Tag Archives: Homes With Hope

Project Return’s New Name Honors Old Friend

Home with Hope runs many important emergency and supportive housing and food programs. Homeless people, women fleeing domestic abuse, folks with mental illness, low-income families, young women in crisis — all benefit from their quiet, consistent and crucial work.

From its founding in 1983 as the Interfaith Housing Association, countless Westporters have given amazing amounts of time and energy to the non-profit.

Several are honored the best way possible: by name.

The Gillespie Center is a tribute to the first board president, Jim Gillespie. The Bacharach Community and Hoskins Place honor co-founders Jim Bacharach and Ted Hoskins. Powell Place is named for longtime president Pete Powell.

Next month, Susie Basler joins that august list.

Project Return — the North Compo Road farmhouse that serves women ages 18-24 in crisis — will get a name befitting its former, long-serving and beloved director: Susie’s House.

Susie Basler.

She was not its first head. But she was on its first board.  And from 1986 to 2016, Basler helped turn the dilapidated former poorhouse between Little League fields and town tennis courts into a loving, life-changing home-they-never-had for countless girls and young women in their teens and early 20s.

Basler raised money. She hired staff (and made sure that social workers spent most of their time not in meetings, but with the girls). She created an after-school community service project. She organized an annual educational conference for mental health professionals. She established an after-care program to ensure young women’s continued emotional and financial support.

In other words, for over 3 decades Susie Basler was Project Return.

Homes with Hope president and CEO Jeff Wieser calls the new name “a very appropriate thing to do. Susie joins other moral leaders of Westport, who help us look after our neediest neighbors.”

The proposal was “wildly accepted,” Wieser says. And once the word got out about a special dedication ceremony Sunday, September 8 (3 to 5 p.m., 124 Compo Road North), dozens of former staff members and volunteers made plans to attend.

Susie’s House, on North Compo Road.

They’ll be joined by 30 years of grateful graduates from Project Return.

Except now, they’ll say proudly, “from Susie’s House.”

The September 8 celebration is the first of 2 big events. On Thursday, September 19 [11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Shorehaven Golf Club, Norwalk], the annual “Gather ‘Round the Table” luncheon raises funds for Susie’s House. Click here for details.

Unsung Heroes #113

Another day, another lineup of cars at Westport Wash & Wax.

And for the popular Post Road East business, that means another day of helping the community.

Every organization in town, it seems, benefits from owners Scott and Laila Tiefenthaler’s generosity. Need proof? While waiting for your vehicle, read the letters of thanks that fill the bulletin board. (You won’t have time for all of them. But you’ll get the idea.)

One of the most grateful recipients is Homes With Hope. Over the past 18 years, the local housing service has received nearly $100,000 from the car wash.

Homes With Hope CEO and president Jeff Wieser (in jacket) with (front, from left) Laila, Scottt and Craig Tiefenthaler, plus dedicated employees, at one of the many “Good Neighbor” ceremonies.

This Friday (August 30) is Westport Wash & Wax’s 19th annual Good Neighbor Day. Once again, the Tiefenthalers will donate  100% — you read that right — of the day’s car wash proceeds to Homes with Hope.

Many businesses generously donate a percentage of sales, to plenty of organizations. But it’s extraordinary for one company to so consistently donate all proceeds from a full day’s sales.

And to help nearly every other cause that asks, in some way, shape or form.

Scott and Laila Tiefenthaler — and their entire hard-working, friendly and efficient crew — are the sparkling recipients of this week’s Unsung Heroes award.

“Spirit Animal” Art At Powell Place

Art lifts. Art energizes. Art inspires.

So does the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. The non-profit — funded by a $500,000 bequest from the late downtown landlord and Cobb’s Mill Inn owner — has quietly but strongly impacted the lives of young Westporters. Led by passionate volunteer artists, these boys and girls create their own art — right where they live.

Homes with Hope runs an after-school program for children and teenagers living in the organization’s Powell Place housing, and the surrounding neighborhood Saugatuck Avenue neighborhood.  It provides positive role models, academic support and enrichment, 4 days a week.

First, with the guidance of Miggs Burroughs, the Drew Friedman Center helped kids in the program create a mural of their self-portraits.

Recently, they embarked on their 2nd project. Each student chose a “spirit animal,” then created their own interpretation of that animal and its environment.

Hard at work on the mural.

Artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca worked with them to devise a layout and composition for the mural, then helped them realize their visions.

Art is a collaborative process.

The mural now hangs proudly in the Powell Place community room.

Artists young and old, and their mural. (Photo releases were not obtained for all young artists.)

This project — run by Lynn Abramson — is just the latest for the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. They’ve already sponsored art classes at Project Return, in Randy Herbertson’s studio, and for developmentally disabled youngsters at CLASP Homes.

Art lifts, energizes and inspires. Thanks to Drew Friedman’s generosity, it’s also accessible now to every child, no matter where in Westport they live.

This young artist’s work began as a sketch.

Jeff Wieser To Retire From Homes With Hope

Jeff Wieser — longtime president and CEO of Homes with Hope — will retire from the multi-purpose housing organization by the end of 2019. Board chair John Walsh announced the news today.

Jeff Wieser

In his 9 years as director, Wieser has been a driving force for HwH. During his tenure he has overseen operations at the Gillespie Center and the Bacharach Community. He also expanded the portfolio of 44 supportive housing units, which the agency owns and operates.

Homes with Hope more than doubled its shelter capacity, providing beds for 115 people each night. And Wieser introduced an after-school mentoring program for the 30 children in HwH facilities.

In addition, Wieser led the merger with Project Return, the housing program for young women ages 18 to 24.

Wieser has helped Homes with Hope become a national role model, demonstrating how a suburban town can effectively respond to homelessness.

“Jeff has been a transformative, innovative leader” in the fight against homelessness, Walsh said.

“He is also a powerful advocate for the homeless beyond our community in his roles in Opening Doors of Fairfield County and as board chair of Supportive Housing Works, a regional collaborative whose mission is to end chronic homelessness in Fairfield County.”

Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.

Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe called Homes with Hope “one of the community services that makes Westport so special.” He noted that under Wieser’s leadership, the organization has “expanded its affordable, supportive housing options, its relationships with other not-for-profit agencies and its overall community support.”

“As a local resident, Jeff saw the opportunity to leverage his business and professional experience with his passion for helping others, and has helped make Homes with Hope even better than he found it,” Marpe added. “On behalf of the town of Westport, I want to thank Jeff for his untiring service to our community and wish him well in the next chapter of his life.”

Wieser will stay in his position until a replacement is found. A search committee will focus on finding a local leader who understands both Westport and Fairfield County.

“Being involved with Homes with Hope over the last 30 years, first on the board and then as executive director, has been the most satisfying professional role of my life,” said Wieser.

“It is easy to be proud of the Homes with Hope organization, and it is easier to be proud of the community that supports HwH so spiritually and generously. I look forward to staying involved in any way that I can be useful to Homes with Hope and Westport.”

Susie Basler’s “Return” To Westport

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.

Project Return, on North Compo Road.

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.

Susie Basler

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.

Stand Up Comedy Show Overcomes Serious Challenge

For the 11 years of “Stand Up for Homes with Hope” — the local housing organization’s biggest annual fundraiser — they’ve signed a contract with a “30-day-out” clause for the comedian.

That means if he or she gets a call from “Saturday Night Live,” or a sudden movie contract, the performer can cancel. Hopefully, those 30 days provide enough time to find a replacement.

Every year, that date has come and gone without incident. It’s a good thing: “Stand Up” accounts for nearly 15% of Homes with Hope’s yearly budget. It’s allowed them to house nearly twice as many homeless people as they did before the event began, in 2008.

But this year, CEO Jeff Wieser and his staff were surprised to see that Mike Birbiglia — the 2018 headliner — was opening on Broadway a week before the gala. There was a show the same date and time as he was expected to be at the Quick Center.

Birbiglia’s agent confirmed that — 39 days before showtime — he was exercising his out clause.

The board, “Stand Up” committee, sponsors and friends went into overdrive. They identified possible comedians, then whittled the list to find those who were available, affordable — and appropriate for a family-friendly audience.

They found Nate Bargatze — the first comedian who had been recommended to them, way back in February.

He’s a very funny comedian, working on a TV pilot based on his move to Nashville. He has toured with Chris Rock, had his own Netflix special, and appeared more than a dozen times with Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien.

Ticket sales and promotions were on hold, until Homes with Hope knew who they were promoting. But now they’re in high gear, ready for November 3.

There’s no backing out now.

(For tickets and more information about “Stand Up for Homes with Hope,” click here.)

Art, Food And Fun — Just Another Day At The Beach

Drew Friedman’s $500,000 is the gift that keeps on giving.

The downtown landowner and co-founder of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association died in February 2016, at 86. His very generous bequest set up the Drew Friedman Foundation.

It’s already distributed money to Homes With Hope, CLASP, the Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society. It has funded art classes and activities for under-served students and young adults. This spring, an art exhibit at the Westport Woman’s Club showcased their work — and included presentations of scholarships to arts colleges.

The newest Drew Friedman Foundation initiative is a series of small art events at Old Mill Beach. The goal is to bring art opportunities and education to community members who are often overlooked.

The first one took place Wednesday afternoon. Clients from Project Return and Homes with Hope — the group home for teenage girls and young women, and Westport’s supportive housing organization respectively — enjoyed a day at the beach.

Making art at Old Mill Beach.

They learned about watercolor painting and shell decoration, with Westport artist Katherine Ross.

Fruma Markowitz showed them how to make contact photo prints with found objects and their own bodies. “The results were amazing,” says Drew Friedman Foundation art advisor Miggs Burroughs.

Some of the finished works.

The day ended with a lavish dinner at Nick Visconti’s Sherwood Mill Pond home. He was Friedman’s longtime business partner (and — importantly, for the food — former owner of Onion Alley. He cooked every dish himself.).

Project Return program director Tessa Gilmore-Barnes says that on the way home, one of the ladies felt “deep contentment.” Though shy at first, she relaxed and loved everything: the art, food, people and setting.

More events are planned, with these and other organizations.

Art is alive and well all over Westport — thanks in part to the late, and very generous, Drew Friedman.

Dinner is served, thanks to Nick Visconti.

Unsung Hero #34

Audrey Sparre joined Homes with Hope — known then as the Interfaith Housing Association — in 1999. She was one of their first professionally trained case managers.

Audrey initially managed men at the Gillespie Center shelter, and the adjacent Hoskins Place women’s shelter. She grew with the agency.

As Homes With Hope built permanent supportive housing, she added responsibilities. Working first at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, then at the permanent headquarters on Richmondville Avenue, she supervised the HwH counseling staff (currently 10 professionals).

For the last decade, Audrey has overseen all programs, and all program directors, at Homes with Hope. Her title is VP and chief operating officer.

While she appeared at nearly all their functions since 1999 — and was a regular at Castles in the Sand, Stand Up for Homes With Hope, Project Return lunches and “Summer Night” parties — Audrey kept a low profile. She preferred hands-on care of clients.

In her early years, Audrey Sparre attended an Interfaith Housing Association event with a younger Jim Marpe.

On February 16, Audrey — a longtime Westporter — retires. It’s a huge loss for Homes With Hope — and Westport.

“She represents the best of what this community is all about,” says president and CEO Jeff Wieser.

“She raised her daughter here, nurtured many people in her various roles at HwH, She’s been the glue that makes our social work function efficiently and effectively. She has kept our clients, staff and community safe and caring.”

Audrey’s retirement will be interesting. She has property in upstate New York, where she hopes to pursue her equestrian activities. (She’s a member of St. Lawrence University’s Athletic Hall of Fame!) And, Wieser adds, she’ll raise yaks.

The other day — in the midst of intense activity at the Gillespie Center — Audrey looked around and said, “I can’t believe I’m leaving all this!”

Homes with Hope can’t believe she’s going either. This week’s Unsung Hero will be sorely missed.

Drew Friedman: One In Half A Million

Drew Friedman was a pillar of downtown Westport. A major landowner, a founder of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and landlord of restaurants like Onion Alley, Bobby Q’s and Acqua, he influenced much of Main Street.

His holdings once included the original Westport Public Library building on the Post Road between Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now Starbucks and Freshii). He also owned Post Road property beyond downtown. And was a presence in Weston too, as the owner of Cobb’s Mill Inn.

He died in February 2016, at 86.

Drew Friedman and his wife Laura Papallo Friedman, at Cobb’s Mill Inn. (Photo/Patricia Gay)

Now Friedman is back in the news.

In his will, he left $500,000 to set up a “Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.”

But it’s not a place.

It’s a foundation.

Friedman’s former business partner Nick Visconti asked artist/photographer Miggs Burroughs — whose “Tunnel Vision” project is installed next to and across from some of Friedman’s former properties — and Visconti’s sister Louise Fusco to join him on the foundation board.

Their mission is to give $50,000 a year to one or more worthy artists and/or arts organizations and activities in Westport or Weston.

Nick Visconti, MIggs Burroughs and Louise Fusco announce the fulfillment of Drew Friedman’s dream.

So far, money has gone to Homes With Hope, CLASP Homes, the Westport Arts Center and Westport Historical Society. It will help fund art classes and activities for under-served students and young adults. This spring, an art exhibit will showcase all their work.

In addition, the foundation will award 2 scholarships, of $7,500 each, so high school students with need can attend an arts college, or art classes at a community college.

A special gala at the Westport Woman’s Club on May 17 will celebrate the arts program — and artists’ — great accomplishments.

Though not an artist himself, Friedman married one. His wife Bobbie created memorable works of art on canvas, and in clay and bronze, in a beautiful studio he built at their Westport home.

Now Bobby Q’s, Acqua and Cobb’s Mill are all gone.

So are Drew and Bobbie Friedman.

But thanks to his generosity and foresight, the arts — and artists — in Westport and Weston will live on for years.

(Candidates for Drew Friedman Community Arts Center scholarships should click here for more information.)

Like A Good Neighbor, Westport Wash & Wax Is There

It’s a Westport tradition: getting your car clean at Westport Wash & Wax.

Everyone does it. And while they wait, everyone reads the many notes of thanks tacked to the bulletin board. Every organization in town, it seems, benefits from owner Scott and Laila Tiefenthaler’s generosity.

One of the most grateful recipients is Homes With Hope. Over the past 16 years, the local housing service has received more than $80,000 from the car wash.

Tomorrow (Friday, September 1), Westport Wash & Wax holds its 17th annual Good Neighbor Day. Once again, 100% of the proceeds — all day — go to Homes With Hope.

“For nothing more than the cost of a car wash, you can help end homelessness,” says CEO Jeff Wieser.

Thanks, Westport Wash & Wax, for your continued generosity, and commitment to our town!

Westport Wash & Wax is very generous — and very, very good!