Published April 30. 2014 8:41PM Updated May 01. 2014 12:05AM
Norwich — Director of Human Services Beverly Goulet announced Wednesday that she plans to retire as of July 1 after 30 years of making sure Norwich remained “a caring community” for children and families, supporters and co-workers said.
Goulet, 70, has led numerous innovations in her department and in the city’s efforts to combat homelessness, substandard housing issues, children’s services and emergency response to fires and other tragedies.
Goulet, a Norwich Free Academy graduate, was hired as Norwich social services director after serving as assistant superintendent of the Long Lane School in Middletown.
“You wonder where those years go,” Goulet said. “I’m very honored to work for the city of Norwich. I’ve worked with the most amazing staff. They truly care about children and families.”
Goulet, who is currently out of work temporarily on medical leave, plans to remain active after she retires July 1. She recently was named chairwoman of the United Way board of directors and plans to return to that role soon.
She also is president of the board at St. Jude Commons assisted living complex in Norwich and serves on the board of the Community Economic Development Fund in Meriden.
Over the years, Goulet has seen her staffing and financial support from the city, state and federal governments dwindle for what she considered invaluable services to low-income families.
“She really likes her job and certainly believes in the cause,” said Charles Whitty, currently executive director of the Norwich Housing Authority and the former city manager who hired Goulet. “These days, I don’t know how many people can say that. The responsibilities of the job and the dwindling funds, I certainly can see how much more difficult that has been. She certainly hasn’t curbed her enthusiasm.”
One of her first acts was to push Whitty to move the then-Department of Social Services out of the decrepit office on lower Broadway into the former Otis Library building, where it has remained.
But her eyes at the time were mostly trained on the Wauregan Hotel, then a rundown slum where many poor families lived in squalor. Goulet called the commissioner of the state Department of Youth and Family Services and brought several city officials into the building — “all the way to the top floor,” she recalled — showing them the conditions.
The Wauregan ended up being condemned. Years later, it underwent a complete renovation and reopened as modern affordable housing apartments.
To combat poor housing conditions throughout the city, Goulet’s department formed two inter-agency entities that have become models in the region, the Community Care Team to help homeless people and those at risk of losing housing and the Housing Management Team to keep track of problem buildings, landlords and pending condemnations.
“She certainly set the stage for our city to be a caring community, a collaborative community,” said school Superintendent Abby Dolliver, who has worked with Goulet on efforts to expand early childhood education. “We have to continue her work.”
Current City Manager Alan Bergren had been in Norwich for just a few months when he witnessed one of the city’s worst tragedies in recent years, a devastating fire that destroyed the 120-unit Peachtree Apartments on April 26, 2008. The fire displaced 150 people, many of them on fixed incomes, and destroyed all of their belongings.
Goulet’s office mobilized and became the central clearinghouse to get residents replacement prescription drugs, driver’s licenses and military documents within days of the fire. They then collected donations and obtained lists of available apartments from cooperating landlords to find them new homes.
Bergren recalled Goulet’s staff meeting with displaced residents at the evacuation center at nearby Uncas School.
“The evacuations in Uncas school gymnasium, just trying to console the residents,” he said. “It was tough. It was very emotionally draining. She coordinated the assistance and help to all those residents.”
Lee Ann Gomes, supervisor of social work services, and Janice Thompson, administrative and grants manager for the department, both have worked with Goulet throughout her tenure in Norwich. Thompson started shortly before Goulet arrived and Gomes joined the department at age 21 just months after graduating college.
“You never worked for Beverly,” Thompson said, “you worked with her.”
“She’s so wonderful it just makes you want to work all the harder for her,” Gomes said.