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January 19, 2019  |  

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Lisa Landa of Madison, known for her career as a Daniel Hand English teacher, devotes her retirement to teaching college freshmen and volunteering. Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source

Lisa Landa of Madison, known for her career as a Daniel Hand English teacher, devotes her retirement to teaching college freshmen and volunteering. (Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source | Buy This Photo)

Lisa Landa: Education and Empathy

Published Jan. 09, 2019

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Lisa Landa of Madison is known throughout the community for her contributions as an educator, but since retirement from Daniel Hand High School, she’s continued to teach and now volunteers with both Connecticut Hospice and Bare Necessities, a diaper bank.

Lisa began her career in Madison as a substitute teacher, and then in 1993 she took a post as a special education paraprofessional. The following school year saw her on board at Daniel Hand High School as an English teacher.

Lisa’s passion for English and literature, combined with her empathy and care for her students and her sense of humor, soon made her a beloved member of the DHHS community. In 2009, she won the Connecticut Teacher of the Year award.

One of the traditions Lisa took part in while teaching at Hand was the English department’s themed costumes on Halloween.

“My favorite was the Big Fat Italian Wedding theme,” Lisa says. “I dressed as one of the nonnas, one of the aunties. Another favorite was dressing as Sonny and Cher with Patrick Erlbeck. He was Cher and I was Sonny.”

Erlbeck taught English at DHHS as well.

Lisa retired from DHHS at the end of the 2012-’13 school year, and beginning in the fall 2013 semester, she became Professor Landa at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven.

“My favorite moments at Albertus are when I get to speak with students one-on-one,” Lisa says. “They come in working on essays, but they’re telling you about their lives.”

At Albertus Magnus, Lisa primarily teaches freshmen.

Retirement left room not only for teaching at Albertus, but also for volunteering. One of the beneficiaries of Lisa’s efforts is Connecticut Hospice in Branford.

“I came in for my mother, my father, and my husband, Tom,” Lisa says. “I wanted to do something with hospice.”

Two and a half years ago, Lisa began spending time at Connecticut Hospice as a diversified volunteer.

“Diversified means I don’t deal directly with patient care since I’m not certified to do so,” Lisa says.

Instead, she makes beds, helps nurses and CNAs whenever possible, keeps patients company, and talks with patients’ families.

“My favorite time is with the patients,” Lisa says.

Sometimes she sits at their bedside; other times she spends time outside with them if they want some fresh air. It might be easy to think of a hospice facility as a place of sadness and bereavement, but there are uplifting and humorous moments too—just as in life.

“One day, a patient said she was thirsty,” Lisa says. “So I offered her water, apple juice, anything they had to drink. She said no to all of them, so I asked what she wanted. She said she wanted a gin and tonic.”

Just as often, uplifting moments come from the patients’ family members.

“It’s also fun when families talk about their loved ones,” Lisa says. “One woman said to me, ‘Don’t tell my family, but this is my favorite uncle.’ He’d been kind to her for her whole life, and this was her way of paying back his kindness: sitting with him and keeping him company.”

Of course, there are sad times, too. It’s never easy to say goodbye to a loved one.

“The toughest days are always when a patient dies. They’re at peace, but their family is not,” Lisa says. “Sometimes, they just want to talk about the person who died. Sometimes they want to cry. It doesn’t matter how old the person is who passed.”

Lisa’s experiences at Connecticut Hospice prior to her time there as a volunteer make her an empathetic listener.

“Lisa is an extraordinary Connecticut Hospice volunteer,” says Joan Cullen, director of volunteers. “[She is] extremely compassionate and caring with patients and families.”

Although Lisa signed up for two hours a week, she often stays a third hour to help patients with their lunches.

Regarding Connecticut Hospice, she adds, “They are always looking for volunteers.”

In addition to teaching college freshmen and volunteering at Connecticut Hospice, Lisa also volunteers with Bare Necessities, a local diaper bank. For some local families, purchasing enough diapers to keep their babies clean and healthy isn’t possible. Care of an infant is expensive, and diapers are no exception.

Bare Necessities served 275 babies on the shoreline in 2018, due in part to volunteers like Lisa.

“It all started with my hairstylist, B.J.,” Lisa says.

When Hair We Are was opening in Clinton, Lisa attended the event with her neighbor, friend, former college roommate, and co-volunteer at Bare Necessities, Chris Nocera.

“We met the women who run Bare Necessities, and then we started volunteering and bagging diapers,” Lisa says. “At first, the organization only served a few towns, but now Bare Necessities serves New Haven, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, and Old Saybrook.”

Lisa has been volunteering with Bare Necessities for the last two years—that’s a lot of diapers and wipes for many babies.

Beth Serra-Loud, president of Bare Necessities, says, “Lisa is a compassionate hard working individual. We are so grateful that she believes in our mission of helping the families we serve in our community with diapers and wipes. [Because she is a teacher] I believe she understands that providing diapers allows babies access to daycare for educational opportunities to be lifelong learners.”

For more information about Connecticut Hospice, 100 Double Beach Road, Branford, call 203-315-7500 or visit www.hospice.com. To learn more about Bare Necessities, call 203-928-7558 or visit www.barenecessitiesct.org.

To recommend a person of the week for Madison or Killingworth, email m.mcnellis@shorepublishing.com.

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