Tag Archives: Westport Department of Human Services

Roundup: Yarn Bomber; Rock Doc; Camper Fund; History; More


You can’t keep a good Yarn Bomber down.

In the latest installment of Westport’s ongoing, fun mystery, TV reporter Anne Craig reports on the unknown knitter’s latest creation.

But in addition to showcasing her work on Compo Beach Road — right by the marina — Anne also makes an offer.

The Yarn Bomber wants to help someone who needs a colorful, lively, humorous pick-me-up. That’s right: a “gift bomb.”

“It can be someone on the front lines, or someone who has suffered a loss,” Anne says. “Someone who has been through a lot, or has given a lot.

All that’s needed is a nomination. So watch Anne’s new video below — it’s another winner! — and if you know someone who could benefit from a yard bomb, put his or her name in the YouTube comments section.

Bombs away!


“The High School That Rocked!” — Fred Cantor’s documentary about the amazing bands that played in Westport back in the (glory) days — is going national.

From June 26-28, it’s part of the Albuquerque Film & Music Experience’s online “Best of the Fest” programming.

In 2017, the film was chosen as Best Short Documentary 1st runner-up at the event.

“THSTR” is part of 6 music documentary shorts and videos. The cost to watch all is just $1. Proceeds are split 50/50 between the festival and filmmakers — but Cantor is turning his share back to the organizers.

To see this intriguing film — and 5 others — click here.


One consequence of COVID-19: closures and reductions in summer programs has left working families without affordable childcare options.

Westport’s Department of Human Services can help. They’ve created a Campership Fund, to help cover the cost of programs.

The average weekly cost of a day camp is $300. Donations of any size can help a child attend for a day, week or the entire summer. Contributions can be made online (click here), or by check (payable to Westport Human Services “DHS Campership Fund,” 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information, call Annette D’Augelli (203-341-1050) or email adaugelli@westportct.gov.

Summer camp is always fun. (Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)


This year’s National History Day them was “Breaking Barriers.”

Long before the eyes of the nation focused on forgotten Black heroes, Staples High School sophomores Emma Nordberg and Lea Rivel chose Robert Smalls. A former enslaved man who stole a Confederate vessel and joined the Union, he convinced President Lincoln to allow African American men to join the army, was the first Black commander of an American warship, and became one of the first Black congressmen during Reconstruction.

The coronavirus forced this year’s History Day competition into cyberspace. But working together, Emma and Lea placed 4th nationally. It’s a great achievement for them, and their US History teacher Drew Coyne.

That’s not the first National History Day competition for Westport students — or even for a Nordberg. In 2016 Emma’s brother Konur and 4 Bedford Middle School classmates won 1st place at the state level, and went on to the national competition. They interviewed Claudette Colvin, the first Black woman who refused to give up her son, even before Rosa Parks’ famous act.

Congratulations, Emma and Lea!

Emma Nordberg


And finally … let’s all keep thinking about (and being aware of) stereotypes.

Human Services: Don’t Neglect Mental Health!

This afternoon — as Westport schools mark 6 weeks since closing — town officials reminded residents that despite physical isolation, we all need social connections. They’re key to maintaining mental and physical health.

Department of Human Services director Elaine Daignault says:

When we must stay at home, it can be challenging to maintain connections, and manage new or existing mental health matters. Many of us are learning to live with uncertainty, which requires a degree of patience with ourselves and others.

Identifying and discussing your own anxieties and fears is one way to manage the stress that we all feel. You may also choose to create a daily routine that includes exercise, a hobby and time for yourself.

Sitting with this discomfort is part of the process. So is finding activities to engage your mind and body to relieve yourself from the worry. For those experiencing significant anxiety and depression, please acknowledge that you need help and seek additional support. Start with your primary care provider and/or your mental health provider. Most are offering tele-health visits from the comfort of your own homes.

Many therapists are now online.

If you’re having trouble getting started, or require a personal conversation to determine which options are best for you, Department of Human Services staff are available by phone and/or email Mondays through Fridays. 830 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (203-341-1050 or Humansrv@westportct.gov).

We are happy to speak with you, and will provide resources to support you and your families now and in the future.

We also recognize that this can be a stressful time for families. Westport Together was launched in late 2019 as an alliance between the town, Westport Public Schools, PTA and many local non-profits to strengthen the health and well-being of youth and families.

While in-person events have been canceled, we continue to provide relevant and dynamic content on our Westport Together Facebook page. Click here to see. Stay tuned for more details on excellent panel discussions ahead.

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.

New Food Fund Eases Anxieties

In fewer than 4 weeks since the coronavirus struck, calls to Westport’s Department of Human Services quadrupled.

Residents worry about countless things. But the most common fear is food insecurity.

“Between our established clients whom we’ve worked with for years, and new callers who find themselves unable to make ends meet, anxiety and panic is setting in for many,” says director Elaine Daignault.

“A lot of them already face tough decisions between putting food on the table, and paying household expenses.” Already, it is estimated, more than 4% of Westporters face food insecurity.

That’s around 1,200 people. Many are seniors and children.

And, Daignault warns, as social isolation continues and unemployment rises, those challenge will be felt by people who never in the past faced financial difficulties.

This photo symbolizes the fears of a rising number of Westporters.

A single mom with 3 kids has kept only one part-time job. But her rent is due. Without enough savings to stock up at the grocery store, she must stop in 3 times a week. That increases her risk of exposure, causing further despair.

One Westporter relies on the gig economy; his wife is disabled. Suddenly, his income does not cover the cost of food, rent and medications.

A senior citizen has worked part-time as a grocery clerk to supplement his Social Security income. Fearful of exposure to infection, he quit working. He can afford food — but he’s stopped paying his cell phone and electric bills.

An elderly, ailing couple have depended on the Senior Center for their daily hot, nutritious meal. The rest of the time, the wife prepares simple canned soups and frozen dinners.

Elaine Daignault

Daignault is proud of her small staff. They  offer connections, support and resources to residents in need. They make personal phone calls, and are working harder now than ever.

They’re providing grocery gift cards to Westporters, and collaborating with the school district to help families access the free and reduced lunch curbside pickup program.

Human Services has a rainy day fund. But there is a limit to their financial resources.

“We can’t wait for state and federal programs to kick in,” Daignault says. “People are hungry now.”

Dan Levinson shares her concerns. A longtime Westporter who years ago helped organize the original Green Village Initiative, he gets things done.

Quickly, he and other concerned residents created a Food Fund. The money they raise will be administered by Westport’s Department of Human Services.

The goal is ambitious: $50,000. But generous contributions jump started it nicely.

Daignault welcomes the support. She calls the Food Fund “a great example of how we as a community can express compassion, and use our skills and creativity to benefit others. It also shows how we are all in this together.”

Senior Center director Sue Pfister adds, “My heart broke when my colleagues in Human Services began to worry about not having resources needed to handle the calls they were getting about folks needing basic food and grocery money.

“I knew if the word got out the community would rise to the occasion, and see to it that not one human being went hungry in Westport. Dan Levinson loved the mission, and ran with the concept. 72 hours later, we were halfway to our goal!”

Click here to donate. For more information — including how to benefit from food funds — call 203-341-1050.

COVID-19 Roundup: Human Services News; CT FAQs; What’s Open; Resource Pages Galore; Interesting Offers; Inspiring Stories And More

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce has added a new page: Markets. It includes not just supermarkets, but food sellers like Balducci’s, Double L, Organic Market and Stiles, with hours of operation (including senior shopping) and phone numbers. Click here to see.

It’s an invaluable service — as is their other page featuring restaurants that offer takeout and delivery. Click here to see.


Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault says:

“The health and safety of our residents is our top priority. The Department of Human Services stands ready to help. Many seniors and other at-risk populations may need assistance in procuring supplies for extended self-isolation. DHS is investigating ways to provide safe and efficient help to at-risk homebound seniors and/or households.

“We encourage residents to call their neighbors and offer help, while taking care to follow CDC precautions by keeping a safe social distance. Remember that even if you are feeling well, you could still be a carrier of the virus.”

The Department has compiled a guide that provides up-to-date financial and social services information for the most vulnerable and at-risk members of the Westport community. Click here to see.

Residents should call Human Services at 203-341-1050 or email humansrv@westportct.gov if they or a neighbor have an emergency need of food or medications, or need other help.

For general town information on the coronavirus, click here.


WestportMoms.com constantly updates their list of things to do with kids (Quarantine Scavenger Hunt, anyone?), along with resources and even a bit of humor. They’re on Facebook and Instagram too, and via email newsletter.


The State of Connecticut has a superb, 34-page document answering Frequently Asked Questions about the coronavirus. It covers everything from testing and childcare to the DMV, unemployment and medical leave. Click here to download.


Alert and involved “06880” reader Gil Ghitelman reports that his wife Doris just came home with bunches of flowers from Trader Joe’s.

“I thought she blew the week’s budget,” he says. “But she told me they’re for some friends and neighbors.”

Gil was still thinking about the budget when Doris added that Jared — one of the Trader Joe’s guys — heard about her kindness. He told her the flowers were on the house.

“The budget’s intact. A bunch of people are happy. And a big hat tip to TJ’s!” Gil says.

 


Several readers report finding discarded latex gloves in supermarket and shopping center parking lots. Bring a bag — then dispose of them carefully! 


Connecticut restaurants are now allowed to sell alcohol with takeout and delivered meals. In addition, bars that deliver can sell beverages in sealed containers, just as liquor stores do.


Tonight (Friday, March 20, 7 p.m.), Senator Chris Murphy will host a telephone town hall. Click here to join in.


Besides the COVID-19 testing planned for Westport over the next 3 Tuesdays, there are other test options in Connecticut. Contact them for screening procedures:

• Yale New Haven Health system (833-275-9644)
• Hartford Health Care (833-621-0600)
• Stamford Health (203-276-4111)
• Connecticut Children’s Hospital (833-226-2362)
• DOCS Urgent Care https://docsmedicalgroup.com/telemedicine/


The Red Cross is in dire need of blood. Click here for donation centers, and to learn who is eligible to give during this pandemic.

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Staples High School Class of 1985 grad Mitch McManus is president of BMW of Bridgeport. They’ll drop a loaner off at your home or workplace, then take your car in for service. I am sure many other dealerships offer ways to avoid crowds too. Call yours for details.


CVS is no longer open 24/7. The new hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. They do offer free delivery (1 to 2 days) of prescriptions and other “essential” items. Click here for details.


Connecticut’s Department of Motor Vehicles will not allow remote or distance driver’s ed classes. (Probably a good move, all things considered.)

So The Next Street — a private company — has pivoted. They’re offering students a 10-week “Intro to Entrepreneurship” remote course — for free. (It is open too to anyone interested in starting and running their own businenss).

The course meets via Zoom on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m. Click here for info.


The Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County asks children to send pictures and letters, to be shared with seniors in nursing homes and assisted living centers. Click here for details.

 

Senior Center Suspends Programs

Westport’s Senior Center is the latest victim of the COVID-19 virus.

A press release from Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault says:

The Westport Center for Senior Activities will suspend daily programs until further notice. This decision has been made after a thorough examination of the widespread health risks posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The closure impacts all activities held by the Senior Center, except for the Home Delivered Meal Program which will continue to deliver to homebound seniors.

Starting Thursday, there will be no daily congregate luncheon program or outside groups utilizing the facility. The building will be open on Mondays through Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during this period, but no programs, activities or scheduled will occur.

The Westport Senior Center.

Senior Center director Susan Pfister said, “The Center has been diligent in following CDC guidelines and has continued to encourage residents to regularly wash their hands, cover a cough or sneeze, and remain at home when feeling unwell in order to minimize the spread of the virus.

“There is no indication of reported cases of the COVID-19 at the Center at this time. The governor’s recent announcement to declare a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency in response to the coronavirus exemplifies just how serious this situation is.  This decision to suspend all programming was based on the health and safety of our senior participants, their families and out of an abundance of caution for the greater community.”

Although the Senior Center will be closed for general programming, the staff will be on site for routine administrative operations and communications via telephone and email in order to remain connected to residents. To contact the Center, call 203-341-5099 or email seniorcenter@westportct.gov.

Senior Center gatherings are on hold through the end of March.

The Town of Westport is encouraging all residents to practice social distancing by maintaining a 6-foot distance between yourself and others, and to take extra precautions by planning for possible social isolation by stocking their pantries with enough food for 2 to 4 weeks, procuring necessary medicine and reaching out to loved ones and neighbors to inform them of their status.

Neighbors are encouraged to check on seniors in their neighborhoods via telephone, to offer assistance and/or refer them to Human Services as needed.

It is advisable to follow reliable news sources for updates including www.westportct.gov, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus, www.wwhd.org, and www.ct.gov/coronavirus. Any resident seeking more local information and resources regarding the COVID-19 can receive the town’s press releases by going to www.WestportCT.Gov/subscribe and selecting “town news.” Residents are encouraged to sign up for the Westport emergency notification system by texting 06880 to 888777 to subscribe, or go online to sign up.

The Senior Center is a program of the Department of Human Services, which offers a variety of services to residents. The department will continue to provide essential support services in the safest possible environment for staff and with careful consideration of our most vulnerable clients.

Residents requiring additional support are encouraged to call 203-341-1050 or visit the Human Services webpage on the town website for information on available services — including the Westport Emergency Assistance application for seniors and people with disabilities who live alone and/or have special medical needs requiring assistance in times of emergency.

To apply for regular check-ins during an emergency, please complete the form online or request a paper copy. Seniors can also call DHS at 203-341-1050 to provide information over the phone.

COVID-19 is an evolving situation, changing by the hour. The DHS, as part of the Emergency Operations Team, is engaged in meetings and coordinating with other government town agencies, and has contingency plans to address varying situations as they unfold.

The uncertainty related to COVID-19 may cause an increase in anxiety and depression among residents.  If you are a parent or a caregiver, and are looking for ways to manage the stress, the following articles may be helpful in establishing healthy coping and communication skills around this issue.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-to-talk-to-children-about-the-coronavirus-2020030719111

https://acl.gov/COVID-19

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/03/811656226/pandemic-panic-these-5-tips-can-help-you-regain-your-calm

The health and safety of our residents is our top priority. We stand ready to help as needed.

Free Tax Help Offered

No one likes paying taxes. And almost as bad is figuring them out.

Plowing through all those IRS forms and regulations can be particularly tough for folks without accountants or access to other help.

Fortunately — in conjunction with AARP and the IRS — Westport’s Department of Human Services provides a free, full-service tax assistance program. Special attention is paid to senior citizens, and low to moderate income households. (It is available to all filers, regardless of income or age.)

Tax preparation and electronic filing of federal and state taxes is offered from January 27 (early) through April 15 (really, really late) at 2 locations.

The Senior Center program runs Wednesdays (9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and Thursdays (1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.). Call 203-341-5099 for appointments.

The Town Hall program runs Mondays, from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Call 203-341-1050 for appointments.

Nationwide, more than 35,000 IRS-certified volunteers help out, at nearly 5,000 sites. Last year, 748 returns were filed in Westport.

Tax forms can be daunting for anyone.

If married, both spouses should be present at the appointment. Taxpayers must bring:

  • Copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns
  • Government-issued photo ID
  • Social Security or ITIN numbers for all taxpayers and dependents
  • Bank account/routing numbers (blank check preferred) if expecting a refun
  • SSA1099 if you were paid Social Security benefits
  • W-2s from employers
  • W-2G from gambling winnings
  • 1099G from unemployment compensation payments
  • 1099s: bank interest, stock dividends, retirement distributions, broker statements
  • Receipts for deductible expenses, including real estate and vehicle taxes paid
  • Verification of the original purchase price of sold assets (home, stocks, etc.)
  • Receipts/canceled checks if itemizing deductions (charitable contributions, etc.)
  • Form 1095-A if health insurance was from the Access Health Connecticut Marketplace.

For more information, call the Department of Human Services: 203-341-1050.

NOTE: The “tax assistance program” refers to helping figure out your taxes — not actually paying them. Damn!

Persona Of The Week: Westport’s Human Services Department

With the holiday season in full swing, Westporters frantically shuttle between shopping and holiday parties.

Yet despite our perceived affluence, many families here struggle to buy gifts for their kids, or pay heating bills as the weather gets colder.

In this week’s “Persona” 06880 interview, Rob Simmelkjaer sits with Susan Stefenson and Annette D’Augelli of Westport’s Department of Human Services. They discuss how Westporters can lend a hand to neighbors in need this holiday season.

How To Help This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

And to help those whose holidays may otherwise be less than joyful.

Eileen Daignault — director of Westport’s Department of Human Services — offers these ideas:

You and your family can ring the Salvation Army bell, December 14 at the Westport or Fairfield Stop & Shop. This date and these locations directly benefit Westport residents in need. To help, click here.

You can also deliver a meal to homebound residents on Christmas or New Year’s Day.

Brighten someone’s day by delivering a Christmas or New Year’s Day meal.

Volunteers meet at the Sherwood Diner mid-morning to pick up their food and route. They head to the home of the resident, knock on the door and offer the meal. Some residents even invite you in for a few minutes.

Volunteers deliver 1 to 4 meals. Families and friends can deliver together. To help out on one or both days, click here. For more information, email kmalagise@westportct.gov.

Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program is also in full swing. Last year, 412 people — including 229 children — were helped by this effort. To purchase gifts or gift cards, or donate cash, click here, then scroll down). For more information, contact sstefenson@westportct.gov.


Meanwhile, Westporter Joel Treisman and his daughters have initiated a winter clothing drive. They are collecting new and gently used adult winter gloves, hats and scarves for the Gillespie Center. Overflow items will go to nearby shelters.

Collection bins have been placed at Westport F-45 Team Training, 222 Post Road West (5:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.); Steven Mancini Salon, 180 Post Road East (business hours, Tuesday through Friday) and JoyRide Cycling, 1200 Post Road East (weekday and and weekend mornings; weekday evenings).

Joel Treisman, JoyRide’s Michaela Conlon, and a collection bin.

Make A Difference — And Help For the Holidays

It started out as “Make a Difference Day.” Now, the Westport event spans the entire month of October.

The goal is for volunteers to help local non-profits. They register their projects; willing hands are then matched with needs.

Projects are updated regularly. They include painting, maintenance, helping with compost piles, collecting used eyeglasses and children’s clothes — you name it. Click here for a list.

To register a project — or volunteer for one — click here.

It’s a month-long event — but Saturday, October 26 is special. Volunteers will gather at Christ & Holy Trinity Church at 9 a.m. They’ll assemble toiletry bags for homeless men, comfort bags for abused women, arts and craft kits for children in need, and Hug a Senior bags.

Click here for the full Make a Difference Day Month website. For more information, call Barbara Pearson-Rac: 203-226-1390.

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Meanwhile, it’s not even Halloween. But Westport’s Department of Human Services is already thinking about the holidays.

They see a side of town most Westporters never do. The Town Hall staff knows our neighbors are coping with layoffs, reduced work hours, even foreclosures.

For years, Human Services has facilitated a Holiday Giving Program. It’s as important today as it ever was.

Residents can donate grocery and gas gift cards of any amount, as well as gift cards to local stores.

Cash donations are always welcome. They allow for the purchase of last-minute gift cards for clients. Residents who wish to shop for a family’s actual gift requests can do so, at whatever level the donor feels comfortable.

Organizations — including non-profits, religious institutions and businesses — can donate too.

The more the “merrier,” for sure.

(To donate online, click here; select “Holiday Giving” in the the “Seasonal Program” dropdown prompt. Checks made payable to “DHS Family Programs” — with “Holiday” on the memo line — may be mailed to Human Services, c/o Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880, or dropped off there in Room 200. For more information, email familyprograms@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1183. Families that need support during the holidays should call 203-341-1050.)