Griswold LifeTales Fund

Est. 2001 by Lesley Mills

Lesley Mills with her mom, Ivy

For someone who has always been attracted to building things, the thought of chan­neling energy into the creation of a private foundation was an undertaking Lesley Mills was eager to explore. So in 2001, as the world was settling in for the holiday season, Lesley contacted Will Ginsberg, president and CEO of The Community Foundation to discuss her idea.

"I've been in this community since 1968 and was very much aware of the work of The Foundation," noted Lesley Mills." I have the utmost respect for Will and great confidence in the organization. The fact that The Foundation has been able to manage its endowment successfully, no matter what the economic climate, is very important to me. As a businesswoman a sound investment strategy is critical." The end result of Lesley's conversation was the establishment of a donor advised fund - Griswold Life Tales - through The Community Foundation.

"A donor advised fund is the perfect giving vehicle to help me achieve my personal goals. I wanted to be involved in directing how the money was distributed and have impact in the community," said Lesley.

Lesley Mills is the owner and director of Griswold Special Care, a home­care provider with six offices in the Connecticut. Through her professional career and her own personal life experiences, Lesley has always had a special interest in working with the elderly. Consequently, it is not surprising that the focus of her fund is a natural outgrowth of her commitment to providing services that enhance the quality of life available to the elderly and terminally ill.

Lesley is quick to note that, "everyone has stories to tell." Nowhere is this more apparent than with elderly people. "I have been very inspired by the noticeable beneficial effects of elderly clients telling their stories," she said. Griswold Life Tales is the mechanism by which these stories will be captured for future generations. Through the fund, grants administered via the Arts Council of Greater New Haven are awarded to aspiring writers, who then spend time with the elderly or terminally ill to create written legacies of their memories.

"Whatever I, as the writer, get out of the process is secondary to what the elderly and the greater community gets out of it. Nonetheless, it is incredibly gratifying and affirming when a person for whom you've written a Life Tale tells you that you've made them feel a little special," said writer Greg Hamm. Those selected to participate have the added benefit of tapping into a "Circle of Mentors" - a group that includes Dr. Bernie Segal and Fen Seton - who listen to the stories and provide feedback to the aspiring writer.

In orchestrating this process, Lesley, in her capacity as a Fellow at Berkley College at Yale, tapped into the talents of students interested in writing. The application process included a review of writing samples as well as recommendations from the applicants' professors. Students were interviewed and personality profiles were conducted. The end result was the opportunity to introduce three students to the joy of connecting with the "elders", one of which was Lesley's mother Ivy.

"My mother was just transported back in time when her story was read back to her," said Lesley. "Three really great stories have been written, but more significantly, three 'elders' have been made to feel very important and the writers get to see people respond to their work. This is what it is all about."

Ultimately, Lesley will have the "tales" published and she and her team are working on preserving these lasting records both orally and in written form with the help of technology. "What I wouldn't give to be able to hear my father's voice one more time," muses Lesley. With the help of Griswold Life Tales that will be possible for the families of the "elders" fortunate enough to be part of this unique opportunity.

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Griswold LifeTales Fund