Today Magazine • April 2022

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TODAY Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley

EN GARDE Simsbury High Features Unique Fencing Team

APRIL 2022

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NESTING INTUITION Two house finches — a male (red ) and female ( tan) — gather nest material in a Canton backyard

House finches frequent backyards, parks, urban centers, farms and forests across the United States, per AllAboutBirds.org

Photos by Wendy Rosenberg

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FROM DECKERT’S DESK

CONTENTS

Singular Swordplay

COVER STORY

4 — Not On The Fence When it comes to fencing, Simsbury High School is all-in — as in, SHS is the only Farmington Valley school that competes in the uncommon sport MEDICAL MUSINGS

8 — Nervy Territory Have you heard of the vagus nerve? Strap in for a roller-coaster ride on an essential transmitter VALLEY INTEL

11 — Home Free UConn Health has helped a homeless Granby man find restored fitness — and a new home

FANS OF THE MOVIE CLASSIC The Princess Bride will surely recall the film’s fabled fencing scene. In a legendary story with countless hard-to-believe plot twists and turns, the swordplay scene is among the narrative’s more believable aspects. Would you believe that only one high school in the Farmington Valley can accommodate students who wish to compete in fencing: Simsbury High. Believe it or not, less than 4 percent of high schools in Connecticut have fencing teams — the Trojans are one of 20-something schools to offer the unique sport. SHS Fencing Club advisor Thomas Palmer sees tremendous upside in terms of life skills for students who invest in fencing — such as resilience, patience, honor, teamwork and courage. Simsbury High grad Elaine Saunders is the head coach. Are you ready for a foray into the distinctive realm of fencing? See our cover story on page 4 — BWD

BUSINESS BEAT

12 — Teen Entrepreneur A 2021 high school grad is proving that business ownership is a viable alternative to college debt QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“We had a phenomenal season … and I am extremely proud of our fencing team — but we are hungry for more” — advisor Thomas Palmer BY THE NUMBERS

LETTERS

H.S. fencing teams in Valley — 1 newsroom@TodayPublishing.net

COVER STORY KUDOS Today Magazine’s March cover story featured Phoenix Tailings … and the avant-garde tech startup’s noble mission of reclaiming toxic mining waste — CLICK HERE for the story

Today Magazine • Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley Bruce William Deckert — Publisher + Editor-in-Chief 860-988-1910 • Bruce.Deckert@TodayPublishing.net www.TodayPublishing.net > Digital Editions • Award-Winning Today Online • 24/7 news — www.TodayPublishing.net/blog Follow Today Magazine CT on social media: Advertising — Contact the Publisher Editorial Associate — Kayla Tyson Contributing Photographer — Wendy Rosenberg Five Towns, One Aim — Exceptional Community Journalism Farmington • Avon • Canton • Simsbury • Granby – CT, USA

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EN GARDE

COVER STORY SPORTS REPORT

Simsbury High Features Only Fencing Team In Valley By Bruce Deckert Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine

WHEN THE TOPIC is high school athletics, what sports come to mind? From fall to winter to spring, the list likely includes football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and lacrosse. But if the success of the Simsbury High School Fencing Club is any indication, fencing will become more prominent in the coming years. If fencing doesn’t appear on your sports radar, it’s no wonder — there are only 20-plus fencing teams among Connecticut’s 550-plus high schools, according to SHS Fencing Club advisor Thomas Palmer. Simsbury is the lone high school in the Farmington Valley that offers fencing. This season culminated with two state tournaments in March, the individual and team varsity tournaments. Men’s and women’s teams can qualify for the state tournament in each of the three distinct types of fencing — epee, foil and sabre. The Simsbury High men’s epee team reached the state tourney for the third time in the club’s 4

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“I have talked to Valley athletic directors, and their reasoning for not starting a fencing team is usually tied to start-up costs” — SHS Fencing Club advisor Thomas Palmer

————————————————————————————————— Exclusive Report from SHS Fencing Advisor ————— PAGE 7 ————————————————————————————————— 20-year history. In January, for the first time in program history, the Trojans won five medals at the Connecticut Junior Varsity High School Fencing Tournament. Simsbury won five more medals at the Novice Tournament in February — the same month that NBC Connecticut broadcast a TV report about the SHS fencing club. Senior Aleanna Soto claimed gold in women’s epee, and four teammates won bronze medals: sophomore Sasha Schake (women’s sabre), sophomore Aaron “A.J.” Downend (men’s sabre) and senior Elijah Lee and freshman Ethan Vasquez (both in men’s foil — multiple bronze medals are awarded in each category). This duplicated the best result in club history, matching the five medals at the February 2020 Novice Tournament.


Following is the SHS five-medal rundown at the Junior Varsity tourney: • Sophomore Muna Nwafor — gold in men’s sabre • Seniors Simera Robinson (silver) and Sierra Blume (7th-place bronze) in women’s foil • Seniors Josh Brock and Eldridge Adomako — 5th- and 8th-place bronze (respectively) in men’s epee “They are phenomenal fencers … Muna cut and slashed his way to victory through three pools of opponents,” Palmer says. “Simera has a touch so quick that she has been compared to a viper, while Sierra uses deception and strategy to put her opponents into position to be hit. They use a multitude of offensive and defensive methods to achieve their victories.” Nwafor’s winning gold-medal point appeared to come right out of the movie The Matrix, Palmer observes. As Nwafor fell backward until his upper torso was parallel to the floor, he landed his sabre perfectly on the left chest of his opponent. “The crowd of spectators and fellow fencers were stunned by the precision and athleticism of this final victory point,” says Palmer. “Even his opponent couldn’t believe it.”

VALLEY FENCING INVITE In addition to being the fencing advisor since November 2018, Palmer is an intervention teacher at Simsbury High, helping at-risk students get back on track academically. He hopes more Valley schools add fencing to their sports repertoire. “I am trying to get more Farmington Valley high schools involved,” Palmer says. “I receive phone calls every season from parents in the surrounding communities who want to know if their sons and daughters can fence for our team. … Avon, Farmington, Canton and Granby parents have all called me.” He acknowledges that fencing is expensive and the equipment costs are significant — an electronic fencing vest wired for automatic scoring typically costs more than $200. “I have talked to Valley athletic directors, and their reasoning for not starting a fencing team is usually tied to start-up costs, number of kids interested and/or unavailable coaching and training staff,” Palmer says. “But I have offered high schools used-but-still-good equipment to get started — what I have offered would essentially cut their start-up costs in half.” He notes that the SHS Fencing Club

ON THE COVER Five members of the Simsbury High School Fencing Club won medals at the state’s Junior Varsity Fencing Tournament — from left to right: Eldridge Adomako, Simera Robinson, Muna Nwafor, Josh Brock, Sierra Blume

Courtesy Photos

has “suffered through every one of these hurdles and we have still been successful.” Another factor is travel — in terms of both time and finances. Simsbury High’s closest fencing neighbors are Cheshire High School and Cheshire Academy. Since SHS fencing is a club sport, not an official varsity program, “we have to pay for our own buses,” Palmer says. “Transportation costs us a bundle every year.” “I’m working on this and many other development aspects related to our program,” Palmer affirms. “When you look at the opportunities, you have to wonder why more local high schools

are not building fencing programs.” The exact number of teams in the Connecticut High School Fencing Association is difficult to pinpoint because membership can rise or fall each year, he explains — “but we have been rising in the last five years, even with COVID.” He estimates that 21-23 teams competed this past season. Palmer isn’t the team’s coach — the SHS fencing team has an advisor in addition to a coaching staff because it’s a club sport. Head coach Elaine Saunders has three specialty coaches on her staff, one for each of the three types of fencing —

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He has also upgraded the SHS traveling component. Pre-Palmer, fencers were expected to arrange their own transportation to scrimmages and most tournaments. “We only took a bus to the state varsity tournament,” Saunders recalls. “I never would have thought it possible for us to [take] buses to all away events.” SHS fencers recognize the impact of the coaching staff on their accomplishments. Nwafor, the gold-medal winner, credits his remarkable sophomore success to Changanaqui and former SHS sabre coach Marton Wiszkidenszky. “With two more years of training and my great coaches, they say I might be able to go on to fence sabre for a Division I college fencing team,” Nwafor says. Meanwhile, seniors Brock and Eldridge have different perspectives on the SHS fencing program. Brock has been a club member since his freshman year — working his way up through the ranks to become a captain of the epee team — while Adomako joined the team this season. They credit much of their success to Roos. “The Simsbury High fencing team has one of the best coaching staffs in the state,” says Palmer. “We have raised the fencing standard at SHS, and our kids have met that standard and said: How much higher can we go, Coach?” “The sky’s the limit,” Palmer adds. “We had a phenomenal season, receiving numerous medals and accolades, and I am extremely proud of our fencing team — but we are hungry for more, and there is much more on the table to be had.” +

assistant epee coach Pieter Roos, assistant foil coach Xavier Braun and assistant sabre coach Juan Changanaqui. Saunders took the coaching reins in November 2008. She and Braun are Simsbury High graduates who competed on the Trojans fencing team. Roos has coached the Drew University men’s epee team, and Changanaqui coached the Trinity College sabre team. Braun won a gold medal as an SHS fencer, and he has been fencing with the foil since he was 9 years old.

QUALITY COACHING Asked about the most fulfilling aspect of being head coach, Saunders says, “I always love seeing the kids’ growth and their enthusiasm and love of fencing.” She graduated from SHS in 2005 and fenced at UMass from 2005 to 2007. Saunders transferred to CCSU, graduating in 2010. Regarding her hopes for the future, she says, “I’d love to see our numbers stay steady — we finished the season with 36 fencers — and for more kids to keep fencing when they go to college.” Before Palmer became the advisor in 2018, the club’s numbers fluctuated from year to year, sometimes below 15. “That’s where the team was struggling most,” Saunders observes. “It was difficult to get new recruits who weren’t already friends with someone else on the team.” The coach appreciates and applauds Palmer’s creativity — “in every aspect of the word.” “Tom is creative in his recruiting of potential incoming fencers,” she says. “He talks up the team, gets kids excited, and makes it possible for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to commit due to time or transportation issues to participate.” Palmer’s inventiveness is likewise evident in the team logos he has designed — “the kids love the designs,” Saunders notes. The advisor has been both innovative and old-school with fundraising: “I would never have thought it was possible to raise the amount of money he has, simply from returning bottles and cans,” she says. Before Palmer became advisor, the club was in fair shape financially, but he has raised the bar. “The equipment we had was OK, but nothing special,” Saunders says. “Tom has higher standards and a vision of how the team could look that went beyond what I would have thought possible. Now our equipment stands out from the rest of the clubs.” 6

Facebook > SHS Fencing Club For a further report regarding the Simsbury High fencing club, see the article by advisor Tom Palmer on page 7

High School Fencing Teams in Connecticut

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Bacon Academy Cheshire Academy Cheshire High Clinton High Daniel Hand High Darien High Fairfield High Greenwich High Guilford High Hopkins School Lyme-Old Lyme/Valley

Marine Science Magnet High McMahon High Milford Combined High North Branford High Norwich Free Academy Robert E. Fitch High Ridgefield High Simsbury High The Morgan School Waterford High


SHS Fencing Program Teaches Key Life Skills By Thomas Palmer Special to Today Magazine

Tom Palmer is the advisor for the Simsbury High School Fencing Club OUR HIGH SCHOOL fencing program continues to grow and improve in quality, efficiency and effectiveness. We have great kids in this program. I had captains from each sword team eager to help their novice teammates in any way they could at our tournaments, and it was a sight to see. This program, I believe, is the only Simsbury High club/sport program that leaves five slots open to any special-needs high school student who wishes to join. We have had several special-needs fencers since I became the Trojan fencing advisor. I made it my personal objective to increase the numbers of Hartford-based Trojan students in our program. Before I joined our fencing program, kids from Hartford were not able to join our ranks because of transportation issues. I met with athletic director Jeff Pinney and Simsbury CREC advisor Gertrude Banks to rectify that situation immediately, and we now have champion fencers and leaders on our team from Hartford — and I am very proud of them. When I became the SHS Fencing Club advisor in November 2018, there were about 10 fencers on the team and one great head coach, Elaine Saunders. We had equipment, but it was old, slightly damaged or on its last legs. To her credit, Coach Saunders was able to keep the program afloat, year after year, on what many would say was a shoestring budget. Our fencers were car-pooled to tournaments and scrimmages. We struggled to purchase badly needed equipment. We could not afford any

outside private training for our fencers (as other fencing high schools do) unless the parents were willing to pay for it themselves. Most of the high school fencing teams are located at the southern and eastern ends of our state, so travel expenses can be very high for us. We were really close to having the program shut down. What a terrible loss that would have been! Today, we are thriving. We are growing and reaching goals that were once not thought possible. I am so very proud of our kids. I have called on them to meet the challenge, and they have exceeded my

greatest expectations. There is no doubt in my mind that this program will continue to excel. We have acquired a phenomenal coaching staff. We now have the expertise we were lacking in previous years. We now have the most advanced fencing equipment within our inventories, by means of some innovative fundraising and some fantastic donors, both private and organizational, such as the American Legion Post 84. We owe a great deal of our success to these individual families and organizational donors. All of our efforts, together, have created a place where Simsbury High School kids can develop lifelong skills that are not easily achieved elsewhere within the high school domain. Leadership, resilience, common bonds, the mastery of a true martial art, mentoring, patience, emotional intelligence structuring, honor, teamwork and individual courage — standing alone against your opponent on the strip — have all tested and melded each one of our kids into even stronger individuals. We have had scholarship offers from Division I colleges and universities. All of these different aspects of our program now exist through the sheer stamina of those who have kept the program alive. Yes, I can honestly say that today is a great day to be a Trojan fencer. +

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AVON TODAY

You’ve Got Some Nerve! By Dr. Brian A. Magna • DPT • ATC Special to Today Magazine

IN PHYSICAL THERAPY, we often talk about the musculoskeletal system and how it relates to function and pain. Over the past few years, a great deal of research has gone into the effects of stress on the body and how pain increases and function decreases when our bodies experience anxiety. One of the key structures in our bodies that we don’t pay enough attention to is the vagus nerve. What and where is that, you ask? The vagus nerve is the 10th of our 12 cranial nerves and is responsible for regulation of internal organ function. Each of our cranial nerves is a pair of nerves, with one on each side of the body. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract, running from the brain through the face and thorax to the abdomen. A 2014 study by Dr. Robert Howland noted that vagus nerve stimulation by internal or external

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and interfaces with ... the heart, lungs and digestive tract TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) had positive effects for reduction of symptoms associated with epilepsy, depression and heart failure. Other conditions possibly affected by the vagus nerve include stress, anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation and digestion. So why now? Why have so many people not heard of this nerve and its effects on our bodily functions as a whole? It is my belief that since society appears to be turning to a much more holistic approach in medicine and health, we are finally beginning to understand the bodily connection approach to our well-being while utilizing an evidencebased approach. Studies show that the vagus nerve is essential for our mental well-being and

MEDICAL MUSINGS physical health. This is because when we are functioning from a parasympathetic point of view — using nerves arising from the brain and the lower end of the spinal cord — we are able to repair, digest and assimilate nutrients in our food properly. More studies demonstrate that stimulating the vagus nerve ourselves can be essential to a healthy life. Common and simple ways to stimulate the vagus nerve are: Cold Exposure Exposure to cold activates cholinergic neurons. These neurons provide the primary source of acetylcholine to the cerebral cortex, which helps contract smooth muscles, dilates blood vessels and slows the heart rate. Studies have shown that drinking chilled water not only decreases the heart rate but also stimulates the vagus nerve. Since the vagus nerve is directly affected by the low temperature of water, the heart rate eventually slows down. Cold showers are another easy way to integrate this into your life. continued on page 13

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FARMINGTON TODAY

Love of Gardening Motivates CMGA Special to Today Magazine

Kathye Cipes, vice president and communications committee chair, has answered this Q&A on behalf of CMGA Mission — The Connecticut Master Gardener Association (CMGA) is the alumni association for Master Gardeners residing in Connecticut — our mission: • To support the horticultural activities of Master Gardeners and Master Gardener Interns in providing educational outreach to the residents of Connecticut. • To support UConn Extension Master Gardener projects and programs. • To foster communication, education and esprit de corps among Master Gardeners. • To engage in activities that further the purposes of the association as defined above. Most fulfilling aspect of your work? As the alumni association for certified Connecticut Master Gardeners, our focus of course is all about gardening! Unique to CMGA is our leadership in providing grants to help Master Gardeners start and sustain community gardening projects

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GRANBY TODAY

HOMETOWN HERO By Christopher DeFrancesco Special to Today Magazine

This story first appeared in UConn Today, the news website of the University of Connecticut THIS WINTER WAS a new experience for Tim Guilmette. He spent it in his new apartment in Enfield — a significant milestone for a man who’s spent most of his adult life homeless. “This was his first holiday season spent in a home where he was able to decorate and celebrate,” says Jasmine Ortiz-Rivas, whom Guilmette credits with getting him out of the woods and under a roof. “I would not be anywhere without that woman,” he says. “She is my guardian angel. I don’t think I would have lasted another winter.” Guilmette, 64, describes himself as a “survivalist since I was 6 years old.” He got used to fending for himself outdoors at an early age, during a troubled childhood growing up in East Hartland. “When I was a kid, I ran away from home all the time because my father was so abusive,” he says. “I used to spend some of my winter vacations from school out in the woods because I couldn’t stand being around my father.” He spent most of the last four decades “either living in the woods or living in the streets,” Guilmette says, openly admitting

he contributed to his living and health challenges by making poor choices with smoking, drugs and alcohol. It was 2018 and the deterioration of his health was accelerating. GRANBY TODAY His legs became extraordinarily Tim Guilmette swollen, and his breathing became laborious. “I used to be able to deal with the cold, no problem. I used to walk around with a T-shirt in the winter,” Guilmette says. “Cold never bothered me until probably the last couple of years, when my breathing started going bad.” At this point, his home was a makeshift campsite about two miles into the woods in North Granby. “It used to take me 25 to 30 minutes to walk to the campsite, now it would take me close to two and a half hours. I had to do something. It was either get out or die. It was one of the two.” It was 2019 when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He was in the hospital with an exacerbation related to that, and soon after that he became a patient of nurse practitioner Meredith

VALLEY INTEL MEDICAL MUSINGS

Bertrand at UConn Health’s primary care practice in Simsbury. “He was homeless and had not had any health care in several years,” Bertrand recalls from her first encounter with Guilmette. “He was suffering with various medical problems including COPD, heart failure, various arthritic problems, suspected sleep apnea, recurrent cellulitis continued on page 14

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SIMSBURY TODAY

Teen Forgoes College Debt, Takes Biz Plunge By Elijah Livingston Special to Today Magazine

I AM NOT THE TYPICAL Simsbury High School graduate. While I enjoyed my educational experience, I knew that college was not going to be my path. I was very fortunate to go to a high school that offered entrepreneurial studies and other classes that taught life skills. I have always been interested in starting a business and even started a few when I was in school. I mowed lawns for a few summers and as a senior in high school printed and sold custom T-shirts. This past fall was stressful for me. I graduated in June 2021, and all of my friends were talking about where they were going to college. While I knew I didn’t want to go to college, I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do. Thankfully, I had parents who were open to alternative paths for me. My parents and I often talked about getting a small business loan to buy a business instead of a loan to get a college

Elijah Livingston graduated from Simsbury High in June 2021

degree. We learned that the Pet Stop dealership in Connecticut was for sale and reached out for more information. I shadowed the owner for a couple weeks to get a feel for the business, and I loved it. I love how the business combines my love for dogs and helps keep other people’s dogs safe as well. In a coincidence, my parents told me that Pet Stop basically saved my dog Rosie’s life. Rosie was constantly running away because the hidden electric fence system that we had installed 10 years ago was poorly made from cheap parts and

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BUSINESS BEAT was unreliable. She would escape often and more than once was almost hit by a car. About a year ago, after Rosie’s latest close call with a car, my parents decided it was time to switch to Pet Stop since their products are made in the United States and because it is the safest, most reliable system available. Once we installed it, Rosie never escaped again. We were very impressed by continued on page 15


NERVE — continued from page 8 Deep and Slow Breathing Breathe more slowly — aim for six breaths per minute. Breathe more deeply, from the belly. Think about expanding your abdomen and widening your rib cage as you inhale. Exhale longer than you inhale. Humming and Singing Since the vagus nerve is attached to the vocal chords and the muscles around them, humming and singing is a great way to stimulate the nerve. Probiotics Probiotics improve gut and digestive function. Meditation Research shows that meditation increases vagal tone and positive emotions. Omega-3 Fatty Acids The EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in fish oil are capable of increasing heart rate variability while lowering the heart rate, which helps to activate the vagus nerve. Exercise Aerobic exercise stimulates your vagus nerve and lowers the stress response associated with fight-or-flight mechanisms. Massage You can manually stimulate the vagus nerve by massaging certain areas of the body. A neck massage along the carotid sinus, the right side of your throat, stimulates the vagus nerve. A foot massage can also increase vagal modulation and lower blood pressure. Socializing and Laughing Laughter is a super-easy thing to do. The vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the restand-digest part of the nervous system, which is the opposite of the fight-or-flight part of the nervous system. So essentially, when you laugh, you’re telling your body to relax. Who would have thought the vagus nerve has so many functions and can be positively influenced by each of us in so many ways? Why aren’t we taught more about this great nerve to help us with our health? It’s never too late to make a difference. We all have some nerve … don’t we? + Dr. Brian Magna owns Magna Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Center, with locations in Avon and Canton • 860-679-0430 • www.magnapt.com

LABOR OF LOVE The CMGA establishes and maintains gardens statewide, such as at the Mark Twain House in Hartford

CMGA — continued from page 10 back to their communities — you must complete the Master Gardener Program to be a member of CMGA. Members are active in local volunteer projects, community gardens, educational activities and beautification programs. Anecdote that illustrates how you fulfill your mission: Each year, gardens and outreach projects are funded by CMGA grants. Recipients can request up to $350 to purchase seeds and plants and garden materials, to create educational signage and informational brochures, to offer children’s programs, and to support gardens that feed the foodinsecure in communities and provide beauty for their residents to enjoy. How has the COVID pandemic impacted your work?

We have conducted all meetings virtually, including our annual Garden Symposium. In addition, we’ve had to adapt some of our educational outreach based on restrictions instituted to protect the public from exposure to the virus. Interesting stats + numbers: • With over 600 members, CMGA has a strong influence on gardening activities in the state. • In 2021, we awarded over $5,000 in grants to support 17 gardening projects throughout the state. • We provide funding for horticultural education projects and scholarships for interns at the UConn Master Gardener class. Besides donations, how is your work funded?

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Annual membership dues and profits from attendance at our events.

Community health specialist Jasmine Oritz-Rivas and Tim Guilmette

How closely do you work with other agencies/nonprofits? We work closely with the UConn Home & Garden Education Center and with UConn Extension Master Gardener offices in each county statewide. What do you appreciate most about the Farmington Valley? We are a statewide organization, but the Hartford County UConn Extension office is in Farmington, where Master Gardeners conduct classes and provide gardening information and answers to consumer questions. What constructive change would you like to see in the Valley? We encourage everyone to try gardening, to support sustainability by planting native trees and plants, and to use garden products that are kind to our planet. Number of employees: We are an all-volunteer organization. Board officers: President – Paula Russo Vice-President – Kathye Cipes Treasurer – Deb Prior Assistant Treasurer – Debbye Rosen Secretary – Jean Fletcher Board members: • Fairfield County — Caroline Moran • Hartford County — Kathy Beaty, Marge Bingham, Lin Branham, Valerie Bryan, Kathy Cassidy, Kathye Cipes, Jean Fletcher, Debbye Rosen, Susan St. John • Litchfield County — Susan Eisenhandler • Middlesex County — Paula Russo • New Haven County — Vicky Ambrosey, Mary Jane Toomey • New London County — Lisa Doggart, Jim Ward • Stamford County — Mary Ellen Seuch • Tolland County — Deb Prior • Windham County — Kim Kelly, Christine Masztal Further comment: The purpose of CMGA is to keep Master Gardeners connected, to enhance and supplement the Master Gardener Program, and to share gardening knowledge and expertise. Our association provides Connecticut’s many home gardeners with information and answers to horticulture and landscaping questions. We hold educational events and workshops and activities around the state. + 14

Photo by Tina Encarnacion

HOME — continued from page 11 infections. He was doing OK on the day I first met him, but this was right after having had spent a week in the hospital getting stabilized and fixed up. It was clear that he was going to require a lot of care in order to maintain this state.” “Everything that I’ve got right now should have been diagnosed 10 years ago,” Guilmette says. “But I wasn’t going to the doctor.” Guilmette says at points over the two years that followed he was retaining 100 pounds of fluid in his legs and had a 17% carbon monoxide level in his blood. “Dr. [Raymond] Foley told me, ‘I just can’t believe you’re walking and talking,’” Guilmette says. “He was like, ‘My God, to be honest with you, you should be dead.’” By now, the “guardian angel” had appeared, in the person of Ortiz-Rivas. Bertrand had referred Guilmette to UConn Health’s population health team, where Ortiz-Rivas is a community health specialist, to see about finding him housing. “He was a little harsh when we first spoke, he felt like people lied to him all the time,” Ortiz-Rivas. “I felt like it was a challenge. I told him, ‘I’m a different type

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of person, and if I can help, I’m going to do whatever I can to help you.’ That’s how we built a relationship. I had to earn it.” The population health team’s charge is to work with patients to remove barriers to care, improve patient experience and reduce health care costs. The community health specialists connect patients with resources such as transportation, food and other basic needs. Guilmette says before UConn Health’s population health team got involved, all he knew were empty promises and disappointment. “I’ve had, I guarantee you, three dozen people that were supposed to contact me, and I never heard from any of them,” he says. “And when Jasmine called me, I told her, ‘I want to thank you very much.’ She said, ‘for what?’ And I said, ‘just because you called me.’” But he made it clear he was not interested in getting his hopes up if she wasn’t going to follow through with him. “When she got done hearing my story, she said there was no way she was going to stop,” Guilmette says. Many calls would follow, including some where it was just him venting about what was frustrating him that day. “He was really looking for someone to


just be there for him, and it was tough in the beginning to win over his trust,” OrtizRivera says. By early 2021, the fluid buildup in his legs was really slowing him down, making the two-mile walk to the campsite nearly impossible. The breakthrough came when Bertrand was having trouble convincing him he really needed to be seen in the emergency department for the swelling of his legs and his oxygen level. He refused, for fear of losing his few possessions at his campsite in the woods. “I gave him a call and we had a little heart-to-heart — by then I think we’d established a relationship where I could speak freely to him,” Ortiz-Rivas says. “I said, ‘Look, Tim, if you do not take care of your health, there’s not going to be a home that I can find for you to move into, because you may not even make it to move into a home. If you pass away, what’s going to happen to your things, who’s going to go get that stuff? That’s minor. You need to focus on what’s happening now, and you need to take care of your health.’” He relented. He got his friend Pete to drive him to the hospital, and he called Ortiz-Rivas from the emergency department to report he was there. “No matter what I’m doing, the fluid was building back up,” Guilmette says. “And I do my medications religiously every day. So when I went into the hospital they said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to put you in rehab.’ So I agreed.” Rehabilitation and physical therapy at the private skilled nursing facility did not go well for Guilmette, and his stay was short-lived. By April he was on his way back to living in the woods. Ortiz-Rivas says as miserable as his stay in rehab made him, it likely saved his life. “While he was in rehab, a tree fell on his tent, where he slept,” she says. “Who knows what could have happened?” Instead of going back to living in the woods, Guilmette stayed with Pete in North Granby, and the focus shifted to finding housing. Ortiz-Rivas and Guilmette’s sister, Donna Buxton, were coordinating with Community Health Resources (CHR), a nonprofit behavioral health care provider whose offerings include a housing services program. “That lady pushed for everything,” Guilmette says. “If it wasn’t for Jasmine pushing for everything like she did, I would have never gotten to that point

where CHR could help me. She pushed the whole thing, so I was able to get in touch with them. She found everybody. Put it that way.” The connection with CHR is what got him into his apartment in Enfield, where he’s lived since last May. “I feel like someone was guiding me, because it’s a rare thing,” Ortiz-Rivas says. “Housing is a hard thing to find, especially in the Hartford area — anywhere in Connecticut, especially during COVID. It was so hard. It was challenging. With my team, I bounce my ideas off everyone I work with and I try to find different things. We work as a close team because we’re here for the patients. I work with a team of people that actually care what happens to the patients once they leave UConn, and I think this team has made a difference.” The team includes nurses and community health specialists, under the leadership of Khadija Poitras-Rhea, associate vice president for population health. “This team has truly changed the way we provide care at UConn Health,” Poitras-Rhea says. “Patients will never achieve optimal health outcomes if we don’t address the barriers to accessing care. By connecting patients to critical resources like food, housing and transportation we create meaningful change in their lives so that they can focus on attending medical appointments and following their treatment plans. Patients are often surprised that we offer these types of services but they are so appreciative of the support. Our providers have been extremely supportive of our programs. They often hear firsthand the challenges that patients face and they love that they can refer patients to population health for assistance.” As for Guilmette, and what motivated him to make his health a greater priority? “I don’t want to die yet,” Guilmette says. “I’ve got two great nephews, a great niece, and I want to see them grow up. I want to show them how to go fishing, play catch with them, do stuff that I want to do with them.” And as for Ortiz-Rivas being his “guardian angel”? “I thought I was just doing my job,” she says. “And when he said that to me, I choked up. He choked up. And it showed, wow, that it did mean a lot. I can see a difference, which is rewarding in itself. Just to see that and be a part of it is a big deal. It was perfect timing for me to meet him and to work with him.” +

TEEN — continued from page 12 the Pet Stop products and how they saved our dog’s life. The process of buying the company took about four months, and there were some stressful moments and sleepless nights for me and my parents! It’s no joke that they asked me at least 20 times: Are you sure you want to do this … you can still back out of the purchase if you want. While I was nervous and scared, I know that you must take chances in life. Some will be successful, and some will be failures. I have heard it said, “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking big enough risks!” We took over the business this year in January, and I am working a ton of hours every week but I absolutely love it. I believe many high school students and their parents would benefit from hearing about my journey as an option to college and the real-world experience I am gaining. I have learned many things over the past few months — including setting up an LLC and a DBA, applying for an SBA loan, registering for various accounts to do business in Connecticut, and so much more. These are things that I would have never had the opportunity to do in college. I am so excited about what the future holds for me, and hopefully my story can inspire other young adults to look at other options besides college. + www.ctpetfence.com Pet Stop of Connecticut — aka CT Pet Fence — is based in Simsbury

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ADVERTISER DIRECTORY —————————————— Alphabetical Order by Category Funeral Home Owned & Operated by the Carmon Family

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Physical Therapy

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