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Article Published September 9, 2020

Charlene Voyce: Lighting the Night

By Rita Christopher/

Once it was so simple nobody thought about it. Now it is one of the questions COVID-19 makes us grapple with every day: how to connect with people?

Charlene Voyce will be helping do just that on Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Water Lantern Celebration 2020, a fundraiser to benefit A Little Compassion, the organization that operates The Nest coffee shop on Main Street in Deep River.

The water lanterns, with a glowing candle inside, will float across the pond at Plattwood Park in Deep River, each with a name, a wish, and a message written by the purchaser to connect symbolically to the wider world.

This year the celebration will be a virtual one. Unlike the first water lantern celebration last year, guests will not be at Plattwood Park to launch their lanterns. A small group of volunteers will do that, but people can participate virtually with a link to livestream viewing on The Nest’s website. Longtime Connecticut television reporter Sarah Cody, an Essex resident, will act as the master of ceremonies.

In addition to the water lantern launch, the program will feature interviews and a talent showcase of some of The Nest’s employees.

A Little Compassion and The Nest are the inspirations of Jane Moen of Deep River.

The Nest employs young adults with social and emotional challenges, giving them an opportunity for meaningful job training and the chance to interact with people their own age facing similar difficulties.

Moen’s goal is to train employees so they can find jobs in other situations.

“The kind of experience we give can set the stage for future success as they leave The Nest for other jobs,” Moen says. “Just this spring and summer, six young adults have fledged from The Nest and are employed elsewhere.”

Charlene saw a newspaper story about The Nest and thought it would be a good fit her 26-year-old daughter Emma. As a six-year-old, Emma had an operation to remove a brain tumor, which left her with physical and neurological disabilities. Knowing the risks of the operation, Charlene nonetheless knew the procedure was vital to save Emma’s life.

“She was very close to death before the operation,” she says.

Federal law requires schools to provide educational services for people with disabilities until they are 21 years old.

“After 21, services end,” Charlene explains.

Then, for many it is a lonely life, without meaningful employment and friends.

“The need for community is so strong and I don’t know another organization that meets the need for employment and socializing that The Nest does,” Charlene says.

Charlene contacted Moen about volunteering at The Nest even before the coffee shop opened. What’s more, The Nest changed Charlene and Emma’s lives in a way they had not expected.

At The Nest, Charlene, who then lived in Clinton, saw a sign for a real estate open house in Deep River. The advertised house was just off the Green, close to The Nest, the library, and the market, important since Emma does not drive. Charlene bought the house.

“Now Emma can walk every place she needs to go,” she says.

“I am grateful Charlene and Emma chose Deep River as their new home,” Moen notes. “As a volunteer, Charlene has the ability to sift through the myriad of needs, dig deeper, view the needs from a fresh perspective and then jump in to get things done right.”

Professionally, Charlene is the project director of Out-of-School Time Initiatives at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a part of the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center. Her work involves producing training material for activity leaders who deal with children in areas from arts to sports, not in the formal school setting but in various after-school and weekend groups.

She designs training for the staff who run the groups and also for the supervisory personnel who oversee their staff. The September, she marks her 30th year at Yale.

Connecticut, however, is not where Charlene grew up. She is from Iowa, and did undergraduate degree at Duke University and stayed in the same area to get her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in health behavior and health education.

She recalls she had a lot of friends from this area when she was studying in North Carolina who were coming back here to work, so she decided to come to Connecticut, too. She turned out to be the most permanent resident.

“Now none of the others are here anymore,” she says.

For the Water Lantern Celebration, Charlene’s volunteer task so far has been reaching out to find sponsors for the event. Sponsors, she notes, will all have lawn signs with their names that participants will see as they drive into Plattwood Park to drop off their lanterns.

The night of the Water Lantern Celebration, she knows she will also be doing volunteer work, but she does not yet know what it will be.

“I suppose I could even be in a canoe picking up the lanterns at the other side of the pond,” she says.

Water Lantern Celebration

The Water Lantern Celebration to benefit A Little Compassion is on Saturday, Oct. 3 at Plattwood Park, Deep River (rain date is Sunday, Oct. 4). To find out how to purchase water lanterns to support the A Little Compassion or to become a sponsor, visit