Early in her working career, Susie Basler served as an Illinois parole and probation officer.
That served her well in what became her life’s work: volunteering for, then running Project Return, Westport’s well-respected group home for teenage girls and young women.
Basler — who has a master’s degree and is a licensed clinical social worker — enjoyed working with that population. They had issues that prevented them from living with their families — but Susie and her staff offered counseling, love (tough and soft), a chance for an education and, ultimately, a fresh start in life.
But about 3 years ago, the state stopped funding Project Return. Homes With Hope took it over. It’s now focused on supportive housing for homeless young women, 18-24 years old, providing individualized case management, and employment and educational resources.
Basler retired as executive director. But she was not ready to stop working. She spent a year as president of Westport Rotary. It was fulfilling and important.
Yet she missed helping young women grow.
“I’d gained knowledge and wisdom, and seen just about every behavior an adolescent could do,” she says.
Borrowing a friend’s office on Black Rock Turnpike, she worked with a woman whose daughter was troubled. Basler helped the mother appreciate her child’s strengths. Together they strengthened the relationship.
When her friend and fellow Rotarian Rick Benson bought 29 East Main Street — the former Temenos building — Basler saw an opportunity. She rented one of the offices, and is now seeing clients.
Most are parents of teenage girls and young women.
“I love working with adolescents,” Basler says. “But I realize they may want someone younger and cooler than me. There are a gazillion therapists in Westport. But not a lot of them are working the parents. And parents are the ones who can have a huge impact on girls.”
She adds, “No one teaches us how to be a parent. We learn — good and bad — from the way we were parented.” One of her strengths, she says, is that she’s a non-judgmental listener.
“Knowing we are accepted and loved for who we are — that’s what heals and leads to growth,” Susie adds.
Her role with parents is to provide empathy; help them understand the needs of teenagers, while setting healthy boundaries; provide guidance in raising children in an affluent community, and reduce anxiety, while navigating blind spots and roadblocks.
“My passion has always been helping kids — especially those who are hurting,” Basler says.
“The best way I can do that today is by helping their parents understand and love them better, be better able to tolerate their feelings, and be less reactive to their behavior.
“I’m a good believer in people. I’m their best advocate. I partner with them in their efforts to become whole and succeed. This was what I was at Project Return, at my best.”
Susie Basler knows teenage girls. Now she’s helping parents get to know their own daughters a little bit better too.