Montco makes move to coordinate community services

Posted: June 29, 2013

Crammed into a Pottstown office Thursday were a lot of people who help people. Representatives of local nonprofits, social service providers, and government agencies mingled at the open house for Montgomery County's new Community Connections program.

Four offices across the county (Willow Grove, Norristown, Lansdale, and Pottstown) are now staffed with a "navicate" (from "navigator" and "advocate") who can help residents apply for and coordinate services.

The doors opened last week, and already the four new coordinators have seen about 100 clients, said the program supervisor, Bonnie Johns.

The four offices have seen similar problems - homelessness, hunger, child care, health. Sometimes clients just need a starting point or a person to talk to.

"You can have a grandparent who just got [custody of] her grandkids. Now she realizes she needs to find day care. Now she has day care and realizes she needs furniture. Now she needs money, because her $15,000-a-year salary can't support those kids," Johns said. "Very seldom is it just one issue."

Different issues are common in different areas. In Norristown, Johns said, many people need help to stay in their homes. In Lansdale, staff members have seen lots of people already homeless.

Residents of Pottstown who need county help have traditionally had a hard time traveling the 25 miles to Norristown. Now they don't have to.

P. Andrew Trentacoste, chief executive of Creative Health Services, said he had met with the Pottstown coordinator and told her: "Call me if you need support. Early on, you might feel like a complaint call center."

Trentacoste called Pottstown "one of the higher pockets of need in the county" and said residents sometimes don't know where to begin. "When people don't know where they need to go, they complain about where they've just come from," he said.

Jae Hively, director of the YWCA's adult literacy center, said she often refers her students to nonprofit organizations or county offices for help. "But I don't always know what people's problems are. Sometimes they have health issues; they're not able to concentrate and stay in the class," she said. Having one place to send them will make everyone's job easier, she said.

Josh Shapiro, chairman of the county commissioners, thanked providers and encouraged them to get to know the four new staffers. "They should be on your speed dial and you should be on theirs . . . before their doors are flooded with people."

"Too late," said Ailene Keys, the Pottstown "navicate."

"The way we're working right now, I don't think four people is going to be enough," Johns said.

Contact Jessica Parks at, 610-313-8117, or follow on Twitter @JS_Parks.

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