CLASP Offers A True Taste Of Westport

The 10th annual “Taste of Westport” is Thursday, May 1 (6-9 p.m., Westport Inn).

Taste of WestportMost of us have seen the signs and publicity. We’ve heard of the fantastic samplings and tastings from over 2 dozen restaurants and distributors, including Blue Lemon, Bobby Q’s, DaPietro’s, Green’s Farms Spirit Shop, Little Barn, Matsu Sushi, Pane e Bene, Post 154, Rizzuto’s, Spotted Horse and Tarantino.

We realize it’s one of our town’s most popular fundraisers. But most of us know very little about the organization Taste of Westport supports: CLASP Homes.

A true hidden gem, CLASP provides group homes for local residents with autism and other intellectual disabilities. Since 1982, the non-profit has housed hundreds of people — our neighbors — who need a bit of extra help to get along.

This year’s Taste of Westport honors Tracy Flood. The native Westporter joined CLASP just 2 years after it began. Her many fans will celebrate her 3 decades of service on Thursday.

Martha is a resident of one of the CLASP Homes. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

Martha is a resident of one of the CLASP Homes. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

But CLASP — and Taste of Westport — is not really about its incredible staff and volunteers. It’s about people like Neal.

Neal — who has an intellectual disability — was born in Westport, into a large and loving family. Tracy is a few years older than Neal, but  throughout the 1960s and ’70s they walked  the same streets around town.

Neal — the youngest of 6 kids — was always out with his siblings or his dad, who made sure to include Neal in everything everyone else did. He and Tracy both played in the Compo Beach sand, ran through the Staples halls and hung out at the Ice Cream Parlor.

By the mid-1980’s Tracy was a CLASP house manager, and Neal’s family took the big step moving him into a group home. It was not the one Tracy led, but she got to know Neal’s dad. Whenever anyone needed a volunteer, a worker or friend, he was there.

Years passed. Neal’s siblings moved away. His mom died. But Neal and his dad still went out for bagels every Sunday morning. Neal insisted on paying. It made them both very proud.

CLASP logoThen his father was diagnosed with cancer. It spread rapidly. Neal did what he could for his dad. When asked what CLASP could do, the father said, “Pray, and take care of Neal.” He wanted to know that his son would be taken care of. He wanted to die in peace.

That was years ago. But Neal is still with CLASP. The organization has given peace to Neal’s family — the same thing they’ve done for over 3o years, for countless local families.

Yet CLASP can’t do it alone. The Taste of Westport is one way they raise awareness — and funds.

There are plenty of places to have dinner this Thursday. But only one will give you a true — and wonderful — taste of Westport.

(For tickets to the Taste of Westport — and more information about CLASP — click here.)

Matt is also a CLASP Homes resident. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

Matt is also a CLASP Homes resident. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

2 responses to “CLASP Offers A True Taste Of Westport

  1. Betty Lou Cummings

    Thank you so much Dan for this wonderful informative article on CLASP…It is one of the non-profit organization that I have been involved with for the last 10 years…it is so very important in the lives of those that they serve.
    God bless them….See you at the “Taste of Westport”, Thursday, May 1st?
    Sincerely, Betty Lou Cummings

  2. Jeffrey T. Reilly

    Hi Dan, hope all is well.

    I wanted to send you a note to thank you for the beautiful piece you wrote about

    CLASP Homes and your comments about my brother Neal. I tried to send you an email before, so if this is a duplicate, I apologize.

    CLASP has, for as long as I can remember, been the anchor that has held together my

    family and sometimes struggles that life throws at us all. Neal is perhaps the funniest

    guy I know and I am convince that if things were different, he’d either be a comic or an

    amazing dancer. Anyone who knows him would certainly agree. He was amongst the

    first group of students to be “mainstreamed” as they used to call it, first in Coleytown

    and then in Staples. (how come HE got a pool, and we didn’t!) :) Neal always worked 2

    jobs. His favorite was working at the Lunch Box in Weston, where he was a fixture for

    over 20 years. They went out of business, or at least changed hands and it took a while

    for him to adjust to that bump in the road.

    My parents fought the political machine in Hartford with other Westport families,

    including one of Staples favorite teachers, who also had a son with Down Syndrome.

    Happily, they didn’t give up and, as they say, they rest is history.

    While he is the youngest of 7, he is certainly higher on the “wisdom chain” than I am

    and my life is richer, more wonderful because of him.

    Neal, thanks to CLASP, has access to Skype, and that too is a blessing for those of us in

    the family who are geographically scattered about.

    I am a 1973 grad of Staples and was in your sister Susan’s class, who I have always

    adored, since way back when! Please tell her I said hi!!

    Thank you again Dan, and keep up the amazing work.

    Best regards,

    Jeff Reilly