Darien nonprofit recognizes local charities

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

On the Post Road in Fairfield, there’s a nonprofit charity called Woofgang & Co., which offers young adults with disabilities hands-on job skills, training and support.

To a large round of applause at the fourth annual 100 Who Care Darien meeting on Wednesday, March 4, Woofgang & Co was selected as the winning charity.

The two other charities who were represented at the event — which was held March 4 at the Darien Community Association — were the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program and Filling in the Blanks.

Woofgang & Co.

Woofgang & Co., which sells pet products, was started by three mothers who have an adult child with disabilities.

According to Kelly Maffei, one of the original co-founders, the goal of the business is to give young adults with special needs a means to be independent and achieve a life of purpose.

“Once they turn 18, many of our young adults don’t have the ability to go on to college,” Maffei said. “All the support systems that they had in high school and their routine are gone. They watch all of their peers go off to college and they’re left behind.”

In 2017, the business launched its first product, called Pupper Nutter Patties.

“We merged the love of our dogs with the love of our young adults,” Maffei said. “We came up with a product that we could have our young adults manufacture and make from start to finish.”

“Now, we are able to give young adults both an experience working in production and also in retail,” she added.

The organization also provides free vocational training to all employees.

“They want to have a job, feel like their worthy, like they’re contributing to society and they want to be as independent as they possibly can —and that’s what we do here,” she said.

Once the adults start working at Woofgang & Co., Maffei said she sees “remarkable changes” in them.

“They very much enjoy being a part of a team, their self-confidence gets raised up, and they love the opportunity to be in a community and working with their peers,” she said.

Mayor’s Youth Employment Program

The Mayor’s Youth Employment Program helps junior and senior high school students from the City of Stamford get jobs.

According to Michelle Lappas, who is on the Youth Services Bureau of the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program in Stamford, the program now has 75 interns, which is more than a 100 percent increase from its first year.

The students receive free guidance and training from government employees. The program also provides job readiness and leadership skills.

“We do 140 hours of work and 27 hours of job readiness training,” Lappas said.

“We’ve done over 800 corporate-style interviews,” she added.

Students receive free formal feedback on their interview and resume.

“Getting students exposed, getting them into professional environments early and being able to give them that positive feedback is vital for them to be able to take on college and be ready for it,” Lappas said.

Filling in the Blanks

Filling in the Blanks is a year-round program that provides free weekend food kits to children in need.

Healthy, easy to prepare items are distributed for children in preschool through high school.

“Our goal is to remove the unnecessary obstacle of food insecurity in lower Fairfield County,” co-founder Tina Kramer said.

A dietitian and school nurse help choose the items that go into the bag.

Children that receive the bags are on the free or reduced lunch program. Or, their family is part of the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population, which are households that have working parents that earn right above the poverty level.

Co-founder Shawnee Knight said the business was founded in 2013, “when we learned that there were 32,000 kids in our communities that were food insecure.”

“We both grew up in single parent households where our parents struggled, and it was difficult,” Knight said. “The thought for us that even one child would go to bed hungry was one too many.”

When Knight and Kramer first started the charity, there were 50 kids receiving the food bags. They currently have 2,500 children in the program.

“We put over 170,000 weekend meals directly into the hands of children that we serve,” Kramer said.

Every weekend, volunteers ages 8 to adult stand beside an 18-foot table with the bag items, loading up the bags.

It costs the charity $5 to fill each bag.

According to Kramer, there are many more children who can benefit from the bags.

“We are only scratching the surface,” Kramer said. “Between Norwalk, Greenwich and Stamford, there are over 15,000 kids that qualify for our program.”

The goal of 100 Who Care Darien, which was founded last year, is to contribute at least $10,000 to a charity at each meeting. The charities that will be presenting at the next meeting are: LiveGirl,Inc., Building One Community and Saint Joseph Parenting Center.