Tag Archives: Westport Department of Human Services

4 Ways To Make A Difference

Westporters care.

We care about our friends and neighbors. We care about kids and older folks in need, here and in nearby towns and cities.

We want to help — particularly in this holiday season.

But we don’t always know how.

Here are a few great ideas.


The Westport Police Department Local Union #2080 and Police Benevolent Association host an annual Holiday Toy Drive. Thousands of donations benefit underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and beyond.

Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys — and cash donations — in the ASF Sports parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on Saturdays and Sundays, December 8, 9, 15 and 16, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Collection boxes will also be set up from Monday (December 3) through December 16, at:

  • Westport Police Department, 50 Jesup Road (24 hours a day)
  • Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
  • ASF Sports, 1560 Post Road East (weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Questions? Email jruggiero@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-6017.

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Westport’s Department of Human Services annual, confidential Holiday Giving Program helps over 400 residents each year.

Donors contribute gift cards to local stores, supermarkets and gas stations. Cash donations are welcome too; Human Services staff uses them to make purchases for clients.

Checks (payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holidays” on the memo line) and gift cards may be mailed to or dropped off at: Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Room 200, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information, email hsyouth@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1069. Individuals and families needing extra support during the holiday season should call 203-341-1050.


A new online option helps Westport’s most vulnerable residents this season — and beyond. Over 400 individuals and families in town meet the federal poverty level.

The “WeCare Westport” portal provides access to 7 funds:

The Barbara Butler Fund connects at-risk youth with enrichment opportunities.

The Residents in Need Fund provides emergency financial assistance for food, shelter, utilities, medical expenses and other critical needs to Westport residents meeting income guidelines.

The Senior Client Needs Fund serves seniors on limited or fixed incomes during periods of financial hardship.

The Family-to-Family Fund supports offers help with unforeseen expenses during times of financial hardship.

Toquet Hall, located downtown, offers social, cultural and recreational opportunities to teenagers.

Prevention and Educational Programming gives free education and awareness events addressing substance abuse, mental health and parenting education.

Donors who want to help but have no preference of which population to assist can direct funds to the Area of Most Need. This assists residents of any age, when most urgently needed.

To donate to any of these 7 funds, click here.


In recent years, Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School has become a favorite destination for Westporters hoping to help youngsters enjoy the holidays.

The school serves children in high poverty brackets. Some live in shelters. 100% are fed breakfast and lunch at school.

Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

Westporters can provide some of those gifts, for children in pre-K through 3rd grade.

It’s easy: Click here to order online from Amazon. Orders from the Wish List will be shipped directly to the school. They are also accepting donations at the Family Resource Center in the school (606 Howard Avenue, Bridgeport).  Call 203-579-8526 for drop-off times. For more information, email blabrador@bridgeportedu.net.

In addition, Lucy’s (23 Jesup Road, next to Green and Tonic ) is taking donations for the Cesar Batalla School. Unwrapped new toys can be dropped off Mondays through Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays noon to 5pm).

If interested, act now! Gifts will be given by Santa on December 20.

In 2016, Westporters donated these gifts to the Cesar Batalla School.

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(These are only a few ways to help. To add your own favorite cause, click “Comments” below.)

 

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, is underway.

The program provides new backpacks and gift cards (Staples Office Supply, Walmart, Target) to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Cash donations to the program are welcome too.

Last year, scores of youngsters received assistance. Director of Human Services Elaine Daignault estimated the number as equivalent to 10 classrooms of kids.

“A growing number of Westport families face the burden of financial hardship,” she notes.

“Back-to-school time can be particularly stressful on a family budget. Thanks to generous Westporters, our department provides discreet assistance to families who want to give their children the best possible start to the school year.

“Parents can share in the excitement of back-to-school shopping with their children. And donors can be confident that 100% of their donations benefit their Westport neighbors.”

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations of any amount made payable to “Families in Need Fund” (memo: “Backpacks”), as well as gift cards, can be sent to: Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

New backpacks can be dropped off at the department offices, Room 200 in Town Hall, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., now through August 20.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, contact Margaret Piheiro at 341-1050, or email emilton@westportct.gov.

Remembering Fran Reynolds

Fran Reynolds — for 25 years, Westport’s Department of Human Services senior services coordinator — died last week at 89. Longtime colleague Terry Giegengack sent along these thoughts:

Fran Reynolds passed away last Friday at Norwalk Hospital with her beloved daughters and family by her side. She will be remembered with loving respect by many — including those she worked with at Westport’s Department of Human Services.

Fran developed Senior Social Services many years ago. She was the heart and soul of the Human Services Department. As a young working mother for Senior Services, I appreciated her kindness and understanding, as well as her high standards of excellence in work performance.

The continuing professional education that I was fortunate to receive in Westport’s Human Services Department, from Fran and others noted below, provided the foundation for a lifetime of public social service. What I valued the most was Fran’s caring, thoughtful but honest assessments and evaluations of a situation. It challenged and delighted me when I could successfully anticipate all of her questions about a situation and have ready — all of the answers!

Fran treasured her family and friends with tender and loving care, helping us all to grow as better persons. She valued the learning experience, but it was her sense of humor that always made me smile and believe in tomorrow!

Fran Reynolds, with her trademark laugh.

Sue Pfister, Director of the Westport Senior Center, says that Fran was “forever giving of her time, spirit, self and soul to make sure everyone was taken care of, and their needs were being met. Her demeanor was always calm, slow but deliberate, effective and efficient. Her smile was contagious, right up to the end.

“She went peacefully, as she so well deserved. As a second mom to me, she will continue to live out all that she taught me, for I know she is watching over every step I take!”

Barbara Butler, former director of Westport Human Services and long-time friend, highlighted Fran’s tremendous respect for each individual and their right to make their own choices however much we might disagree.

“Fran instilled in all of us a respect and admiration for a person’s self- determination, including their feistiness. She was innovative, especially with the tax relief program. And how she could talk to a client long enough to convince them that a course of action they had initially opposed was actually their idea. Fran was brilliant!”

Fran Reynolds (2nd from left) with colleagues Terry Giegengack, Sue Pfister and Barbara Butler.

David Kennedy, former director of Westport Human Services and current COO, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, adds,  “Fran was one of the most thought-filled leaders I have ever known. Every decision she made was rooted in values that always put others first — and herself after everyone else — and always with her special smile. Fran Reynolds was a true servant leader who touched my life — and thousands of others’ — deeply.

“Have you ever seen the plaque, ‘Faith-Family-Friends’ that sits in many homes? That was Fran. Her faith guided her in all she did and was the bedrock of her life.

“Family? The more the merrier and the more love she gave each and everyone.

“Friends? If you knew her, you were a friend for life. Neighbor, college classmate, client, volunteer, Compo Beach acquaintance, co-worker, and on and on. Everyone was welcomed into her arms and always treasured for who they were not for who they knew.”

May God bless you and keep you. Rest in peace, dear Fran. Love, Terry Giegengack

Services Tomorrow For Fran Reynolds

Frances “Fran” Reynolds, a Westport resident for 56 years, and the much-loved senior services coordinator for the Department of Human Services, died Friday. She was 89.

Her obituary says, “Fran was an amazing and inspiring woman whose laugh and smile warmed all those who knew her. She loved going to Compo Beach, gardening in her yard and New York City, but most of all, spending time with her family and friends, who she viewed as her greatest gifts.”

Fran graduated in 1949 from Wellesley College. She then attended Yale University for Graduate Studies, as one of the first few female students.

Fran Reynolds

Fran worked for the National Tuberculosis Association and American Lung Association in New York City. She met and married the love of her life, Bob, and moved to Westport. In addition to serving as senior services coordinator for Westport for almost 25 years, Fran was on the board of directors for the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County and Westport Senior Center. She received numerous awards for  her work.

Survivors include her children and their spouses, Suzanne and Vincent Baum of Connecticut, and Dorothy and David Verani of New Hampshire; granddaughters Megan, Katie, Kiera and Julia; nephew Alan Leland; niece Nancy McGuinty, and 10 great-nieces and nephews. She will also be missed by Bob’s daughter, Carolann, her grandson Kent and great-grandchildren, Danielle and Luke.

Visiting hoursare  at Collins Funeral Home in Norwalk tomorrow (Thursday, May 31, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by a mass at St. Luke’s Church in Westport (11 a.m.).

For 15 Years, “Ceremonies And Celebrations” Help Teens Graduate

As high school and middle school graduations approach, many Westport students worry about what’s ahead.

Some have more immediate concerns: having the right clothes for the ceremony, and the festivities that surround it.

For 15 years, Westport’s Human Services Department has eased those fears. Its “Ceremonies and Celebrations” program helps purchase new clothing for graduates who cannot afford them.

Last year, 32 Westport students were able to purchase “special event” wear.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault says she always receives “heartfelt notes of thanks, and photos of the proud young people as they walked across the stage or stood with their relatives on this memorable day.”

In the grand scheme of things, the right clothes for graduation might not seem like much. To a teenager, it can be the biggest thing in the world.

Tax-deductible checks (payable to “DHS Families Program”; memo line: “Ceremonies”) may be sent to the Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport CT 06880, or dropped off in Room 200 of Town Hall daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Gift cards of any amount (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Trumbull Mall/Westfield Shopping Center) are also gratefully accepted.

Human Services notes that donations honoring a teacher or special person in a student’s life will be acknowledged with a letter to the honoree.

If you know people who could benefit from this program, contact Patty Haberstroh (hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069).

 

Want To Give This Holiday Season? Here’s How!

Several alert — and generous — “06880” readers have asked how they can help others this holiday season.

Not every Westporter is well off. Last year, the Department of Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program helped over 400 residents battered by layoffs, foreclosures and other misfortunes.

Some of the most appreciated gifts are grocery and gas gift cards of any amount, as well as gift cards to local stores.

Cash donations help Human Services staffers buy last-minute gift cards for clients. Gift cards and checks (payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holiday” on the memo line) can be mailed to or dropped off at Room 200, Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

Donors can also shop for a family’s actual gift requests. For specific requests or to learn more, contact Patty Haberstroh: hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069.

NOTE: Clubs, schools, religious groups, book clubs and businesses can help too!


Meanwhile, Westport police officers are accepting new, unopened and unwrapped toys — plus cash donations — during their annual Holiday Toy Drive.

They take place on the weekends of December 9-10 and 16-17 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., ASF Sports parking lot, 1560 Post Road East).

Each year, police Local Union 2080 and the Police Benevolent Association has collected thousands of toys for children who otherwise would have none.

Can’t do weekends? Collection boxes are set up now through December 17 at the police station (50 Jesup Road), Town Hall (110 Myrtle Avenue), ASF Sports (1560 Post Road East) and Renato’s Jewelers (1765 Post Road East).

Questions? Contact Sgt. Jill Ruggiero: jruggiero@westportct.gov; 203-341-6000.


And if you swing by Suited.co (44 Railroad Place) Tuesday through Saturday (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) — with a gently used overcoat, jacket or suit — owner Ryan Meserole will donate it to Save-a-Suit. The non-profit provides business attire to military veterans getting back into the workforce.

It’s a great way to give. And Ryan gives back too — with a $150 credit on any Suited.co order.


I’m sure there are many more ways to help. If you know of an organization, business or club that’s doing good work this holiday season, click “Comments” below. Spread the word — and good cheer!

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, is underway.

The program provides gift cards to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Families can then buy new backpacks and school supplies together. Actual new backpacks can be donated too.

Last year, 189 kids from 118 families received assistance. That’s about 10 full classrooms of kids.

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations — of any amount — made payable to “Families in Need Fund” (memo: “Backpacks”) can be sent to, or dropped off at, Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

Gift cards of any amount to Target, Walmart and Staples Office Supply are appreciated too. They (and new backpacks) can be dropped off at Room 200 of Town Hall weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., now through August 18.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, contact Margaret Piheiro at 341-1050, or email emilton@westportct.gov.

Graduation Ceremony, Summer Camp Help For Kids In Need

Westport is a town with plenty.

And a town that never hesitates to help those who don’t have as much.

Right now, our wonderful Department of Human Services is running two programs that touch lives we may not always see.

One is “Ceremonies and Celebrations.” For the 14th year, the fund helps students purchase special event clothing for graduations from middle and high school.

It doesn’t sound like much. But to a teenager, looking like everyone else on a big day means the world.

Last year, 34 youngsters smiled with pride, alongside all their friends.

Everyone wants to look as good as these girls did, after Staples’ 2013 graduation. The Department of Human Services helps those who need it.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault suggests that (tax-deductible) donations can be made in honor of a special teacher or person in a student’s life. A letter of acknowledgment will be sent to the honored individual.

Checks payable to “DHS Family Programs” (memo line: “Ceremonies”) can be sent to Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880.

Gift cards of any amount (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Trumbull Mall/Westfield Shopping Center) to purchase clothes are also welcome.

For further information on this program, contact Patty Haberstroh (hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069).

The 2nd program is a fund to send children to summer camp. Like new clothes for a special occasion, this project is not frivolous. It’s a godsend for working parents — and a life-changer for kids.

Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.

Every year, thanks pour in. One woman noted the importance of swim lessons for her autistic daughter. Another said that her child “came home with a new story, friend or art project every day — and a huge smile.”

In addition to covering costs for ever-popular Camp Compo, the fund has helped a boy play American Legion baseball, and a girl participate in Staples Players’ summer program.

The other day, Westport PAL donated $1,200 to the Campership Fund. If you’d like to join them, checks payable to “DHS Family Programs” (memo line: “Campership”) can be sent to Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880.

To apply for campership help, click here.

Disabilities Commission: It’s Way More Than Ramps

The Americans With Disabilities Act — signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 — had many consequences.

Some were intended. Others were not.

It opened employment and educational opportunities for tens of millions of Americans with physical and emotional issues. Curb cuts and other design changes now benefit pregnant mothers, parents with youngsters and the elderly.

The ADA also impelled the state of Connecticut to create grants, allowing towns to fund initiatives studying the best ways to promote inclusion for people with disabilities.

In 2006, Westport and Wilton formed a task force. One recommendation was followed: Today our town has a designated official for disability issues (Sarah Heath, in Human Services).

One recommendation was not followed: the creation of a permanent commission.

Until now.

Jim Ross

Jim Ross

Earlier this month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced appointments to Westport’s new Commission on People With Disabilities, which the RTM approved in July. Members include Marina Derman, Diane Johnson, Stacie Curran, LuAnn Giunta, Tom Holleman and Evan Levinson.

The chair is Jim Ross. A successful businessman, he’s also the former head of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee.

Ross is legally blind, and the father of 2 special needs children. “I live this every day,” he notes.

He became a voice for the disabled community in 2012, when  he helped pass legislation giving students access to epilepsy medicine when a school nurse is not present.

Along the way, he  met Human Services director Barbara Butler, who told Ross that the proposal for a town commission had never been implemented.

Ross went to work. Now — with Marpe’s help, and broad public support — it’s a reality.

Westport's former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

Westport’s former director of human services, Barbara Butler, is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

There’s a reason so many Westporters support the new commission. Twenty percent of the town’s population is directly affected by their own or a family member’s physical or intellectual disability. In a community like ours, that means all of us have neighbors, friends and fellow members of civic groups and congregations with disabilities.

“This is an exceptionally humbling opportunity,” Ross says of his post. “It’s a chance to take the ADA — a magnificent civil rights initiative — to the local  level.”

He notes that Westport — a “very socially aware town” — has already done good things. There are ramps everywhere. Compo Beach has a sand wheelchair. The Levitt Pavilion is quite accessible.

But, he adds, “this is about a lot more than ramps. It’s a 2-way conversation between people with disabilities, and the community as a whole. It’s a chance for businesses, organizations, the town and people to have a dialogue to create avenues, paths and bridges for everyone to come together.”

In many ways, Ross says, “people with disabilities are heroes. We can learn a lot about ourselves by including them, and letting them contribute to a more vigorous, dynamic environment. This is not about clubbing people over the head. It’s about everyone working together.”

Beach wheelchair sign

He mentions education, housing, transportation, recreation, employment, the arts and emergency preparedness as areas in which discussions involving people with disabilities can lead to “logistical and tactical benefits” for all Westporters.

He’s eager to get started. Ross calls the 7-member commission “a dynamite group. Everyone has a different area of expertise.”

The Commission on People With Disabilities will meet publicly the 3rd Thursday of every month. The 1st session is Thursday, January 19 (8:30 a.m.), at Town Hall.

Of course, it’s handicap accessible.

What Will You Give Westport This Holiday Season?

If you’re like me, you’re excited by the holiday season — and annoyed at the rampant commercialism that accompanies it.

But if you’re like dozens of Westport households here, you wonder how you can afford any gifts at all.

Holiday giftsOverlooked in all the ho-ho-ho-ing are local families for whom the holidays may not seem merry or bright. Job loss, medical expenses, foreclosure, divorce — those circumstances and others may add extra stress to this time of year.

Fortunately, riding shotgun with Santa is Westport’s Department of Human Services.

It’s a great, confidential way for Westporters to provide gifts for kids — and ease the financial burden on entire families. Last year, hundreds of residents — including those served by Homes With Hope, the Westport Housing Authority, Project Return and the schools’ Open Choice program — received holiday assistance.

One recipient — whose life changed drastically 4 years ago — cried after picking up gift cards.

A mom of limited means thanked DHS for easing the stress she felt on Christmas morning.

A longtime Westporter — who can afford to live here only because her apartment is owned by her family — says that without the program, her son would have only one present under the tree.

Another says simply, “the Holiday Gift Giving Program has made all the difference.”

Contributions come from individuals, as well as garden and book clubs, scout troops, schools, churches and businesses. Donors and receivers are assured of confidentiality.

For years, Audrey Hertzel has organized a huge effort at Sterling Investment Partners. She collects stuffed animals and books for the Holiday Giving Program.

One resident collects stuffed animals and books for the Holiday Giving Program.

Some of the most appreciated gifts are grocery and gas cards of any amount. Also well received: gift cards to local stores.

Cash donations are always welcome. They allow Human Services staffers to buy last-minute gift cards for clients.

Cards and checks (made payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holiday” on the memo line) can be mailed to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport, CT 06880 at any time (the sooner the better, of course). They can also be dropped off in Town Hall Room 200 during business hours.

If you’d like to shop for a family’s actual gift request — in full or part — or for questions, contact Patty Haberstroh (hsyouth@westportct.gov; 203-341-1069).

Families needing extra support during the holidays should call 203-341-1050.