Norwich ― City Manager John Salomone has brought in two social services program managers to run the social services and community development offices.
Katherine Milde, Program Coordinator in the Youth and Family Services Division of Norwich Human Services, has been appointed Director of Social Services effective today. Sydney Phelps, a community worker with Human Services, will start as director of community development on October 24.
Milde, 38, a Chicago native now living in Ledyard, will keep her office at Youth and Family Services at 75 Mohegan Road, which also houses recreation programs that are part of Social Services. The Rose City Senior Center, also part of the department, is nearby at 8 Mahan Drive.
Milde recalls that when former manager Lee-Ann Gomes hired her in January 2019, Milde was asked about her career goals. She replied, “I wish I was you.”
When Gomes planned to retire, Milde was offered a position as an apprentice manager. But she was president of the town hall employees’ union. She said she needed to stay in that position, “to learn all the positions, all the people”, before seeking the managerial position.
Gomes’ successor, Tara Booker, announced this summer that she plans to cut part-time and leave the City job this fall. Milde felt she was ready.
“If I hadn’t turned down this opportunity, I wouldn’t have grown up to be ready for this,” Milde said.
Milde’s 15 years of nonprofit management experience began at the Carbone Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin from 2005 to 2012.
Her husband, Lane Milde, was recruited by Pfizer, Inc. in Groton, where he is a senior automation scientist. The couple moved to Ledyard with their 18-month-old son. Katherine Milde began working at the Mystic YMCA while earning her Masters in Organizational Leadership from Quinnipiac University.
She worked as the career center coordinator at Stonington High School, where she helped start the youth manufacturing pipeline through a grant from the state Department of Labor and a partnership with the Westerly Education Center.
She was hired to lead the summer employment program for young people at Norwich Youth and Family Services and became the program coordinator in 2020. She led high school social and emotional learning programs and is a case manager for the Juvenile Review Board.
Among her first tasks as director of social services, she will hire a director of the adult services division. Booker serves as interim manager.
Milde called Phelps “an excellent choice” for the position of director of community development. At Human Services, Phelps worked on programs funded by Federal Community Development Block Grants received from the Office of Community Development.
“I’m so excited about the collaboration the position offers between agencies, businesses and residents of the city, as well as grassroots organizations with youth here,” Phelps said. “There are so many opportunities to improve physical conditions here in the city.”
Phelps, 27, grew up in Norwich, graduating from Norwich Free Academy in 2013. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of New Hampshire, with a minor in gender studies. She said she was “heavily involved” with the Black Student Union, equity and identity programs, and LGBTQ communities.
She then went to New Orleans for a year as part of the AmeriCorps program. She taught sixth and eighth grade math. She returned to Norwich as a classroom facilitator at Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School, helping pupils to manage their emotions and solve problems. She completed her Masters in Social Work at Tulane University in December 2020 while working as an intern at Norwich Human Services.
She was hired full-time in January 2021. Phelps has been helping Norwich families and students adjust to remote learning. She wrote and managed grant schemes to buy 30 laptops for secondary school students, provide home internet access to 40 families and partnered with Norwich Adult Education to help parents connect to school programs online for their children.
She administered the $450,000 CDBG grant which provided rent and utility assistance to struggling families in Norwich.
“This community raised me,” Phelps said. “And it’s such a blessing to have had the opportunities that this community has given me, and it’s great to be able to give back.”