Gov. Ned Lamont and state officials held a roundtable meeting Oct. 16 with members of the Children’s League of Connecticut (CLOC) to discuss challenges nonprofit service providers face amid COVID-19, followed by a news conference to acknowledge and thank the unsung heroes who work tirelessly to meet the needs of foster children and other young people in other challenging situations.
“I just wanted to be here today to remind you of the incredible work being done by your league … ,” Governor Lamont said in the event at Klingberg Family Centers, a CLOC member. “We need you more than ever, and we need the support more than ever. … We’ve got to make sure that on the backside of this COVID, these kids know that we love them, we’re standing with them, and there’s going to be a better day, and that’s what each and every one of you do.”
NAFI CT Executive Director Lynn Bishop led the roundtable discussion and press conference in her role as President of CLOC, which consists of 11 nonprofit agencies serving 3,000 children on an annual basis in a variety of ways.
“Thank you for supporting our mission, our vision, the direction we want to go, and appreciating the work we do as a nonprofit sector,” she told the Governor.
Watch the Video of the CLOC Press Conference with Governor Lamont
In opening the press conference, Bishop described some of the challenges for foster families and administrators and staff in congregate group homes, who never wavered in their commitment to helping young people 24/7 during the pandemic. “They’ve been the teacher, they’ve been the clinician, they’ve been the foster parent, they’ve been the friend, they’ve been the cook, they’ve done it all,” she said.
State Department of Children and Families Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes elaborated on the challenges, and the inspired response of CLOC members, saying, “Our foster parents are the backbone of a child protective agency. They help provide stability for children, and they’ve now turned into teachers. They help regulate children’s emotions on a regular basis, so when you layer on a pandemic and the uncertainty that adults feel, think about what that must mean for a child. The Children’s League of Connecticut represents agencies across the state that stepped in, and ran into the crisis when everyone was kind of stepping back. … We thank you from the bottom of our hearts because we know that stabilizing the lives of children is going to be what the recovery of Connecticut is going to need on the other side of this.”
Without Dorantes’ advocacy for CLOC members and other nonprofits, Bishop explained, the situation would be far more dire. “She has really been someone we’ve leaned on as a nonprofit sector,” Bishop said, describing weekly check-ins with the Commissioner, who always asked, “How can we support you?”
“I’ve been in NAFI for 25 years. I’ve never felt the public-private partnership as I do now, so I just want to acknowledge you and thank you for that,” Bishop told Dorantes.
The New Britain event also featured Alyssa Goduti, president and CEO of Ädelbrook, and honored Naomi Adams, a shift supervisor at an Ädelbrook congregate care facility for girls.
“Although the state was shut down, we have not been shut down,” Adams said. “We’re there all day, every day. We’re not nurses, we’re not doctors. We were also on the front lines. We have to be mothers, fathers, older sisters, whatever it is they need, because these kids could not go out. We just want to make sure we’re not forgotten. We’re there for our girls 100 percent.”
In an analogy that drew smiles, Adams added of the girls she works with, “They are our future. We are investing in them. We are watering them. They are going to be the seeds of the future. So let’s not forget that and let’s not forget the waterers behind the seeds.”
Merry Cassabria, a foster parent working with Waterford Country School, told the audience, “I’m happy to stand up and help the children who have no one else to help them. There’s a lot of children out there that need a good foster family. They need a bed to sleep in and a good meal on the table.”
The discussion returned to the magnitude of the challenges nonprofits face amid the pandemic when the press asked questions.
Calling funding challenges a systemic issue the COVID crisis exacerbated, Goduti cited staffing and recruiting as issues. Dedicated staff members like Adams “should be compensated at a level that really honors their work and we’re hoping to work in partnership with the legislature and the administration to try to address that moving forward,” Goduti said.
Governor Lamont acknowledged that the roundtable included a discussion of “supplementing the salary of those working extra hard right now,” while noting that the state is funneling some of the $125 million in CARES Act funding to nonprofits. He cautioned, however, that those funds must be expended by the end of the year and don’t represent a prolonged lifeline.
The Governor also said he and Bishop are discussing Shared Work program funding.
Of CLOC’s 11 members, six were able to apply for federal PPP funding based on their size, Bishop explained. As for other resources, she said, “We’re just trying to be creative. What else is out there? What we can tap into? Are there grants? Is there foundation money? What can we use as a collective pull with the eleven of us? … We are concerned with how long this pandemic is going to continue.”
New Britain State Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro also attended the roundtable and press conference, hosted by Steve Girelli, president and CEO of Klingberg Family Centers, Inc.
“The members of CLOC serve such a vital role in our community,” Bizzarro said. “Can we imagine what our communities would be facing if we didn’t have organizations like the members of CLOC.”
The CLOC members are:
- Connecticut Junior Republic (CJR)
- Hartford Health Care – Behavioral Health Network
- Klingberg Family Centers
- North American Family Institute (NAFI)
- The Children’s Center of Hamden
- The Glenholme School – Devereux Connecticut
- Waterford Country School
- The Bridge Family Center
- Community Solutions, Inc. (CSI)
- Justice Resource Institute (JRI)