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HK Youth & Family Services Celebrates 25 Years

By Kathy Brown.

On June 19, 2018, about 75 people gathered at the Gelston House in East Haddam to celebrate Youth & Family Services of Haddam Killingworth’s 25th anniversary. The Haddam Killingworth High School Choir sang while people arrived and greeted each other. I milled through the crowd asking people how they were associated with this community organization.

I met Stephanie Warren of Killingworth, who was the Director of YFSHK 1998-1999. She was also on the Board for four years, and a member of the organization’s Healthy Communities Healthy Kids Coalition for four years. Then I met Mark Torello, formerly of Higganum, who was a Board member for at least 12 years, and is now on the advisory board. He said that he has over 300 non-profit companies as clients and he has never seen as much accomplished on as small a budget as Youth & Family Services does. I spoke with Susan Dean of Killingworth, who was on the Healthy Communities Healthy Kids Coalition for years and said, “HKYFS does so much for the youth in our community.” I met the organization’s insurer Diane of the Hillcrest Agency, and Nancy Geromin, who has been helped by the organization. Ms. Geromin said, “[YFSHK] is absolutely crucial and pertinent to this community. Ann O’Mara and Cheryl Chandler are angels.” I met the Danahers of Haddam Neck, who are avid supporters of the organization. And I met three gentlemen from the Killingworth Lions, who are avid supporters of the organization.

The Gelston House graciously donated both the room and the food for this event, and after the crowd chose from a bountiful buffet, and returned to their seats, there were speeches.  Sean Macauley, of Haddam Neck, who has been the Director of Clinical Services for about 10 weeks, was the emcee for the evening.

Mike Del Vecchio spoke first, because he was the first chair of the Board of Directors and the first CEO of the organization. “I was responsible for leading a talented team of local citizens through the startup including initial funding,” he said. Mike wrote the charter and the operating agreement. The Killingworth Lions was very supportive of the startup, and has had a line item each year since for ongoing support. Joe Slater organized the first Pumpkin Run, and it is still a big community event and the biggest fundraiser for the organization. Mike said there was initial resistance from some community members about the towns supporting the organization, but after pitches to both towns’ officials, funding was secured. Today’s funding is a combination of state funding, local funding, corporate and foundation grants, and community fundraising such as the Pumpkin Run.

Cailey Anderson (HKHS ’16) worked for YFSHK as an intern in 2015-2016, then continued to work with them in the summer of 2017 even though she had a job, because “[their] summer program encourages everyone to be themselves.”

Nancy Geromin lived in Higganum for over 50 years. She was the single mother of two boys, one of whom had special needs and was medically fragile. She spoke emotionally, “if it weren’t for Youth & Family Services, we wouldn’t have survived.” She told them to keep doing what they were doing.

Youth and Family Services of Haddam Killingworth has many programs and services for all ages in our community:

  • Early Childhood Coalition – Develops and plans programs for parents of young children
  • Girls Night Out – For tweens to learn about puberty and positive body image
  • G.I.V.E. – Empowers middle school students to plan and implement community service projects
  • INSPIRE – Empowers middle school girls to be strong, smart, and confident
  • Police & Youth – Creates a connection between middle school students and local police
  • Healthy Communities Healthy Kids Coalition – Creates a culture that positively engages the community to empower youth and families to make healthy and thoughtful decisions
  • Ignite Youth – Discusses the current issues of today’s youth
  • Juvenile Review Board – An alternative to facing Juvenile Court; the teenager comes before the review board and accepts the decision of the Board, whether it be restitution or community service
  • Summer Program – A short camp for students in grades 7-10 where they get to experience unique adventures, learn useful skills, and establish new friendships
  • Clinical Services (individual, couple, and family therapy)
  • Back to School Backpack Program – provides school supplies for families who cannot afford them
  • Holiday Giving Program – provides a holiday experience for families who cannot afford them
  • Family Dinner – a free dinner to encourage families to eat together
  • Family Olympics – family fun, food, and games held each year at Parmelee Farm
  • Family Movie Night – movie for families to attend together
  • Pumpkin Run – biggest fundraiser of the year, held each October in Higganum center
  • Senior Expo – Exhibits and services available for senior citizens in our area, held each fall

In this twenty fifth anniversary year, their goal is to raise $25,000. They have a thermometer on the lawn in front of their building, in front of the high school, to track their progress. If you can help, please follow this LINK to donate.

They are trying to recruit new Executive Board members. If you have a commitment to helping our communities of Haddam, Killingworth, and Haddam Neck by encouraging caring, kindness, and helping others in times of need, please contact YFSHK. If you would like to volunteer your time to help, or obtain more information about any of YFSHK’s services or programs, please see their website.

Photos provided by YFSHK.


One Response to HK Youth & Family Services Celebrates 25 Years

  1. Carol Dupuis, Chairperson, YFSHK Board of Directors Reply

    June 29, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Thank you so much for the wonderful article about YFSHK. It was truly a special evening, celebrating our 25th Anniversary. Seeing folks from the beginning of this great organization and new friends who are supporting our work, was very satisfying, We couldn’t have done it without the generosity of Iso Dedusaj, owner of the Gelston House and his family and staff. Iso has been generous to us in the past providing the venue and food for our Harley Bash events and our Tropical Bash. Special thanks to the following local nurseries for donating centerpieces as door prizes: Halfinger Farm, Running Brook Farm, and Town and Country Nursery. Other very special door prizes were donated by The Village Florist in the Tylerville section of Haddam and Lavender Pond Farm of Killingworth. A special thank you to the HKHS Singers!

    There are so many other donors to our programs. We are already reaching out again for sponsors for our annual, fantastic community event of our Pumpkin Run on October 28, 2018. People come from all over CT and beyond to join this certified Run, managed by the Hartford Marathon. Please contact the YFSHK office at (860) 345-7498 or our website

    A sincere thank you to all who contributed to a successful evening and please help us make or next 25 years even more successful!

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