Eliza’s Story

Eliza had a tough life. Last summer she voluntarily signed on with Connecticut’s Department of Children and Youth Services. When foster care did not work out, she came to Project Return.

Since arriving at the North Compo Road home, where teenage girls and young women in crisis find a place to heal and grow, Eliza has thrived. She’s been sober for 6 months. Her relationship with her mother is vastly better.

Most importantly, she feels good about herself.

Project Return, on North Compo Road. It's a place where girls and young women transform their lives.

Project Return, on North Compo Road, where girls and young women transform their lives.

A part-time student at Staples and in Orange, Eliza starts full-time at Staples this week. Her truancy issues are gone. She’ll graduate sooner than she ever thought possible.

Eliza says, “I’ve grown into myself.” At Project Return she is surrounded by loving professionals, and other girls who support her. She feels “profound comfort. I’m safe, and in control of my emotions.”

Eliza’s passion for art has been stoked too. Drawing often in notebooks — usually with a fine-point quill, sometimes using watercolors, in an artist’s nook she created in the Project Return basement — Eliza creates wonderful works that come from her heart.

Eliza (left) relaxes with her sketch notebook in the Project Return living room with Christine Manenke (transitional living coordinator) and Susie Basler (executive director).

Eliza (left) relaxes with her sketch notebook in the Project Return living room with Christine Manenke (transitional living coordinator) and Susie Basler (executive director).

This Saturday (April 5, 7 p.m., Rolling Hills Country  Club, Wilton), one of Eliza’s drawings will be auctioned off. It’s part of Project Return’s 19th annual Birdhouse Gala, featuring silent and live auctions of original birdhouses designed and built by local artists, bird-themed paintings, ceramics, furniture and jewelry, plus “migration vacations” and “nesting packages.”

Plus cocktails, dinner, and dancing to the DNR rock band. It’s a fantastic event, for an even better cause.

“This house has given me so much,” Eliza says, sitting in the comfortable living room as the smell of cooking wafts from the kitchen.

Eliza's contribution to the Birdhouse Auction Gala.

Eliza’s contribution to the Birdhouse Auction Gala.

“It’s helped me meet the person I always thought I was, but never thought I could become. I’m so grateful for the amazing therapists, wonderful tutors — all the incredible people who are here.”

Eliza is doing her part to give back. The piece she donated for the auction shows 7 birds — there are 7 beds at Project Return — with a quote from Maya Angelou, describing home as a safe haven.

Right now, it sits by the cash register at Eileen Fisher.

On Saturday, it can be yours.

Eliza would be grateful. So would the hundreds of girls who have passed through Project Return since its founding in 1985. And the hundreds more it will help over many years to come.

(For ticket information to the Birdhouse Auction Gala, click here. To bid on online items before April 5, click here.) 

Birdhouses from previous auctions. (Photos courtesy of Westport Magazine)

Birdhouses from previous auctions. (Photos courtesy of Westport Magazine)

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