A group home for teenage girls in crisis was aptly named when it was established in 1985, but Project Return continues to draw people back.
About 450 supporters, artists and a former resident returned Saturday for the non-profit organization's 18th annual Birdhouse Auction, held at the Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. There, more than 130 birdhouses and other avian art were auctioned to raise funds for Project Return's programs.
The birdhouses symbolize the safe haven offered by Project Return to its residents.
"It's a good cause. It's a beautiful cause. It helps the girls," said Weston artist Judy Henderson, who has participated in almost every Birdhouse Auction. This year she made a colorful ceramic birdhouse.
Other work up for bid included "Fowl Ball" by Westport artist Joan Denneen, whose birdhouse paid homage to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame in "Coop-erstown." The birdhouses, jewelry, lamps, teapots and other artwork were constructed from various materials to reflect each artist's vision, including porcelain, wood, bicycle parts, paint cans, shells, tree bark, metal, yarn, clay and glass. There was "Flower Garden," a mosaic birdhouse by Mike Tewey; "Feather Bound," a graceful arrangement of various bird feathers in a mat and frame by Ellen Schiffman of Weston, and Westport quilter Sharon Litvinoff's "Birdtown" quilt.
Norwalk artist Judith Bacal created "Shelter 63" relating those displaced by Superstorm Sandy to the teens in crisis who find shelter at Project Return, and Amy Chaple of Westport paid tribute to the 26 victims of the tragic school shooting in Newtown. For "We Remember Sandy Hook" Chaple made 26 two-dimensional birds and wrote the name of each victim on the back before gluing them to her birdhouse.
Julie Wargo, 17, of Easton, a student of art teacher Lee Skalkos at Joel Barlow High School, participated as a contributing artist for the Birdhouse Auction for the third time. This year the young jeweler made a silver necklace depicting a bird nest with a blue topaz representing an egg.
"I can use my own strengths and passions to help other people my age who are less fortunate, and it teaches me how lucky I am," Wargo said.
"I'm always impressed with the creative artistry, everything from a tapestry to a book," said Lisa Krakoff of Westport, who placed a bid on Fiorenza Paul's "The Literary Lark." "I love this charity, where their hard work really benefits somebody else," she said.
That result of that help was underscored by Jessica Procyk, 25, a former resident of Project Return, who served as this year's keynote speaker. Procyk spoke openly about the struggles and traumas of her early life. Her father was murdered, and her mother was a drug addict.
"Food never got bought and bills never got paid," said Procyk, who spent several years as a ward of the state, during which she was assigned to more than 12 social workers.
"Even in a system of unwanted children I was the unwanted one, until Project Return," said Procyk, who brought dozens of people to tears with her heart-breaking and heart-warming story.
"That house felt like a home ... These women have hearts of gold and nerves of steel," Procyk said of the staff at Project Return. Procyk said she graduated from Boston College with degrees in economics and sociology and is now living a life she never dreamed possible; and it would not have been possible without the staff, volunteers and the supporters who attend the Birdhouse Auction year after year, she said.
Procyk asked supporters to give generously for "the one still sitting in an abusive house ... praying for a program like this one." And they did. One person donated $5,000 for the purchase of a generator for the Project Return house.
"It's so beautiful to see these girls grow and get strong and find their way. She's quite remarkable," said Project Return Executive Director Susie Basler.
"These girls need love and support, and they can only bloom and blossom with that support. It takes a village to raise a child. I believe it," said Cynthia Anderson of Bridgeport, a nurse who works at Project Return. Her husband, artist Peter Konsterlie, painted "Peace Alights Softly," depicting a peace dove and other birds.
"It was an amazing evening, a lot of generosity and love," Basler said.
For more information about Project Return or to make a donation visit www.projectreturnct.org