Lower Naugatuck Valley 2000
COMMUNITY BACKGROUND: Set the background for your community’s story. Summarize your general community situation (not the three specific projects described in subsequent application questions) and the community environment which contributed to your community’s history.
Ensure that the following points are covered:
The 1980’s was a decade of change for the seven-town (Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby, Naugatuck, Oxford, Seymour and Shelton), Southern Connecticut community as it was transformed from a manufacturing to a more affluent corporate and bedroom community with a more diverse population and employment base. The catalyst for change was a new highway through the community, which connected two Interstates. Residents were immigrants who migrated to the community in the early 1900’s. Wage earners worked in manufacturing, shopped and used health and human services in the community.
The Flood of 1955 destroyed buildings, bridges, homes and businesses causing economic & personal hardship spanning decades. The Valley’s two rivers (the Housatonic and Naugatuck which confluence in Derby) were severely polluted with industrial waste. The economic crisis intensified during the 1970’s as manufacturing firms downsized. By 1990, many would be out of business, leaving many contaminated properties in prime locations, and the remaining would be one quarter their former size. In 1975, 25-years ago, the largest arson fire in U.S. history put over 1,200 people out of work. The unemployment rate towered at 18%. Fueled by the new highway, the community began a period of unprecedented change, development and growth. The new highway exposed the region’s advantages to developers. Available and inexpensive land coupled with suburban living in a pastoral setting and close commute to commercial centers acted as a magnet for young professionals seeking homes and suburban lifestyle. Today, 4 of 10 residents have lived in the community ten years or less. Population growth exceeded the state average by 50% in the last census reaching 126,052 (greater than Connecticut’s largest city). Home values and retail sales doubled in seven years. The median family income in 1998 was $59,954; 11% of households have income levels below $15,000 and 4% of families had incomes below the poverty level. The unemployment rate remains slightly above the state rate. Three of the seven towns have been designated as medically underserved by the federal government.
Community leadership recognized the need to respond to changing community demographics and different socioeconomic and health needs and expectations of the more diverse population. Three major new structures were created. In 1993, Valley Council of Health and Human Service Organizations (VCHHSO) was founded. Over 55 member organizations provide most health and human services. VCHHSO’s vision is a provider network that works collaboratively to create an integrated human services delivery system to meet the needs of all residents. Now six years old, VCHHSO is a major community force. "Healthy Valley 2000", the state’s first healthy community effort, was launched in 1994. With foundation grant support, the National Civic League was engaged to guide Stakeholders through the process. The vision of the broad-based, volunteer inspired and managed effort is to improve the health and quality of life of the community and its residents by making the community a better place to live, work, shop, raise a family and enjoy life. Based on research, including use of the Civic Index, 175 Stakeholders identified Arts & Recreation, Community Involvement, Economic Development, Education and Health as priorities. Youth and America’s Promise goals and Regional Capacity were added. Thirty-seven projects were selected. Twenty have been completed and others are underway with more than 675 volunteers involved.
On the economic development front, the Greater Valley Alliance for Economic Growth was formed in 1993 as a result of a recommendation at a community retreat. The mission is to develop, recommend and implement regional economic development programs. The three new organizations have contributed to changing the way the community faces challenges, goes about its business and cooperates regionally. In October 1998, the Centers for Disease Control awarded a $2.9 million grant to Yale University and Griffin Hospital to fund a Prevention Research Center at Griffin, the Valley’s acute care, community hospital and largest employer. The program will merge the resources of the Yale School of Medicine and Griffin to focus on meeting the needs of the medically underserved population. The Center will advance the work of the community initiatives to the next stage of achieving the goals envisioned by community leaders and laid out in Healthy People 2010.