‘Birdhouse’ tribute as Basler retires as Project Return director
WESTPORT — The executive director of Project Return, the agency that manages a local home for adolescent girls and young women in crisis, plans to retire after three decades with the organization.
Susie Basler will be honored for her leadership of Project Return at the group’s annual Birdhouse Auction and Gala on April 2 at the Fairfield Theatre Company’s Warehouse. The event will take place from 7 to 11 p.m. at the theater, 70 Sanford St. in Fairfield.
“It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege for me to serve as Project Return’s executive director, and I will always be grateful for the many ways in which the girls we have served, and staff and community members with whom I have partnered, have impacted both my life and my career,” Basler said in a statement issued by Project Return.
The Birdhouse Auction and honors for Basler will culminate a two-day celebration planned by Project Return.
The first event is a Meet the Artists reception April 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Warehouse. Attendees will get a preview of birdhouses designed for the auction and meet the artists who made them. The event is free and open to the public.
On April 2, a program called Bagels and Birdhouses Family Fun will include breakfast, crafts, tattoo art and other activities. It also is free and open to the public. It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon, also at the Warehouse.
The Birdhouse Auction and honors for Basler on the evening of April 2 will have a Latin dance party theme.
Basler was a member of the organization’s founding board of directors established in 1984 by Kate McGraw, then the assistant superintendent for special education in the Westport school district. McGraw felt the need to establish a home for area girls in crisis who could not live at their own homes.
Basler, who left the board in 1986 to become Project Return’s executive director, has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Work and a concentration in group work. She has assisted girls in the juvenile justice system and as a school social worker.
During Basler’s tenure, she created “an innovative and unique organizational model and culture that promoted healing, growth and change. The model has impacted the lives of countless young women, as well as the staff and interns who have worked at the agency over the years,” according to Project Return.
In recent years, Basler created the HEAL (Heal, Empathy, Altruism, Love) Program, an after-school community service initiative for at-risk girls, and organized an annual educational conference for mental health professionals. She also established a program for former residents designed to support their continued emotional and financial recovery.
In her retirement, Basler will assume the role of executive director emeritus.
Basler ”excelled at identifying each girl’s unique strengths, guiding their care with unconditional love and acceptance,” Cindy Wormser, the board chairwoman, said in the statement.
The board has launched a nationwide search for its next executive director.
Tickets to the Birdhouse Auction and Gala cost $150, and may be purchased online at www.projectreturnct.org . Online bids will be accepted beginning March 25. For more information about the Birdhouse Auction and tribute to Basler, call 203-222-8129 or visit www.projectreturnct.org .