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Some in Weston Struggle To Survive

WESTON, Conn. – Some of Weston's small business owners are having trouble paying their bills and are looking to the town for assistance.

"Business is down, and their bills just don't stop," said Charlene Chaing-Hillman, Weston's social services director. "Businesses are just now suffering with this economy. People just aren't spending money, and [the owners] can't just go get a job because they have had a business throughout their careers."

Also, three families with children went to Hillman's office last week, looking for help after their electricity was shut off. She said this is the first year social services hasn't been able to make sure every household in town has electricity.

"People are running out of money. They've depleted their savings, used credit lines and equity on houses. The economy hasn't turned around," Hillman said. "It's the length of time that we've been in the recession. Lead economists say we're in it for the long haul. People don't have that kind of money saved – nobody does."

As of June 30, a total of 227 households in Weston were receiving aid from the social services department – up from 210 in 2010 – and 110 households had financial needs – up from 100 in 2010. Since then, four more families have come in looking for help.

Hillman said the "most frightening" thing for many families is that there aren't many options until they secure some type of income. Struggling Weston residents have been trying to refinance their homes so they can hang on for a while longer, she said. Hillman said they can sign up for state and federal programs, but that those programs are struggling with money problems as well.

"It's pretty grim in town. It's very stressful for families just trying to make ends meet. It's stressful for the kids," said Hillman. She said the social services department works closely with youth services, parks and recreation and the Westport Weston Y to provide programs for kids.

Some families have been looking to send their college-bound kids to local schools and perhaps transfer if the economy improves. "College funds are being tapped into. It's very discouraging to kids. They work like crazy to get into their dream school and then they can't go," said Hillman.

Hillman said she has seen an increase in substance abuse in town as a result of the financial struggles. "Factors influenced by stress are rising. Domestic violence is still the No. 1 problem in Weston," said Hillman.

Families who are struggling have a strong support system in Weston, which Hillman said is the most positive thing that has come out of these tough times.

"In Weston, we have a lot of people who really care – there are a lot of volunteers," she said. The social services fund has received more donations this year than it did in the past two years. "People really responded to the growing need."

Social services recently put together a business directory for Weston residents to help keep local businesses running. A private group recently raised hundreds of dollars to supply more than 75 kids in Weston with gift cards for school supplies.

Has your family been struggling to survive in this economy? Have you donated your time to help other families in Weston? Send your story to .

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