Not many people would offer to take charge of a group of fourth graders on a Friday afternoon, especially with only a hula hoop, water balloons and a few cotton balls as props. But Jennifer Purdy would, and does so with enthusiasm when leading an afterschool program for local non-profit New Canaan CARES.

Over the past 10 years, Purdy has worn many hats at CARES, including board member, board president, office manager, program coordinator, Kitchen Tour chairman and youth program leader to name a few.

"I had never seen a person single-handedly take on so many different roles all at once and be amazingly capable at everything she did," another volunteer said.

Board members have come and gone through the years, but Jennifer Purdy has been the constant voice of CARES, helping new volunteers, board members and employees get up to speed with helpful advice and a word of encouragement. Not only has Purdy been actively involved in the spotlight and behind the scenes, but she has constantly performed at the highest level and been 100 percent invested in the organization, according to another co-president. "She has been an inspiration to all who have known her at CARES."

Purdy will retire at the end of June after more than 10 years of service to this very special local organization.

"It is time for me to pursue other interests knowing that I'm leaving CARES in very capable hands," Purdy, said. She recently announced her candidacy for the office of New Canaan Town Clerk.

Widely-known in the community for their parenting education and youth leadership programs, CARES leads more than 100 youth, parent and community programs each year. Each of these programs requires significant planning to make them happen and all have gone off seamlessly thanks in large part to Purdy Whether it's coordinating audio-visual needs and handouts for a parenting program, supporting high school leadership students on their final projects, or working with kids during an afterschool assertiveness training, Purdy has spent her career at CARES building strong kids and strong families. Purdy gives as many volunteer hours as she works paid hours.

Some volunteers in the community have connected with Purdy through CARES' Annual Kitchen and Home Tour. The Tour is CARES' largest annual fundraiser and requires a significant amount of volunteers to run smoothly.

"To say that Jennifer has been actively involved in the Tour for the past 10 years would be an understatement. She has essentially run this event in some form or another during her tenure and she has done so with admirable grace and positivity," said a long-time friend of CARES. "When I first worked with Jennifer on the Annual Kitchen and Home Tour, I had signed up to be the Volunteer Coordinator and started to feel overwhelmed with all the details. Her calm nature and thoughtful confidence put me at ease and made the job seem so much easier."

In any given year, Purdy coordinates between 75 and 100 volunteers who help support the Kitchen and Home Tour and other CARES' events.

Perhaps her most treasured quality is Purdy's talent for working with youth. She has been actively involved in CARES' elementary and middle school youth programs for many years. Passionate about the programs, Purdy believes in stretching youth and young adults to their potential, so they in turn feel empowered to express and execute their own inner strengths in a variety of challenging situations. Recently, when one leadership challenge participant confided that she was petrified about presenting at the graduation, Purdy empathized, then coached her through the fear and ultimately shared the girl's triumph when she spoke confidently at the closing event.

In most small organizations, a close partnership with the Executive Director is essential and CARES is no exception. At CARES, Purdy and executive director Meg Domino have worked fluidly for years; they work tirelessly to support the organization's mission of advancing the health and well-being of youth and families. Whether they're drafting a calendar of parenting and youth events for the next year, or leading a child's birthday party for 20 (that they donated to the most recent CARES gala auction) they work with the ease and good humor of a seasoned comedy team.

"My favorite quality about Jennifer is her selfless contribution to the youth in this community. When a parent is late to pick up their child from a youth program, Jennifer doesn't focus on the imposition or let the child feel uncomfortable, instead, she creates a positive memory by giving the child an important task and making him or her feel special for being her assistant," Domino said. "She is the ultimate asset builder -- someone who does for others without expectation."

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