Project Return Executive Director Susie Basler retires after 30 Years

Board launches search for next organization leader

Susie Basler

Susie Basler

Susie Basler, the executive director of Project Return, has announced she will retire after 30 years of leading the groundbreaking work of the Westport, Connecticut-based home for adolescent girls and young women in crisis.

The organization plans to honor and celebrate Basler at its annual Birdhouse Auction and Gala, on Saturday, April 2, from 7 to 11 p.m., at the Fairfield Theatre Company Warehouse.

“It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege for me to serve as Project Return’s executive director, and I will always be grateful for the many ways in which the girls we have served, and staff and community members with whom I have partnered, have impacted both my life and my career,” said Basler.

Basler was part of the initial Board of Directors formed in 1984 by Kate McGraw, who was then Assistant Superintendent of Special Education for the Westport School District. McGraw had determined that a facility for girls in crisis who could not live at home was needed in Fairfield County.

Basler left the Board in 1986 to become executive director, bringing a number of strengths to the existing program. With a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Work and a concentration in group work, she helped teenage girls in the juvenile justice system and as a school social worker. She brought to Project Return a strong belief in the power of groups to heal.

During Basler’s tenure, she created an innovative and unique organizational model and culture that promoted healing, growth, and change. The model has impacted the lives of countless young women, as well as the staff and interns who have worked at the agency over the years.

Naomi Kydes, former resident and current Board Member, reflects, “Susie always holds close to her heart the essence of what Project Return is, striving for the young women who find themselves hopeless. Her wisdom, faith and tireless commitment will be missed in the house.”

In recent years, Basler has shepherded an even further expansion of Project Return’s mission. She created the highly regarded HEAL (Heal, Empathy, Altruism, Love) Program, an after-school community service initiative for at-risk girls, and organized an annual educational conference for practicing mental health professionals. She also established an aftercare program for former residents that ensures their continued emotional and financial support. Basler’s enthusiasm and dedication has consistently attracted a highly qualified and committed staff with very low turnover, and has marshaled both financial and volunteer support from thousands of community members and organizations.

While Basler will be retiring, she plans to remain closely connected to the organization she helped launch. She will assume the role of executive director emeritus. Her warmth, determination, intelligence and compassion will serve her well as the agency’s most passionate ambassador, said Board Chair Cindy Wormser.

Wormser commended Basler’s esteemed leadership, noting that she ”excelled at identifying each girl’s unique strengths, guiding their care with unconditional love and acceptance.”

“The Board will look to the long-standing support of the Project Return community as it undergoes this transition in leadership and continues a strong tradition of excellence in service to girls in need,” Wormser said.

Project Return’s Board of Directors is launching a nationwide search for its next executive director. It seeks qualified candidates with an unwavering commitment to serving girls and families in need, who can ensure ongoing programmatic excellence. In the interim, long-term staff, supported by a committee of board members, will oversee the organization.

For more information about the upcoming celebration of Basler at Project Return’s Birdhouse Auction, please visit www.projectreturnct.org.

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