Sup­port­ing most vul­ner­a­ble neigh­bors

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - OPINION - ALMA RUT­GERS Alma Rut­gers served in Green­wich town gov­ern­ment for 25 years. Her blog is at blog.ct­news.com/rut­gers/

Giv­ing Tues­day.

A zil­lion email so­lic­i­ta­tions greeted us Tues­day morn­ing, con­tin­u­ing all day for good causes: end­ing hunger and home­less­ness, men­tal health re­cov­ery, med­i­cal re­search, needy chil­dren, se­nior sup­port ser­vices, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, clean en­ergy, gun safety, refugee re­set­tle­ment, re­sist­ing big­otry, sup­port for abuse vic­tims, up­hold­ing civil lib­er­ties, pro­tect­ing demo­cratic val­ues, and ad­vo­cat­ing for hu­man rights.

Th­ese are among the many causes we’ve been called upon to sup­port this week. Tis’ the season, the giv­ing pe­riod that tra­di­tion­ally be­gins with Thanks­giv­ing and lasts through­out De­cem­ber.

Giv­ing Tues­day, the first Tues­day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing, was launched in 2012. Orig­i­nat­ing with the Belfer Cen­ter for In­no­va­tion & So­cial Im­pact at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, it has be­come a global move­ment that pro­motes phi­lan­thropy and kicks off this char­i­ta­ble season.

Th­ese phil­an­thropic re­quests heighten our aware­ness of the many peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions en­gaged in the work of mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. They in­crease our sen­si­tiv­ity to the im­por­tance of this work. They re­mind us that we are re­spon­si­ble to one an­other and our shared planet.

As in­di­vid­u­als with lim­ited re­sources, how­ever, we must con­sider our pri­or­i­ties and per­sonal cri­te­ria for char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. One con­sid­er­a­tion for lo­cal giv­ing might be that nearly one-third of the Green­wich pop­u­la­tion strug­gles to make ends meet.

Six per­cent of Green­wich res­i­dents live be­low the fed­eral poverty level (an­nual in­come of $25,000 for a fam­ily of four). An­other 21 per­cent, while above the poverty level, fall into the ALICE cat­e­gory, iden­ti­fied by the Green­wich United Way (As­set Lim­ited, In­come Con­strained, Em­ployed). Th­ese fam­i­lies are in per­pet­ual fi­nan­cial strug­gle, barely able to af­ford ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties. They live one pay­check away from dev­as­ta­tion.

One or­ga­ni­za­tion with ex­clu­sive fo­cus on ser­vices to eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged Green­wich res­i­dents is Com­mu­nity Cen­ters, Inc. (CCI). Full dis­clo­sure: I am the new CCI board pres­i­dent, suc­ceed­ing Carol Mem­ishian who was pres­i­dent for 10 years.

CCI has been part of the Green­wich land­scape for nearly 65 years. But chances are you’ve passed 61 East Put­nam Ave. count­less times with­out notic­ing the white clap­board house tucked away be­tween Glory Days Diner and First United Methodist Church, across from the YMCA.

And chances are you’ve also not been aware of what CCI does. That’s be­cause CCI pri­mar­ily serves res­i­dents of Green­wich Hous­ing Au­thor­ity de­vel­op­ments, and many in our com­mu­nity are un­aware that pub­lic hous­ing ex­ists in Green­wich, much less that the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity pro­vides af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions for nearly 2,600 Green­wich res­i­dents.

CCI of­fers th­ese res­i­dents, as well as spe­cial needs clients, a va­ri­ety of ed­u­ca­tional, recre­ational, and sup­port ser­vices de­signed to build skills that em­power them to over­come the ed­u­ca­tional, so­cial, and eco­nomic bar­ri­ers they face. Last year, CCI ser­vices reached more than 1,000 Green­wich peo­ple.

“Each year, the de­mand for our ser­vices con­tin­ues to grow,” CCI Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Gaby Rat­tner said. “We are work­ing hard to con­tinue val­ued pro­grams and de­velop new ones ... we are es­pe­cially proud to part­ner with the Town of Green­wich and our col­league agen­cies to serve those who need us the most.”

Rat­tner points out that CCI’s sum­mer pro­gram com­bines tra­di­tional recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties with aca­demic ini­tia­tives de­signed to counter the sum­mer learn­ing loss that all chil­dren face, but that has his­tor­i­cally had a more pro­nounced ef­fect on the pop­u­la­tion served by CCI.

“We are es­pe­cially proud that at the end of this sum­mer, 85 per­cent of our chil­dren re­turned to school read­ing at or above the level they com­pleted last year,” Rat­tner said.

A new pro­gram ini­ti­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Green­wich High School – What’s Next for High School Stu­dents – al­ready has 14 par­tic­i­pants. This pro­gram, funded by the Green­wich Ed­u­ca­tion Al­liance, helps high school stu­dents and re­cent grad­u­ates de­ter­mine their next steps and the path to reach es­tab­lished goals.

An­other new ini­tia­tive in­volves in­ter­gen­er­a­tional pro­gram­ming that brings to­gether CCI’s youngest and old­est clients, such as chil­dren trick-or-treat­ing at a se­nior res­i­dence, or chil­dren and se­niors read­ing to one an­other.

In April, CCI will host a con­fer­ence on the im­pact of child­hood trauma.

CCI’s work is ac­com­plished with a small, but ded­i­cated, staff that in­cludes four so­cial work­ers and of­fice man­ager Aixa Capozza, the agency’s back­bone for the past 14 years.

Dur­ing this giv­ing season, I find my­self thank­ful to have CCI among our many com­mu­nity re­sources.

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