Community Compass helps struggling families navigate troubled times

BLUE HILL — Times are tough during this pandemic, especially for Mainers living in poverty, but there’s a local organization that’s staffed and trying to help.

“Our mission is empowering people in our 10-town region … and breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Jessica Valdez, executive director of Community Compass. “The increase in need has been significant across the community. The longevity of COVID is really starting to grate on people.”

Valdez said Community Compass was founded by board President Bob Holmberg and others who wanted to help Blue Hill Peninsula residents break the cycle of poverty and have successful families.

Valdez said there could be any number of reasons for poverty such as a financial hardship or a sudden change in circumstance, or it could be a case of “generational poverty.”

Community Compass has hired local people, referred to as “navigators,” in nearly every corner of the peninsula. That includes Deer Isle-Stonington, Brooklin, Brooksville, Sedgwick, Penobscot, Castine, Surry and Blue Hill.

Downeast Community Partners is the fiscal sponsor for Community Compass, which is supported through grants and donations. Speaking of donations, Community Compass is sending out its annual campaign appeal in the next few days.

“They work on building trusting relationships,” said Valdez. That way, residents in need have someone they feel comfortable talking to when times get tough.

Navigators connect residents with resources and services that they might not know about.

“They might have some kind of connection to poverty themselves. They learned how to find what they need to navigate the system,” and can share that knowledge and experience, Valdez said.

Community Compass also has a fund to help with one-time emergency needs. The organization helped one resident with a stove repair, Valdez said.

“We granted a single, pregnant mom a donation for a down payment on a tiny house,” she added. “We’ve helped homeless people get shelter while we work on long-term housing.”

Housing is an issue for people in all walks of life, particularly with the pandemic, said Valdez.

Pre-COVID, “People would spend the winter in what was a summer rental,” the executive director said. But seasonal residents are staying in their homes or rental properties instead of returning to more populated and perhaps more infectious areas of the country.

“Now, we have this population of people who would normally rent who have nowhere to go,” said Valdez.

Early life development is another focus of Community Compass.

A handful of navigators specialize in helping expectant parents and new parents get help and supplies.

“There’s a lot of brokering of services and referrals,” said Sara Koontz, who is a PALS [Parents are Leaders] navigator for the towns of Sedgwick and Brooklin.

The PALS navigators also try to help new parents build relationships with other new parents in the community.

“You already feel isolated and then to take COVID into it, that’s really hard,” said Koontz.

While playgroups are a lifeline for parents of young children, the pandemic has halted them.

“We can’t meet because they [small children] have no concept of social distancing,” Koontz said.

As a way to help, Community Compass has started a Facebook group for parents of young children.

The organization has also ordered activity box subscriptions for parents of newborns to 4-year-olds through Kiwi Co.

“My little guy just got his and he just geeked right out over it,” said Koontz, who has a toddler.

The PALS navigators are also still doing “socially distanced home visiting,” Koontz said. “We’ll drop off a welcome gift and our contact information. At least it lets them know they’re not alone.”

If you’re a new or expecting parent in Sedgwick or Brooklin, you can email Koontz at [email protected] or look up the PALS Facebook page

“We’re here and we’re available to help,” said Koontz.

If you would like to help Community Compass or if you need help yourself, email Valdez at [email protected]

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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