The social worker’s salary will come from federal COVID-19 relief funds, which have been paid to municipalities throughout the country to mitigate the affects of the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan appropriated nearly $8.7 million to Vernon’s town government and $4.4 million to the local school system.
PARTNER: Hockanum Valley Community Council.
COST: $69,000 through the current fiscal year.
Purcaro said the social worker would work through the remainder of the fiscal year that ends in July 2022 and be paid $69,000. If the town chooses to retain the social worker for a full fiscal year, the salary would be about $87,000, he said.
GOAL: Work with local organizations to reach those affected by the pandemic.
“As our nation, state and local community continue to recover from the pandemic, we know that people are hurting,” Mayor Dan Champagne said. “Using funds from the American Rescue Plan to provide direct mental health services to Vernon residents is wholly appropriate.”
Champagne said the town has “been focused throughout the pandemic on meeting community needs, and addressing mental health needs is part of our overall recovery plan.”
The social worker will have space in the Hockanum Valley Community Council office at 27 Naek Road, but will be expected to spend much of their time in the field, Purcaro said, adding that they will work with local human services organizations including the Cornerstone Foundation, KidSafe, OpportunityWorks, and the Iglesia Fuente de Salvasicon Misionera church, which runs a food pantry. “We firmly believe there is a mental health need related to the overall recovery from the pandemic, and that’s what were trying to address here,” Purcaro said. “The mental health needs created by the pandemic affect many people, not just one group so, from a social equity standpoint (the social worker) is going to address under-served, uninsured, hard-to-reach individuals in our community.”
Purcaro said officials would require the social worker to produce quarterly reports and attend monthly meetings with the town Social Services Department. Hockanum Valley Community Council Executive Director David O’Rourke said the hiring of a social worker would provide “a great opportunity for a wide variety of Vernon residents” to receive help after “what has been a tough 20 months for everyone.”
O’Rourke said the social worker would meet people where they are and collaborate with other agencies to meet community needs. “I think the town of Vernon really stepped up here,” he said, adding that he hopes other towns would take similar measures to address pandemic-related mental health decline and substance abuse.