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Rolling Hills Country Club Hosts Birdhouse Charity

A birdhouse that was auctioned off for charity at the Project Return fundraiser. | Photo by Lucas Hammerman '10

A birdhouse that was auctioned off for charity at the Project Return fundraiser. | Photo by Lucas Hammerman '10

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Emily Goldberg ’12
Web Sports Editor

A birdhouse that was auctioned off for charity at the Project Return fundraiser. | Photo by Lucas Hammerman '10

For months, Westport artist Carol Brezovec collected possible materials to make a new birdhouse. She spent some time agonizing over its design and theme. She thought of some good ideas, crossed out others, but in a single moment the idea came to her.

“Finally, it just all clicked a week before the birdhouses were due,” Brezovec said.

Brezovec was one of 154 artists who donated a handcrafted birdhouse to Project Return for the charity’s 15th Annual Birdhouse Auction, which took place on March 19 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

“It’s a fun experience to dedicate time to being creative, especially doing it for a good cause,” birdhouse artist Pat Scanlan said. “It’s nice to put aside that time and forget about everything else in the world. It makes you feel good to know that it’s appreciated.”

Both Scanlan and Brezovec, who have created birdhouses for each of the Project Return birdhouse auctions, were glad to donate, as they know that all of the proceeds help to enrich the charity.

“[Project Return] means everything to me,” Scanlan said. “I have been involved for a very long time and I believe in the charity.”

Project Return of Connecticut has been located in Westport for the past 24 years. The charity has assisted 128 girls that, due to a certain crisis in their lives, are no longer able to live at home. The girls voluntarily decide to live in the Project Return house, which is a therapeutic group environment.

“We try to give them the skills to move forward in their lives, and many go on to do good things,” said Publicity and Public Relations Director Laura Bard. “We become their family.”

Seven adolescent girls from across Connecticut live in the residence house at once. Though the average stay is two years, girls can stay in the house anywhere from a few months to two-plus years, depending on their needs.

According to Bard, the charity is “committed to a safe, structured, and nurturing environment for adolescent girls in crisis, so they can heal and grow.”

In order to fund the Project Return charity, the charity’s leaders have developed a primary fundraiser, the Birdhouse Auction. This year, that event was co-chaired by Jeanette Tewey, Theresa Roth and Bridget Nelis.

Birdhouse Acquisition Chairman Totney Benson came up with the idea for the auction 15 years ago. Having always had an interest in crafts, Benson thought the birdhouses would attract attention in Connecticut.

“I had seen some really interesting birdhouses at craft shows, so I thought people could start collecting them and it could be a great fundraiser,” she said.

Although it was not intended at first, the birdhouses now symbolize Project Return and their mission.

“The idea is that Project Return is not a permanent home but a safe and secure residence for the girls until they learn to deal with the bad things that life has thrown at them,” Benson said. “The same can be said of a birdhouse’s purpose.”

According to Benson, one of the best parts of the birdhouse auction is the Westport community’s involvement in the charity. Each year about four weeks prior to the auction, the birdhouses are placed in various store windows in downtown Westport. This way, the public is able to view them.

“It is a fabulous community event,” Benson said. “We love the fact that stores participate and that the event draws people downtown. Also, we are not selective with the birdhouse contributions, so everyone can participate.”

This year, Project Return held their eighth annual birdhouse stroll on March 11, which was co-chaired by Diane Ziedman, Shirlee Gordon and Dot Baliban.

During the stroll the general public is invited downtown to take guided tours and view the birdhouses. The docents who give the tours also explain the concepts behind each one.

“We usually have about 150 to 200 people if the weather cooperates,” Ziedman said. “People start asking questions when they see the birdhouses in the stores. Our primary goal is to create excitement for the auction.”

Traditionally the auction has been held at Longshore, and the new venue has already created enthusiasm.

“I am definitely excited to see the new location and how they put it together. I’m always amazed of the work the volunteer committee does. Their work is incredible,” Brezovec said.

Each year there is a live and silent auction where birdhouses of all prices are bought. Tewey, recalled that one year a birdhouse sold for $11,000.

Tewey added that most are sold for much less, sometimes between $3,000–5,000, but typically they sell for prices in the hundreds.

Besides the birdhouse auction, graduates from the Project Return house spoke to the guests, explaining what the charity means to them.

“They tell personal stories, and well, it’s hard to listen to the terrible things they have gone through,” Scanlan said. “It is very brave of them to speak about this, and they do it because they overcome what they’ve gone through and have been so helped by Project Return. It is a very strong part of the night.”

Over the years, the birdhouse auction has proven to be a successful fundraising event and something that many people look forward to each year.

“After the first auction everyone was curious to see how it would turn out. It’s exciting to see how it has grown over the years and is considered one of the biggest art shows in Connecticut,” Scanlan said.

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