Person of the Week
Loretta McCluskey: Making Hope into Reality
Drawn to Ivoryton more than a decade ago because of the village’s small-town charm, Loretta McCluskey has been stepping up to ensure her community remains a well-run and welcoming place. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier)
Loretta McCluskey had a very specific request for her real estate agent when she moved to this area in 2003, and it didn’t have anything to do with bedrooms, closets, and square footage. Loretta wanted to live in a town where, if her children drove through a stop sign, she would hear about it before the youngster got home. Ivoryton fit the bill.
Loretta has three daughters, the oldest a recent graduate of Valley Regional, the other two still students in the Regional 4 school system.
The fact that her family was here provided an added inducement. Her father and stepmother, Ernest and Deborah Thompson, live in town and own One N Main, a women’s clothing boutique. Her sister Doreen Thompson also is a local resident.
Loretta works as the administrative assistant at Hope Partnership, headquartered in Old Saybrook. The organization, founded in 2004, is dedicated to providing affordable housing solutions for working people along the shoreline area from Madison to Old Lyme. Hope Partnership receives its funding largely from the Middlesex United Way, supplemented by donations from local businesses, foundation grants, and private donations.
For Hope Partnership, it’s not about sheltering the unemployed, but rather about finding housing for people in the area who are employed but still cannot afford livable homes. It has already constructed a 16-unit affordable housing complex, Ferry Crossing, in Old Saybrook. According to Lauren Ashe, executive director of Project Hope, there are more than 200 applicants on a waiting list for the Old Saybrook complex.
“We are meeting a need for people who already live here; people who are employed, sometimes living in hotels, motels, garages, parents’ basements,” Ashe says.
A publication from Connecticut United Way uses an acronym, ALICE, to refer to the people who may be helped by Hope Partnership’s services. ALICE stands for Assets Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. People who may fit into the ALICE category, according to the United Way publication, include “nursing assistant, childcare worker, home health aide, car mechanic, security guard, teacher assistant, store clerk, and office assistant—workers essential to every community’s success, but who struggle to survive on what these jobs pay.”
When she decided to go back into the work force, Loretta focused her attention on non-profit organizations.
“I truly believe that working together, non-profits organizations and government can accomplish many important things,” she says. “And I really believe in Hope’s mission.”
Loretta originally learned about the position at Hope Partnership from Essex Selectman Stacia Rice-Libby, who also is her insurance agent. She got a text from Rice-Libby telling her about the job and suggesting she look at Hope Partnership’s website.
“When I saw the site, I knew it would be a great place to work,” she says.
When she saw the Hope partnership’s video on its website, Lauren said she had tears in her eyes (the 10-minute video is available on YouTube under “Hope Partnership”).
Since her arrival in this area a decade ago, Loretta has made her mark as a committed local volunteer. She has served on the Essex Elementary Board of Education since 2011 as a member of the Policy and Supervisory District committees. The latter group oversees services that are common throughout the district.
Her path to the Board of Education started first as chair of a PTO Committee, then on to president of the Essex Elementary School Parent’s Council. Essex Board of Education Chair Lon Seidman heard her speak at a meeting and asked if she would consider running for a seat.
“The board is a group of people with a common goal, the best interests of the child, while keeping in mind accountability to the taxpayers,” Loretta says. “It’s a group that all works together to a common goal and that is refreshing.”
The challenge for the board at the moment is declining enrollment, an issue many local school districts are now facing. What people don’t necessarily appreciate, Loretta says, is that declining enrollments do not always translate in major budget savings because fixed costs don’t fluctuate at the same rate.
Loretta also served for six years as a trustee of the Ivoryton Library. The late Don Malcarne had asked her if she wanted to join the board after he had heard her speak about the need to preserve historic buildings at a town meeting. She recalls taking her children to the library shortly after she moved here.
“It was the first door in town I went through,” she says.
She put her finger to her lips to tell her children to be quiet as they entered the building—but she was delighted by what library director Elizabeth Alvord said when she saw that.
“She told me no shushing was necessary in this library,” she recalls.
In addition to her other volunteer activities. Loretta has also been a member of the Town of Essex Website Committee, as well as Girl Scout leader. How did she fit it all in?
“Not everything happens at once,” she says. “I can prioritize my efforts.”
Loretta did undergraduate work at SUNY New Paltz, then after some years continued at Middlesex Community College and finally finished her degree with the online programs offered by Connecticut’s Charter Oak State College. Her concentration was public administration and one of her courses involved grant writing. She wrote a grant as a school assignment for the Ivoryton Farmer’s Market, but it was supposed to be an academic exercise, not a proposal for submission. Loretta told the Ivoryton Alliance about her project and the next year, well after her course had finished, she did submit the grant to the state Department of Agriculture.
The application proved to be double winner; Loretta had already gotten an A in the class and a year later, the Ivoryton Farmer’s Market also got grant money. According to Lauren Ashe, the executive director of Hope Partnership, the grant-writing skills that benefited the Ivoryton Farmer’s Market are also important in Loretta’s present position.
“It’s one of the reasons I hired her,” Ashe said.
Loretta’s family responsibilities and busy schedule leave little time for outside activities. She attributes her well-toned arms not to hours at the gym, but to something far more basic: Her car does not have power steering.
To learn more about Hope Partnership, visit www.hope-ct.org.