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Clients and Residents in Bridgeport’s Milestone Program Thrive with Care of Recovery Support Specialist Robin Gagne

Robin Gagne is a Recovery Support Specialist (RSS) at The Connection’s Milestone program, supporting the 15 Connection clients who live at the brand new Milestone apartments, a 30-unit housing development in Bridgeport’s East End. Milestone was designed for low-income adults with special needs and with a particular preference for veterans.

“I’m here to provide support for the clients in the building and engage with them to help in goal setting and moving toward recovery,” he says. “A big part of my job is to be an advocate for the clients—and for all veterans, including myself. Because we have the same background, I can relate to the things they’re going through—I’ve been there.”

For Robin, a typical day includes informal meetings with the clients, getting them to trust him and open up, to discuss what they did over the weekend and their plans for the day.

Robin Gagne standing with the flag in Milestone’s community room.

“Listening—really listening to them and having deep conversations that help with understanding what may be bothering them, is really important,” he says. “So is supporting them with programs — AA, Bible study, Veterans meeting — or just getting them off their beds. I do a lot of listening … making notes and entering information into the computer to provide a record of each time I see them. I also speak with the director — Helen Lavin — about the interactions, and individual needs and observations. The notes are a means for recording progress and concerns avoiding miscommunication. Having them helps me remember the interactions so I can go back and clarify — to be sure everyone’s concerns and needs are being addressed.”

Of the 15 clients in the program, 10 are veterans. “Four to five are Navy, one is a Marine, and the rest are Army,” he says. “No Coast Guard and no Air Force.”

Robin is an ideal RSS for these clients because he is himself a proud veteran, having retired from the Army in 2004 as a Sergeant First Class, after 23 years of service. “I’ve always been Stateside,” Robin says. “I started out as a combat medic and worked in a hospital for four years. When I decided I didn’t want to be a nurse I became a career counselor for the next 20 years.”

Robin chose to retire in 2004 after 23 years of service. After he retired, Robin had difficulty finding a comfortable place in the civilian world. “I tried construction, and a few other occupations, but nothing was comfortable,” he says. It was then he decided to use the Veteran benefits to go to college and in 2009 graduated from Manchester Community College with an Associate’s degree in General Studies. He went on to Central Connecticut State University, graduating in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

“I’m proud of being an American, and proud of being veteran,” he says.

Robin’s experience in the army has informed the work that he does with the clients and residents at Milestone. His years as an Army career counselor give the perspective he needs to serve the diverse needs and backgrounds of clients in the program. His pride in and affinity for the Army drives a passion and loyalty toward citizenship and community that is completely engaging—and contagious. Clients and residents young and old love him.

One of the fun aspects of Robin’s job is planning community-building activities. These are sometimes client-only activities and sometimes building-wide activities. The building-wide activities include the 15 residents who are not part of The Connection’s program as well as the 140 children in the Head Start program administered by Action for Bridgeport

Caption: Flag Day Activities at Milestone.

Community Development (ABCD), located on the first floor of the Milestone building. The activities are uniformly well received and have created a real sense of community for residents and occupants of all ages.

On Flag Day, Robin and Danny, one of the building’s residents, gave a presentation to the children in the Head Start program. The two men went to each room in the Head Start program and told the children about the history and significance of the flag, the meaning of the stars and stripes, and meaning and significance of serving in the military. They also described the meaning and significance of the uniforms—down to the ribbons and medals! After the talks, Robin and Danny gave to each child a small flag and flag picture to color.

“Each month we’re going to be doing a reading for the kids,” Robin says. “Many of the children lack male role models because their fathers and grandfathers are often incarcerated. We want the male residents to become big brothers—telling stories and teaching them all sorts of things. We’ve already started with teaching them how to fold pirate hats!”

Not all community-building activities are confined to the Milestone building! Robin loves planning excursions and has already taken the clients on a very successful fishing trip, as the pictures in this article attest. These trips are wonderful team building opportunities for the client-residents to plan activities that will appeal to everyone. The clients must consider such logistical issues as cost, transportation, and other details while making plans. Ideas for future trips include a Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game, a Thimble Islands cruise, a trip to West Point, the Boston Duck Tour, possibly the Basketball Hall of Fame in MA, and a visit to the Statue of Liberty. In order to realize these plans, the program needs support.

“I was hoping that some of these companies would further support our Veterans with donating to help reduce the costs,” Robin says. “Donations are always welcome.”

“The one thing I set out to do every day is to be a real person the clients can talk to and engage with and trust,” Robin says. “Beyond that, my goal is to build their pride back—and for the veterans their military pride—anything to get them back to themselves, to build them up as human beings and be confident in themselves and (text abruptly ends.)

Caption: Case Manager Amber Hunter (left) and a client during the fishing trip.

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