Tag Archives: Westport Department of Human Services

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.

Kids, Cops Join Forces

Across America, police departments and the communities they serve are examining their relationships.

For several years, Westport cops and teenagers have worked together, playing dodgeball and meeting informally.

Now we’re kicking it up a notch.

The Westport Police and Department of Human Services are teaming up in a Police-Youth Collaborative. Students will meet with officers throughout the year, planning fun events and doing community service projects in town.

The idea is to get 15-20 teens, and 5-7 officers who don’t regularly interact with youth, to build stronger, healthier relationships, develop mutual respect, and create a better community.

Then deputy, now chief Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team last fall.

Then deputy, now chief Foti Koskinas (left) played on this winning Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball team last fall.

Two activities are already scheduled for this month: a high ropes course (Sunday, October 9 at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport) and a distracted driving event at Staples (Saturday, October 22),

Sergeant Sereniti Dobson and Human Services’ youth services program director Kevin Godburn secured a state Office of Policy and Management grant of nearly $10,000. It pays for some police overtime and team-building exercises.

“Kids can be catalysts. They can bring change to their peers,” Godburn explains. “Kids need to understand cops more, and police officers can understand where Westport kids are coming from.”

Everyone is excited, Godburn adds. “There’s always a positive response when kids and cops work, play and interact together. Both sides really do want to get to know the other.”

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, begins Monday (August 8).

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.

Last year, 152 kids from 102 families received assistance. That’s almost 8 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 “Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs” (memo:  “Back to School”) can be sent to, or dropped off at, Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

Gift cards of any amount to stores like Target, Walmart, Old Navy, Staples, etc. are appreciated too. They can be dropped off at Room 200 of Town Hall weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4;30 p.m.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, call Elaine Daignault: 341-1050.

Thank You, Barbara Butler!

A star-studded cast filled the Senior Center this afternoon, to honor Barbara Butler. Town and state officials, longtime volunteers, and the heads of the library and Y — among many others — paid tribute to the head of Westport’s Human Services Department.

But calling Butler — who retires tomorrow, after 27 years of service to the town — a department leader is like calling the Beatles “a band.”

Barbara Butler (right) shares memories with RTM moderator Eileen Flug.

Barbara Butler (right) shares memories with RTM moderator Eileen Flug.

In nearly 30 3 decades here, Butler has overseen every age group from teenagers (Youth Commission, Toquet Hall, Staples High School outreach) to seniors (Senior Center, Baron’s South elderly housing task force).

She’s been involved with tax relief, casework, career coaching and emergency preparedness. She’s helped homeowners pay for oil, and provided suits and dresses for needy Staples grads.

Butler helped found Project Return and the A Better Chance of Westport program.

She’s been a member of the TEAM Westport diversity group, and served with Positive Youth Development and the United Way. She’s a past president of the League of Women Voters.

Next month, the RTM votes on the formation of a new Commission on People with Disabilities. Butler spent her final weeks on the job helping launch that project.

In her spare time, she runs. And rows.

Guests at today's party signed a card for Barbara Butler. That's her in the center, rowing.

Guests at today’s party signed a card for Barbara Butler. That’s her in the center, rowing.

The Senior Center was packed today with her bosses (past and present), colleagues, friends, family and fans.

But if organizers invited everyone Barbara Butler helped over the past 27 years, they would have needed Yankee Stadium.

And still turned folks away.

Commission On Disabilities Moves Toward Reality

Over the past 40 years, great progress has been made at the federal and state levels protecting and advancing the rights, awareness and support of people with disabilities.

At the local level: not so much.

Jim Ross is well aware of the work that’s been done — and how much remains. He’s chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee, a group that among other tasks helps connect disabled people with transportation options.

He himself has a disability: He’s lost his vision. (That does not prevent him from working in the financial services field, building electronic equity marketplaces.)

Jim Ross and his wife Victoria.

Jim Ross and his wife Victoria.

Ross is also involved in a new initiative. For the past 2 years, First Selectman Jim Marpe and Barbara Butler — the soon-to-retire director of Westport’s Department of Human Services — have spearheaded an effort, with a steering committee, to investigate the creation of a permanent Westport Commission on People with Disabilities.

The new group would ensure that this is a town where people with disabilities — whether physical or mental — have the opportunity and support to enjoy full and equal access to lives of independence, productivity, inclusion and self-determination.

Ross notes, “This is not about putting in ramps. It’s about involving and including people in meaningful ways.” In other words, it’s about creating policies and environments that welcome all Westporters.

“It’s a 2-way street,” he adds. “We want to help everyone here — politicians, businesses, organizations, citizens — have a meaningful dialogue about disabilities.”

Ross says that many people with disabilities excel in many areas. “They can teach us a lot,” he says. “We do a disservice to society by not having them participate fully in town activities.”

Parks and Rec already does many things for people with disabilities. When the beach wheelchair was delivered more than 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

Parks and Rec already does many things for people with disabilities. When the beach wheelchair was delivered more than 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

Specifically, he explains, the commission could examine the services that Parks and Recreation provides. By looking at needs and wants, it could help the department help all physically and intellectually challenged Westporters.

In another area, he says, the commission could spark a discussion about how to provide housing for people with disabilities.

Transportation has been “very humbling” for Ross, the Citizens Transit Committee chair. “As great as our transportation strategy is for commuters, seniors and people with disabilities, we have to message it better,” he admits.

At an RTM meeting in June, Marpe and Butler took the first step toward making the Westport Commission on People with Disabilities a reality. A vote may be taken in July. No funding is involved.

Ross says that about 12% of Westporters live with a disability (including learning disabilities).

If he and town leaders have their way, that 12% will be part of the 100% of Westporters who participate fully and meaningfully in every aspect of town life.

Suiting Up For Graduation

When Suited.co opened in Saugatuck last fall, the custom tailor shop made a generous offer. They donated dozens of suits to men in financial straits, who needed business attire.

Now — one expansion later — they’re still giving back.

Knowing that graduation time is near — but not every Westporter can afford a suit, custom or otherwise — owner Sean McCormick told Westport’s Department of Human Services he could help.

Bingo! They hooked a Staples senior up with a custom garment he can wear for graduation, to college and beyond.

Sean was delighted to learn that the young man is passionate about fashion, art and cars — hobbies that he and the other folks at Suited.co care about too.

Plenty of customers have streamed into Suited.co to purchase graduation and Father’s Day gifts. Nice to know that — on 1-way Railroad Place — giving is a 2-way street.

Suited.co