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Helen Finnigan at the CAST offices in Greenport. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

With the new year, some changes for Community Action Southold Town

Community Action Southold Town has several changes to its administration to announce this year as it says goodbye to executive director Linda Ruland, who is retiring at the end of next month, and welcomes Helen Finnigan as its new board president. Finnigan replaces Denis Noncarrow, who finished up his last allowed term as president after serving for the maximum four years. The search is on for Ruland’s replacement as executive director.

Finnigan, who lives in Southold, is a retired employment lawyer and consultant who has acted as secretary for CAST’s board of directors since 2014.

After spending most of her career working in Manhattan, Finnigan and her husband, who is also a lawyer, moved to the North Fork permanently in 2002.

“We’d owned a weekend house out here since 1999,” said Finnigan. “On 9/11 my husband was working across the street from the World Trade Center and I was working just six blocks north. After the attacks I was very involved in post-9/11 efforts to identify people and make sure everyone was safe. The experience caused my husband and I to rethink what we were doing and we decided we’d both do consulting and since we could do it from anywhere, we ended up moving permanently to the North Fork in July 2002.”

Finnigan has always had the heart of a volunteer. In the midst of a high-powered job, she made a decision to cut back her hours, freeing herself up to do volunteer training for a program that teaches decision making skills to men and women in prisons.

When she moved to the North Fork permanently she continued doing consulting work and spent two years in Hong Kong volunteering with an organization that helped the under-served. Back home, she sought out various volunteer opportunities, eventually settling on CAST after a friend who was on CAST’s board suggested it would be a good fit for her.

As president of the board, Finnigan will carry on the work of her predecessors, helping to move along issues that can’t be handled by the CAST staff.

“Primarily it’s about insuring that we meet our mission, that we have the right fundamentals in place to fund our mission and that we operate organizationally in a way that’s as efficient and effective as can be,” explains Finnigan. “Our mission is to provide a safety net and a leg up for self sufficiency.”

Balancing the demand for basic needs such as food, shelter and heat with programs to expand self-sufficiency is the challenge, says Finnigan.

“There’s so much need for just the safety net right now. We’d love to have the opportunity and the funds to focus more on how to help people be self-sufficient. Several of our programs already do that such as the computer classes, ESL and the parent-child home program.”

Finnigan couldn’t say enough about the generosity of the North Fork community, pointing out that 90 percent of their funding comes from individual donations. Local businesses have also stepped up to help; Hands Fuel Company of Orient has donated over 750 gallons of oil for the winter and many other businesses donate on a regular basis.

She spoke of the outpouring of donations last Christmas after people read about a shortage of toys CAST was experiencing.

“We were inundated,” she said. “It was a sea of toys. Someone anonymously donated $1,800 worth of toys and so many others gave what they could as well. It allowed us to be able to give the children more than one or two toys each.”

“A sea of toys.” Photo: Helen Finnigan

And even some of the most needy people still found a way to give back.

“Last year two men came into the sharing room to get some clothes,” she remembers. “They had brought their own donation in — clothes that they no longer had a need for. The things they brought in were washed, dried and folded; neater than a lot of the clothing we receive. Even though they were clients, they were bringing in what they could to share. Now that’s the essence of community.”

CAST is in need of volunteers. If you’d like to help out, please call 631 477-1717 or visit their website.