Tag Archives: Elaine Daignault

Senior Center’s Huge Loss: Sue Pfister To Retire

Susan L. Pfister — the only director the Westport Center for Senior Activities has known at its Imperial Avenue home — has announced her retirement.

She leaves the post she has made an enormous mark on, effective January 1.

Sue Pfister

Pfister has spent 35 years with Westport’s Department of Human Services. She was hired in 1987, after graduating from Sacred Heart University with a bachelor’s in social work.

She earned a master’s in social work at Fordham University, and dedicated her career to supporting Westport senior citizens.

The Senior Center had humble beginnings, and no permanent home. It bounced between the YMCA, Greens Farms Elementary School, Longshore and Staples High School.

Pfister helped lead construction of the Imperial Avenue facility in 2004, ahead of schedule and under budget. She also oversaw the 2016 expansion.

Westport’s Senior Center serves hundreds of people daily, thanks in large part to Pfister’s expertise and administration. “Sue’s Café” is just one honor. It was named in recognition of her establishment of the daily congregate meal program, complete with its own chef.

Westporters of all ages — along with town officials, and her colleagues around the state — admire Pfister’s creativity, resourcefulness and inclusive vision.

Sue Pfister (seated, right), at her beloved Senior Center.

She says:

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to spend my entire career with the Town of Westport. Westport truly values and recognizes the important role seniors play in the community.

I send heartfelt appreciation and thanks to the various administrations, boards and commissions, town departments and staff, instructors and volunteers, and most importantly, my staff for supporting me throughout my career. I will always call Westport my home away from home.

The Westport Senior Center.

First Selectwoman Jen Tooker adds:

Westport residents, and in particular our seniors and their families and caregivers, have been blessed with Sue’s presence. Through her due diligence and oversight, the Senior Center has become a crown jewel of Westport, offering comprehensive programs that enhance the lives of seniors and create countless opportunities for seniors and volunteers to enjoy friendships and daily enrichment.

Sue always has the best interests of those she cared for at the forefront. Her considerate nature and calm demeanor, coupled with a no-nonsense management style has been an enormous asset to this community.

On a personal level, when my mom and dad moved to town, my dad became enamored of the Center and its many activities. It was Sue and her staff who were sincerely welcoming and hands-on in helping with a difficult life transition for him.

I know she is the same with all her beloved seniors. Sue took the lead without fanfare – she just did it – and with a smile on her face. Of course, Sue will be sorely missed as the Senior Center director. But I also know that she will continue to be in service to others as she enters a new chapter in her life. We wish her only health and happiness in her retirement.

Carl Frey blew out birthday candles with (from right) his wife Iris, and Senior Center director Sue Pfister.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault notes:

Sue has a penchant for quick-thinking, organization, and collaboration, playing a critical role in the town’s emergency response efforts through countless storms and public health emergencies. She and her team offered essential respite and support by feeding, housing, and comforting emergency workers and residents during significant nor’easter storm events like Hurricanes Sandy, Irene and Isais, and the COVID19 pandemic.

Sue’s energy and dedication are inspirational. Her drive and compassion for others have been a tremendous source of reassurance to me, and those that she has helped along the way.

I am very grateful for her camaraderie and friendship, and I wish her a well-deserved retirement where she’ll continue to spread light and hope to others.

“06880” Podcast: Elaine Daignault

Growing up in Westport with 9 brothers and sisters, Elaine Daignault learned to thrive with a lot of activity.

That served her well in her current position: director of Westport’s Human Services Department.

Her office serves older folks (Senior Center), teens and tweens (Toquet Hall, Youth Commission), families in need, those with mental health and substance issues — and their families and loved ones. Her staff touches just about everyone in town.

The other day, Elaine sat down on the Westport Library Trefz Forum stage. We talked about what Human Services does, how they do it, why it’s important — and the Westport that many of us never see.

Click below for our latest “06880” podcast.

Happy 50th, Foti!

Foti Koskinas celebrated his 50th birthday in style today.

The popular Westport Police chief turns half a century young this month. This morning, he got ready to participate in a workout/fundraiser for one of his favorite charities: the Catch a Lift Fund for wounded veterans.

But right before he began, a convoy drove past the police station. His wife, daughter and friends had gathered a group of Foti’s many fans, at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Among them: former 1st selectman Jim Marpe and his wife, Fire Chief Michael Kronick, Planning & Zoning chair Danielle Dobin, and others whose lives he has impacted.

Gathering in the parking lot (from left): Mary Ellen Marpe, former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Marshall Kiev.

Then — with a police escort — they drove around the corner to fete Foti. He was surprised and thrilled.

The birthday convoy arrives.

And then he did his fundraiser, with a smile.

Happy birthday, Chief — from all who were there, and the many other Westporters who are grateful for your service.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault, at today’s surprise birthday celebration. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Neighbors Helping Neighbors: What We All Can Do

Earlier this month, several Westporters grew worried about a neighbor.

In his 90s, he lived alone. Several people would cook, and leave bags of food at his door. Two bags had not been retrieved; his mail was still in the box, and the carrier was worried.

Recently, a neighbor had seen bruises on his face. But when anyone knocked, he’d yell from behind a chained door, “COVID! COVID! Go away!”

Yhe Westport Police, EMS and Department of Human Services were called. Sadly, he had died.

A neighbor emailed me: “My heart breaks for the old man, by himself, perhaps ill and/or with failing memory, and so terrified of COVID he refused contact with concerned neighbors, who he knew also brought him food.”

Could they have done more? she wondered.

I asked Human Services director Elaine Daignault. She says:

“Neighbors are often the first line of support for individuals who live alone. That’s why it is so vital for Westporters to get to know their neighbors. Human Services frequently receives calls from concerned neighbors of elderly and disabled residents.

Elaine Daignault, director of Westport’s Department of Human Services

“Every scenario is different. A DHS social worker is always available to listen to concerns, and work collaboratively with neighbors and emergency responders to determine the best way to support the individual in question.

The strong partnership between first responders and Human Services ensures a collective approach to supporting seniors’ health and well-being in various situations.

“If the individual is in imminent danger, residents are encouraged to call 911. If DHS receives the call, we contact the police immediately for a welfare check.

“If warranted, EMS will transport the individual to the hospital for medical emergencies. In this scenario, Police, Fire and EMS will refer the household to Human Services for follow-up, as needed. We also work with hospital social workers to help with discharge planning.

“Concurrently, a call to Human Services initiates a trained social worker’s response to directly contact the individual to assess their needs and create a plan to help.

“Some people are more open to discuss their needs than others. Some people choose to decline assistance altogether. If they are not amenable to sharing, we will identify a family member or friend to offer assistance where needed.

“If we cannot make contact or progress, Human Services works collaboratively with first responders and the Westport Weston Health District to schedule an in-home safety assessment.

“If we cannot find a responsible family member to assist, or the individual is resistant, the team may refer the case to CT Protective Services for the Elderly.  The state then becomes the lead agency, and town partners serve as local resources to ensure that the resident receives appropriate supports.

“Here are some ways for neighborhoods to look after the elderly in their communities:

  • Exchange phone numbers and ask for a loved one’s contact information, just in case.
  • Check in with them regularly, or set up a  simple check-in. For example, offer to do their grocery shopping or bring them their mail. Request that the senior provides a regular “signal” to their neighbors, like opening and closing a specific blind each day, to avoid concerned neighbors making unnecessary calls for welfare checks.
  • Consider encouraging them to register for a Human Services program, or participate in the Westport Center for Senior Activities.
  • DHS has several call programs to provide additional support and welfare checks for registered residents. Anyone wishing to receive a friendly call from a community volunteer (Hello, Neighbor), a welfare check during emergencies (Emergency Registry), or to register special circumstances through our Voluntary Registry for People with Disabilities can contact DHS through the links above, call 203-341-1050, or email or humansrv@westportct.gov.
  • Seniors and people with disabilities may be eligible to receive home delivered meals. This provides an additional layer of support, because volunteers personally deliver meals to recipients weekly.

“It sounds like the neighbors did the right thing by calling the Police Department and Human Services. Together, we will follow up on the calls and do our best to address concerns directly.

“Note that we cannot share personal information or circumstances without the individual’s expressed consent, which can be frustrating to the person making the initial call.

“In a non-emergency situation, anyone can call Human Services at 203-341-1050 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or contact the Police non-emergency line at 341-6000 any time. The Police Department will always bring necessary backup, including Fire and EMS.

“If someone notices a pattern of suspicious activity, or has a concern about abuse or neglect, they can contact both numbers above or make a direct report to the Connecticut Department of Social Services Protective Services For The Elderly central intake line at 888-385- 4225. For after-hour reports, call 211.”

Calling All Neighbors!

Call it the COVID Paradox: At a time when people most need each other — for solace, for hugs, for simple companionship in a crisis — we’re commanded to stay far apart. Being close can kill. New phrases like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” sound as grim as they actually are.

In mid-March, Navida Greifenberger started a “Westport Coronavirus Info” Facebook group. It was a way to share ideas, and create community.

As important as it was, it did not take long for Greifenberger to realize that more was needed. Beyond group sharing, she wondered, how could she help individuals?

She created a simple Facebook form, linking those who wanted to make phone calls with those who wished to receive them. One of the first volunteers was 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane. She quickly realized this was a great project for the town’s Department of Human Services. Director Elaine Daignault agreed.

No matter how you connect …

Together the department, Greifenberger and Kari Bley established structure (including background checks and orientation) for volunteers.

Anyone 18 and older is welcome, from every neighborhood and with all kinds of interests.

Once a background check is completed, Human Services matches callers with recipients. Matches may include common interests, but some volunteers and recipients indicate that they want to be matched with someone older or younger.

No particular skill is needed. The only prerequisite is completing the form, and establishing a compatible call schedule.

The goal  of the program — called “Hello, Neighbor” — is for each pair to have at least one conversation a week. Anything beyond that is up to them.

… both the caller and recipient will benefit from regular phone conversations.

“We’re excited to have put together a program that doesn’t differentiate between volunteers and beneficiaries,” says Kane. “Everyone wins when a connection is made. Our community becomes richer as a result of making new friends, mentors and confidantes.”

“Social media is a wonderful and important tool for people to communicate,” Greifenberger adds. “But it doesn’t compare to the comfort of hearing a voice at the end of the phone.”

Daignault believes that participants will get “far more out of a regular conversation with a neighbor than they anticipate. It’s not so much about the content of the conversation, but the impact of ‘showing up’ for one another.

“Many people miss their routine. It’s nice to have something like this to look forward to. One-to-one calls provide an unusual opportunity for people to be truly present, without distractions.

“This is key for anyone who may feel isolated. Mental health is tied to our interactions with others. In the current environment, avoiding person-to-person interaction, many people feel invisible and alone. We hope this program helps everyone feel important and heard.”

If you want to be heard — as a volunteer or recipient — click here. Questions? Email helloneighbor@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-5037.

Human Services: Don’t Neglect Mental Health!

This afternoon — as Westport schools mark 6 weeks since closing — town officials reminded residents that despite physical isolation, we all need social connections. They’re key to maintaining mental and physical health.

Department of Human Services director Elaine Daignault says:

When we must stay at home, it can be challenging to maintain connections, and manage new or existing mental health matters. Many of us are learning to live with uncertainty, which requires a degree of patience with ourselves and others.

Identifying and discussing your own anxieties and fears is one way to manage the stress that we all feel. You may also choose to create a daily routine that includes exercise, a hobby and time for yourself.

Sitting with this discomfort is part of the process. So is finding activities to engage your mind and body to relieve yourself from the worry. For those experiencing significant anxiety and depression, please acknowledge that you need help and seek additional support. Start with your primary care provider and/or your mental health provider. Most are offering tele-health visits from the comfort of your own homes.

Many therapists are now online.

If you’re having trouble getting started, or require a personal conversation to determine which options are best for you, Department of Human Services staff are available by phone and/or email Mondays through Fridays. 830 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (203-341-1050 or Humansrv@westportct.gov).

We are happy to speak with you, and will provide resources to support you and your families now and in the future.

We also recognize that this can be a stressful time for families. Westport Together was launched in late 2019 as an alliance between the town, Westport Public Schools, PTA and many local non-profits to strengthen the health and well-being of youth and families.

While in-person events have been canceled, we continue to provide relevant and dynamic content on our Westport Together Facebook page. Click here to see. Stay tuned for more details on excellent panel discussions ahead.

Westport Food Fund: The Sequel (Hint: Westport Rocks!)

Yesterday, “06880” announced the opening of a Westport Food Fund. The aim was to raise money for the 4% of our neighbors — 1,200 or so — who face food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis.

The goal was $50,000. A couple of generous contributions had seeded the fund. But there was much more to raise.

Within 12 hours, that lofty goal was reached.

Organizers were ecstatic — and inspired. The new goal: $75,000.

Department of Human Services director Elaine Daignault says:

We don’t know how much longer and to what extent this crisis will affect the community. But we do know the challenges are significant.

Our mission is to ensure that Westport’s most vulnerable have food on their tables in the coming weeks, and perhaps months. The funds raised in just 24 hours will ensure that their most essential nutritional needs are met.

Our call volume increases every day. We now have more resources to help, thanks to the awe inspiring generosity and compassion of our town.

She  loved the hashtag in one of the comments: #westportstrong. Though she prefers a new one: #westportwow!

 

New Food Fund Eases Anxieties

In fewer than 4 weeks since the coronavirus struck, calls to Westport’s Department of Human Services quadrupled.

Residents worry about countless things. But the most common fear is food insecurity.

“Between our established clients whom we’ve worked with for years, and new callers who find themselves unable to make ends meet, anxiety and panic is setting in for many,” says director Elaine Daignault.

“A lot of them already face tough decisions between putting food on the table, and paying household expenses.” Already, it is estimated, more than 4% of Westporters face food insecurity.

That’s around 1,200 people. Many are seniors and children.

And, Daignault warns, as social isolation continues and unemployment rises, those challenge will be felt by people who never in the past faced financial difficulties.

This photo symbolizes the fears of a rising number of Westporters.

A single mom with 3 kids has kept only one part-time job. But her rent is due. Without enough savings to stock up at the grocery store, she must stop in 3 times a week. That increases her risk of exposure, causing further despair.

One Westporter relies on the gig economy; his wife is disabled. Suddenly, his income does not cover the cost of food, rent and medications.

A senior citizen has worked part-time as a grocery clerk to supplement his Social Security income. Fearful of exposure to infection, he quit working. He can afford food — but he’s stopped paying his cell phone and electric bills.

An elderly, ailing couple have depended on the Senior Center for their daily hot, nutritious meal. The rest of the time, the wife prepares simple canned soups and frozen dinners.

Elaine Daignault

Daignault is proud of her small staff. They  offer connections, support and resources to residents in need. They make personal phone calls, and are working harder now than ever.

They’re providing grocery gift cards to Westporters, and collaborating with the school district to help families access the free and reduced lunch curbside pickup program.

Human Services has a rainy day fund. But there is a limit to their financial resources.

“We can’t wait for state and federal programs to kick in,” Daignault says. “People are hungry now.”

Dan Levinson shares her concerns. A longtime Westporter who years ago helped organize the original Green Village Initiative, he gets things done.

Quickly, he and other concerned residents created a Food Fund. The money they raise will be administered by Westport’s Department of Human Services.

The goal is ambitious: $50,000. But generous contributions jump started it nicely.

Daignault welcomes the support. She calls the Food Fund “a great example of how we as a community can express compassion, and use our skills and creativity to benefit others. It also shows how we are all in this together.”

Senior Center director Sue Pfister adds, “My heart broke when my colleagues in Human Services began to worry about not having resources needed to handle the calls they were getting about folks needing basic food and grocery money.

“I knew if the word got out the community would rise to the occasion, and see to it that not one human being went hungry in Westport. Dan Levinson loved the mission, and ran with the concept. 72 hours later, we were halfway to our goal!”

Click here to donate. For more information — including how to benefit from food funds — call 203-341-1050.

Senior Center Suspends Programs

Westport’s Senior Center is the latest victim of the COVID-19 virus.

A press release from Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault says:

The Westport Center for Senior Activities will suspend daily programs until further notice. This decision has been made after a thorough examination of the widespread health risks posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The closure impacts all activities held by the Senior Center, except for the Home Delivered Meal Program which will continue to deliver to homebound seniors.

Starting Thursday, there will be no daily congregate luncheon program or outside groups utilizing the facility. The building will be open on Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during this period, but no programs, activities or scheduled will occur.

The Westport Senior Center.

Senior Center director Susan Pfister said, “The Center has been diligent in following CDC guidelines and has continued to encourage residents to regularly wash their hands, cover a cough or sneeze, and remain at home when feeling unwell in order to minimize the spread of the virus.

“There is no indication of reported cases of the COVID-19 at the Center at this time. The governor’s recent announcement to declare a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency in response to the coronavirus exemplifies just how serious this situation is.  This decision to suspend all programming was based on the health and safety of our senior participants, their families and out of an abundance of caution for the greater community.”

Although the Senior Center will be closed for general programming, the staff will be on site for routine administrative operations and communications via telephone and email in order to remain connected to residents. To contact the Center, call 203-341-5099 or email seniorcenter@westportct.gov.

Senior Center gatherings are on hold through the end of March.

The Town of Westport is encouraging all residents to practice social distancing by maintaining a 6-foot distance between yourself and others, and to take extra precautions by planning for possible social isolation by stocking their pantries with enough food for 2 to 4 weeks, procuring necessary medicine and reaching out to loved ones and neighbors to inform them of their status.

Neighbors are encouraged to check on seniors in their neighborhoods via telephone, to offer assistance and/or refer them to Human Services as needed.

It is advisable to follow reliable news sources for updates including www.westportct.gov, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus, www.wwhd.org, and www.ct.gov/coronavirus. Any resident seeking more local information and resources regarding the COVID-19 can receive the town’s press releases by going to www.WestportCT.Gov/subscribe and selecting “town news.” Residents are encouraged to sign up for the Westport emergency notification system by texting 06880 to 888777 to subscribe, or go online to sign up.

The Senior Center is a program of the Department of Human Services, which offers a variety of services to residents. The department will continue to provide essential support services in the safest possible environment for staff and with careful consideration of our most vulnerable clients.

Residents requiring additional support are encouraged to call 203-341-1050 or visit the Human Services webpage on the town website for information on available services — including the Westport Emergency Assistance application for seniors and people with disabilities who live alone and/or have special medical needs requiring assistance in times of emergency.

To apply for regular check-ins during an emergency, please complete the form online or request a paper copy. Seniors can also call DHS at 203-341-1050 to provide information over the phone.

COVID-19 is an evolving situation, changing by the hour. The DHS, as part of the Emergency Operations Team, is engaged in meetings and coordinating with other government town agencies, and has contingency plans to address varying situations as they unfold.

The uncertainty related to COVID-19 may cause an increase in anxiety and depression among residents.  If you are a parent or a caregiver, and are looking for ways to manage the stress, the following articles may be helpful in establishing healthy coping and communication skills around this issue.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-to-talk-to-children-about-the-coronavirus-2020030719111

https://acl.gov/COVID-19

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/03/811656226/pandemic-panic-these-5-tips-can-help-you-regain-your-calm

The health and safety of our residents is our top priority. We stand ready to help as needed.

Substance Misuse, Mental Health Survey Now Live

Substance misuse and mental health are national issues.

Local ones, too.

But how prevalent are they? And if we don’t know the answers, how can anyone help?

Today, the Westport Prevention Coalition launches an online survey. It was created by the Human Services Department, in partnership with the Westport Prevention Coalition and Positive Directions.

The anonymous survey will “provide helpful information as the Coalition embarks on prevention and resource development efforts addressing substance misuse, mental health services and overall wellness across the lifespan,” says Human Services director Elaine Daignault.

The goal is to gain input from a cross-section of age groups. It will
complement the youth and parent surveys administered through Positive Directions bi-annually in partnership with Westport Public Schools.

Click here for the survey. For more information, or to obtain a paper copy, call 203-341-1050.