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At the Northford Congregational Church (NCC) Social Hall, Nancy Tipping displays items coming in from church and community members as part of a year-long effort to show support for a recently-deployed Connecticut National Guard unit, and their families. Tipping, who is NCC Council chair, instituted the program to support the military and their families; and to help the community unite behind a common cause. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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Whether through nursing, teaching or leading her church council, Nancy Tipping has always found ways to help others.
Now, as council chair of Northford Congregational Church (NCC), Nancy has organized a special project: gathering support and contributions from the church and surrounding community help show a year’s worth of support to members and families of a Connecticut National Guard unit recently deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Nancy instituted the NCC program because she knew many others would want to show support for those who serve, and because she was looking for a way to promote a sense of unity and community in a time of division in this country.
“I just felt like the country is so divided, but we’re all Americans. We should be able to get behind something. I thought everybody ought to be able to get behind our deployed military, and the children that they leave behind. So I went searching for a military unit that was going to be deployed overseas,” says Nancy.
She found the South Windsor-based 643rd Military Police (MP) National Guard Unit, one of two Connecticut National Guard units set to serve the nation in worldwide operations this year.
“I called them up and asked if we could adopt them,” says Nancy.
The answer was an immediate “Yes” from the office of 643rd MP Company Commander Robin Felder.
In mid-March, the unit was deployed to active duty training in Texas, ahead of traveling to Cuba to serve for approximately one year as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The company’s last deployment overseas took place in 2006.
The 643rd is made up of 90 male and 30 female soldiers. Spouses and families remaining stateside include 65 children as well as at least three babies who will have been born during the deployment period.
“This particular unit is a young unit,” says Nancy. “They have babies that were born after they deployed—one in March and one in April—and they have another one due in September. They also have a lot of children. And all of those children are without a parent for over a year. So we want to support the men and women who are deployed, but we also wanted to do something for their children.”
Casting a Wider Net
Last month, Nancy began to spread the news beyond NCC and ask for assistance. The goal is to send each deployed soldier at least two hand-written cards and/or letters of appreciation during deployment, while also making sure each child receives at least one gift. In addition, the program wants to give every mom who has a baby during deployment a gift box of baby items.
The response from the church, and the community of Northford and North Branford, has been immediate and amazing, says Nancy.
“We invited the community to join us, and people have been coming in to drop off [hand-made] blankets and write notes...I feel like we’ve struck a chord with this,” says Nancy.
The items are being brought to the NCC Social Hall at 4 Old Post Road. Nancy has already filled bags with donated crotched and knitted blankets, as well as some beautifully crafted children’s hats, and hopes to gather enough so that all children’s age groups can receive them monthly. Already, the military unit’s seven moms of one-year-olds are set to receive blankets and notes. The next batch will be going to children through age 3, followed by those for the next age group to be gifted, and so on. Monetary donations are also welcome to assist with providing gifts to all of the children, as well as for postage.
“We’re not sure if we’ll get enough blankets for every child, so we’re also exploring other things we can give to the children,” such as sidewalk chalk for summertime fun, says Nancy.
The general community can also get behind the idea in a very simple way: Write a heartfelt note to a unit member on a provided card of thanks, available from the church. Nancy’s also reached out to the school communities at Jerome Harrison and Totoket Valley elementary schools to see what they might like to contribute to the cause.
“I emailed their principals and said, ‘Would you like to be involved?’ And they both said they’d love to help,” says Nancy, who recently collected a first set of letters, written by 4th graders, to be sent to the deployed soldiers.
Nancy has visited classrooms and emailed teachers to help give them ideas for class projects and other ways they can get involved. She’s also working with the North Branford Seniors group at the Stanley T. Williams Community Center. During the month of May, seniors will be encouraged to write a supportive, brief message to deployed soldiers on cards provided to the center by the church.
“We also already have some long letters from adults—32 of them, so far,” says Nancy, who wants to gather at least 120 notes/cards and 120 letters to send to the deployed soldiers in periodic mailings. She wants to mail out the first batch of cards by Memorial Day.
“We want them to be able to receive a couple of mailings throughout the year, so they know that they’re appreciated and not forgotten,” she says.
Donations of funds, items of support, and manpower (such as people who’d like to come in and write a note or letter) are welcome during weekly community workshop hours at NCC’s Social Hall. The workshops take place every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.
A Larger Mission
Her church, which goes by the motto, “A small church with a big heart,” has done quite a bit over the years with volunteer and service efforts contributed by its small congregation. But as council chair, Nancy realized there could be people outside of the church who might want to help, too.
Last December, she instituted a weekly open door policy for the Community Workshop program, which supports ongoing projects of the church.
Now in the first year of her second, two-year elected term as council chair, Nancy plans to continue to offer the weekly open-door workshops for at least a year, she says.
“We’ve done a lot over the years,” Nancy says of NCC’s initial community workshop efforts, but “we were having trouble getting enough of them. So I decided to make the church open every week, for two hours, and anybody can come in and work on these things. It’s worked out really great.”
Projects underway support nursing home residents by supplying clothing or other needs for those without families, the homeless by supplying with backpacks and needed items, as well as the new National Guard Unit initiative. Additionally, for the past seven years, through a partnership with St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Northford, NCC adopts a social worker. Working through that professional, NCC’s community workshop helps to give assistance to foster children in crisis, providing keepsake fabric bags filled with overnight supplies, as well as gifts of blankets, hats, scarves, and handmade quilts.
Nancy’s idea for the workshop’s homeless backpack assistance program grew out of NCC’s connection to Abraham’s Tent, a winter shelter program offered weekly by a rotation of area churches. The program supports homeless men assisted by non-profit Columbus House of New Haven. Each year, NCC members supply a hearty, home-cooked meal and gifts of socks and other sundries to homeless men during one night of their week-long stay at North Haven Congregational Church.
Last winter, “we were over at the Congregational Church in North Haven for Abraham’s Tent, and after we served the men, we sat down with them,” says Nancy. “And I asked them, ‘What is it you need?’ And you would be surprised at the answers—just a backpack, an empty backpack, would be wonderful for them. And a flashlight. Things like that. So we started collecting those things for them.”
Helping others comes naturally to Nancy. The recently retired nurse-turned-educator taught a medical careers class and a certified nurse assistant course at East Haven High School (EHHS) for 21 years. When she retired in 2017, Nancy was also named EHHS Teacher of the Year.
“My classes were electives. My students were phenomenal. They were the kind of people that you would want taking care of your mother,” says Nancy, adding many have gone on to medical careers.
A Branford native (née Krahl, Branford High School Class of 1974), Nancy and her husband, David, have lived in Northford for 36 years. The Tippings joined the church in 1996. For the past 20 years, they’ve resided in a home just up the road from NCC.
“The members of the church are very interested in helping the community,” Nancy says. “They’re interested in being feet on the ground, in doing something good. A lot of the older people are terrific role models for all of us.”
As for her efforts to inspire others to help, Nancy says a great place to start is by getting involved, in any way possible, with NCC’s support of the 643rd National Guard Unit and their families.
“People want to be involved in something good. Here it is,” says Nancy.
For more information on joining the Northford Congregational Church effort to support a deployed National Guard unit, email Nancy Tipping at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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