Employee of the year: Gaudian serves people in need

Karen Gaudian, the town’s employee of the year, serves a variety of people working in the social services office. — Macklin Reid photo
Karen Gaudian, the town’s employee of the year, serves a variety of people working in the social services office. — Macklin Reid photo

“I’m really lucky, I have a job I love,” said Karen Gaudian. “Every day is different. It’s rewarding to be able to help people that are struggling.”

Gaudian, the town’s municipal agent for the elderly, was chosen Ridgefield’s 2018 employee of the year.

She shares the responsibilities of running the town Social Services Department with its director, Tony Phillips, helping clients with all kinds of difficulties — heating oil payments, bureaucratic mix-ups, putting food on the table. Recently, they’ve been joined by intern Brittany Boudreau.

“We do so much,” Gaudian said. “I help people with paperwork, applying for assistance to the state. I help people with Medicare — people that are new to Medicare or are already on Medicare and are confused about it.

“I get calls for everything from people looking for a place to live, energy assistance, food stamps,” she said. “We help with holiday gifts.

“Rent, people come in seeking help with paying for rent, and also finding apartments,” she said. “Car troubles — people can’t pay for the car repairs. In order to get to work they need a car. We want people to be able to keep jobs.

“Sometimes it’s just listening to what people are going through, and helping them find the resources to get through it,” Gaudian said. “Ideally we’re a bridge to help people get through a rough spot in their lives.”

Gaudian has worked in the Social Service Department since 2010. Her current job title — municipal agent for the elderly — “is a little deceptive, because I work with everybody,” she said. “That’s one of my jobs.”

First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who’s on the committee that chooses town employees of the year, praised Gaudian’s versatility and outlook.

“Karen has worked in the Social Services Department in many different capacities and she has continually and consistently worked with numerous clients in need — and most days, she is the first one here and the last one to leave,” Marconi said.

“She is truly a dedicated employee whose work has gone well above and beyond her job requirements. She’s been great.”

Phillips nominated her.

“I think one of the keys why she’s so good at what she does: People trust her,” the social services director said. “They trust her with their care, their health, with their safety, with their food needs and medical needs. She treats them all with respect and compassion.”

The honor was announced at the town employees’ holiday party

“They do it in a nice, embarrassing way,” Gaudian said.

“It means a lot to me because I do work really hard here,” she said. “I know I work hard — Tony’s really good about telling me. He’s very appreciative and he lets you know, he’s a really awesome boss.

“It’s nice to see that Rudy and the other people in town hall recognize what we do.”

Gaudian graduated with Ridgefield High School’s class of 1980, then went to the State University of New York at Purchase.

“I have a degree in fine arts — very useful,” she said.

“We moved a couple of years ago, but I grew up here and raised my kids here,” she said.

“I have two girls, who both got married this year, and one granddaughter.”

In her free time, Gaudian is a primary organizer of The Lyme Connection, which fights numerous tick-borne illnesses.

‘Generous’ town

Gaudian loves her job thanks not only to the people she works with in town hall, but many generous Ridgefielders who support the Social Services Department with donations.

“It’s a great town. We have resources to help because people are very generous here,” she said. “This job is not fun in every town. But we have resources. When people need help, we can actually help them here. It’s a very generous community.

The department helps quite a few people.

“We did 162 last year for energy assistance,” Gaudian said.

Gaudian and five trained volunteers helped 160 people with Medicare during 2017’s open enrollment. But the issues last all year.

“A lot are people who are new to Medicare, trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do, and what these rules are.

“We have three different food programs directly connected to us,” Gaudian said.

“Any Ridgefield resident who is in need of assistance can access the food pantry,” she said, noting it’s open Monday through Friday in town hall.

The Social Service Department also runs “pop-up” pantries, the Monday following shopping center food drives the Rotary holds the first Saturday of each month. They alternate between St. Stephen’s Church or Ballard Green.

The Connecticut Food Bank truck also does distributions — supported by a local donor —  the second Friday of the month at St. Andrew’s Church.

“We usually get about 130 to 140 people to that, on average. But November, December, we’ll have close to 200,” Gaudian said.

“They provide fresh food and meat. They usually get a turkey in November and some kind of really nice meat — they did a big roast this year — in December.”

Another program supported by a donor — an “angel,” as Gaudian and Phillips say — is a December shopping trip for senior citizens to get winter clothing.

“That’s a fun one. You get to take 100 seniors shopping. They get warm clothes, and a Stop & Shop gift card.”

The seniors also get a little box from Jesse Lee Methodist Church.

“That little box is what brings them to tears. It’s just little things — mittens, there’ll be some personal things, some fun things.”

Kids get gifts through The Evelyn Peeler Children’s Holiday Gift Fund, various civic and religious groups, and individuals who volunteer to shop for a child. They’re given an age, gender and wish list. It helps the kids — and their parents.

“It’s really an awful feeling to not be able to provide anything for your children at Christmas,” Gaudian said. “We’re very fortunate to have Rotary, Lions Club, Almost Home — all these different groups step forward, and we have some private donors, as well...

“We’ve never had to turn a family away because we couldn’t find a donor to help out,” she said, “...We’re so lucky here. Someone always steps forward.”