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Person-to-Person's Head-to-Toe Overhaul Winds Down

Newly renovated quarters help Darien’s Person-to-Person serve clients more effectively.

Like an episode of television's "This Old House," Person-to-Person's recent renovation brought its aging home into the 21st century on fast-forward.

The overhaul of its Franklin House headquarters may have set a new speed record, with almost $750,000 in renovations being completed in less than eight months.

All that's left is the elevator, which will serve three floors in the turn-of-the century building. According to P2P's Executive Director Ceci Maher, the elevator should be installed and approved for use by early September.

Volunteers and staff members are now unpacking the last boxes as they move into bright new spaces for clothing and food distribution, offices, and conference rooms.

A SPACE FOR EVERYTHING

But getting there has been a challenge, because P2P did not shut down or move out for the renovations. Too many families need P2P's services.

So the renovation was carefully staged to allow each space to be redone in turn, while staff and volunteers worked at temporary stations. The resulting facility is not only up to date but also allows P2P to serve clients better.

In the past, for example, seven caseworkers shared four desks in a cramped office. Clients will now enjoy improved privacy with caseworkers, who no longer need to juggle space with the precision of air traffic controllers.

P2P's food pantry moved across the driveway to the old garage, which previously stored furniture. The bright space is designed for self-service, allowing clients to select the foods they know their families will eat. The new pantry also includes more refrigerators for fresh foods.

Down in the basement, the clothing center has been reorganized to make it easier for clients to find and select items for their families. New sorting and hanging systems make it faster for volunteers to accept, sort, and rack donations.

Visiting clients now enjoy a separate waiting room, equipped with playthings for the many children who accompany their parents.

Upstairs in Franklin House there are new offices and conference rooms, giving space to volunteers from OPUS for Person-to-Person to store and assemble materials for their Baby Basics program.

One unseen but important change was bringing the old building up to today's standards, including the addition of improved communications and computer networking.

PLANNING AND FUNDRAISING

The speedy construction was preceded by three years of meticulous planning.

Maher praised the many contributors to the project. Local architect Gil Lefferts created the original plan and Ring's End Lumber donated work on the architectural drawings.  Darien contractors John Doherty and Ken DeLeo were also applauded by Maher.

"They did a fantastic job on the fly," said Maher, praising Doherty and DeLeo for solving the problems that inevitably crop up when renovating a structure that's over 100 years old.

P2P worked to ensure that the renovations fit into its long-term plans through the assistance of HBS Community Partners of Connecticut, a group of Harvard Business School alumni who do pro bono consulting for nonprofits.

The overhaul was financed by private donations, including though support from the Darien Technology & Community Foundation, the New Canaan Community Foundation, and Saint Luke's Parish.

According to Maher, P2P's donors supported the renovation because they understood the resulting facilities would allow volunteers and staff to serve more clients effectively.

She noted that five years ago, P2P served 15,000 people a year; today that number is 25,000 a year. In the current economic downturn, the need continues to grow.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND

Just as P2P stayed open during the renovation, it's also open all summer serving clients. The organization is always looking for volunteers, and they'll structure a job around volunteers' interests and schedules.

Members of public can fill a wide range of roles, from food pantry duty to selecting recipients of college scholarships. Volunteers can also work directly with clients at the reception desk or by serving as a "Van Man," driving the P2P van on dump and supply runs. (Women are Van Men, too.)

Regular P2P volunteers range in age from middle school students to 85-year-olds. Even little ones get into the act when it's time to receive and store vast quantities of food from the annual postal food drive.

To find out how to get involved in helping needy neighbors become self-sufficient, call the volunteer director at Person-to-Person at 203-655-0048 or visit online at  www.p2pdarien.org.

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