW) develop a strategic plan for its “Healthy Community” initiative drafted several prospective mission statements.
The next step, according to CSW Director Jennifer Crane, is to circulate those draft statements to members of the task force who were not in attendance April 11, as well as a focus group of ten Newtown High School students who are participating in the effort.
Ms Crane is also interested in hearing from members of the community who may not have had the opportunity to attend a pair of public forums held this week. She is asking community members to endorse one of the suggested mission statements, or to offer any ideas modifying or combining one or more of the draft statements.
Following approximately an hour of discussion, task force participants offered the following options:
Option 1: Healthy Community: A community where healthy choices are encouraged through the promotion of physical, emotional, and social resources
Option 2: Health Community: A place where all residents have access to physical, emotional, and social resources
Option 3: Newtown is dedicated to supporting physical, emotional, and social well-being for every community member.
Ms Crane said residents may also encounter one or more representatives of the CSW and its task force around town in the coming weeks.
“We will be out in the community and publicizing an opinion survey to gather public opinion on a healthy community before we conclude this step in the process,” she told The Newtown Bee following the April 11 meeting. “Gathering as many diverse opinions as possible is essential to having a definition the community and community partners can buy into.”
She said creating a brief and cohesive mission statement for a “Healthy Community” is an important part of developing the CSW’s overall strategic plan.
“Our first goal in the strategic plan is to lead the town in the collaborative development and implementation of a long-term plan for a healthy community,” she said.
To move forward successfully, Ms Crane said it is important for the task force and community members to share a common understanding of what community health means.
“It’s our hope that the creation of this working definition or common understanding of community health will be a foundation to identify and fill behavioral health services, collaborate on services and programs, advocate for the town, and ideally open a pathway for other town entities and organizations to begin to see how their areas support a healthy community.”
Among the attendees at the April 11 public forum was Ned Simpson, who said he has only resided in Newtown for seven months. His wife, Katherine, joined him along with residents Nancy Doniger, John Boccuzzi, and Anna Wiedemann, who chairs the Newtown Commission on Aging.
Ms Doniger, a retired journalist and editor, said she was drawn to the forum because she believes there are a lot of people in Newtown and elsewhere who are looking for ways to get along better. That comment was reflected by Ms Wiedemann, who said she wants to help restore the spirit that spawned the community credo “Nicer In Newtown.”
Responding to a question about how to help make Newtown a healthier community, Ms Doniger suggested providing more opportunities for people across multiple age and economic demographics to come together.
Ms Simpson added that she would like to see gathering opportunities that showcased the ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity of town residents.
Paraphrasing something he heard from Newtown Congregational Church’s Reverend Matt Crebbin, Mr Simpson said the effort should reject the concept of “We’ve always done it this way,” in exchange for welcoming new ideas and voices to the effort of promoting community health.
Ms Crane told the group that during a high school focus group, she learned that students involved were eager to share experiences with neighbors from both younger and older age groups.
Ms Doniger suggested that a lot of people might be getting burned out on the onslaught of data they are faced with every day, saying, “We are missing out on some of the qualitative information,” if residents are continuously barraged with quantitative information.
Ms Wiedemann said that many local groups hold events that tend to draw from the same pool of individuals, and she is concerned that those who might benefit most from activities like addiction prevention talks are not aware they are happening, and if they are, they are not attending.
Ms Simpson said when she looks at Google images of Newtown, she sees too many houses for sale and pictures related to the 12/14 tragedy, and not enough images showcasing all the other community activities that make the town so special, like the annual Halloween and Labor Day Parade events that draw thousands of residents and visitors together on Main Street.
Mr Boccuzzi said another key component to a healthy community is affordability.
“You want a community that someone can afford to stay in for life,” he said. Ms Simpson said that connectability is also important, suggesting that the town could use more sidewalks and trail systems.
“We’ve got some great trails here in Newtown, but I can’t use them to get to the grocery store,” she said.
Ms Doniger noted that today, the gathering of dozens or hundreds of people at Fairfield Hills on the weekends bodes well for residents who crave opportunities to socialize with local neighbors.
“People like a place to come together,” she said. “Main Street on Labor Day just isn’t enough.”
Touting The Bee
Mr Boccuzzi, Ms Doniger, and Ms Wiedemann all stressed the importance of The Newtown Bee in their remarks, saying that the newspaper represented an important resource.
“I’m surprised it’s not in every home,” Mr Boccuzzi said.
“The town needs to support it or one of these days it’s going to be gone,” Ms Doniger said.
Even Ms Crane said when polling local high school students on where they get information on things going on in town, a number of them replied they look it up in the local newspaper.
On behalf of her staff and the task force, Ms Crane extended gratitude to all community members who have contributed so far — and those who will be involved by filling out the planned survey, or commenting on the mission statement drafts.
The CSW’s work producing a strategic plan supporting a healthy community began by organizing the task force, a consortium of local officials, town staffers, residents, and others charged with defining what a healthy community is through a behavioral health lens.
Creating this definition is the first step in the implementation of a long-term plan for a healthy community, Ms Crane said. This defining of a healthy community will help to set the course for the predictors of behavioral health in Newtown and assist in reporting gaps and successes.
Residents, town officials, and representatives of various local agencies and nonprofits participating in the Healthy Community forums and task force include: Amy Mangold, Ann Lobosco, Ms Wiedemann, Alex Lunding, Bret Nichols, Candice Bohr, Police Chief James Viadero and Captain Chris Vanghele, Dave Jacob, Desiree Lee, Donna Culbert, Dorrie Carolan, Dr Della Schmidt, Dr Lorrie Rodrigue, Dr Laura Nowacki, Jennifer Barahona, Jessica Ward, Jill Pluta, Mr Boccuzzi, Katherine Simpson, Katie Nash, Kristen Larson, Marilyn Place, Rev Crebbin, Melanie Bonjour, Mary Neilsen, Ms Doniger, the Simpsons, Stephanie Cinque, Tricia Pinto, Barbara Bloom, Corinne Ofgang, and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal.
The NHS students working on the effort are: Marlena Young, Madison Ziperstein, Elizabeth Salley, Jenny Wadhwa, Paul Samberg, Maya Wadhwa, Colby Troy, and Karsen Miller.
The task force has decided to forgo holding a public meeting on Tuesday, April 17, and instead will meet one week later on April 24, at 9:30 am, in the Council Chambers at the Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street.