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.
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.