Tag Archives: Homes With Hope

Confirmation Class Meets Homelessness, Virtually

COVID-19 has moved more than school classes and church services online.

Confirmation classes — a cross between the two — are now conducted virtually too.

Traditionally, Greens Farms Congregational’s confirmation class has taken a couple of faith adventure/field trips to local ministry partners or community service organizations, to see how they make a difference. They’ve got a long history of supporting Homes with Hope, Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Pivot House in Bridgeport and Norwalk’s Open Door Shelter.

This year, the class planned a trip to the Gillespie Center. They’d bring canned foods, take a tour of the downtown homeless shelter, and meet the clients.

But with everyone isolating at home now, Rev. Dave Stambaugh had to get creative.

He and Helen McAlinden — the president and CEO of Homes with Hope, Gillespie’s umbrella organization — devised a virtual tour.

Helen McAlinden leads a Zoom tour of the Gillespie Center.

With the confirmands and their parents on a Zoom conference, Helen literally walked everyone through the center.

She showed the men’s and women’s living quarters, dining room and food pantry. Helen explained the causes of homelessness, and what happens to clients after they leave the shelter.

The teenagers asked questions: How long does someone stay there? Are any of the clients actually from Westport? How does COVID-19 affect homeless people?

“It was wonderful,” Helen says. “Everyone was very interested. And we had been worried about how to get a young lad in a wheelchair upstairs. This way, he was included with everything we did.”

She was particularly glad to hear one question: “How can we help?” She gave the confirmation class a list of items the pantry needs.

And — in Greens Farms’ spirit of sharing — she adds it here:

The Food Pantry at the Gillespie Center is open! They distribute non-perishables to those in need in the community weekdays (except Wednesdays) from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Their inventory of non-perishables, cleaning supplies and paper goods is running low. Contact-less drop-off of donations is available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gillespie Center, behind Restoration Hardware. Click here for a list of needed items.

Anyone needing a prepackaged lunch or dinner can come to the Gillespie center. Meals will be brought outside.

Lunch is from 12 to 1 p.m.; dinner is 5 to 6 p.m., both 7 days a week. All food comes from local restaurants.

We do lunch at 12 noon to 1 pm daily and Dinner 5pm to 6 pm daily. (Both 7 days per week)  All food comes from the local restaurants.

(For a glimpse of the Zoom conference tour, click here. To donate to Homes with Hope, click here.)

The Gillespie Center is empty during COVID-19. Residents have been moved from downtown Westport to a hotel.

SLOBs Set A New Standard Of Service

For over a decade, SLOBs shined on the last Sunday in April.

The acronym stands for the Service League Of Boys. With over 300 students — plus hundreds of parents — it’s one of Staples High School’s largest, most active clubs.

SLOBs commit to a minimum of 10 hours of service a year (many do much more). And Service Sunday is their Super Bowl.

One scene from a previous SLOBs Service Sunday …

This year, they’d lined up volunteer efforts — landscaping, outdoor projects and the like — at sites all around Westport, Norwalk and Bridgeport. Work sites included A Better Chance’s Glendarcy House, the Audubon Society’s Smith Richardson Tree Farms, Homes with Hopes’ multiple locations, Aspetuck Land Trust, Green Village Initiative, Earthplace, Sherwood Island State Park, Wakeman Town Farm, Evergreen and Open Door.

There were school-related projects for Staples, the Maker Faire and the Read and Curiale Schools in Bridgeport, plus food and donation drives for Person to Person and Quest for Peace.

Yet with current COVID-19 restrictions in place, none of those places will benefit from SLOBs’ generosity.

… and another.

So the group figured out Plan B. They’ll take funds that would have gone to purchase materials for the Day of Service, and redirect them to charities with immediate needs.

None are strangers to SLOBs. They’ve already worked with all.

These organizations will receive $1,100 each: A Better Chance of Westport, Homes with Hope’s food pantry; the Open Door Shelter, Westport’s Department of Human Services COVID-19 Fund, and Person to Person.

SLOBs is keeping a bit of money in reserve, in case some of the planned events can be rescheduled for fall.

In addition, snack bags the students had expected to fill at their March meeting were instead filled by 2 executive board members, and dropped off at the Curiale School for its food pick-up program.

SLOBs’ 2019-20 executive board.

And the SLOBs Blast — a monthly email sent to all 300 members and parents — was reworked into a list of new coronavirus-related service opportunities, for the boys to work on on their own.

There’s no Service Sunday this year. It’s been weeks since the club has met. But — with the need greater than ever — they’ve found new ways to help.

SLOBs is pretty neat! (Hat tip: Beth Massoud)

Woman’s Club Grants Go To Groups With COVID Need

Since 1907 — 10 years before the Spanish flu pandemic – the Westport Woman’s Club has served Westport.

They’ve done too many good things for the town to list (click here for the “History” page).

Just one example: Westport’s Visiting Nurse Service was started and funded by the club. Free dental, vaccination and well-child clinics;tuberculosis campaigns; free milk distribution; polio tests; a lending service of sickroom equipment – all were begun by the WWC.

Each year the club evaluates applications for Community Service Grants from nonprofit organizations in Fairfield County. Members volunteer many hours from October through spring, finding the right balance between needs and the WWC’s mission to support nearby charitable, educational, cultural and public health services.

At the end of this year’s cycle, COVID-19 roared through town. Club members wondered how they could now make the biggest impact for the most people in Fairfield County. They realized that the public health, and physical and mental well-being of residents, should take precedence in the spring grants.

Today they announce 5 non-profits, to share $50,000 in WWC Community Service Grants.

Bridgeport Rescue Mission provides 3 meals a day in containers; a mobile kitchen that distributes meals in South Norwalk and Bridgeport, and a food pantry, among many other services. All food programs are free to anyone who is hungry, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic group.

 

Filling in the Blanks. Schools offer weekday lunches for children in need. This organization provides them on weekends for vulnerable children in Norwalk, Stamford, Greenwich and Westport.

Westport Families in Need (coordinated by Westport’s Department of Human Services). Funds are needed for food and requests for help, like rent money, which are increasing rapidly. Some families need gas cards to pick up school meals. A town COVID fund addresses those issues, as well as the mental health needs of people affected by the crisis.

Domestic Violence Crisis Center (Stamford and Norwalk). In stressful times, domestic violence increases. DVCC offers 24/7 crisis intervention, counseling and advocacy, safe housing, and a 24-hour hotline (888-774-2900).

Homes with Hope. The demands of this Westport nonprofit — which provides safe emergency shelter, as well as food assistance — have greatly increased during the coronavirus.

Project Return’s “Susie’s House,” on North Compo Road. All residents — and those at other supportive housing facilities, like the Gillespie Center — have been moved into local hotels, during the coronavirus. That’s another financial burden for Homes with Hope

The Westport Woman’s Club has not been immune to the pandemic’s effects. They’ve suspended all fundraisers (like the Art Show, originally scheduled for this weekend), closed their Curio Cottage Gift Shop, and lost rental income through the closing of their Bedford Hall meeting space.

Anyone wishing to support the 113-year-old club’s good works can do so through the newly designed website (click here).

One good thing from all this time at home: Members had a chance to create an Instagram account. You can follow the club: @westportwomansclub.

Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue.

Homes With Hope News: Residents Move; Meal, Pantry Changes Set

It’s hard enough for those of us who own homes, and lead stable lives, to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

But what about our vulnerable neighbors, like the homeless and those in supportive housing?

Fortunately, Homes with Hope helps.

Quietly, quickly and efficiently, the local non-profit has adapted to the crisis. Recognizing the urgent need to keep residents — plus staff and volunteers — safe, they’ve adjusted all their programs.

It’s not easy. But — following the recommendations of the CDC, state of Connecticut and local health officials — they’ve made big changes.

President and CEO Helen McAlinden — in just her fourth month on the job — reports that all residents have been moved from the 3 shelters (Gillespie Center, Hoskins Place and Project Return) to a local hotel. That provides enough space to practice social distancing.

Program directors and case management staff have relocated to the hotel too. They’re assisting clients 24/7.

Gillespie Center residents have been moved from downtown Westport to a hotel.

Effective this Monday (April 13), the community kitchen volunteer program is suspended. However, Homes with Hope still serves people in need (12 to 1 p.m., and 5 to 6 p.m.). Meals for all community kitchen guests and Gillespie residents will be ordered from local restaurants. That protects community members — and supports local restaurants. Click here, then scroll down for details.

The food pantry will remain open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 1 to 4 p.m., to address the needs of the food insecure. However, a new contact-less drop-off and pick-up procedure has been implemented (click here, then scroll down for details).

Helen McAlinden

In addition, McAlinden reports that Homes with Hope’s supportive housing residents (spread throughout Westport, at several sites) are doing well. Case managers are in daily contact, and staff members drop off non-perishable items as needed.

Finally, school lunches continue to be delivered to children in Homes with Hope’s program.

“These changes will help ensure the safety of our entire community,” McAlinden says.

“However, they require extra resources that we will struggle to obtain. Your support to get us through this time is a tremendous help.”

There are two ways to give: through an online donation (click here), and by donating non-perishable food, cleaning supplies and paper goods. Click here for a list of items needed,  and the contactless drop-off directions.

“As always, we appreciate your support,” McAlinden says. “Please stay healthy and safe!”

Homes With Hope Still Needs Help

As Westporters hunker down at home, there’s one group of neighbors we can’t forget: the homeless.

Homes with Hope serves Westport’s most vulnerable population. For 36 years, individual citizens, civic organizations, religious institutions and schools have dropped off food — and volunteered to serve it — at Gillespie Center, the downtown shelter.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Homes with Hope will continue to do their great work. But a few things have changed.

People can continue to bring food for lunch and dinner. Just call ahead, or knock on the door. A staff member will pick up the items from you in the courtyard (behind Restoration Hardware).

However, volunteers no longer serve meals. Those will be handled by staff.

Christine Baskin hands donated items to Homes with Hope staff member Pat Wilson.

In addition, the community kitchen will no longer serve meals for non-resident guests inside. Instead, prepared food bags will be available for pick-up in the courtyard. Each bag includes a flyer with instructions for hand washing and other best practices.

Residents can still drop off items for the food pantry, which is available to anyone who’s hungry. Non-perishable goods like soups, tuna fish, and canned items are needed. These groceries will be brought curbside to anyone in need of food.

In other words: All operations continue at Gillespie Center. Everyone will be served; no one is turned away. However, some procedures are changed, to protect residents and staff members.

Need is as high — in fact, much higher — than ever. Homes with Hope thanks everyone who has helped in the past, and all those who continue to.

(Need help with housing or food? Want to help? Call Homes with Hope director Helen McAlinden directly: 475-225-5292.)

 

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.”

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.