Walking into the New Heights facility in Danbury, I smell fresh coffee. I hear some laughter, some chatter — the sounds people make when they are comfortable with each other. A tall, thin man with an easy smile extends his hand to me and says, “Hi, I’m Jonah. Welcome to New Heights.”
Although I was a stranger, the members of New Heights instantly made me feel welcome.
Operated out of Danbury by Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, New Heights is a wellness and recovery center for adults with mental health issues. But wait — don’t stop reading because of the topic. Keep reading because this is a story…about success stories. Little success stories, perhaps, but remember the old saying: good things come in little packages.
New Heights is open to anyone who walks through the doors, as long as they identify themselves. Once inside, there’s a warm and friendly aura, including the wafts of fresh-baked brownies or cookies in the air. It’s a place that feels like a home.
Barbara Bowers, the Program Director, explained that New Heights’ mission is “to promote wellness and recovery through skill building, social interaction, goal setting, and ultimately empowerment.”
To provide a full circle of professional services, New Heights works closely with Community Support Program (CSP), a community based support program of Catholic Charities funded by the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services. CSP offers additional resources for linkage and connections with managing and obtaining disability benefits, housing, substance abuse treatment, social integration, employment support, individual skill building and rehabilitation services to foster recovery, among other recovery interventions. CSP and New Heights work symbiotically together to make sure those in need have all the tools and support necessary to drive toward recovery and a healthier, more stable life.
“We morph our services at New Heights based on the needs of our members,” explained Charles Coretto, the Director for Community Mental Health Services for Catholic Charities. Understanding that the needs of those with mental health issues aren’t static, Coretto and Bowers try to keep both CSP and New Heights fluid and current so as to offer a layered and integrated support system for their clientele.
To that end, New Heights offers a plethora of classes, group sessions, and seminars on topics like how to quit smoking, how to think positively, and how to change to a healthier diet. Many group sessions are run by part-time staffers who are also members, demonstrating to their peers that the skills learned at New Heights can help move toward recovery and more independence.
But that’s not all. There are also social activities to participate in from puzzle-making, to sweeping and cleaning up Williams Street outside, to pizza nights. The end result is a club of sorts, a club with a tight membership in a safe and accepting environment.
As an example, a CSP social worker referred one reclusive woman to New Heights so that she could socialize better with others. The woman reticently went to the weekly Monday morning “Coffee Talk,” but since that first venture into New Heights, she now attends Coffee Talk regularly. On her own birthday, she brought in cupcakes to share with the other members. The sounds of “Happy Birthday to You” then resonated throughout the building.
A little success story, perhaps. But instead of spending her birthday alone, she spent it with people who celebrated it with her.
For the last decade, the New Heights staff and other partnered mental health agencies have organized an annual event called “Celebration of Hope.” This year’s event takes place on May 4th at St. Peter’s Church in Danbury. It’s an opportunity for staff and members alike to tell personal stories of their road to recovery, or read a poem they wrote about it, or perhaps give a motivational speech. It’s an afternoon of celebrating the positives in their lives as well as recognizing that they’ve achieved goals — with the help of each other.
As I was leaving New Heights, I met a young woman who told me she would be speaking at Celebration of Hope for the first time. Then she shared with me how New Heights has changed her life:
“When I’m outside of this building, I can tell you what kinds of shoes people are wearing, because I’m always looking down. But in here, I look up at people’s faces.”
Reaching new heights, one little success story at a time.
For more information on New Heights contact Barbara Bowers at 203-794-0819 or [email protected]
Written by Ellen McGinness