Tag Archives: Westport Department of Human Services

Holiday Giving: Why They’re Called “Human Services”

Every year, Westport’s Department of Human Services runs a Family Holiday Giving program. Staff members and volunteers match “wish list” requests from people in need with clothes, toys, games and gift cards donated by local schools, businesses, organizations, churches and individuals.

This year, the program will help 116 local families — that’s 400 people.

Typical of local businesses that support the program — very quietly — is Athletic Shoe Factory. Chris Buchner has donated over 1000 pairs of new shoes for adults and children to pick from. You know how important new, cool-looking sneakers are to kids in this town.

Over the years, merchants like Winged Monkey and Wish List have donated new clothing too.

The only reason more folks don’t help is they don’t know about the program. Donations are still being accepted from residents and organizations. Interested? Email hsyouth@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1069.

If you or your family needs support during the holiday season, call 203-341-1050.

We’re Also #1

On the heels of this morning’s postWestport is the 9th most educated place in the United States! — it’s worth noting another accomplishment.

In the Neighbor to Neighbor Home Energy Challenge, we’re #1.

And we did not win by a nose (or kilowatt, or whatever). We blew every other town in Connecticut far out of the water.

Home energy challengeWe ended the contest with 819,400 points. Our next closest competitor — Wilton — earned 170,800. Only 4 other towns in the state (Ridgefield, Wethersfield, Portland and Lebanon) got over 100,000.

Westport’s spectacular energy efficiency rating comes thanks to the work done by the Westport Home Energy Challenge, and 20 partner organizations.

But we’re not resting on our laurels. The Green Task Force has launched a “Stay Cool Westport!” initiative.

Anyone signing up for a Home Energy Solutions visit will learn how to lower air-conditioning and heating costs. And — if it’s done by August 31 — donations will be made to the Westport Warm-Up Fund. That’s a Department of Human Services program that helps needy Westporters purchase heating fuel.

Congratulations to the 1,548 Westporters who have already weatherized their homes through the Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge. Your “energy” is greatly appreciated.

(To sign up for a Stay Cool Westport energy audit, call 877-WISE-USE.)

Human Services’ Holiday Help

Westport’s Human Services Department‘s work is never done.

Just a few days after caring for hundreds of Hurricane Sandy victims, the agency turns its attention to the holidays. As always, this is its busiest time of the year.

As many Westporters shop, cook, plan vacations and share gifts, hundreds of children, families and seniors wonder how they’ll cope.

Many turn to Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program.  It’s a great, confidential way for Westporters to provide gifts for kids — and ease the financial burden on entire families. Last year, 445 residents — including those served by Homes With Hope and the Westport Housing Authority — received holiday assistance. In the aftermath of Sandy, this year’s number is sure to rise.

“This unbelievable program enabled us as a family to breathe a little easier, knowing our child could have some fun and joy in life,” one grateful recipient wrote.

Another said:  “I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.  It is a truly humbling experience.”

Contributions come from individuals, as well as garden and book clubs, scout troops, schools, churches and businesses. Donors and receivers are assured of confidentiality.

“Some of the most appreciated gifts are grocery and gas cards of any amount,” says Human Services director Barbara Butler. Also well received: gift cards to local stores.

Cash donations are always welcome. They allow Human Services staffers to buy last-minute gift cards for clients.

Cards and checks (made payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holiday” on the memo line) can be mailed to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880 at any time (the sooner the better, of course). They can also be dropped off in Town Hall Room 200 during business hours.

If you’d like to shop for a family’s actual gift request — in full or part — or for questions, contact Patty Haberstroh (hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069).

Families needing extra support during the holidays should call 203-341-1050.

Gimme Shelter

Long Lots Elementary School serves as Westport’s emergency shelter. With dire predictions of Hurricane Sandy bearing down last Sunday, staff and volunteers were ready to prepare for a surge of evacuees.

But first, there was a Halloween party for kids.

Custodians assured emergency workers that they could set up after the party. They wanted the children to have fun.

The kids did. And indeed, the shelter was ready in time.

Long Lots School

That’s just one of the feel-good stories told by Ned Batlin. A Westport police officer — and much-loved DARE official — he spent several days at Long Lots last week, overseeing security and pitching in as much as everyone else there.

“Human Services, Red Cross, CERT volunteers, the custodial staff — they were phenomenal,” Ned says. “They worked around the clock, day after day.”

He cites too Long Lots’ custodial staff: Pat Hayden (head), Peter Barcello and Patrick Rodgers.

Chartwells — Westport Public Schools’ food service provider — was “fantastic,” Ned says.

Executive chef Ritch Imperiati never left. “He slept in his car every night. He made sure there were 3 hot meals a day, from Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon. And there was chips, juice and water, 24/7,” says Ned.

“It was a great group effort. One of the food servers — who also never left — played with kids in the gym in between her shifts.”

The first night, nearly 90 Westporters slept at Long Lots. As the storm raged, all the cots were in the hallways. Officials feared the gym’s windows might not withstand such high winds.

On Tuesday night, 50 people slept in the gym.

Others stopped in just for meals or coffee. One man came to charge his ankle monitor. (His probation officer told him to.)

Social workers from Human Services were always on duty. Department members Barbara Butler, Patty Haberstroh, Elaine Daignault and Kevin Godburn made sure things ran smoothly. There was also a nurse at all times.

“So many people came together to make people’s lives a little easier,” Ned marvels. “It was fantastic to see.”

RSVP To The Doctors

Several years ago, when the local chapter of the Red Cross decamped for Norwalk, a popular program — driving Westporters to medical appointments — vanished with it.

But members of RSVP — the Retired & Seniors Volunteer Program — knew it was needed.

So did Westport’s Department of Human Services. The 2 organizations partnered, added Weston’s Social Services Department — and now all Westport seniors, and anyone with a disability, has access to free and friendly transportation to see their doctors in Westport, and all bordering towns.

Users register by phone. Volunteer dispatchers — working from home — match requests with drivers.

Drivers use their own cars, and pay for their own gas. They stay throughout the appointment (though if it will be a while, they can run errands or go home, and return at the end).

Most of the 50 or so drivers are RSVP members (the organization covers drivers under an umbrella policy).

There are 270 registered users, says Human Services senior program coordinator Sue Lebrija. Some use it once or twice — if, say, a broken leg curtails driving. Others use it frequently — even for regular dialysis appointments.

There are other driving services in the area — ITN, Norwalk Transit, even private drivers — and Human Services gives out that information too, to make sure every need can be met.

“Our volunteers are fabulous,” Sue says proudly. “They’re very community-conscious. Some also drive for ITN, and deliver meals.”

Clients say the service gives them “a new lease on life,” Sue adds. “In this day and age, adult children can’t drive their parents to the doctor all the time. This is something that’s really needed, and really works well.”

RSVP’s program operates weekdays — except Thursday. Why not then?

That’s the day the Y’s Men meet. Most RSVP drivers also belong to that senior group. They are indeed an active — and community-minded — bunch.

Help For The Holidays

The holiday season has begun.  Local stores have “Christmas” (can I say that?) decorations up, and Wal-Mart — thankfully not a local store — has announced it will open at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

“Our customers told us they would rather stay up late to shop than get up early, so we’re going to hold special events on Thanksgiving and Black Friday,” Walmart’s chief merchandising officer said.  (No word on what Walmart’s hard-working, non-unionized workers associates think about punching in late on Thanksgiving night.)

While “06880” cannot become a bulletin board for every worthy help-the-less-fortunate endeavor this winter (bah, humbug!), 3 special events have caught our eye.

First:  Once again, the Conservative Synagogue is partnering with gourmet bakers, caterers and fine food outlets to provide Thanksgiving pies — while making a donation to Homes With Hope.

The “Share the Pie” fundraiser offers apple, pecan and pumpkin pies for $20.  The deadline to order is this Wednesday (November 16); pies can be picked up Tuesday, November 22 at the synagogue parking lot.

Click here to order, or call 203-454-4673.

Second:  The Department of Human Services is again sponsoring a holiday giving program for Westport residents.

Those who can contribute — gift cards for food, gas and discount department stores, for example, along with tax-deductible donations of money that’s used to fulfill last-minute requests — do so.  Human Services acts as a facilitator, protecting the confidentiality of donors and recipients.

To donate — or request help — email humansrv@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1069.

Third:  The Westport Police Department local union 2080 and Police Benevolent Association are again sponsoring a toy drive.  New, unopened and unwrapped toys — as well as cash donations — will be collected at police headquarters any time through December 18.

There are plenty of ways to do good this holiday season.  These are just 3.

And none require a trip to Walmart at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night.

Staples SLOBs


Staples is filled with SLOBs.

And Westport is a far better place for them.

The yuk-yuk anagram stands for Service League of Boys.  The parent-son community service club is one of the most popular organizations at school.

It’s only 3 years old, but already the SLOBs have established a great tradition:  Service Sunday.  Fathers, mothers and teenage sons work together doing construction, landscaping and painting for social service groups in town.

Last year they gave the Gillespie Center a new courtyard, finished the food pantry and painted their office.  SLOBs painted the bathrooms at Bacharach Emergency Housing, and mulched their beds.  They did a lot of landscaping for Saugatuck Apartments and Linxweiler, and also worked for seniors through the Department of Human Services.

This year they’ve added Project Return and the ABC House.

Staples SLOBs work in the Gillespie Shelter food pantry.

They pay for supplies with unique fundraisers.  For 2011 a committee of boys devised an arm wrestling event.  After school on March 11, SLOBs and friends will try to break the Guinness world record for simultaneous arm wrestlers (it’s 200).  Then SLOBs will host an arm wrestling tournament, with teams of 6 (3 males, 3 females — teachers are welcome).  By charging an entry fee, SLOBs hopes to raise up to $10,000.

Tom and David Kalb help landscape Linxweiler House.

But they still need help for Service Day (this year, May 1).  SLOBs provides the grunt work, but they need professionals to help — for example, doing bathroom renovatiions (including new vinyl flooring), and installing paving stones and removing damaged asphalt at the Gillespie Center.

Pros are also needed for power washing at 2 houses; porch renovation and replacement of rotted shingles; replacing a rotted stockade fence, and sheetrocking a small area of the food pantry.

Sure, Staples students sometimes leave the cafeteria a mess.  But this group of SLOBs is doing some pretty neat things.

(Interested in helping with Service Sunday, either by donating professional expertise or money?  Able to donate a storage shed, new grill, and/or new tools like rakes and shovels?  Contact Suzanne Kalb:  skalb@optonline.net; 203-226-4803.)

Giving Gets Going

A few days ago, “06880” highlighted the work of Westport’s Human Services department.

It’s a 24/7/365 organization — but business is never stronger than now through New Year’s.

As the holidays loom, hundreds of children, families and seniors wonder how they’ll cope.

A little gift goes a long way.

Many turn to Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program.  It’s a great, confidential way for Westporters to provide gifts for kids — and ease the financial burden on entire families.

Last year, 463 individuals — including 259 Westport children — were helped by donors.  That was a 10% increase over 2008 — and the numbers are sure to rise this season.

“This unbelievable program enabled us as a family to breathe a little easier, knowing our child could have some fun and joy in life,” one grateful recipient wrote.

Another said:  “I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.  It is a truly humbling experience.”

Contributions come from individuals, as well as garden and book clubs, scout troops, schools, churches and businesses.

“Families range in size, so we can accommodate any level of tax-deductible donation,” Holiday Giving Program coordinator Patty Haberstroh says.

Her “very rough guideline” suggests an expenditure of $100 per family member.  Interested donors should contact her by email (hsyouth@westportct.gov) or phone (203-341-1069).  She’ll then mail or fax actual gift requests, (including sizes) that have been submitted.  Unwrapped purchases are delivered to Human Services at Town Hall no later than the week of December 6-10.

Donors can also purchase gift cards to places like Stop & Shop, CVS, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx.  Those cards can be mailed to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880 at any time.

But why wait?

Human Services, 2010-Style

In the past year, Westport’s Department of Human Services has helped 200 new clients.

That makes at least 1200 households that need financial aid or referral information.

And more and more of them are “showing up in suits and ties,” says longtime director Barbara Butler.

These are the new faces of Westporters needing help.  “They have reduced income, or they’re unemployed,” Butler explains.

“They can pay their mortgage or rent, but they can’t do anything extra — no car repairs or school expenses.”

Sometimes the aid is emotional.

Barbara Butler

“Even if we can’t do a lot, they appreciate they can talk to us,” Butler says.  “They realize they’re not the only ones.”

Sometimes, she adds, clients need help accessing resources like food stamps, prescription drug assistance or children’s Husky health insurance.

Butler’s office also connects Westporters with services like the Woman’s Club Food Closet.

“We’ve seen retired captains of industry come in with Medicare Part D forms,” Butler notes.  “They’ve never had to deal with this, or figure out choices.”

As the holidays approach, Butler’s focus turns to the “Families in Need” fund.  Thanks to donations from individuals and organizations, Human Services pays up to about $400 or so per household, to cover emergency needs like rent, utility bills or food.  Last year, the fund paid out approximately $30,000, to over 68 families.

“Westport is great,” Butler says.  “No other town around supports social services like we do.”

And, in 2010, no town is immune to that need.

(Want to help?  Checks made out to the “Families in Need” fund can be sent to:  Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880.  “The fund is almost rock-bottom now,” Butler says.)

Yes, Back To School

Ah, July.  The beach.  Barbecues.  Back to school.

No buzzkill, but shopping season is right around the corner.  And in these tough economic times, Westport is ready to help those who find it tough to help their school-age kids.

Each year, the Department of Human Services provides new backpacks, school supplies and Payless Shoe Store gift cards to kids from 175 low-income families.  It’s an important project, in this largely affluent, you-are-what-you-tote-and-wear town.  Last year, 216 children participated — a 17 percent increase over 2008.

But DHS can’t do it alone.  Family program coordinator Patty Haberstroh needs help.  Donations of new school supplies — including backpacks — can be dropped off Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in Room 200 at Town Hall.  Even a few pens and pencils is fine.

Monetary donations enable Haberstroh to purchase whatever supplies are most needed.  Checks should be made payable to Families in Need Fund (memo:  “Backpacks”), and sent to Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880.

Donations are accepted through August 14, but Haberstroh says “the sooner the better.”

(Families who think they may be eligible for the program should call Haberstroh at 203-341-1069.  For other questions about the program, call Margaret Pinheiro at 203-341-1050, or email humansrv@westportct.gov.)