Making the Big Jump at Webster House
Since 1884 Webster House in Manchester New Hampshire has been providing a safe supportive alternative place for children unable to live at home. Communicast sat down with the newly appointed leadership team of Michelle O’Malley (CEO) and Blair Stairs (Executive Director of Operations and longtime employee) along with Ed Ithier (Board President and long-time volunteer) for a conversation about unwavering mission and change in this time of a global pandemic.
Change and filling the footsteps left by recently retired Director Lou Catano and his 36 year run.
O’Malley says she will “get out into the community and build upon the relationships that already exist and nurture and create new relationships to support the Webster House and its incredible mission.” She is fortunate to be part of Leadership NH Class of 2021 and have the support of former board president John Clayton. She also has a couple of decades of experience working in higher education institutions and most recently The March of Dimes for New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. Raising awareness and increasing fundraising are key focus points in her mission to help the youth of Webster House.
The role of technology over this past year?
Blair Stairs jumps in on this question. Remote learning meant the kids were not out in the community and the team needed to balance being both social worker and teacher to support the kids in their everyday needs. In person visits were replaced by video meetings. Kids were connected to jobs and job interviews by zoom calls. Video also connected them to health care providers and additional support services. Blair sees these tools staying because of their continuing value particularly where those parents who are incarcerated. Family connections and counseling services can continue on bad weather days and even during physical illness or sick days when a child can’t go outside.
Pandemic and emotional growth within Webster House.
Ed Ither is the current Webster House board president has been donating time and skills to the program since 1994. He talks about the pivot around technology that gave residents the opportunity to learn and adapt different ways of doing things. For the kids, dealing with change often didn’t come easily. This current situation “has helped our kids grow tremendously. Opportunities occurred from both a competency and confidence perspective showing them that they can get through some tough times. This built their self-esteem and confidence as they moved forward.”
Residents got to see adults dealing with the “surprise of the moment” during this pandemic and they learned through observation as they saw the true human side of staff. No longer just role models, staff were in the same bubble as residents because “just like them – it was home – grocery store – back home or here” said Blair Stairs. “This was the extent of our travels because we wanted to keep them safe – so we were feeling the same pains and growing struggles that they were at the same time.” Learning how to handle remote technology, learning how to adapt to remote counseling was a growing pain they shared together. “The kids really appreciated that they could really relate to us, that it wasn’t just them going through all this.”
Dealing with Change
Michelle O’Malley gave kudos to Jeanine Tousignant’s comments ín an earlier installment of Communicast. Jeanine’s guidance, that people feel good about themselves and helping others when they are asked directly to help in ways they can, has guided some of the upcoming planning.
Blair will focus on work with the staff and the kids and Michelle will take everything they are doing inside and go out into the community with the goal to increase Webster House visibility. She and others will make those asks, build those relationships and bring on more board members and volunteers. The annual auction will be put off until next year – giving them a full year to get new footing and get word out there.
Announced first publicly in our conversation, the ladies leading Webster House will be GOING OVER THE EDGE AT THE BRADY SULLIVAN TOWER at 1000 Elm street on August 17, 2021. Their team of six includes staff, board members and possible community celebrities. As they rappel down the 300 foot tall, 24 story building as part of the United Way annual program. Publicity and fundraising and you can help.
Or Text 71777 with the words “edge202136” to reach their team page
This team is excited and in it to win, for their team and for the kids. Help them in the way you are most comfortable.