Free to Grow

Free to Grow

Combatting Depression and Domestic Violence in a New Britain Neighborhood

The North-Oak neighborhood of New Britain is home to primarily low-income residents from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and South America. It’s a troubled area of town, known for dilapidated buildings, empty lots, and a high crime rate. The area is also plagued with a number of social issues, many stemming from mental health issues that are difficult to identify and resolve when few people want to talk about depression, addiction, and abuse. They just know something isn’t working.

That’s the challenge facing Free to Grow, a community initiative of the Head Start Human Resources Agency of New Britain, which serves low-income residents of North-Oak. Free to Grow asked the Connecticut Health Foundation to help them indentify and address the most crucial issues head-on.

Funded by a three-year, $75,000 grant in 2004, Free to Grow conducted a survey to determine the top issues concerning North-Oak residents. Domestic violence and depression topped the list. Free to Grow responded by organizing community workshops for children, youth, and adults. Experts answered questions and provided training. The community center began offering domestic abuse counseling and screening for depression.

These efforts have had a major effect on families and the community, bringing to light issues that were once taboo to even talk about. Parents and children talking about depression.  Mothers and fathers realizing that “feeling down” all of the time isn’t normal and that there is help. Children with mental health issues getting services before they become bigger problems. And many residents now recognize abusive relationships and know the steps to take to get out.

With a new sense of pride and kinship, the community also organized to advocate for:

With CT Health’s additional support in 2007 and 2008, Free to Grow has been able to establish a leadership team and hopes to build on their success with programs centered around men, increased outreach and on-site programs, and education on nutrition, yoga, exercise and other methods of combating depression. From counseling and education to an anti-violence/anti-drug march on National Night Out, Free to Grow is empowering the community to make North-Oak a better place to live.