Tag Archives: Helen McAlinden

Helen McAlinden Takes Homes With Hope Helm

The other day, Helen McAlinden had dinner at Jesup Hall.

Looking out the window of the handsome stone building, she saw the Gillespie Center next door. She marveled that one of Westport’s most popular restaurants shares its parking lot with a homeless shelter.

She asked Jesup Hall’s manager what he thought.

“We love it!” he said. “We’re proud of it. We send food over, and help whenever we can. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

That made McAlinden proud too.

And it reinforced her belief that the job she’d just begun was the right fit.

Helen McAlinden is the new president and CEO of Homes with Hope. She took over from Jeff Wieser last month, as only the 3rd head in the 36-year history of Westport’s affordable and supportive housing non-profit organization.

In her own way and style, McAlinden is as accomplished and dynamic as her 2 predecessors: Wieser, and Homes with Hope founder Peter Powell.

The only 3 CEOs in Homes with Hope’s 36-year history. From left: Peter Powell, Helen McAlinden, Jeff Wieser.

The daughter of a coal miner, she emigrated from her native Ireland to the US right after high school.

Following stints as a babysitter and eldercare worker, she earned a business degree from Manhattan College. The next step was Wall Street.

But after 9/11, McAlinden felt compelled to do something different. She’d already been feeding homeless people through Irish centers in the Bronx and Yonkers. Inspired by the memory of her uncle — a US servicemember, but not an American citizen, who was killed in the Korean War — she also worked with homeless veterans.

McAlinden left Wall Street, earned a master’s in social work at Fordham University, then spent 18 years at a Bridgeport supportive housing agency.

Helen McAlinden

She knew Wieser through his work on affordable housing initiatives. When she heard he was retiring, she applied. The process took nearly a year.

But Homes with Hope’s thoroughness paid off. She is the perfect person for this extremely important post.

Her first month has been a whirlwind of learning — about programs, people, and the town. But, she says, “This doesn’t feel like a job. It’s something I’ve always loved: dealing with homelessness in a professional way.”

At the end of the day she leaves her Richmondville Avenue office, and heads to the Gillespie Center. She meets “the lovely people who reside there, getting ready for the next step, and all the generous volunteers.”

She is very impressed by Westport’s embrace of Homes with Hope.

“So many affluent communities think there is no homelessness there,” she says. “But people struggle everywhere. We have a shelter right behind Tiffany. Westporters recognize that. And they go out of their way to help.”

On Saturday, for example, McAlinden spent hours with the Sunrise Rotary Club, at a table outside Stop & Shop.

“Many people bought one thing for themselves, then came outside to Rotary Sunrise volunteers with a big bag of groceries for the food pantry,” she says. “Amazing!”

Westporters also help with their time, energy, clothes — and money.

“We get very few federal and state dollars,” McAlinden notes. “The people in this town keep our operations going.”

Many involve their own children. “It seems they want their kids to learn about doing good. They see their parents are giving, kind people.”

Helen McAlinden (far left) at the Gillespie Center with (from left) Allyson Gottlieb, Ian O’Malley, both Homes With Hope board members, and Kathy Knapp, Steve Knapp and Emma Knapp of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, who served dinner.  (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

The CEO has been impressed too with Westporters’ embrace of her. Wieser — who stayed on an extra month to help with the transition — shepherded her from meeting to meeting, introducing her to everyone in  his vast network.

The other day, she met Police Chief Foti Koskinas. “He’s a lovely man,” she observes. “He talked about the importance of treating everyone with respect. Along with the fire department and EMS, everyone wants to work together. There’s a real sense that everyone in town can help get someone back on track.”

Wherever she goes, McAlinden has been made to feel — well, at home.

Now, she turns her attention to the future. As well respected as Homes with Hope is she senses that many newcomers to Westport — young moms and dads, with little kids — don’t know about Project Return (for young women in crisis), Bacharach Community (for mothers with children), and other programs and sites.

Even the Gillespie Center men’s shelter may be “a hidden secret” to them, she says.

The new leader will use social media to reach these new residents. She wants to offer tours to interested groups. “Community organizations, PTAs — anyone can contact me!” she says. (Her email is hmcalinden@hwhct.org.)

In her few off hours, McAlinden spends time with her husband and 16-year-old daughter. She enjoys visiting her mother and family on their sheep and cattle farm, back in Ireland.

In fact, she laughs, Westporters are not much different from the Irish. Both groups are “welcoming and inviting.”

And wherever she is — Ireland or Westport, the Homes with Hope office or Gillespie Center — Helen McAlinden feels at home.

McAlinden Succeeds Wieser At Homes With Hope

It’s not easy following in Jeff Wieser’s footsteps.

But Helen McAlinden seems like a home run.

Homes with Hope has selected the widely respected affordable and supportive advocate to serve as the organization’s next president and CEO.

For the past 35 years, Homes with Hope has addressed the needs and challenges of homeless families and individuals — and those at risk of becoming homeless.

Its services include case management; a food pantry and soup kitchen; emergency shelters for single adults and young women ages 18 to 24; permanent supportive housing; mentoring; youth education, and life skills training.

Wieser is retiring, after leading Homes with Hope through a period of enormous growth. McAlinden succeeds him on January 6.

She brings 17 years’ experience with The Connection, Connecticut’s largest social services provider.

Helen McAlinden

McAlinden’s most recent position was director of homeless outreach and development. She oversaw The Connection’s Supportive Housing Fairfield County program, HomeWorks, Milestone and the Women’s Recovery Support programs.

She is a frequent presenter at the state and national levels on issues related to affordable and supportive housing; a member of the Women and Children’s Legislative Workgroup, and an executive team member of Opening Doors of Fairfield County.

“Helen brings a strong passion to her work and has been a powerful advocate for the homeless throughout her career,” said Homes with Hope board chair John Walsh.

“We are confident that her energy, sensitivity and proven leadership working with people in need of supportive housing will strengthen and expand our network of partners and funders. I am impressed with Helen’s understanding of what makes Homes with Hope so special, and her deep commitment to addressing the challenges of homelessness.”