Creating a Comprehensive Support Net
By Wiley Wood
The village green in Norfolk, shaded by trees, its grass well tended, is a gracious space. Yet recent economic data puts the town’s poverty level at nearly 10 percent.
Responding to this, a group of town leaders gathered at Battell Chapel recently, forming a loose coalition known as Norfolk NET, to discuss the resources available to those in need and how to steer them into the right hands.
High in priority, according to Erick Olsen, pastor of the Church of Christ, is to compile an “asset map” that would consolidate knowledge of what’s available in the community.
The Selectmen’s Office at Town Hall can provide help in paying electric and fuel oil bills, buying prescriptions and meeting the rent. The town’s two major churches both give out Stop and Shop cards, moving assistance and gas money. And a variety of other organizations offer a further array of programs and services.
The group’s core members—Olsen, Iain Highet, minister of the Immaculate Conception Church, and Sue Dyer, Norfolk’s first selectman—invited representatives of a number of nonprofits to join them at Norfolk NET’s early meetings (the initials stand for “Networking Everyone Together”).
“We want to bring together as many organizations as possible,” says Olsen, “and create a comprehensive support net in the community.”
Among those in attendance were Mary Beth Iacobelli, Norfolk’s superintendent of schools; Catie Dougan, of the National Iron Bank; Julie Scharnberg, of the Northwestern Connecticut Community Foundation; Jennifer Crine, of Norfolk Connecticut Children’s Foundation; Kate Johnson, of the Foundation for Norfolk Living; and Dawn Whalen, of the Norfolk Foundation.
Erick Olsen is animated by a strong sense of Norfolk’s disparities. “There are people in town who can write a check for $5,000 at the drop of a hat,” says Olsen, “and there are others living only yards away trying to decide between paying for medicine and buying sneakers for their kids.”
His experience running the food bank and clothes closet for the Church of Christ is that need in the area is very real. “Once word gets out that we provide help,” he says, “people come.”
For the moment, Olsen is happy to serve as a broker, with Iain Highet and Sue Dyer, between those needing resources and those able to provide them. If the circumstances merit it and funds are available, he would like to see Norfolk NET hire a part-time coordinator, perhaps with a background in social services, to be the group’s point person.
“People walk up to me all the time and ask ‘How can I help?’” says Olsen. Norfolk NET is intended to provide that opportunity.