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July 21, 2018  |  

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Raising funds, working to assist with referrals and education, and reviving some special services are just a few of the ways Northford resident Tabitha “Tabby” Brown has raised the bar on what it means to intern with Community Dining Room. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound

Raising funds, working to assist with referrals and education, and reviving some special services are just a few of the ways Northford resident Tabitha “Tabby” Brown has raised the bar on what it means to intern with Community Dining Room. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)

Tabby Brown: Doing Great Things for CDR

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This summer, Community Dining Room (CDR) Executive Director Judy Barron squeezed a small table into her office to make space for an intern she knew would produce great things: Tabitha “Tabby” Brown.

“Tabby and I knew each other from North Branford,” says Barron, who served as North Branford’s Senior Center Director before joining CDR in January 2016. “It’s great if you can bring in somebody you already know is going to execute really well. If I could create a [permanent] position for Tabby, I would love to do it.”

In just 180 hours of service to non-profit CDR this summer, working for free in return for earning college credits, Tabby has landed at least $2,500 in grants and donations for the organization, revived CDR contacts with critical service programs including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Agency on Aging of South Central CT (AOASCC), provided valuable assistance to clients, and developed new fundraising efforts.

“Tabby followed our mission statement for our referrals and education, and brought back programs that once were at CDR and kind of drifted off, but the community needs them,” says Barron, who is part of a small, four-person paid staff (including a kitchen manager) working to develop CDR as a place that provides “more than just a meal.”

“One of our goals was to bring in SNAP, and she did, and now, they’re going to be coming here, once a week,” says Barron.

Due to state budget cuts and SNAP’s thin ranks, it’s highly unusual to be able to meet with a SNAP representative in person to find out if you’re eligible, says Tabby. The state program, formerly known as food stamps, now mainly relies on applicants navigating their way through online or phone applications.

“Unfortunately, for some people, it’s really difficult for them to get started online or over the phone. They really need someone who can help them, face-to-face,” says Tabby, who has also developed other tools to help CDR clients get started with other difficult hurdles, like writing a résumé.

“I’ve created a résumé template and given it to people, because sometimes they just need a place to start,” says Tabby.

After several attempts to start the conversation with SNAP, Tabby located a representative who then agreed to come to CDR weekly to work with individuals. The first SNAP visit took place at CDR last week and will continue every second Tuesday of the month, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., thanks to Tabby.

The SNAP representative is there to help anyone visiting the Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Center at 30 Harrison Avenue in Branford. In addition to being home to CDR, the center hosts two additional non-profit basic needs programs, the BHcare Clothing Bank and the Branford Food Pantry.

“So whether they’re coming here to use the clothing bank, or downstairs to the food pantry, or to visit us for a meal, they can come here and start the process, to find out if the meet the minimum requirements for SNAP,” says Tabby.

Barron notes Tabby’s ability to establish relationships with programs like SNAP and AOASCC are huge steps for CDR.

“That’s big for us; to be able to utilize our space for services for referrals and education,” says Barron. “Because the people that are coming in may know there’s food and security here, but we know there are other things they need assistance with, and we want to provide that.”

In addition, once Barron showed Tabby the ropes of basic grant writing and making funding inquiries, the hard-working intern located and landed CDR a $2,000 donation from the Branford Elks Club and a $500 contribution from Key Bank.

“I know that everyone is a unique individual and learns one day at a time, one thing at a time, and that goes a long way. And that goes for me, too! So while I was here, I’ve learned to fill our grant applications and write donation requests. And when Judy gets a donation from somebody that I started, and it rolls into what it needed to be, I’m excited to see that!” says Tabby.

A Northford resident of seven years, Tabby has been working in the human services field for more than 20 years.

“I’m a people person,” says Tabby. “I really like watching people succeed, and it doesn’t have to be huge step. Sometimes, three steps back means one step forward.”

The mother of two began working in the field in her former home states of Vermont and New Hampshire. She moved to North Branford after meeting and marrying her husband, Michael Lang. Tabby was a paraprofessional at North Branford High School for several years before transitioning to Jerome Harrison Elementary School (JHS) in 2016, where she will resume her role this coming school year.

Tabby went back to college at 40 and will earn her bachelors of human services degree, with a minor in counseling, from Post University in Waterbury on Sunday, Aug. 20. As part of her degree work, she needed two internships and completed one at JHS last year. Through a twist of a fate, and by a stroke of luck, Tabby found her second internship opportunity at CDR.

“I actually came here because of another internship, which fell through at the last minute,” says Tabby. “I went onto Facebook and asked my family and friends if they knew of anyone who needed a free summer intern in a place that works with people. And Judy said, ‘Come work with me!’ I met Judy when she was the [North Branford] senior director. She was a wealth of knowledge and advice.”

Through Barron, Tabby has also become involved with non-profit Orchard House Medical Adult Daycare and is coordinating a comedy night fundraiser that will take place after her internship ends. In fact, she’s also planning to continue assisting CDR after her internship ends.

“My internship actually ends on Aug. 20, but I’m staying on board with the fundraising program we’re working on for Orchard House...and there are four [CDR] fundraisers coming up in September and October. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they turn out!”

Among the upcoming events, Tabby’s helped organize a Stemless Wine Glass Etching night with Wallingford’s Craftivate on Thursday, Sept. 14 at CDR from 6 to 8 p.m. (supplies are provided with registration and a portion of proceeds benefit CDR) and a Wine-o Bingo night at Ballou’s Restaurant and Wine Bar in Guilford. For the bingo event, coming Oct. 17 (the $25 donation includes glass of wine and all Bingo cards), Tabby has been helping to gather donations for prize baskets that will be given away to Bingo winners.

“I like fundraising. Sometimes you get told ‘No,’ but you brush it off and go on to next person, because you know you’re doing it for a great cause,” says Tabby.

That’s why Tabby feels she will continue volunteering with CDR well into the future.

“I really can’t leave, even if they’re politely asking!” says Tabby. “After what I’ve experienced here, I’m having a hard time leaving. The paid staff is small, but between the four of them, and the 150 rotating volunteers, this is probably one of the most giving, loving, compassionate, encompassing places I’ve ever worked. Everybody makes you feel welcome.”

For more information about CDR programs, events, and fundraisers, visit www.communitydiningroom.org.

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