New referral platform connects Niskayuna residents with assistance

Dottie Gillen in the main lobby of Niskayuna Town Hall on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

Dottie Gillen in the main lobby of Niskayuna Town Hall on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.

NISKAYUNA — Town residents who don’t know where to turn for help with life problems are getting some directions.

The town on Monday launched Nisky Connects, through which residents can sign up for assistance with a wide range of issues from more than 580 organizations across 22 counties.

Healthy Alliance, an independent practice association in Troy, is coordinating referrals for everything from food insecurity to mental health to housing problems.

The town is the first municipality in the state to work with Healthy Alliance, which offers help at no cost to residents or to the town. 

Deputy Town Supervisor Jessica Brennan advocated for the  referral platform after learning of it through her work as a school social worker. She said Dottie Gillen, who will be program coordinator for the town, was also a driving force in its adoption.

“There’s people in the community that really have nowhere to reach out to,” Gillen said. “They’re either too embarrassed or they just don’t know who to go to for their problems. And there’s the case of people who are elderly but don’t have any family to watch out for them.”

Gillen, who became a receptionist at Town Hall after retiring, said she’s observed problems multiplying when they go unaddressed.

“There’s a facet of the community that really does need help with certain things in their life and a lot of people aren’t aware of that,” she said.

So far, so good.

“We’ve already had several clients come in,” Gillen said Thursday. “I get them signed up.”

“The way it works,” Brennan said, “is we have a personal navigator through Healthy Alliance that’s dedicated just to Niskayuna.”

Gillen collects their information and sends it to the navigator.

“If they need food, she finds the right food pantry for that family,” Brennan said. “She personalizes each referral. Then the  agencies reach out directly to them.”

Healthy Alliance is a Troy-based nonprofit that connects underserved people with services that are essential for a healthy life. It serves all eight Capital Region counties as well as Fulton and Montgomery counties.

Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni said she liked the way the referral platform addresses problems in the broader context within which they exist.

So if for example a call comes into Nisky Connects from a person concerned about housing assistance for an elderly parent, the discussion expands to other potential needs facing the person, such as nutrition, healthcare and social isolation.

“I made a pledge to our community to improve mental health access for Niskayuna residents and town employees,” she said in a news release. “This mission became more imperative given the continued impacts of the pandemic, and the rise of gun violence in our country.” 

Niskayuna schools will be utilizing the same platform for its students and their families starting this autumn.

And the town Police Department, whose officers are sometimes the first point of contact for people with problems, also is training to use Nisky Connects — at the headquarters, at residents’ homes or on the street.

“Many times, we don’t have a direct contact or access point for a particular resource,” Police Chief Jordan Kochan said in the news release. “This platform will give us the ability to expeditiously assist with that direct contact, and to better support the needs of our community.”

Town residents can participate in Nisky Connects by contacting Gillen in person or by phone at 518-386-4527. She is in Town Hall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. most weekdays and will be at the town Senior Center from 9 to 11 a.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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