Paying tribute to Darien nonprofit leader
Addressing nearly 200 people at Ceci Maher’s community party on Thursday, June 20, Assistant Majority Leader Patricia Billie Miller of the state House of Representatives said she knows about the services Person-to-Person provides firsthand.
“I was a recipient of a book scholarship. I was one of those low and very low income families that you serve,” said Miller, who represents Stamford. “P2P helped me through some trying times.”
Maher, a Wilton resident, is retiring this week from P2P, where she has been executive director since 2005. P2P is a community-supported agency providing food, clothing and financial assistance to families in need in Lower Fairfield County.
Her replacement is Nancy Coughlin, of Darien, who will be stepping down from her position as executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor in Greenwich.
About half a dozen people spoke at Maher’s party, which was held at the Anderson Youth & Community Center, next to P2P, on the Post Road in Darien.
Speaking directly to Maher, who was standing nearby wearing a large smile, State Rep. Miller of Stamford said, “You have left a legacy here that will go on for generation to generation. If I didn’t have an organization like you to open the door for me, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
She added that, as a low income family, “and the only thing that you can look at is public housing, you can see that you’re not going anywhere,” Miller added. “This organization gives you an option to let you know that you don’t have to let your environment define your future.”
Words that Tracy Cramer, P2P’s chief philanthropy officer, used to describe Maher include: Visionary, leader, driven by service, driven by compassion, quest for justice, caring, faithful, strategic, fashionista, and persistent.
Jan Smith, P2P’s former board president, said “We really hit a home run with Ceci.”
Smith was a member of the search committee that was charged with finding a new executive director at P2P to replace Janet Evans, whom Maher succeeded.
“She hit the ground running with her rare combination of warmth, tremendous organizational skills, [and] unbelievable work ethic, but mostly it was this dogged determination that she had to continue to make sure that every day she moved forward her mission of Person-to-Person, which was to help improve the lives of less fortunate people in our community,” Smith said.
Smith relayed several of Maher’s “early accomplishments,” she said. Smith spoke of the diaper project with the Junior League, the elevator, the new food pantry, moving the food pantry out of the basement, the expanded basics program, the improved clothing center in the basement, the expanded scholarship program, building the framework for the move into Norwalk, and “very, very successful capital campaigns during that period.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, who represents Norwalk and Darien, said Maher is “really just excellent” at establishing relationships, understanding and showing the vision that she has for the organization “and really bringing people in like really nobody else can.”
Duff added that the people he represents really depend on Person-to-Person “to help make their lives a little bit better. There are a lot of people out there struggling right now, and if it weren’t for Person-to-Person — and all the communities that they help, I’m not really sure where these people would be.”
In the time that Maher has been at P2P, it has gone from 200,000 meals served to over 1.2 million meals served.
Duff said this is “quite an accomplishment for somebody. It takes leadership and vision to get that done.”
In her proclamation, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said that P2P will serve “25,000 unique individuals in 2019, providing emergency financial assistance, food, clothing, camperships, and scholarships to individuals and families in lower Fairfield County.”
Stevenson praised the Mentoring for Success Scholarship program that Maher started, where students from low income backgrounds “are able to take control of their futures, build a path through college, and onto professional success, putting their true potential within reach,” she said.
Stevenson later told the Darien Times that at the celebration, she was reminded that all the “great work” by Maher and the P2P staff “wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of our community,” she said. “This is a fact that is often overlooked. The clothing, food and financial contributions by our Darien community are extraordinary. P2P values the contributions as follows: $2 million in food contributions, $8 million in clothing contributions and $2 million in volunteer time value. Darien residents are extraordinarily generous with time, money and passion for helping others.”
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling described how so many people are struggling in Fairfield County — “the richest county in the United States. Yet, there are people that don’t have an abundance of the things that we take for granted,” he said.
Rilling continued, “We have young children that wake up hungry, go to school hungry, come home and then go to bed hungry, and yet we say we want them to achieve. We all know that that’s not going to happen.— you need certain basic things in order to move up to the next level. You need food and shelter and you need clothing. You need those basic staples that we have an abundance of and take for granted — Ceci, you’ve touched so many lives.”
Michael Hyman , a current board member of P2P and director at Domus , a nonprofit organization that empowers young people to rise above adversity, said Maher’s name has become synonymous with P2P.
“We think of Ceci and Person-to-Person as one and the same. What a way to brand something,” he said. “ Ceci has made sure that this community knows that there is a place for those who feel as though they don’t have a place.”
Looking out over the crowd of guests who have come to pay tribute to her, Maher said it has been the honor of her life to have been at P2P.
“I have been fulfilled by this. It has been a gift to me to do this,” she said. “Every single day, P2P goes home with the knowledge that people have been served. We know that we made a difference in someone’s life. It’s not just about Person-to-Person doing for, it’s what the community does for themselves.”