Tag Archives: Westport Department of Human Services

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.


Holiday Giving: Why They’re Called “Human Services”

Every year, Westport’s Department of Human Services runs a Family Holiday Giving program. Staff members and volunteers match “wish list” requests from people in need with clothes, toys, games and gift cards donated by local schools, businesses, organizations, churches and individuals.

This year, the program will help 116 local families — that’s 400 people.

Typical of local businesses that support the program — very quietly — is Athletic Shoe Factory. Chris Buchner has donated over 1000 pairs of new shoes for adults and children to pick from. You know how important new, cool-looking sneakers are to kids in this town.

Over the years, merchants like Winged Monkey and Wish List have donated new clothing too.

The only reason more folks don’t help is they don’t know about the program. Donations are still being accepted from residents and organizations. Interested? Email hsyouth@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1069.

If you or your family needs support during the holiday season, call 203-341-1050.

We’re Also #1

On the heels of this morning’s postWestport is the 9th most educated place in the United States! — it’s worth noting another accomplishment.

In the Neighbor to Neighbor Home Energy Challenge, we’re #1.

And we did not win by a nose (or kilowatt, or whatever). We blew every other town in Connecticut far out of the water.

Home energy challengeWe ended the contest with 819,400 points. Our next closest competitor — Wilton — earned 170,800. Only 4 other towns in the state (Ridgefield, Wethersfield, Portland and Lebanon) got over 100,000.

Westport’s spectacular energy efficiency rating comes thanks to the work done by the Westport Home Energy Challenge, and 20 partner organizations.

But we’re not resting on our laurels. The Green Task Force has launched a “Stay Cool Westport!” initiative.

Anyone signing up for a Home Energy Solutions visit will learn how to lower air-conditioning and heating costs. And — if it’s done by August 31 — donations will be made to the Westport Warm-Up Fund. That’s a Department of Human Services program that helps needy Westporters purchase heating fuel.

Congratulations to the 1,548 Westporters who have already weatherized their homes through the Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge. Your “energy” is greatly appreciated.

(To sign up for a Stay Cool Westport energy audit, call 877-WISE-USE.)

Human Services’ Holiday Help

Westport’s Human Services Department‘s work is never done.

Just a few days after caring for hundreds of Hurricane Sandy victims, the agency turns its attention to the holidays. As always, this is its busiest time of the year.

As many Westporters shop, cook, plan vacations and share gifts, hundreds of children, families and seniors wonder how they’ll cope.

Many turn to Human Services’ Holiday Giving Program.  It’s a great, confidential way for Westporters to provide gifts for kids — and ease the financial burden on entire families. Last year, 445 residents — including those served by Homes With Hope and the Westport Housing Authority — received holiday assistance. In the aftermath of Sandy, this year’s number is sure to rise.

“This unbelievable program enabled us as a family to breathe a little easier, knowing our child could have some fun and joy in life,” one grateful recipient wrote.

Another said:  “I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.  It is a truly humbling experience.”

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

“Some of the most appreciated gifts are grocery and gas cards of any amount,” says Human Services director Barbara Butler. 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.

Gimme Shelter

Long Lots Elementary School serves as Westport’s emergency shelter. With dire predictions of Hurricane Sandy bearing down last Sunday, staff and volunteers were ready to prepare for a surge of evacuees.

But first, there was a Halloween party for kids.

Custodians assured emergency workers that they could set up after the party. They wanted the children to have fun.

The kids did. And indeed, the shelter was ready in time.

Long Lots School

That’s just one of the feel-good stories told by Ned Batlin. A Westport police officer — and much-loved DARE official — he spent several days at Long Lots last week, overseeing security and pitching in as much as everyone else there.

“Human Services, Red Cross, CERT volunteers, the custodial staff — they were phenomenal,” Ned says. “They worked around the clock, day after day.”

He cites too Long Lots’ custodial staff: Pat Hayden (head), Peter Barcello and Patrick Rodgers.

Chartwells — Westport Public Schools’ food service provider — was “fantastic,” Ned says.

Executive chef Ritch Imperiati never left. “He slept in his car every night. He made sure there were 3 hot meals a day, from Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon. And there was chips, juice and water, 24/7,” says Ned.

“It was a great group effort. One of the food servers — who also never left — played with kids in the gym in between her shifts.”

The first night, nearly 90 Westporters slept at Long Lots. As the storm raged, all the cots were in the hallways. Officials feared the gym’s windows might not withstand such high winds.

On Tuesday night, 50 people slept in the gym.

Others stopped in just for meals or coffee. One man came to charge his ankle monitor. (His probation officer told him to.)

Social workers from Human Services were always on duty. Department members Barbara Butler, Patty Haberstroh, Elaine Daignault and Kevin Godburn made sure things ran smoothly. There was also a nurse at all times.

“So many people came together to make people’s lives a little easier,” Ned marvels. “It was fantastic to see.”

RSVP To The Doctors

Several years ago, when the local chapter of the Red Cross decamped for Norwalk, a popular program — driving Westporters to medical appointments — vanished with it.

But members of RSVP — the Retired & Seniors Volunteer Program — knew it was needed.

So did Westport’s Department of Human Services. The 2 organizations partnered, added Weston’s Social Services Department — and now all Westport seniors, and anyone with a disability, has access to free and friendly transportation to see their doctors in Westport, and all bordering towns.

Users register by phone. Volunteer dispatchers — working from home — match requests with drivers.

Drivers use their own cars, and pay for their own gas. They stay throughout the appointment (though if it will be a while, they can run errands or go home, and return at the end).

Most of the 50 or so drivers are RSVP members (the organization covers drivers under an umbrella policy).

There are 270 registered users, says Human Services senior program coordinator Sue Lebrija. Some use it once or twice — if, say, a broken leg curtails driving. Others use it frequently — even for regular dialysis appointments.

There are other driving services in the area — ITN, Norwalk Transit, even private drivers — and Human Services gives out that information too, to make sure every need can be met.

“Our volunteers are fabulous,” Sue says proudly. “They’re very community-conscious. Some also drive for ITN, and deliver meals.”

Clients say the service gives them “a new lease on life,” Sue adds. “In this day and age, adult children can’t drive their parents to the doctor all the time. This is something that’s really needed, and really works well.”

RSVP’s program operates weekdays — except Thursday. Why not then?

That’s the day the Y’s Men meet. Most RSVP drivers also belong to that senior group. They are indeed an active — and community-minded — bunch.