Just So You Know: The Gift Of Gab

For an organization that is all about sharing stories, Just So You Know stays pretty quiet.

Since 2007, the Westport-based non-profit has partnered with hospitals and cancer support groups around the country. They’ve helped hundreds of people diagnosed with serious illnesses talk, reminisce, ask and answer questions. Sharing stories is a way to connect meaningfully with loved ones and close friends.

The project began when Gail Addlestone — a friend of Westporter Robin Weinberg — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gail — who was pregnant — wanted to spend quality time with family and friends. She also hoped to find a way to tell her as-yet-unborn daughter the things a little girl should hear from her mom.

Just So You Know logo

Both goals were accomplished when Robin set up a video camera. Her questions enabled Gail to share stories — big events, small moments, important milestones and finally-funny embarrassments. The women chatted and laughed for hours.

To help others do the same, Just So You Know was born. “It’s more than fun, rewarding and deeply satisfying,” Robin says. “Research shows that storytelling is a powerful, universal way to make sense of things. It’s especially therapeutic as part of coping with a life-changing or threatening illness.”

This holiday season, Westporters can videotape their own stories. Robin is opening her first pop-up recording studio here.

It’s a great way for folks to tape stories, then share them with anyone they wish (via a flash drive, after editing). The videos can be given as gifts to relatives and friends. They can also be passed on to future generations. (With permission, the interviews will be posted on Just So You Know’s website.)

A variety of folks record videos for Just So You Know.

A variety of people record videos for Just So You Know.

But Westport’s pop-up studio is also a fundraiser. The $50 fee helps Just So You Know offer its programs to people living with serious illnesses.

Any combination can record stories: spouses, siblings, entire families, friend groups, grandparents and grandchildren, co-workers, teachers and students — you name it.

Some bring props or photos. Others read stories. There are no rules (beyond a 30-minute time limit). Whatever is meaningful is good.

They say talk is cheap.

Nope. Thanks to Just So You Know, it’s priceless.

(Just So You Know’s pop-up recording studio is set for Westfair Shopping Center, 1767 Post Road East — opposite Super Stop & Shop — from December 5 to 13. To reserve a session, click here. For more information — including how to bring Just So You Know to your organization — click on www.just-so-you-know.org.)

Last Call For Candlelight

For 74 years, tickets to Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert have gone faster than you can say “Sing We Noel.”

For this year’s extra-special 75th anniversary performances, they’re going even quicker.

Just a few remain for the 3 shows: Friday, December 18 (8 p.m.) and Saturday, December 19 (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.).

Candlelight logoTickets are available by mail. They must be postmarked by Wednesday, December 11. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope and the ticket order form (click here). Send to: Candlelight Tickets, Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

And … tickets are almost gone for the special alumni gala (Saturday, December 19, 5-7 p.m., Westport Inn). Those tickets include a reserved seat to the concert, hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, an exhibit of photos and posters since the 1950s, 75th Candlelight logowear, and a 4-CD set of recordings of concerts from the ’50s to the present.

All proceeds from the alumni gala help celebrate Staples High School music. To purchase tickets, click here

Don’t let those hosannas ring without you!

Tweetless Turkey Day

Today’s teenagers don’t know life without Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Not to mention Twitter, Yik Yak, Whatsgoodly, streaming videos from Netflix, and — not incidentally — using laptops, tablets and smartphones for schoolwork, in class and out. Staples High School’s BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy ensures that students are connected — to the internet, and each other — 24/7.

(That’s not an exaggeration. Some kids today sleep with their phones underneath their pillows, so they won’t miss any 3 a.m. notifications.)

Technology is wonderful. But it’s also awful. It causes stress. It fragments attention. Social media in particular raises unrealistic expectations. It prevents people from actually being present — connected personally, not wirelessly — with real friends and family members, in real time.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

No one knows this more than Staples’ guidance counselors. They’re on the front lines, watching students battle with the demands of social media, along with the usual stresses of sky-high expectations in a very competitive community.

The guidance department’s Resilience Project is a way to help teenagers find balance, strength and direction. Counselors regularly share videos, stories and ideas with students, teachers and parents, offering strategies to ease anxiety.

This week, they’re doing more. The Resilience Project proposes a Thanksgiving technology break. For 24 hours — any 24 hours during the holiday — Staples students (and staff!) (parents too!) are urged to step away from all social media. Including (aaargh) texting.

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler's Beginnign Design and Tech class)

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler’s Beginnign Design and Tech class)

The technology break coincides with another Resilience Project initiative: Teachers are encouraged to not give homework over Thanksgiving weekend, and to delay long-term project due dates to later in the following week.

Without that obligation, and with family and friends nearby, the hope is that for 24 hours, Stapleites can engage — really, truly, not sporadically or half-heartedly — with other human beings.

The Resilience Project suggests that teachers and students discuss the technology break during Communication Time, a 15-minute period on Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

It’s a great idea. Give it a try.

And if you can’t go 24 hours without technology, at least don’t tweet during Thanksgiving dinner.

Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)


Fire In The Sky

A number of Westporters snapped photos of tonight’s spectacular sunset. Chip Stephens’ shot — taken at Winslow Park — was one of the best.

Sunset - November 22, 2015

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

And so was Chris Swan’s, from the beach:

Sunset -  Chris Swan

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #47

Save the Children is gone from Wilton Road. Hariri International House — across the Post Road on Riverside Avenue, where the organization placed their international guests – has been gone even longer.

Ellen Willmott was the only “06880” reader to nail last week’s photo challenge. She knew where Larry Perlstein’s shot was snapped, and she knew the backstory to Hariri House. Congrats! (To see the full post, click here.)

This week’s challenge — courtesy of Jennifer Jackson — is a two-fer. We’ll even tell you what they are: the Confederate stars and bars, and of course a Nazi swastika.

Oh My 06880 - November 21, 2015

Oh My 06880 - November 21, 2015 - 2

Both are displayed prominently — and near each other — in a very public Westport building. If you think you know where, click “Comments” below.

From Westport To Anatevka And Syria, With Love

For the past 2 weekends, Staples Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof” awed and inspired packed audiences.

The show’s run ended last night. But its magic lives on.

The plight of early 20th century Russian Jews resonated with the teenage cast and crew. They made connections with world events today. At each performance, Players collected money for Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

At the end of last night’s final show, Players president Vig Namasivayam announced that audiences had donated $4,750 to the cause.

Staples Players:  Take a bow!

The symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night's performance.

A symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night’s performance.

(To add your own donation, click here.)

Happy 100th, Howard Munce!

Mark your calendars, Westport. On Friday, Howard Munce turns 100.

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Howard’s resume — advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — ranks him with the most prominent creative folks in our history.

He served his country in World War II, seeing action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

He’s served his town too. Howard has been an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library.

Whenever he was asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the Westport Historical Society; mentoring young artists — he always said “of course.”

Howard Munce epitomizes 2 of our community’s proudest traits: our arts heritage, and our spirit of giving back.

He’s been a proud Westporter since 1935. He came here to live with family friends, while commuting to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was modeling for famed artist Harold von Schmidt.

Westport has been an important part of Howard’s life ever since. And he’s been an even more important part of ours.

What do you give a man who has seen and done everything? How about a townwide ton of birthday wishes?

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

Just click “Comments” below. Howard does not get on the computer much, but his daughter and home health care aide look forward to reading them to him.

Here’s my contribution:

Howard, happy hundred! Thank you for all you have done, for all of us. You have made Westport a far better place, and my life is far richer for knowing you. May your momentous day be as bright as your ever-present smile!

What’s yours?




Because Searching For An Actual Parking Spot Is Just Sooooo Inconvenient…

Parker Harding Plaza - November 21, 2015

From A Tiny Acorn…

Several interesting sculptures frame the Westport Library’s lower entrance, near the Riverwalk and Taylor parking lot.

But the most eye-catching of all was created by Mother Nature. A massive oak tree sits on Jesup Green.

The other day, Lynn U. Miller captured it in all its autumnal beauty.

Oak tree near library - Lynn U Miller

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)