Category Archives: Children

Neighbors Help Neighborhood Studios

For a long time, Neighborhood Studios needed a good documentary film, to show to prospective donors and sponsors.

The weekend and summer music and arts program serves 1600 Bridgeport youngsters each year. It’s very effective — but low-key, and chronically underfunded. There was no way to find the thousands of dollars a film production would charge.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

A few months ago, Westporter Harold Levine — the organization’s 93-year-old chairman emeritus, still very active after a long career as a storied ad agency owner — approached a former colleague.

Tony Degregorio is a noted adman himself — and a Westporter. He agreed to be creative supervisor of the film.

Levine then asked Jim Honeycutt, director of Staples High School’s Media Lab, for help finding students to collaborate. Senior Arin Meyer volunteered to shoot the film. Levine calls her “extraordinarily talented.”

Junior Daniel Pauker joined as production assistant.

Levine’s next call was to longtime friend Doris Jacoby. For decades, her Jacoby Storm company has produced documentaries for major corporations and non-profit clients. She too eagerly signed on.

Neighborhood Studios logoThe result — a volunteer effort by talented Westporters, to help boys and girls in nearby Bridgeport — premieres on Sunday, March 15 (7 p.m.) at the Westport Country Playhouse. The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will perform.

They’re not from Westport. But like Harold Levine, Tony Degregorio, Arin Meyer, Daniel Pauker and Doris Jacoby, they’re eager to help Neighborhood Schools — our Bridgeport neighbors just a few miles away.

(Tickets to the Neighborhood Studios gala are available here.)

Tess’ Bench

The other day, I posted a few of Lynn U. Miller’s photos of the library Riverwalk, at dusk. 

I was struck by their beauty. Many “06880” readers were too. But for Suzanne Tanner, one picture was especially poignant. She wrote:

I want to thank Lynn for capturing such a profound and welcoming photo of my daughter’s memorial bench on the grounds of the Westport Public Library.

The bench was inspired by and appropriated with a memorial fund started in my daughter’s name to establish points of figural beauty in and around one of Tess’s favorite places in town — our riverfront library.

Library bench sunset - Lynn U Miller

I want to remind others how important it is to pause and reflect on all of the love that is given to us in life, be it the warmth of a child’s hand in ours or the generosity of a singular smile resonating in the crevices of time’s travel. It always pleases me to see another appreciate the beauty in the structure of the bench and the delightful setting for all to share.

A portion of Tess’s fund has been allocated to the Levitt Pavilion to continue the effort. I am currently searching for outdoor sculptures, favoring any with the essence of poetry, discovery, mythology and hummingbirds to create a Riverwalk Sculpture Garden in Tess’s honor.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please contact either myself (suzannetanner@aol.com) or the Levitt (levitt@westportct.gov). I welcome the energy and opportunity to share in the journey of remembering a most delightful spirit with an inspiring path along the riverwalk.

 

Measles Vaccine: No Shot In The Dark

Dr. Jonathan Sollinger is a beloved Westport pediatrician — the 21st-century version of Dr. Beasley, Lebhar or Shiller.

He’s got a firm opinion on the current national measles vaccine “debate.” Fortunately, it’s in line with what nearly all Westporters believe.

“The vast majority of Westport parents fully protect their kids with the CDC- recommended panel of immunizations,” Dr. Sollinger says.

Dr. Jonathan Sollinger

Dr. Jonathan Sollinger

“Quite simply, vaccines work,” he adds. “They save lives. They protect the young, the old, the immuno-compromised (like those on chemo) and the immuno-competent. When you immunize your children, you are also protecting those who cannot be vaccinated due to age, illness or access.”

Fortunately, Westport is far away from Disneyland, which has become ground zero for the reappearance of this supposedly eradicated disease.

Unfortunately, it is not far from New York and Pennsylvania, where measles cases have been reported.

Fortunately, Fairfield County is home to some very educated people. They understand the science behind immunization theory, and do not believe long-debunked myths about the link between immunizations and autism. (Or the political panderings of folks like Chris Christie and “Dr.” Senator Rand Paul.)

Yet Marin County is also home to very educated people, who think they have the right to impose their “wellness” theories on others. That’s just “mindful stupidity,” as Jon Stewart brilliantly explains.

Dr. Sollinger says he has had many discussions recently with parents who are concerned about real or potential Disneyland contacts.

Drs. Beasley, Lebhar and Shiller — and many other pediatricians, in the decades since — vaccinated thousands of Westport children. There have been no measles cases here in years.

That is not a coincidence. It is, as Dr. Sollinger knows, just good, common sense.

FunBites Now Shark Bait

FunBites is about to become shark food.

The product — a food cutter that creates bite-sized shapes (“great for picky eaters!”), invented by Westport mom Bobbie Rhoads — gets a star turn on “Shark Tank” this Friday (February 6, 9 pm, ABC-TV).

shark tank logoIt’s a nail-biting — but potentially lucrative — step for the 3-year-old company. Can a little kids’ product — launched in a local kitchen and basement; packed by Bobbie’s 2 girls and neighbors; fed by grassroots marketing and mommy bloggers — make the big leap into treacherous, reality TV waters where the likes of Mark Cuban lie in wait?

Bobbie can’t say, of course, until the show airs.

But she can discuss the process of landing in the nationally televised “shark tank.” (For the uninitiated: The show features entrepreneurs, who pitch their products. A panel of experts — “sharks” — ask questions about production, marketing and financials. If they bite, negotiations begin.)

Bobbie says, “What ‘American Idol’ is to vocalists and Disney is to kids, ‘Shark Tank’ is to entrepreneurs.”

Bobbie Rhoads and her daughters, around the time FunBites was founded.

Bobbie Rhoads and her daughters, around the time FunBites was founded.

Bobbie spent 3 years trying to get on the show. She sent applications and videos. It’s not easy: over 40,000 applicants vie for fewer than 100 spots.

But she made it. Last September, she flew with her husband Ed and 2 girls to Los Angeles for the taping.

The show’s staff helped Bobbie hone her pitch. They gave advice on what to wear, and the best look for her hair.

Once the cameras rolled though, everything happened at warp speed.

Still, Bobbie says, it was “extremely fun.” She enjoyed making her pitch, and the back-and-forth discussion that followed.

She targeted 2 sharks: Lori Grenier, because she is a successful, powerful woman who knows all about the right stores, packaging, and reaching consumers in creative ways. And Mark Cuban because he — like Bobbie — is from Pittsburgh. (More importantly, “everything he touches seems to turn into gold.”)

This Friday, she’ll host a viewing party for a few dozen friends and family members.

She’ll serve FunBites (along with adult food and beverages).

Then she’ll get ready for an onslaught of orders. Because — whether the sharks invest or not — national exposure in the “Shark Tank” can’t hurt any product.

Black Dog, Black Duck

Do you know about Black Dog Syndrome?

It’s when black dogs are passed over for adoption, in favor of lighter ones. Black dogs are said to be put down more often in the South, a combination of superstition and residual racism.

I’d never heard of it. Nor had Amy Scarella. But after the 1994 Staples graduate began an animal rescue effort a few years ago, she did.

“Pretty twisted,” she calls it. So she made black dogs her “pet” project.

Little Black Dog Rescue is an outgrowth of her “Bark Camp” doggie play group, which morphed into a dog-walking business, which became a full-time gig.

Amy Scarella, and one of her black dogs.

Amy Scarella, and one of her black dogs.

Working with Westport Animal Shelter Advocates and the Animal Center in Newtown, Amy learned about unwanted dogs brought north for adoption. Then she saw other dogs on Facebook. One — with 150 flea bites — had been abandoned.

She arranged to transport it here. It would cost $600 to fix its leg, so she started her own rescue organization.

Soon, she was working with 1 or 2 black dogs at a time. One had a litter of 9 puppies, which she placed in Westport, Fairfield and Norwalk homes.

Little Black Dog Rescue was privately funded. Recently, it received 501(c)(3) status. Now Amy can apply for grants, and donors earn tax deductions.

She’s also planning her 1st real fundraiser. It’s at the Black Duck next Thursday (February 5, 6-8 pm). There’s an open bar, appetizers, silent auction, live music, and a slide show of doggy success stories.

Two days later (Saturday, February 7), 8 dogs will be featured at the Natural Pet Outlet in Black Rock. They’re available for pre-approval.

Storm is ready for adoption. He was left in an apartment in Bridgeport to fend for himself this winter.. He may be a mastiff/bully breed mix and is gentle and quiet. He is great with other dogs and knows basic commands.

Storm is ready for adoption. He may be a mastiff/bully breed mix. He is gentle, quiet, great with other dogs, and knows basic commands.

“I don’t do same-day adoptions,” Amy says. “I pride myself on matching dogs and families very well.”

She is passionate about her work. “All of these are ‘last-chance’ dogs,” she says. “If you can take a dog just for a day, you’ll see how great they are. They’re not wild; they’re sweet. And every black dog we save opens up space for another one.”

She has many helpers. Earth Animal supplies food. Greenfield Grooming cuts all the dogs, gratis. Pete Aitkin at the Duck has been “very generous.”

Amy also lauds her youth volunteers. Some are as young as 8 years.

Over the past 18 months, Amy has placed more than 70 dogs. One went to a family with 3 autistic sons. The animal was very energetic, but had not played well with other dogs.

It turned out to be a perfect fit. The 11-year-old son wrote Amy, thanking her for saving the dog and bringing him “my best friend.”

Kids love Amy's dogs.

Kids love Amy’s dogs.

Another dog — in a shelter for 6 months — was adopted by a Weston priest at St. Francis of Assisi. (“He’s the patron saint of animals,” Amy notes with wonder.) That dog is beloved by all the pre-school children there.

Rescuing animals is not all that Amy does. She still has her dog walking business (for all colors), and she works for a clothing line.

But Little Black Dog Rescue is her labor of love. Next Thursday, we all can share her love for dogs.

At the Duck.

(Tickets for the fundraiser are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Order by PayPal, using this email address: lbdrescue@gmail.com)

 

 

 

Winslow Park Is Not Going To The Dogs

Right now, it seems, every elementary school child in Westport is sledding or tubing on the snowy hills in the middle of downtown.

Winslow Park 2

So much for the myth that kids today never put down their electronic devices.

Winslow Park 1

Of course, 30 years from now, those now-grown parents will say to their own children, “Put down your intelliport! When I was your age, I played all day in this amazing blizzard….”

Winslow Park 4

Winslow Park 5

Winslow Park 3

Laura Loffredo Offers Adoption Hope

Laura Loffredo is a child of Westport. Her father was the hard-working, generous owner-operator of Belta’s Farm on Bayberry Lane. Her mother helped out there too.

From childhood on Laura wanted to have kids, and be a mom like her own mother.

Laura first babysat at 14. She continued until graduating from Staples in 1995, then earned a BA in psychology at the University of Connecticut and a master’s in community counseling from the University of Bridgeport.

Laura Loffredo

Laura Loffredo

She worked as a mental health counselor and case manager, then went back to school for a 6th-year degree in education. She’s been a teacher for the past 7 years, while also working for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

To this day, Laura remembers crying at TV commercials showing starving children in Africa. At 14, her parents helped her sponsor a little boy overseas. She still recalls his name: Saul Hormiga Donu.

When she got married, Laura and her husband John expected to have children right away. Instead they endured a 6-year struggle that included thousands of dollars spent on 8 failed fertility treatments, and a miscarriage.

“I prayed every night for a baby. The longing inside my heart was unbearable,” Laura says.

“I didn’t understand why God was denying me the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world. I was angry, bitter and heartbroken. I couldn’t breathe.” She calls this “the darkest time of my life.”

When Laura and John finally made the decision to adopt, it was “like a light in the darkness.” For the first time, Laura felt hope.

Laura and  John Loffredo, with their daughter.

Laura and John Loffredo, with their daughter.

The first time she held her minutes-old daughter in her arms, Laura was overcome with emotion. All the pain washed away.

“At that moment, I understood the reason for everything,” she says. “This little girl was always meant to be ours. It just took her a while to come to us.”

But she agonized over all the people who did not have $40,000 to adopt a baby. The thought of not being a mother was overwhelmingly painful.

So Laura adopted a new cause: adoption advocate. She began forming ideas for what is now the Adoption Hope Foundation. Its mission is to provide grants to people who hope to build families through adoption.

The Adoption Hope Foundation is seeking non-profit status. It’s inaugurated a GoFundMe campaign, to cover start-up expenses and initial grants. The goal is to award the 1st funds by the end of the year.

“Adoption is a beautiful gift,” Laura says. “It is a life-altering experience that has allowed me to feel the deepest kind of love imaginable.”

That love extends from her daughter, out to the birth parents who selflessly placed her with Laura and John.

Now, Laura is paying it forward. She’s spreading that love — and the funds needed for it — as far as she can.

(For more information, or to support Laura’s work, click on the Adoption Hope Foundation’s GoFundMe site. To contact Laura directly, email loffredo.laura@gmail.com, or call 203-354-4971.)

Laura and John's daughter. Her outfit says "And baby makes 3."

Laura’s daughter. Her outfit says “baby makes 3.”

Food For Thought: Who Sits Where In The School Cafeteria

Martin Luther King said that 11 a.m. Sunday was the most segregated hour of the American week. He was referring to the segregation of white and black churches, of course.

But 11 a.m. weekdays may be the most segregated hour in American schools. That’s lunchtime — and day after day, week after week, the same friends sit at the same tables.

In Westport, the separation is not racial or religious. But it is segregation by friend groups.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

That self-segregation is the basis for this year’s TEAM Westport “Diversity Essay Contest.”

Open to all high school students attending any Westport high school, and Westporters who attend high school elsewhere — and carrying prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500 — the contest asks entrants to describe barriers that prevent students from reaching out to others different from themselves. They should then “identify specific steps you and other students in your high school” can take to help students break down those barriers — “especially in the cafeteria.” Entrants are also asked to discuss the “risks and benefits” of making that effort.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The contest follows last year’s very successful inaugural event. Students were asked to reflect on demographic changes in the US — describing the benefits and challenges of the changes for Westport generally, and him or her personally.

Applications for the contest are available here. The deadline is February 27. “06880” will highlight the winners.

(TEAM Westport is the town’s official committee on multiculturalism. The Westport Library co-sponsors the contest.)

Waterbury: Where Westport Minnybuses Go To Die

Or, at least one of them does.

Jennifer Sabella is a 1982 Staples graduate. She lives in Litchfield now. For years she’s passed by a junkyard near the Route 8 Colonial Avenue exit in Waterbury.

Deep in the woods — almost hidden by brush — she spotted an old Westport Minnybus.

Jennifer DeJesus Sabella's 1975 and '76 Minnybus passes.

Jennifer DeJesus Sabella’s 1975 and ’76 Minnybus passes.

Back in the day, they were Westport’s cutting-edge (yet diesel-belching) transportation technology. Driving fixed routes, they ferried people — mostly kids — around town. At least one parent was known to park kids on a Minnybus for a round-trip or two, using it as a vehicular babysitter.

At least 10,000 youngsters used it as a place to escape home, smoke cigarettes, make out.

Jennifer always wanted to take a photo. But that stretch of highway is busy. The junkyard entrance is hard to find. And there’s (of course) a barking dog.

The other day though, there was very little traffic. She pulled over.

And she recorded this little bit of Westport history, now rusting quietly away in the Valley.

Minnybus in Waterbury

Supervising Kids’ Cyber Lives: What Can Parents Do?

Like whack-a-moles, social media concerns pop up all over the school landscape. Middle school teachers and administrators often deal with cyber-bullying. Last spring, the anonymous app Yik Yak caused an uproar at Staples.

Recently, after a cyber-bullying incident via Instagram, an elementary school principal sent a letter to parents, then followed up with visits to each classroom. A parent at the school then sent this letter to “06880,” hoping to share it with a wide audience. Here it is:

Though Instagram requires children to be at least 13 years old, our children sign up, posting pictures and remarks which could lead to permanent consequences. A 10-year-old most likely does not understand the importance of reputation management. One inappropriate post can cause them a lifetime of unfortunate consequences, not to mention hurting other innocent people.

Instagram is not the only concern. Other social media vehicles (Facebook, Yik Yak, Twitter, Vine, to name a few) pose the same threat when misused.

Instagram is a popular social media platform for teenagers -- and younger children.

Instagram is a popular social media platform for teenagers — and younger children.

As parents we are in a tough spot, balancing granting our children the internet access their peers seem to have through mobile devices and computers with keeping them safe (not only from online predators but tarnishing their own reputations for unthoughtful behavior). Now the schools are asking our help in keeping our children’s cyber-activity responsible.

We can put on parental controls, talk to them about internet safety practices, even have them sign contracts. However, I think we need to take more responsibility to closely monitor their activity and be in the know of where our children really are online.

Giving our kids devices with internet access without supervising is no different than allowing them to throw a party, advising them not to drink and then voluntarily leaving the house. We need to choose to either prevent their access to devices that access the Internet (highly unlikely — most kids in our community have handheld devices by 11 or 12 years old, and at the very least a computer at home), or take responsibility to monitor their online activity across all devices.

cyber controls

Many friends ask me if I feel guilty looking at what my kids are doing online. My response? With the alarming increase in children’s cyber-crimes, I have a responsibility to be a parent and be in the know. While I don’t micromanage every last online action they take, I have the ability to  perform regular spot checks or at least check it any time I feel concerned.

We can’t afford not to monitor our children online as they access the internet, and especially as the internet accesses them. Too many cyber-crime stories involving children and unaware parents have been reported after it’s too late.  The risks are way too big.

What do you think? How do you monitor your children’s online activities? What’s appropriate for what ages? Click “Comments” below to contribute to this important conversation.