By Josh LaBella
With his Christian faith and a sense of community, Phil Liscio has worked over the past decade to help others and give back through a group he founded called Westies Care.
Liscio, who was born in Buffalo, NY, was raised in Milford. He and his wife Janet moved to West Haven about 30 years ago.
“We got married and bought a house here a couple months later,” he said.
Liscio said before he met his wife, he was very involved in doing work with the Catholic Church. He said his volunteer work in West Haven started when he and Janet had children.
“I was a stay at home dad,” said Liscio. “I would do things like take them to the park. Or I would take them to recreation department [events] like ‘Mommy and Me’ which they changed to ‘Mommy, Daddy and Me’ because of me. You start meeting people.”
He said Patty Horvath told him he should get involved in Edith E. Mackrille Elementary School’s PTA. Through his work in the PTA and coaching his daughter’s sports teams, Liscio began to get more involved in the community.
“With that, and coming to church here, you start to wonder what else you can do to help people,” said Liscio. “It evolved into the things we do now.”
Liscio said the creation of Westies Care was a result of starting a scholarship in the name of his son, Danny, who died at the age of 20. He said everything the group does is to give back.
“Everything we do is steeped in our Christian faith,” said Liscio. “The Bible tells you to do those things.”
In addition to the scholarship, the Liscios hosted a blood drive at the First Congregational Church, of which Phil and his family are members. He said another driving factor in the growth of Westies Care came when he was bringing food to the West Haven Emergency Action Taskforce.
“I was in total shock when I actually saw people I knew going there for help,” said Liscio. “This is when the economy was bottomed out – 2008 or 2009. Everybody was really struggling. I was struck by that. That people I know, who are good, hard working, taxpaying, income earning people, needed help.”
After talking to Rose Majestic, the Director of WHEAT, Liscio decided to have a food drive that summer because Majestic told him people are less likely to donate food at that time of year. They hosted a food drive called the Westies Care Food Fight: Red Sox vs. Yankees.
“We weighed the food, and that counted as points,” he said. “We raised more money, and brought in more food, in one weekend than Rose said she had ever seen in a summer food drive.”
Westies Care started with just Phil, Janet, their daughters and a number of volunteers. In order to start to grow, as well as raise money, Liscio said they need to become an official non-profit organization. He said his friends helped them with that.
“Colene and Peter MacDonald came to me and said they had a lawyer friend who may do it [help them apply for 501c3 status] pro bono,” said Liscio. “We got the paperwork together. They did all the work. We became a 501c3. We got an executive board and that core group still works together on everything.”
Liscio made a point to say that Westies Care does not do all their work alone. He said they work with other community partners such as their church, the Rotary Club and the Vertical Church.
“It’s not difficult,” he said. “You know what’s difficult? It’s not being able to help everybody who needs it.”
Westies Care has held a yearly banquet for the past decade where they honor members of the community and give out scholarships to students going on to higher education. He said last year they gave out $12,000 in scholarships.
The group has grown over time to hold many events including a Care and Share program at the Apple Festival and a Christmas dinner at the First Congregational Church. They also hold a dinner, with the help of other groups, at the church every Tuesday for those who need it.
“We [also] do a lot of small stuff,” said Liscio. “Every time we give a gift card or give a basket of food, we don’t document that stuff. That’s just the right Christian thing. We do that year-round.”
Liscio said he feels blessed when he, his family, and his friends can help others. He said if they were not giving back, they would not feel they were living up to what to what they are expected to be.