Thursday, June 24, 2021

Person of the Week

Cave is Happy to Help Out in Her Hometown

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Jessica Cave is being thanked by many for being a huge help with helping seniors receive vaccines, in her work as North Branford Recreation and Senior Center secretary, a job she’s been in for four years. She found her office “family” thanks to volunteering her graphic design skills to help the town’s Economic Development Commission develop the first “North Branford-Northford Grown” farm brochure, shortly after moving to town in 2015 with her husband, Rob, as the new proprietors of Totoket Tree Farm. Photo courtesy of Jessica Cave

Jessica Cave is being thanked by many for being a huge help with helping seniors receive vaccines, in her work as North Branford Recreation and Senior Center secretary, a job she’s been in for four years. She found her office “family” thanks to volunteering her graphic design skills to help the town’s Economic Development Commission develop the first “North Branford-Northford Grown” farm brochure, shortly after moving to town in 2015 with her husband, Rob, as the new proprietors of Totoket Tree Farm. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Cave)

Back in 2015, Jessica Cave and her husband, Rob, were on the hunt for a unique farm property and came upon the Forte family’s Totoket Tree Farm on Mill Road, which was up for sale. Jess and Rob made their move to town from Bethany, and were in business as the new owners of Totoket Tree Farm in time for the 2016 Christmas tree/holiday season.

Not too long after their inaugural season ended, then-town planner Carey Duques came knocking. From that one contact, Jess became a pivotal contributor to a special project of North Branford’s Economic Development Commission, and also found her niche as member of the North Branford Parks & Recreation/Senior Center Office “family.”

“Carey came to my door. She was working on the town’s new farm trail brochure and she said, ‘We’d really like your farm to be included in it,’” said Jess.

Jess not only agreed to be included, but also instantly asked if she could help.

“She showed me a mock-up of the brochure and I said, ‘You know, I’m also a graphic designer, and I would love to help you with this project.’”

Developed with the help of Jess’s professional eye, the first edition of the colorful, information-packed “North Branford-Northford Grown” brochure went out into public places along the shoreline and beyond in 2017, helping to promote the town’s many agricultural offerings. But it was shortly after Jess began working on the brochure that the next local connection came along.

“I had met with Carey, and I started doing some research for the brochure...and I just happened to look at the town website and saw that they were hiring for a park and rec secretary. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that would be amazing,’” says Jess, who applied and got the gig. “It just worked out perfectly.”

Jess is now in her fourth year as Parks & Recreation/Senior Center secretary for the department.

“We’re a wonderful little family,” says Jess. “I absolutely love all my co-workers, and I’m so thrilled by all the things we do. I’m constantly impressed by what our assistant director and director do.”

In addition to Jess, the Parks & Recreation Department professional family includes its director, Jessie Caetano, who’s assisted by Recreation Supervisor Kerry Haynes, Senior Program Coordinator Kathy Poston, receptionist Linda Javins, cook Toni DeLizio and Potato and Corn Festival Coordinator Jenn McCulloch.

Pitching in to Help

When the town’s weekly COVID-19 vaccination clinic opened up at the Stanley T. Williams (STW) Community Center in March, Jess worked alongside her department members to help residents, particularly, senior citizens, get registered to come in and receive the vaccine.

“I certainly never thought, when I was hired four years ago, that I would be heavily involved in a vaccine clinic,” says Jess.

But in typical fashion, she went above and beyond, compelling two of her peers, Haynes and former acting recreation director Patrick Rossiter, to each independently write up accolades for Jess that they shared with The Sound.

“When someone takes a job as a secretary, they probably expect the typical list of office responsibilities—answering the phone, handling correspondence, providing customer service, etc. Since Jessica Cave was hired as the Parks, Recreation, and Senior Center secretary, she has helped the department excel in every way, especially this past year as we faced the challenges of COVID-19,” wrote Haynes.

“When the department was asked to assist with vaccination clinics, Jessica did not hesitate, and she has been crushing COVID ever since!” Haynes continued. “Jessica has fielded countless phone calls, created and maintained numerous VAMS [Vaccine Administration Management System] accounts for our senior citizens who do not have computer access, has assisted our local health department with organizing 10 clinics, and has scheduled more than 1,000 appointments, to date. Jessica has provided our residents with a warm, helpful voice on the other end of the phone. She has provided a sense of relief when people have felt scared, frustrated, and overwhelmed. But most importantly, at a time when it is so easy to feel hopeless, Jessica has provided hope.”

Rossiter, who has been helping out at the vaccine clinics, says Jess is an “unsung hero of the vaccine effort in North Branford.”

“Jess Cave has been incredible in her efforts to make sure seniors can get appointments for shots and schedule them for second shots. This is time-consuming at best, but brings untold challenges working with a population with its unique set of needs. Then, at the end of each vaccine day, she makes a mad dash to find people to use any leftover vaccine doses. She, of course, is doing this while also continuing to run the administration of the Parks and Rec and Senior Center office, which has included organizing thousands of meals being delivered and provided to the town’s seniors,” wrote Rossiter.

Jess says the entire team has been working together to help the town’s senior citizens, ages 75 and up, to receive their vaccinations.

“In the beginning, it was such a challenge because of the age range. The [state] designated ages 75 and up among the first to have the vaccine, and the way that the systems were introduced, they required email addresses and cell phone numbers. And so many of the seniors said, ‘I don’t have a computer. I don’t have an email address,’” says Jess. “So we would jump in and create email addresses, and get them registered on VAMs, and get all their information so they didn’t have to worry about it at all.”

Jess says she also welcomed the challenge as a way to get in touch with senior citizens after many months of missing the interaction that comes with her job at the STW Community Center, which is home to both Parks and Recreation Department and the Senior Center. While the staff is small enough to spread out for safe social distancing while working at the center, where they’ve been back since last June, the facility still isn’t completely open to the public. Some areas are available now by appointment, such as using the fitness room.

Pre-pandemic, Jess would start her day working in the back office covering administrative items, then move to the front desk at the entrance for the afternoon, helping to check in people coming to use the facility.

“It’s still so strange not having seniors in the hallways, or stopping by the desk to chat and talk about their day,” says Jess. “I also love talking to the seniors that knew the previous owner of our Christmas tree farm, or who tell me they had been going there for 30 years. So for me, it’s not just the fun social part of seeing them; it’s also learning the history of the town, and the traditions that I jumped into.”

Jess and Rob are also grateful for the support the community continues to show them by supporting Totoket Tree Farm.

“We weren’t quite sure what this Christmas was going to bring, but it blew away all our expectations, again,” says Jess, who, with Rob, recently planted 1,500 baby Christmas trees at their farm earlier this month (the farm offers fresh-cut trees at Christmas in years when choose and cut stock is in regrowth). To learn more about the farm, follow them on Facebook (@totokettreefarm).

“I think part of what everybody loves about North Branford is all of the farms and the small-town community that’s here,” says Jess. “I’m just thrilled that everything in my life has worked out to be where I’m at.”


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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