Jacqueline D'Louhy sat at her new desk in Vine Cottage on a recent weekday afternoon, animatedly discussing her new role as New Canaan's coordinator of youth and family services.
The department has more than 100 cases open at any given time in addition to public outreach and events.
"When the market crashed, we saw a lot of families whose nest eggs were gone," she said. "It has been challenging for those families to come to us. We're still seeing those families come in, as well. Maybe they've been able to get by on some savings, but now they're depleted."
D'Louhy helps families sign up for state financial assistance, the New Canaan Food Pantry, child care and employment aid. With her background in domestic violence and child abuse prevention, she sometimes works with families who have had domestic issues reported to police.
She's also active in the schools, raising awareness of issues such as dating violence, anti-bullying and domestic abuse through advocacy campaigns. Last year she set up a table in the cafeteria of New Canaan High School each Friday during the month of October and raised awareness about domestic violence. The table gave away purple ribbons and bracelets, and even pizza one day.
The refrigerators around town are another of the youth and family services department's outreach efforts that D'Louy will continue. Last year, the department placed a refrigerator at the entrance of the library, the YMCA and on the lawn in front of Vine Cottage. The point was that underage drinkers get most of their alcohol from the family fridge rather than by using fake IDs, and that parents should know that.
D'Louhy's been in New Canaan since 2005 as the youth and families specialist for the town.
After almost eight years, Tony Phillips left the position this year to become the director of social services in Ridgefield.
Before he left, he recommended D'Louhy, and she was approved for the position, which pays $75,144 annually, earlier this month.
Originally from Norwalk, the social worker has been in New Canaan since graduating with a Master of Social Work degree from Fordham University.
In her undergraduate days at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she was a psychology major.
"I was doing experiments, like showing kids lima beans, but I wanted to be working with kids," she said. Her adviser ended up getting her an internship in a Wilmington elementary school. "That's when I came alive. I was like, `This is what I need to be doing.'"
One of the major parts of the job is working with the food bank, which residents can access by filling out a form with D'Louhy demonstrating their financial need.
"Fifteen years ago, the food bank was held out of a closet in this office, now it's this whole institution," D'Louhy said.
The pantry is situated in the basement of St. Mark's Church, 111 Oenoke Ridge.
"It's been something where people are prideful and have a hard time going, but once they do go, they meet other parents and the volunteers are great," she said.
"She has done very well with the town; the community adores her," Jones said.
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