New Stonington housing director dedicates life to helping others

Phylicia Adams, the new executive director of the Stonington Housing Authority, sits in front of a painting of Edyth Krieger Richmond (1906 -1963), by artist Howard Connolly, located in the Community Room of the Edyth K. Richmond Homes main office in Pawcatuck, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Stonington — The new executive director of the Stonington Housing Authority has plans to provide more activities and serve more of the needs of the residents of the 60 units at the Edythe K. Richmond Homes in Pawcatuck.

The last position that Phylicia Adams, 31, had was in Jacksonville, Fla., where she was the asset manager for five affordable-housing developments. There she said she partnered with other social service agencies to provide residents with the services they needed so they did not become homeless again.

“This is really a great community,” she said Thursday about Edythe K. Richmond, which provides affordable housing for seniors and adults with disabilities. “Everyone here has been very friendly and they welcomed me with lunch on my first day. They also had a lot of questions for me.”

Adams, a native of Virginia, began the new position on Jan. 2. She replaces the late Elaine Schmidt, who had stepped down last year and died in November from pancreatic cancer.

Adams earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from St. Leo University in Florida while still in the Navy. She said she knew she wanted to help people and after graduation she became a volunteer coordinator for an after-school program in Newport News, Va.

Not long after that, she married her husband, Antoine, who is a Coast Guard officer. When he got stationed in Alexandria, Va., she returned to school and earned her master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University because she said she wanted to be able to shape policy to help people.

After graduating, she became a case manager for a homeless shelter. She said that navigating the rules and regulations for finding housing for her clients “was tough, challenging and at times made me angry.”

When her husband received a new assignment in Jacksonville, she began working with affordable housing.

“We provided the wrap-around services our residents needed to avoid becoming homeless,” she said.

After 2½ years, her husband received his latest assignment at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, where he is an instructor in the officer candidate program. The couple and their 7-year-old daughter live in Groton.

Adams said all the units at Edythe K. Richmond are full and the waiting list is closed. “We get calls every day from people wanting to get on the list. There is a need for more affordable housing. Our goal is to address that need,” she said.

Over the past few weeks, Adams has not only been meeting her residents but meeting with officials and organizations in town that assist those in need. She also wants to repair the complex’s concrete sidewalks and revamp its emergency management plan so it is comprehensive. She said she also wants to create more activities on site for residents so they are more engaged, and already has planned a Valentine’s Day party, spaghetti dinner and other activities.

She said, however, that she does not want to duplicate activities being offered by other agencies, such as the nearby Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.

Adams said she also wants to increase volunteer activity at the complex and recently had 31 volunteers from the Coast Guard spend the day checking with each resident to see if they needed help with anything. Adams said they did everything from hanging blinds and building shelves to setting up a Netflix account and emergency notifications from the town for residents.

Phylicia Adams, the new executive director of the Stonington Housing Authority, tests a popcorn maker located in the kitchen of the Community Room at the Edyth K. Richmond Homes main office in Pawcatuck, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. Two residents pass by as the first batch begins to pop. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Julie Savin, the chairwoman of the Housing Authority’s board of commissioners, said that the day before she was to hold second interviews for the finalists for the position, she received Adams’ resume and was immediately impressed by her background and experience.

"Her presentation about her skills and compassion for individuals who are aging, have few housing choices due to income and other marginalized community members blew us away," Savin said about Adams’ interview.

"She is the whole package and we are delighted she chose to join the SHA family," she said.

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