This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published March 31, 2021
Having worked as executive assistant to First Selectman Mike Freda since he took office in 2009, Valerie Goodkin has seen the town of North Haven and its residents face many challenges. Many of those memories take Valerie back to weather-related events that have led to town-wide damage and power outages.
The past year has not only presented several weather-related events that have caused significant damage, but the COVID-19 pandemic as well. As the town began to discuss how to respond to initial reports of the pandemic, Valerie was diagnosed with COVID-19.
After recovering, Valerie was back to work with a focus on helping the residents of North Haven in any way she could. In the beginning stages, she helped disseminate information and resources to residents, but in the past months, her focus has been on helping residents get vaccinations.
Each week, Valerie and administrative assistant Tammy Ciaburri fielded hundreds of calls from residents who were trying to secure a vaccine appointment. As Freda serves on a statewide vaccine committee, Valerie and Ciaburri had up-to-date information for residents.
“It has been especially challenging for residents because no one knew what to do and the information was changing so frequently,” says Valerie. “When the vaccines came about, we were inundated by calls. Tammy is great with communicating with our residents and I rely on her very much.”
One of the biggest challenges during the vaccine rollout was assisting those in the first group, those aged 75 and older, with registering for the vaccine in VAMS. Valerie notes that many older residents didn’t have computers or email addresses, both of which were necessary to make the appointment through the system.
“They wanted the vaccine and didn’t know how to go about it,” says Valerie. “Our phones were ringing off the hook and it was a very challenging time in our office. It seemed no sooner did we get caught up that they opened the next age bracket and that’s when it got really crazy. The vaccines weren’t coming in as fast as people were becoming eligible.”
Valerie maintained a waitlist of several hundred people waiting for a vaccine. In addition to helping people secure a vaccine appointment, she and Ciaburri also helped facilitate transportation to appointments for those in need. The First Selectman’s Office also maintained a list of resources and phone numbers they were able to share with residents via the town website.
With more vaccine options now coming online and the new age groups being more tech-savvy, Valerie has seen the phone calls slow down a little bit. Despite the “solid month of craziness” at the office, Valerie is grateful that she has been able to play a part in helping residents receive their vaccine.
“Being able to help people, especially the ones who didn’t have computers or couldn’t understand and didn’t have family to help, was very rewarding,” says Valerie. “We got notes, thank you cards, flowers, and candy. People were so grateful because they were truly desperate to get the vaccine and we were just so happy we were able to help in some small for the greater good.”
Early on in the pandemic, Valerie and other town employees and organizations had to get creative to continue offering services to residents. They worked together to problem solve and limit face-to-face contact with the public by initiating curbside pickup for those in need of food and drop boxes for town departments.
“We tried to do whatever we could to help our residents and accommodate them,” says Valerie. “I work very closely with our department heads and have a great respect for each of them. They are the backbone of the town’s operations and each one brings a great deal of experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to their positions. I have a good relationship with each of them and that only enhances my ability to problem solve and get things done.”
Valerie is equally grateful to have the opportunity to work with Freda. She worked in the corporate environments for 30 years, but after the dissolution of the company, she was seeking employment. In her corporate career, Valerie traveled often and wanted a career that would keep her close to her home in North Haven.
Now working for a municipality, Valerie sees the residents as customers and aims to deliver exceptional customer service.
“When we pick up, residents are so happy that someone has picked up the phone and they can talk to a person,” says Valerie. “It’s rewarding to know that people feel that strongly about having a town that is so customer service-centric. We’re always available.”
Valerie was born and raised in West Haven. She moved to North Haven 22 years ago as she wanted her children, Lauren and Matt, who were 10 and 7 at the time, to enjoy the school system.
“We never regretted our decision, we loved the sense of community, and the combination of small-town charm and amenities that North Haven offered,” says Valerie.
She has had the opportunity become even more immersed in the community since taking on the executive assistant role. She loves meeting town residents and being able to help them solve problems.
Valerie also enjoys giving back to the community on a volunteer level. Just before the pandemic, encouraged by her friend Larry Lazaroff, Valerie had been slated to participate in the Ronald McDonald House Charities Dancing Under the Stars fundraiser. She spent months practicing and taking dance lessons. Valerie says it was “very disappointing” to have the event canceled due to the virus.
Valerie also sits on the Board of Directors for the APT Foundation, a cause that hits close to home as her daughter was plagued with a substance use disorder for many years.
“We tried countless treatments, but were never really able to maintain any lengthy period of recovery,” says Valerie. “Fortunately...the APT Foundation made a home in North Haven. My daughter Lauren became a patient there and they truly were a godsend.”
Lauren has now achieved six years of sustained recovery and is working as a practice administrator for a six-office optometric practice. Valerie “couldn’t be prouder of her” and is enjoying building their relationship and “making up for lost time.” Her son, Matthew, works at Pratt & Whitney.
“We both know it was the APT Foundation that has made it possible for her to live a happy and productive life,” says Valerie. “I am very honored to be on their board and feel passionately about educating people on the services and treatment they provide. I am equally proud of my son, Matt. All any mother wants is for her children to be healthy, happy and productive. I truly feel blessed for my family, my friends, and a job I love.”