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Bridgeport Hospital Auxiliary turns 60

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From left: Linda Antignani, president of Bridgeport Hospital Auxiliary; Susan Castagna, vice president of the Bridgeport Hospital Auxiliary; and Steve Jakab, president of Bridgeport Hospital Foundation. Photo by Phil Hall

We are the largest single contributor to Bridgeport Hospital,” stated Linda Antignani, president of the Bridgeport Hospital Auxiliary, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. “We have contributed more than $6 million to the hospital in several different ways.”

Originally created as a volunteer group consisting of the wives of the hospital’s physicians, today’s auxiliary encompasses more than 200 men and women with various connections to the facility. “They have been employees or are current employees,” said Antignani, a former hospital employee who now runs Mother’s Embrace Yoga in Shelton. “Once you have the hospital in your heart, you want to give back.”

Today’s auxiliary can be found in various activities within the hospital and across the greater Bridgeport community. The hospital’s ground-floor gift shop is operated by the auxiliary, and Antignani praised it as being one of the most popular retail operations of its kind.

“It is one of our hallmarks,” she said. “The gift shop always outdoes itself in what it brings in. The people who buy for it always seem to have their finger on what is popular. It has an open feeling to it.”

Auxiliary volunteers are also responsible for the Dr. Kennedy Toy Closet, which collects and distributes toys to pediatric patients. It also raises money for annual scholarships that enable the hospital’s physical, occupational and speech therapists to continue their education at medical conferences.

In its six decades, the auxiliary’s fund-raising prowess has helped to finance the acquisition of equipment in operations, including the hospital’s maternity ward, coronary care and intensive care units and the radio department, as well as renovations in the emergency department and the purchase of the “NIC View” monitoring system that provides 24/7 Internet streaming of videos of newborns to their families’ home computers or mobile devices.

The auxiliary stages several events designed to raise funds, most notably its annual fashion show. The last event, held in October at Westport’s Mill River Country Club, featured new designs from local designer Tina Dragone and netted $4,000 in contributions. “It was a really fun night with a lot of good energy,” Antignani said.

Steve Jakab, president of the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation, praised the auxiliary for its public relations skills. “They’re just terrific ambassadors,” he said. “They get the word out about the good work that the hospital is doing. All of the members tap into their social and business networks and it expands the circle of support for the hospital and the work of the foundation.”

Jakab added that the auxiliary goes beyond spreading goodwill. Indeed, he credited the group with keeping an important revenue stream flowing into the hospital’s operations.

“When I first arrived 20 years ago, the work of the auxiliary was sort of a nice-to-have,” he continued. “Now, it is an absolute must-have. Given how the economics of how hospitals work, especially in the state of Connecticut, it is a strategic imperative to have philanthropy front and center. The hospital wouldn’t be prospering the way it is without the support of donors, and the auxiliary has been an important partner of ours over the last 10 years as philanthropy has increased in significance.”

The foundation works with the auxiliary on specific projects where the latter’s input is needed, and these range from one-shot projects to ongoing endeavors. The current focus involves the hospital’s REACH Program, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) focused on mental health treatment for children, adolescents, adults and seniors. Susan Castagna, vice president at Bridgeport Hospital, noted that the auxiliary’s $100,000 fund-raising goal is among its most important projects.

“It is more challenging to ask somebody to give you money for something you can’t see,” she explained. “People can walk into the neonatal intensive care unit and see their dollars in action. But with mental health, how do you see where your dollars are going? That’s an area that needs our help more than so many things that we can be collecting for. So, we have to educate the people to donate. And who has not been touched by mental health?”

One key goal for the auxiliary this year is expanding and diversifying its volunteer base, with a particular focus on attracting younger members. Antignani credits social media with attracting the next wave of volunteers.

“We’ve just gone big on Facebook,” she said. “It wasn’t an active page, but it has become active. We’re thinking of doing little videos for the Facebook page, so that it becomes a three-dimensional thing.”

For Jakab, bringing in more volunteers and ratcheting up the auxiliary’s input is a win-win for the hospital.

“Fairfield County is a very, very competitive philanthropic environment,” he said. “There are lots of nonprofits here. There are several very reputable hospitals. We are, to a degree, competing for the same charitable dollars with other upstanding nonprofits. The auxiliary can get the information out about the importance of the services we’re trying to support. The more we can demonstrate the impact of donor dollars — that we are using them wisely and well — the more likely we are to attract donors and retain them.”


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