Tag Archives: Interfaith Housing Association

Jeff Wieser Heads Homes With Hope

After his international banking career took him to Australia and Hong Kong, in 1985 Jeff Wieser was posted to New York.  He lived in Westport, but did not feel part of either this town or the city.

“My community was the train,” he says ruefully.

Jeff Wieser

Hoping to engage more with his hometown, he joined Christ & Holy Trinity Church‘s outreach program.  That’s how he met Rev. Peter Powell, the president and CEO of Homes With Hope (formerly the Interfaith Housing Association) — the long-running organization that helps homeless Westporters lead independent, self-sufficient lives.

Jeff joined the board, but soon was transferred to Canada.  When he returned — eagerly — to Westport in 1995, he quickly re-involved himself with IHA.

He served as chairman from 1998 to 2002 — a “wonderful experience” — and remained on the board thereafter.  A year ago, when Rev. Powell announced his retirement, Jeff helped search for a successor.

Some excellent candidates applied, but when — for various reasons — no one was hired, Jeff began thinking about applying himself.  The decision, he says, was “spiritual and exciting.  It was almost like it was meant to happen.”

The 57-year-old felt energized by “the chance to do something full time that I’ve been passionate about for years.”  Homes With Hope is, he says, “a born and bred Westport organization.  It’s one of the very few in the country in an affluent suburb.”

Homes With Hope represents “the incredibly generosity of Westporters who have carried it for so many years,” he says.  Only 10 percent of the budget — about $160,000 — is funded by the state, he notes.  The rest comes from individuals, businesses, foundations and the religious community.

When Jeff assumes his new duties as president and CEO next month, his main task will be “making sure the transition is smooth.  It’s been run for 22 years by a great guy.  My job will be to help it continue to thrive, and be as good a neighbor as we have been for 25 years.”

He faces 2 main challenges:  Providing services every day to 70 or so people who rely on them, and raising funds.

Happily, he says, “we have a great staff.  They’ve been there for quite a while, and they’re excellent.”

Jeff started this interview with a train anecdote, and he ends with one.

One day, riding to New York, he told a friend from Darien about his IHA work.

“You have homeless people in Westport?” the friend asked.

“Yes,” Jeff replied.  “And you do in Darien too.  The difference is, we take care of ours.”

Soon, Jeff Wieser will have an entire homeless organization to take care of.  He can’t wait to begin.

Housing Hope

It takes more than a heap o’ livin’ to make a house a home.

In the case of the Westport Rotary Centennial House — the supportive housing initiative in Saugatuck that welcomes its 1st tenants this weekend (4 single adults and 2 single parents, each with a child — all formerly homeless) — it takes dedicated, passionate and generous Westporters, working individually and in groups.

Westport's Rotary Centennial House

Westport's Rotary Centennial House

According to Peter Powell, president/CEO of the House’s sponsor, Homes With Hope (formerly the Interfaith Housing Association), the Centennial House became a home thanks to:

  • The late Bernice Corday, who in 2004 — heeding the IHA’s board of directors’ strategic plan — urged the Westport Rotary Clubs to adopt supportive housing as their centennial project.  That plan was written by Rotarian and IHA director Jim Marpe.
  • The Rotary Clubs, who eagerly adopted the project.  Each raised $25,000 long before there was a building to hang their name on. Fundraising efforts were led by Bill Scheffler (Westport Rotary Club) and John Franklin (Westport Sunrise Rotary Club).
  • Rotarian and real estate broker Bunny Mostad, who offered her services to find a suitable property — then donated her commission to the Centennial House.
  • Audrey Sparre and former IHA staffer Candace Buckley, who applied for and received a HUD grant of more than $300,000.  That leveraged the Rotary support fivefold, enabling purchase of the property.  Citibank, impressed, gave IHA a 3% loan to finance the rest of the purchase — then renewed the loan at the same rate many times.
  • The Connecticut Housing Finance  Authority provided funding, and IHA sold tax credits to CL&P.  The house is now owned by HWH/IHA free and clear.
  • HWH/IHA staff member Karen Mahar led construction efforts.  She attended countless meetings, monitored all expenses, made many design choices, worked with an array of people and gained skills she never thought she’d need.  “She brought the house in on budget, on time, and on her shoulders,” Powell says.

Up next:  more affordable supportive housing.  This fall Homes With Hope will open 10 apartments at a building owned by another non-profit.  Next year, 9 apartments open at Hales Court.  And HWH is seeking a lease on property to develop 12 more units.

Powell is adamant in his commitment to end homelessness, through permanent supportive housing.  With the help of many others, more houses will truly become Westport homes.

Rotarians and town officials cut the ribbon at the Homes With Hope opening ceremony. (Photo by Dense McLaughlin)

Rotarians, builders, realtors, and town and Homes With Hope officials cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. (Photo by Denise McLaughlin)

lHA Moving To ‘Homes With Hope’

It’s called the Interfaith Housing Association.  Its president/CEO is an Episcopal priest.  It’s a religious organization, right?


The IHA — an agency that provides homeless people with support and services — is a secular non-profit.  The name dates to its founding in the mid-1980s.  Rev. Ted Hoskins was a key player, and “interfaith” this-and-that was the rage nationwide.

The name has been “awkward,” current head Rev. Pete Powell admits. “People think we’re supported by religion. We’re not.”

Many corporate donors and foundations have policies against contributing to religious organizations.  Though IHA has not lost any donations recently, Pete says, “we want to get out of having to always explain ourselves.”

This summer, Interfaith Housing Association becomes “Homes With Hope.” That’s the same name as their Saugatuck Avenue apartments.  Directors and staff members think the name “Homes With Hope” communicates the organization’s focus on solutions to homelessness.

Homes With HopePowell has already mentioned the name change publicly, and it will be reinforced at the upcoming ribbon-cutting for the Rotary Centennial House.  It becomes “official” when email addresses change, some time in August.

Building Castles For A Cause

A man’s home is his castle.  This afternoon, the Interfaith Housing Association hosted an event to help ensure that more Westport men and women have castles — or at least homes — of their own.

“Castles in the Sand” drew hundreds of people of all ages to Compo Beach.  Working in groups of 5 to 20, they purchased over 30 “building lots,” at $100 and $300 per plot.  The proceeds went to the IHA.  The sand stayed there — or was tracked home.

Joe D'Anna poses with his serpent. It's eating a duck -- though in Westport, a Canada goose might be more welcome.

Joe D'Anna poses with his serpent. It ate a duck -- though in Westport, a Canada goose might be more welcome.

Randy Williamson works on the Terex Corporation entry. Why an octopus? "No idea," he said. "I just showed up."

Randy Williamson works on the Terex Corporation entry. Why an octopus? "No idea," he said. "I just showed up."

Robin Myers puts the finishing touches on a Sphinx. "There were kids working too, when we can find 'em," he reported. Among those kids: Egyptian-born Ramez Crump.

Robin Myers puts the finishing touches on a Sphinx. "There were kids working too, when we can find 'em," he reported. Among those kids: Egyptian-born Ramez Crump.

Building Castles In The Sand

Go pound sand.

That’s the advice of the Interfaith Housing Association.  On Saturday, May 16, the IHA hopes hundreds of Westporters will come to Compo and do just that.

Well, they’d really like you to turn that sand into castles, kings, cabbages — whatever you, your friends and colleagues can create.

A previous year's Buddha (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

A previous year's Buddha (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

The cliche “fun for all ages!” really rings true.

This is the 8th annual “Castles in the Sand” event, and everyone who has participated before knows it’s a blast.  There’s a great spirit of spontaneity and improvisation, plus a dash of competition.

The sculptures don’t last long — thanks to nature, they soon turn back into piles of sand — but the doing-good part does.
Your purchase of a big lot (10′ x 10′ — ideal for individuals, small families and small groups; $100) or a really big one (20′ x 20′ — great for extended families and larger gangs; $300) helps fund IHA’s tremendous, under-the-radar work providing shelter, food and social services to homeless people in our community.
Helping the homeless, it turns out, really can be a day at the beach.

(To register, click here or call 203-226-3426, ext. 10)


Sizing up the competition (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

Sizing up the competition (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)