Darien nonprofit leader reflects on career
To Ceci Maher, the best part of being executive director of Person-to-Person (P2P) for so many years, is the “generosity” of the Darien community.
After 14 years, Maher will be retiring in June.
“I am so happy about the community support we received over the years,” Maher said. “Their gifts of food and clothing and financial support have been integral to our growth and our ability to serve the community.”
An active search is now in progress for Maher’s replacement.
Maher is the eighth executive director of P2P, a 51-year-old basic needs agency that provides food, clothing, and financial assistance, sends children to camp in the summer, and offers college scholarships. P2P serves more than 24,000 people a year throughout Lower Fairfield County.
Since Maher came to P2P in 2005, P2P has changed and grown in many ways. One of the initiatives for which Maher said she is most proud, however, is starting P2P’s Mentoring for Success Scholarship program, in 2011.
“We pair an adult mentor who volunteers for four years to walk with a student through their college experience,” said Maher, who is a licensed master social worker and 30-year Wilton resident. She and her husband Rob have three grown children.
“This mentor is a sounding board. They remind the college students of summer internships, financial aid, making plans for the next steps after college, and utilizing career resources. They are an experienced troubleshooter who helps the student navigate the college experience,” Maher said, adding that many of the students are the first one in their family to attend college.
“We have a 95% graduation rate within four years” in the program, Maher said. “I’m very excited about this because it means that students are launching on time with less debt and ready to be a success.”
A second accomplishment for which Maher is responsible is leading a merger to provide meals and emergency financial assistance to Norwalk residents in need.
Before Maher came on board, P2P offered clothing for Norwalk residents at its Darien Clothing Center, but didn’t provide emergency financial assistance or food.
In 2012, P2P took over Christian Community Action, another nonprofit in Norwalk. “I led that merger, along with the board,” Maher said.
“We’ve really made a significant impact in Norwalk. We are serving the Norwalk community and collaborating with other nonprofits in Norwalk, and that merger extended our reach into Westport, Weston, and Wilton,” Maher said. “We work with the social services agencies in the smaller towns when they need our help.”
A third initiative that began under Maher is the creation of a mobile food pantry in Stamford last year. The 32-foot-long bread truck has a caseworker office in the front. The rest of the truck is the food pantry, which offers fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, bread, produce, and frozen meat.
The truck, which has been named Phil (to stand for “Fill” a truck), travels to four nonprofit organizations in Stamford, serving 48 families a day. Clients get seven days’ worth of food from the truck, which includes 21 meals for each person in the family.
“We looked to see how we can have a bigger impact in Stamford, and the area that we saw the biggest need was food,” Maher said. “We were providing financial assistance for many Stamford residents, but we weren’t able to supply monthly food for clients living there because we didn’t have the facilities.”
The first item on Maher’s to-do list once she retires is to get to “the pile of books next to my bed,” she said, with a chuckle. Some of types of books she said she enjoys reading are on nonprofit management, history, and leadership development, as well as novels.
She will also have time to grow her garden. “I built all the gardens around my house when my kids were young,” she said.
Going to the beach and traveling are also part of her plans, as well as staying close to home.
“I’m looking forward to spending more time in Wilton,” Maher added. “It has been a wonderful town to raise my children in.”
She still plans to continue on Wilton’s Board of Finance, where she has served since last year.
She also will continue her relationship with the student she mentored at A Better Chance (ABC) in Wilton. ABC is a national program created to give high school students of color from underserved communities a better opportunity to be successful in college.
“Mentoring is a tremendous opportunity for people to bring value to the next generation,” Maher said.
Handing over the reins
“After 14 years, the agency is in a very strong position, and so that’s why it’s a good time for me to step down and hand it over to the next leader,” Maher said. “The other thing is the excitement of having a new executive director at P2P. They will bring their own ideas, and I think that is a wonderful opportunity for the agency.”
Maher added that she will miss interacting with all the “wonderful volunteers” at P2P. There are nearly 4,000 volunteers at P2P each year.
“We have a really strong professional staff and a solid board of directors,” Maher added.
“I have loved working here,” she said.
Fund in Maher’s honor
In recognition of Maher’s contributions for the past 14 years, a fund in her honor is being established that builds on P2P’s vision of strong communities of financially-stable and hunger-free homes, with educational opportunities for all. For more information, contact Tracy Cramer, chief philanthropy officer at Person-to-Person, by sending an email to email@example.com or calling 203-621-0698.