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Interfaith committee helps town residents

The initial stimulus for the New Canaan Inn was provided by the town's Inter-Church Service Committee, a civic and assistance-oriented group that is helping to put New Canaan on the map as a community that rallies to solving many of its own problems.

The Inter-Church Service Committee of New Canaan is made up of lay representatives from 14 different religious groups in town, including Christian, Jewish, and B'hai. The clergy serve as honorary members and are available for consultation. The committee was incorporated in 1962 with the initial purpose of offering assistance to the elderly.

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Questionnaires were distributed at local church services to determine what elders perceived as their greatest need. Suitable housing was identified as the primary problem. For a number of years, the committee investigated a number of possible sites for housing for the elderly, but met with delaying obstacles in each case.

Meanwhile, other problems were becoming apparent, and in 1966, the committee helped establish the Volunteer Neighbor Service. This volunteer assistance program offered help to any New Canaan resident who had an occasional, temporary , or continuing need for transportation, telephone contact, and social companionship, or who needed assistance with other problems in which a volunteer might be helpful. This program has expanded through the years and continues to provide a neighborly helping hand to those who need it.

Another subcommittee of this organization was formed to study the feasibility of a health-care facility in New Canaan. Their hopes and plans took on reality when a money request from a town resident was left to the committee to help establish a health facility, and when another long-time resident set aside, by deed, a portion of her estate to be used by the community for educational and health purposes. This project, which produced the Waveny Care Center, became a separate corporation in 1969.

The Inter-Church Service Committee maintains a connection through its fund that offers financial assistance to those people who do not qualify for government aid, and through the funds it contributes to the recreational day-care program at Waveny.

It was also the Inter-Church Service Committee that helped launch New Canaan Neighborhoods Inc. - a local low-cost housing program consisting of 60 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units built under Section 8 of the Federal Housing Act. Tenants pay rent according to income. They pay 25 percent of their adjusted income, with the federal government taking care of the remainder. After many delays this project opened in the fall of 1979. To avoid other such delays, the committee recommended that the New Canaan Inn be built without government money, and be funded entirely by the people of the community.

Other community projects that have been spin-offs from original efforts made by the Inter-Church Service Committee include the New Canaan Volunteer Ambulance Corps, the Meals on Wheels program for shut-ins and the elderly, the Summer Senior Citizens Drop-In Program that provides a place for elders to drop in regularly for refreshments, conversation, and games, and the Get-About program, which provides a small bus for transporting disabled and senior citizens to beauty shops, grocery stores, and the like. Cost is $1 per ride, but if this amount proves too much for a rider, he or she travels free.

''We just keep seeking out new needs in the town of New Canaan, and then trying to find ways of meeting them,'' explains a member of the Inter-Church Service Committee. ''We want to be of assistance to the town's citizens, particularly the elderly, and we can usually launch a group of volunteers who are willing and able to tackle the problems. New Canaan is a special community. There are lots of successful and wealthy people here, but there is also a spirit of helpfulness and service, and they get things done.''

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