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SOS for Islanders seeking help

JOANN KIRKLAND PHOTO Social worker Jennifer Olsen is offering her services without cost to Shelter Island residents in a ground-breaking program funded through the town’s 2015 budget.

JOANN KIRKLAND PHOTO
Social worker Jennifer Olsen is offering her services to Shelter Island residents in a ground-breaking program funded through the town’s 2015 budget.

In a unique town program, social worker Jennifer Olsen will be working about 12 hours a month this year helping Shelter Island families resolve problems by connecting them with resources specific to their needs.

Ms. Olsen is also Shelter Island School’s social worker.

As Communities That Care — a national, volunteer-based organization dedicated to curbing alcohol and drug abuse among young people — is winding down its activities here, Island CTC leader Marilynn Pysher spearheaded the idea that, with town funds, Ms. Olsen could offer needed assistance to Island families at no cost to them.

The new town social worker graduated from Fairfield University with a degree in psychology and then worked in a group home in Boston before achieving her master of social work degree at Boston University.

“I always was interested in people and what makes them think and do what they do,” Ms. Olsen said about what led her to social work.

Her job for the town won’t be to counsel, but to provide connections to appropriate resources on and off the Island and to follow up with people to ensure they’re getting the help they need.

The Town Board agreed to fund the position at $9,648. CTC’s only activity this year has been a series of good parenting workshops that got under way last week and continues through the beginning of February.

Then the organization will be folding its tent, although Ms. Pysher said it might still offer the parenting workshops in future years.

“CTC did what we could,” Ms. Pysher said. Having the services of an experienced social worker is a transition that will benefit town residents in a way volunteers couldn’t, she added.

The new job is separate from Ms. Olsen’s responsibilities at school and those who seek assistance need to know that “everything is highly confidential,” the social worker said. She’ll meet with people in their homes or at a town office.

“It’s really important for people to know I’m there to help them with what they perceive the need is,” Ms. Olsen said. Her goal is to assist in identifying the roots of problems.

She has begun working with various community leaders and is in touch with organizations so that when needs arise, she’ll have connections with resources who can help clients.

Ms. Olsen said she’s extending her assistance to Island seniors, a group new to her, since so much of her time has been concentrated on students. But Karin Bennett, who works with the Island Senior Center, is among the community leaders who will be helping Ms. Olsen to get to know the needs of seniors here.

What’s more, with so many community leaders wearing multiple hats, there’s a natural synergism that will result in making Ms. Olsen’s outreach effective, she said.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know more people in the community that I haven’t gotten to know through my work at the school,” Ms. Olsen said.

She’s also seeking volunteers who are bilingual to assist her in helping those here whose command of English is limited.

Ms. Olsen can be reached by phone at 749-0302 extension 151 or by email at [email protected]

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