Providing a helping hand

Area Congregations Together provides the only shelter services for the homeless in the Lower Naugatuck Valley.

The new ACT facility, dedicated in 2008, is home to both Spooner House and the Valley Food Bank.

During this past holiday season, a woman stopped to visit the staff of the Spooner House after picking up groceries at the facility's food bank. She was excited to share the news of her recent promotion at work.

Just one year prior, she, her husband, and two children were homeless and found refuge at the Spooner House, the only homeless shelter in the lower Naugatuck Valley. Now the young family is stable, living in a home they found with the help of a housing coordinator at Spooner House.

"Her roots are here. So, for her to be able to have stability in the Valley, and still get to work, made all the difference," says Susan Agamy, Executive Director of Area Congregations Together, the parent organization that runs Spooner House.

Area Congregations Together (ACT) was founded in 1979 to provide the elderly with transportation for health care appointments and meals for people unable to cook for themselves. It began offering shelter services in 1982, first in a church basement and later in a renovated firehouse in Derby. It moved into its Shelton facility in 2008.

Spooner House uses a "housing first" model when working with its clients. When entering a shelter, families, and individuals receive help from case managers to find permanent housing as quickly as possible. At the same time, ACT can help connect the clients to mental health care, job training, or other services they may need.

"We focus on their strengths," says Agamy. "Housing is not something that someone is going to hand to them, but something that they are going to go out and get. This approach helps not only in terms of our success rate, but also lifts the self-esteem of our clients."

Last year, Spooner House provided emergency shelter to 140 individuals including 69 children and 30 families. Agamy says that while targeted funding has helped reduce the numbers of homeless veterans and chronically homeless individuals, the number of homeless families with children remains a challenge.

ACT also runs the Valley Food Bank on its first floor, where clients can pick up 10 days of groceries once a month. The food bank, says Agamy, gives staff an opportunity to remain connected with clients who are still in need, and step in with help before an issue erupts into a crisis like an eviction.

Area Congregations Together receives only a quarter of its budget through a state contract. The rest is primarily supported through private contributions from foundations, including The Valley Community Foundation, corporations, the Valley United Way, individuals, and faith institutions. ACT also depends on in-kind support through volunteering.

"People can support Area Congregations Together in a lot of different ways—giving, volunteering, and contributing food," says Agamy.

On March 4, look for ACT's Valley Has A Heart food drive at Shelton, Ansonia, and Seymour Super Stop & Shop grocery stores (9 am-3 pm).

To learn more about Area Congregations Together, visit its profile on

Did you know?

On the night of January 26, New Haven counted 625 people experiencing homelessness, 138 of them children, according to the Connecticut Point in Time Count.

This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.