Dozens Of Students Dodge Cops

Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Earlier this week, they ran toward them.

And threw dodgeballs at their heads.

The cops threw them right back.

In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

The Dodge-a-Cop winners! Standing from left: Deputy police chief Foti Koskinas, "coach" Mac Barecca, Sam Ahlgrim, Jason Nelson, Noah Staffa, Joe Pravder. Front: Grant Sirlin.

The Dodge-a-Cop winners! From left: deputy police chief Foti Koskinas, “coach” Mac Barecca, Grant Sirlin, Sam Ahlgrim, Jason Nelson, Noah Staffa, Joe Pravder.

Staples’ Teen Awareness Group co-sponsored the event. Students paid to play. It was a fundraiser for the Chris Lemone College Fund. Lemone, Staples’ outreach counselor and longtime TAG advisor, died earlier this fall.

The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it.

An all-girls team high-fives their cop. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

An all-girls team high-fives their cop. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)

Each of the 26 teams had at least 1 police officer.

A cop fires in the line of duty. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

A cop fires in the line of duty. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)

As they hurled dodgeballs at each other — and shared pizza — it was hard to tell who had a better time, the cops or the kids.

There was plenty of action all night at the Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball event. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

There was plenty of action all night at the Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball event. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)

Striking a pose. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

Striking a pose. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)


Stew’s Lucky Turkey

Alert “06880” photographer Lynn U. Miller was at Stew Leonard’s yesterday morning.

(“Don’t ask why anyone in their right mind would be at Stew’s the morning of Thanksgiving,” she says.)

She spotted this gigantic billboard:

Stew Leonard's 1

The lucky turkey is not — as at least one customer thought — the bird selected for dinner at Stew’s home.

No — the “lucky turkey’ is actually on display in an enclosure at the entrance to the World’s Largest Dairy Store.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

The lucky turkey — which lives to celebrate another day — is named Madison. Someone at the front desk told Lynn she (the turkey) is named for Stew Jr.’s daughter.

Sure, President Obama can pardon a turkey. Far more impressive for Stew to do so — saving countless kids from asking their parents, “Is that our dinner?”

Giving Thanks

Thank you.

Thank you to Westport, for being — despite the ease and frequency with which we/I often knock it — a wonderful, warm, creative, arts-supporting, involved and ever-evolving community.

Thank you to all who make it so. As Westport prepares for the future — with new retail and residential developments on both sides of the river downtown, and in Saugatuck; with bridge repairs in various states of discussion and (in)action, and many more changes in store — we are not all on the same page. But in our own way, each of us wants what is best for our town. And, thankfully, we are nowhere near as dysfunctional as Washington.

Thank you to the people I spend so much time with: Westport’s teenagers. You are smart, passionate, compassionate and clever. You work far harder than I did when I was at Staples. You’ve got far more pressures on you than I had. Yet you handle it all with maturity and poise (most of the time). And you do it with plenty of smiles.

Thank you to the readers of “06880.” You are never without opinions, information and feedback. You feed me ideas and photos. You read my words at 5 a.m., noon and midnight. And when I tell you sorry, I can’t post a story about your lost cat/upcoming book signing/daughter’s lemonade stand, you (for the most part) understand.

Those are my thanks, this Thanksgiving day 2015. I’d love to hear yours. And — more importantly — so would everyone else in this great “06880” community. Just click “Comments” below.

Thank you!

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I'm not a turkey.

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I’m not a turkey.

Let There Be Lights!

Tonight — without fanfare — the new downtown street lights were turned on.

Just as importantly, the old cobra-style highway lights were shut off.

The new lamps — lower, warmer, nicer — are far kinder to Main Street. They also complement the lighting displays in many nearby stores.

The west side of Main Street...

A soft glow on the west side of Main Street…

...and the east. Note the new, user-friendly pedestrian crossing in front of Banana Republic too.

…and the east. Note the new, user-friendly pedestrian crossing in front of Banana Republic too.

Soon, the holiday decorations will be up. They will be far lovelier than last year’s sad zip-line effort.

Now all that’s left is for Eversource to remove the old lights. Let’s hope they move more quickly than the contractors on the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

Meanwhile, further north, a lone snowflake glistens near Oscar's...

Meanwhile, further north, a lone snowflake glistens near a new light by Oscar’s…

...while Tavern on Main boasts its traditional lamp, and a gorgeous wreath.

…while Tavern on Main boasts its traditional lamp, and a gorgeous wreath.

Turkeys Of The Week

Slowly — v-e-r-y slowly — the Minuteman folks are doing what they promised weeks ago: reclaiming uncollected newspapers from driveways, and dropping uninterested “subscribers” from the rolls.

But they’re not the only profligate plastic-and-paper scourges in town.

Alert “06880” reader Susan Iseman spotted this sight today, near her North Compo Road home:

North Compo inserts

Downtown, she saw they’d been strewn everywhere. Inside were flyers, advertising Turkey Day sales:

North Compo inserts - 2

It’s bad enough that marketing gurus have decided stores should open on Thanksgiving Day.

Now they’re forcing themselves on us the day before, too.


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

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