In 2008 Maybeth Wirz, a social worker in the Westport Department of Human Services, was searching for a solution to the problem with which many other service providers in Southwestern Fairfield County were also grappling: the need for additional transportation services for older adults. While some services were available through government programs, often they could not be used by seniors because they required travel to central locations for pick-up. Other services were avoided because they simultaneously served many seniors with individual destinations, adding hours to a trip. Few services offered seniors some level of assistance, and others were limited to specific purposes or geographic areas or hours of operation.
During her search, Maybeth came across information about Katherine Freund and ITNAmerica, the organization she founded. Recognizing the ITNAmerica model as an answer to many of the needs of Southwestern Connecticut’s older adult population, she invited Katherine to Westport, first to speak to the Westport Commission on Senior Services, an advisory group to the Department of Human Services and, later, to a well-attended open forum which included service providers throughout the area, both public and private. Expanded senior mobility options were the common thread.
Leslie Wolf, a volunteer at the Westport Department of Human Services, and Judy Guthman, a member of the Westport Human Services Commission, decided to support Maybeth Wirz in her desire to see an ITNAmerica affiliate in the Southwestern Fairfield County area. Soon after, outreach began to the towns of Easton, Fairfield, Weston, Westport, Wilton and the City of Norwalk, a population area that could support the ITNAmerica program model.
An additional group of initiators, including Charlene Chiang-Hillman, Director of the Weston Department of Social Services, Barbara Butler, Director of the Westport Department of Human Services, Sue Pfister, Director of the Westport Center for Senior Activities, and Stephanie Ross, a local consultant for non-profit organizations, began writing their first grant proposal. Based on the ITNAmerica model, their proposal was submitted to the Connecticut Department of Social Services just before Thanksgiving in 2008. Recipients were to be announced in late December 2008 or in early January 2009, but by this time, the economic downturn had hit Connecticut and threatened the funding. The supporters who had prepared the grant were undeterred. They were so convinced that an ITN affiliate in the six-town for area was vital to seniors-- to keep them living in their towns and in their homes-- that they decided to develop and raise money for the program, even if the state grant was not awarded. Optimism reigned.
In early 2009, an Advisory Committee of citizens from each of the six towns was recruited, bringing together leaders in business development, fundraising, and senior services. They brought extraordinary expertise and gave invaluable advice. To garner interest in and support for a local ITN program, a hands-on Steering Committee was also convened to identify new sources of funds, develop additional grants, and present information to the greater southwestern Connecticut community. Presentations were made to area service organizations, (including Rotary and Kiwanis), senior centers, foundations, and other charitable organizations.
Also in 2009, the Friends of the Westport Senior Center became the fiscal agent for the start-up organization through the support of John Thompson, Treasurer of the Friends, and Stan Nayer, Chair of the Westport Commission on Senior Services. The local firm of Levett Rockwood, P.C., provided pro bono legal services and the newly expanded United Way of Coastal Fairfield County provided office space and invaluable advice. With this generous community participation and support, ITNCoastalCT was incorporated in 2009 and applied for recognition as a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.
The Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging was the first organization to invest in our fledgling group by awarding a $25,000 grant to support the program’s development and affiliation process. That grant was soon matched by the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, which continued to recognize the need for this new type of senior transportation and wished to increase its level of support.
At the end of 2009, due to tremendous support from the offices of CT State Senators Jonathan Harris and Toni Boucher, and with additional support from State Senator Bob Duff, an additional grant of $25,000 was awarded by the CT Department of Social Services, based on the 2008 grant application and our previous success in securing $50,000 of funding.
ITNCoastalCT completed its affiliation with ITNAmerica in summer 2010 and began offering rides that November. It will continue to solicit grand and foundation funding while also recruiting drivers and member riders.
For information on how to support this nonprofit service by becoming a charter member, volunteering, financial contributions, or vehicle donations, contact us at info@ITNCoastalCT.org.
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