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Westport Program Helps Grads Dress to Impress

WESTPORT, Conn. – Whether closing the book on high school or middle school, graduation is a monumental time in a student’s life. But for Westport families faced with financial difficulties, the expenses associated with Graduation Day, such as buying dress clothes, can mar the experience.

To help ensure all Westport graduates — and their families — have the best possible Graduation Day experiences, the Department of Human Services provides financial assistance to families in need through the Ceremonies and Celebrations Program.

“There’s a big public need, but there’s also a lot of community support for this program,” said Patty Haberstroh, the department’s Family Program coordinator.

Through the program, now in its ninth year, families in need receive Visa gift cards. Because this program relies entirely on community donations, Haberstroh said the gift cards could not be purchased without the help of the town.

Families of eighth-graders moving up to the high school receive a $150 gift card, and families with seniors graduating from Staples receive a $200 gift card, she said. These gifts can be used as the families see fit, Haberstroh added.

“This particular program gives power to parents, allowing them to purchase what they think is most needed or most meaningful to their child,” she said. “Whether it be clothing for a graduation ceremony or taking their child out for a celebratory family dinner, the choice is theirs.”

The program also assists families of students attending junior prom. In these instances, gift cards of $100 are awarded.

Last year, a total of 38 students benefited. So far this year, Haberstroh said 41 students are on the list. But more families may come forward. “If a family realizes they need help with their child’s graduation, they can still contact us,” she said.

The program began after a middle school nurse informed the Human Services Department that three graduating eighth-graders were not planning to attend their Moving Up Ceremony because their families couldn’t afford to buy dress clothes.

Since its inception, the program has been one that the community “really responds to,” Haberstroh said. This year, the department has received about $5,000 in donations to support the program, she said.

“I think the idea of a student not attending a ceremony because they can’t afford to buy new clothes doesn’t fly for this community — nor should it fly anywhere,” she said.

To make a donation, checks should be made out to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Ceremonies” listed on the memo line. Checks can be mailed to: Department of Human Services, Attention Patty Haberstroh, Westport Town Hall, Room 200, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport CT or they may be dropped off in person from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information about the program, contact Patty Haberstroh at 203-341-1069.

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