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Canton Life - October 2008

Town health fund wants to build its principal so it can give money away to those who need it
by Tracey Weiss

The Canton Community Health Fund (CCHF) may be the best-kept secret in town. For more than a decade, the CCHF has been granting money to organizations in Canton to further the health and well being of those they serve.  

The private foundation, overseen by a group of 13 volunteer board members, has a base amount of money that allows it to grant thousands of dollars each year. But according to board member Jay Tourigny, the members of the group want to do more.

"We've had that money for 10 years ago and it's still there," he said of the principal.  "It's sizable, in the high six figures. But I've been in town for 17 years and I didn't know (CCHF) was here. We want to raise visibility, add to the principle and give away more."  

Nuts, bolts and checks  
CCHF develops, supports, and engages in educational programs and activities for town residents. The foundation has sponsored speakers and provided grants to many local organizations on an annual basis, including eight in September.

The Canton Community of Concern was one of the recipients. A check for $4,000 "will help us teach parents what they need to know about the new laws regarding teenage drivers," said the group's spokeswoman, Sue Saidel. "They need to know the effects of those laws. We're going to use the money to bring in police officers to talk to them."

At the same time, the ARC of the Farmington Valley (FAVARH) received a grant of $1,500 to set up a play group for special needs children ages 3-7 and their siblings two Saturdays a month. "We need so many things,” said Jean Andersen, who works for the organization. "This money helps with staffing and buying chairs and toys" for the play group.

Canton Connections received a $3,000 check to help "pay bills and insure the program can continue," according to Karen Turek, who picked up the check with her associate Connie Porter.  "It's great. It's fantastic," Ms. Porter said.  

"Since I've been here, we've given away hundreds of thousands of dollars," Mr. Tourigny said. "Some of the groups we grant money to wouldn't exist without us. From my vantage point, that makes this group different for me."  

A brief history and Dr. Diters
The principal of the CCHF fund was originally financed by the Canton Visiting Nurses Association (CVNA) and its patients, friends and family almost two decades ago. The organization, whose offices were in Town Hall, honored donors by lining the walls of the building with plaques bearing their names as contributors to the CVNA Memorial Fund.

At the same time, a CVNA scholarship fund was setup solely for scholastic purposes to college-bound Canton High School seniors pursuing a career in a health-related field.

In 1989 Dr. Edward Diters, an advocate of the CVNA and a family doctor in town, retired. When a fundraiser "roast" was held to honor him, it raised several thousand dollars for a scholarship fund. The money was used to add to the CVNA fund the following April and later renamed the Dr. Diters Scholarship Fund. "It's exactly what he wanted," said Sue Diters, the doctor's daughter-in-law.  She is also a member of the CCHF board of directors. "Fewer and fewer people remember him, but at one time he was the only doctor in town," she said.  "Everyone knew him and loved him and relied on him,” said fellow CCHF board member Lynn Miner.  "He treated everyone equally.  "He would visit a patient in his pajamas," Ms. Diters added. "And he always gave out M&Ms," Ms. Miner said.

The CCHF still administers the two $1,000 scholarships annually from the Dr. Diters fund to graduating seniors. This year's recipients were Nina Ligato (Dickenson College) and Melissa Bradley (University of Connecticut).

In the 1990s, a succession of events including moving to bigger office space, the changing of funding requirements and Medicare needs forced the CVNA to partner with the McLean Visiting Nurses and Community Services in Simsbury.  The money from the memorial fund was held out of the merger and in 1998 the CCHF was created to assume stewardship of the fund.

Since then, the members of the board have found their roles satisfying. “I’m a social worker and I love to help people. Joining the board was very rewarding,” said Debbie Greco, the current president of the foundation.  “We really want to increase the size of the grants we give to students to make a considerable donation above that.” We always wish we could give more, “ Ms. Miner added.