Category Archives: Children

Ezra’s Video Game Went Viral. You’re Not Going To Believe What He Did Next.

When Ezra — whose parents asked that his last name not be used — was 7 years old, he attended a tech camp.

Inspired, he started developing his own game. He called it “One Line.”

Ezra worked steadily on it. Finally, when it was finished, he posted it on Scratch — an online community developed at MIT to help young kids learn the basics of coding.

It went unnoticed for 10 days. Then, Ezra’s mom says, it was highlighted in a section called “Featured Projects.”

Overnight, Ezra’s game got over 16,000 views — and more than 1000 comments. Nearly all were very positive.

A screen shot of

A screen shot of “One Line.”

Within 2 days Ezra was asked to remake Pacman for Scratch, sell the rights for an app, make a sequel, and help design other games. He’s also been warned to copyright his project, which his mother says is a good idea.

“I don’t think any of the gamers know he’s 8 years old,” she adds. “It’s all a bit overwhelming for him.”

So Ezra did what any normal, viral-game-sensation game creator would do: He turned off the comments.

And went outside to play.

(Click here for Ezra’s game. Enjoy the comments that were posted before he turned them off!)

Harold Levine: Westporters Must Help Bridgeport

Harold Levine emailed me recently. He’s 93 years old. But the famed  advertising executive — who is also chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, an after-school, weekend and summer music, arts and dance program for Bridgeport students –is as passionate as ever.

Frustrated, too. The longtime Westporter writes:

I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in  debt.

We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?

I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”

Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.

For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little.  Are we to turn that child away?  Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.

For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.

This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support.  The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.

We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.

But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”

Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college.  We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.

(To donate to Neighborhood Studios, click here.)

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Yankee Doodle Comes To Town

For 108 years, June in Westport has meant 2 things:

  • The end of school
  • The Yankee Doodle Fair.

For longer than any man or woman here has been alive, the Westport Woman’s Club event has signaled the start of summer. It’s also the long-lived civic organization’s main fundraiser, helping them help dozens of local charities and provide important scholarships to Staples grads.

I’m sure that back in the pre-internet, pre-TV, pre-radio (!) day, there were lots of old-fashioned, carnival-style fairs. I remember them at Compo Beach, the empty lot where Barnes & Noble now sits, and (of course) Festival Italiano.

The Yankee Doodle Fair is the only one still alive. Generations of Westporters have fond memories of it.

Some have more tangible images.

Ann Sheffer - Yankee Doodle FairIn 1952, 4-year-old Ann Sheffer attended the Fair. She keeps a photo of herself on a carousel (left) — and gets a kick out of watching 21st-century 4-year-0lds ride them.

When Ann was growing up, many Woman’s Club members were either artists themselves, or married to artists. Affordable portrait drawing was a big Yankee Doodle Fair attraction.

Howard Munce — who at nearly 100 years old is still 8 years younger than the Fair — drew portraits at the Fair. So did Miggs’ Burroughs father, Bernie.

But Bernie didn’t draw his son. The charcoal portrait below was done around 1956 by Westporter Tom Lovell. He later became a famed book cover artist and painter of Western art, whose works sold for up to $400,000.

This portrait of Miggs probably cost $1. But he still has it.

Miggs Burroughs by Tom Lovett

Years after sitting (while watching all his friends going on rides), Miggs went on to curate the Woman’s Club Art Show Fundraiser last month. It featured local artists — and honored Ann Sheffer’s aunt, Susan Malloy. Interesting how the Yankee Doodle Fair connects them all.

Linda Gramatky Smith remembers the Yankee Doodle Fair too. Every year, her parents — Hardie (“Little Toot” author/illustrator) Gramatky and Dorothea Cooke — took turns in the portrait booth.

Her father’s diary from June 28, 1956 notes he went to the Fair that day with famed artists Ward Brackett, Dolli Tingle, Herb Olsen, Donald Purdy, Arpi Ermoyan and Johnny Gannam.

But they were not just drawing caricatures. In 1953, Hardie Gramatky matted a watercolor as a gift to the Fair. Just one more Westporter helping the Westport Woman’s Club make money.

This year’s edition opens tomorrow. There’ll be many chances for today’s kids to make their own memories for years to come.

A caricature by T.C. Ford

A T. C. Ford caricature

Besides the traditional rides and games, new this year are a “Children’s Garden” area, a photo opp board, a “Fountain of Wishes,” face painting (fun or fierce), sand art, and (Saturday and Sunday only), caricaturist T.C. Ford (with his sidekick, all-natural henna artist Brigid Fleming).

The timing is perfect. School is out. Summer is about to begin. After 108 years, things still haven’t changed.

The Yankee Doodle Fair runs Thursday and Friday (June 18 and 19, 6-10 p.m.), Saturday (June 20, 1-10 p.m.) and Sunday (June 21, 1-5 p.m.) at the Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue. Admission is free! Click here for more information.

Duck!

If you’ve never been to a Sunrise Rotary Great Duck Race, here’s the poop:

You pay $20 for a toy duck — one of these:

Duck - ducks

They’re dumped in the Saugatuck River. The one that races fastest downstream earns a $5,000 Visa gift card. Nine other prizes are worth $5,000 more.

This year’s winner was American Pharoah. (Just kidding.)

There was lots more going on at Jesup Green today too. Staples’ Interact Club — a community service organization that works with the Rotarys — sponsored a 5K race.

A dunk tank featured celebrities like Planning & Zoning Commission chair Chip Stephens:

Duck - Chip Stephens

Non-profits, local businesses, even the Fire Department staffed booths. Here’s Charlie Colasurdo, student liaison at Wakeman Town Farm, showing off (of course) ducks (lower right) and an egg:

Duck - Charlie Colasurdo

There was a climbing wall too:

Duck - climbing wall

It’s all for a good cause. Before the race, Sunrise Rotary handed out $34,500 in grants, to 26 area organizations and charities.

Duck - grants

Recipients include Andrew’s Army, CLASP Homes, Connecticut Challenge, Earthplace, Mercy Learning Center, Positive Directions, Project Return and the Susan Fund.

So even if your duck didn’t win, there was plenty to smile about downtown today.

Al’s Angels’ Special “Ades”

Just over a decade ago — a few days after his 10th birthday — Aaron Gaberman was diagnosed with 2 rare and aggressive brain tumors.

His life suddenly became a blur of doctor visits, spinal taps, blood tranfusions, surgeries and long stays in the ICU.

But he never gave up. Thanks to indefatigable courage, a strong will to succeed, and the loving support of family, friends and community members, Aaron forged on. He played baseball, golf and the violin, while becoming an excellent student, good friend, leader and inspiration.

Aaron was the 3rd patient in the US to participate in a new clinical trial. The results were good — but 3 years later a routine MRI revealed a growth behind his right eye. It was removed in a lengthy procedure, and Aaron persevered with his quiet resolve and unflagging determination.

Cancer survivor Aaron Gaberman leads a very active life.

Cancer survivor Aaron Gaberman leads a very active life.

In December 2013, after his 1st semester at Marist College, another regular MRI detected a spinal nerve tumor. Once again, Aaron endured lengthy surgery. Despite pain and loss of mobility, he made the dean’s list.

But the tumor grew back aggressively. Another operation was successful. Through lengthy physical therapy sessions and conditioning workouts, Aaron grows stronger every day.

To pay forward the many kindnesses he’s received, Aaron and his family joined Al’s Angels. The Westport-based non-profit provides assistance to children and families suffering hardship due to life-threatening illnesses or poverty.

In founder Al DiGuido, they saw a true “angel” whose organization provides hope to many. They were particularly impressed that after an exhausting trip home from the hospital, Al’s Angels surprised them with a Thanksgiving dinner. Now, they help prepare holiday food baskets for others.

Al’s Angels depends on the generosity of local residents. This month, we’ve all got some clever — and fun — ways to help.

On Saturday, June 6 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), over 100 lemonade stands will pop up in front of stores, and in residential neighborhoods, throughout Fairfield County.

The “Angel-ade” stands will include lemonade products donated by Newman’s own, and cookies from ShopRite and Westport-based Nothin’ But.

Al's AngelsIn addition, dozens of national retailers and local merchants — including
Bartaco, Castle Wine, Coffee An’, Downunder, Edge Fitness, Fetzer Tire, Freshii, Garelick & Herbs, JoyRide, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Saugatuck Sweets, SoNo Baking Company, SoulCycle, Splatterbox, Stiles Market, Vespa, Viva Zapata, Westport Hardware, Westport Wash & Wax and the Westport Family YMCA — are donating products or retail space for each stand.

Throughout June too, more than 25 Connecticut bars and restaurants will offer “Angel-ade cocktails.” They’ll donate $2 per cocktail to Al’s Angels. Local sites include Blue Lemon, Bobby Q’s and Spotted Horse.

Kids have done the toughest things: persevering through horrible illnesses. Al’s Angels have done the next hardest:  helping them.

Now all you have to do is buy some lemonade, or a cocktail.

Life is really not that rough.

Fresh Air Fund: 1 Week, 1 Lifetime Of Memories

The idea is great: Host a Fresh Air Fund child for a week. Give a city kid time in the country. Do something good, in one small way.

The concerns, though, can be overwhelming: Bring a stranger into my home? What will we do for 7 days? What will my kids think?

The reality, fortunately, is fantastic. Fresh Air Fund hosts find that the week flies by. There is plenty to do — but sometimes the best is to just open the door and let ’em play outside. And the benefits — to you and your kids — are incalculable.

For the past 5 years, Nikki Gorman and her family hosted a boy named JJ. Any initial worries  melted away when — as soon as he got off the bus from New York — JJ started talking sports with her sons.

JJ enjoyed swimming...

JJ enjoyed swimming…

“The kids spent a lot of time just playing,” Nikki says. Pool, basketball, swimming, hanging in the hot tub — that’s how most of the days went.

There were trips to the beach, a Bluefish game and more. Many camps enroll  Fresh Air Fund youngsters at reduced rates; JJ loved the Fairfield University basketball camp.

Sure, he was a bit homesick at first. But when JJ returned home, Nikki says “it felt like a piece of our family was missing.”

That family appreciated the chance to share their life and possessions, and provide JJ with new experiences. It also gave her children “excitement about things that used to feel ordinary.”

...hanging out...

…hanging out…

They quickly understood that JJ did not have the advantages and resources that they did, Nikki notes. “It made them generous with him in a way that siblings are not typically with each other. Each one competed to see who could give JJ more in terms of attention, things or adventures. It makes a mom proud.”

She and her husband have found JJ’s enthusiasm “infectious.” He has been “a role model for keeping a great attitude in the face of adversity, and valuing family above all. We feel so lucky to have him in our lives.”

Nikki strongly recommends the Fresh Air Fund to “any family trying to instill perspective, and an understanding of the world outside of suburbia.”

...and the beach.

…and the beach.

Her son, Noah Lomnitz, agrees. As a Staples High School sophomore, he now realizes “the profound impact these friends had on my outlook on life.” He recognizes a “subtle sense of entitlement” in Westport, but says helping host JJ has made him “more generous, tolerant and kindhearted.”

He adds: “The Fresh Air Fund has had a profound impact on my life, and I’m sure JJ’s life as well. I would recommend it to anyone in Westport for a new perspective on the world, whether you have kids or not. It’s only 1 week, for a lifetime of memories.”

(An information session for anyone interested in hosting a Fresh Air Fund child will be held tomorrow — Friday, May 29, from 12-1 p.m. —  at Village Pediatrics, 156 Kings Highway North, Westport. Dr. Nikki Gorman will answer questions. To learn more about the Fresh Air Fund program, contact Nicole Heath at 203-829-8196 or click here.)

JJ and his hosts, before boarding the bus after his week in Westport.

JJ and his hosts, before boarding the bus after his week in Westport.

Marty Hauhuth Moves In Positive Directions

In the next month, several pillars of Westport life — men and women who for decades have made this place special — will retire: Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis. Staples principal John Dodig. Parks & Rec head Stuart McCarthy.

Add one more name to the list: Marty Hauhuth.

She may not be as well known — though Westporters of a certain age remember her as first selectman from 1985-89.

Marty Hauhuth

Marty Hauhuth

For the past 24 years, she’s served as the low-key — but highly effective — executive director of Positive Directions. That’s the non-profit providing mental health and addiction counseling, alcohol and substance abuse education and prevention, and support programs in Westport, Weston, Wilton and Fairfield.

Positive Directions serves anyone, of any age — regardless of ability to pay — with evaluations and referrals. It treats anxiety, depression, and addictive and destructive behaviors of all kinds.

One of Marty’s last projects was a survey of all Westport students grades 7-12, and their parents. It showed that — in large part due to her efforts —

  • Tobacco, alcohol and marijuana youth use has steadily declined since 2000
  • “Past 30-day use of alcohol” has decreased dramatically in grades 7-10
  • From 2011-14, Westport youth “early use of alcohol” has decreased substantially
  • Westport youth marijuana use has declined, and overall use is lower than in some neighboring towns.

Positive DirectionsMarty was a founding member of Positive Youth Development, a Westport coalition that arms parents and youngsters with information to make good choices — and counseling for those who struggle.

Positive Directions celebrates Marty’s contributions (and retirement) on Wednesday, June 3 (4:30-6:30 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church  Fellowship  Room).

Other honors include a tribute book (click “Comments” below and add stories and accolades, or mail to Positive Directions, 420 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880), and contributions in her name to the organization (click here).

Marty downplays her role in Positive Directions. But, she admits, “I look forward to the celebration. I hope to see a lot of friends there.”

The nicest gift she could get, she says, is “to come visit and support Positive Directions.”

“Art About Town” Floods Main Street

Once a year, downtown turns into a pedestrian mall. It’s “Art About Town” — one of Westport’s newest traditions.

Part art exhibit, part street fair — and all fun — it’s a great way to kick off a month-long exhibit of art (for sale!) by 65 artists, in 60 locations.

It started an hour ago. If you’re reading this before 8:30 p.m. on Thursday — there’s still time to go.

Just don’t think of parking on Main Street.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms -- so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

There were plenty of great artist demonstrations tonight. But none was more impressive than Rosiejon. She has no arms — so she uses her feet. Amazingly, she has been painting for just a year.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 -- and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here's one of his creations.

Harry Moritz graduated from Staples in 2010 — and from Pratt less than a week ago. Here’s one of his creations.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

Another kind of artist is performer Jared Rydelek. This was just his warmup.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town -- the 2035 version.

This young man may be trying out for Art About Town — the 2035 version.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is showing downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

Joyce Landon is among 65 artists who is exhibiting downtown, for the next month. Her works can be seen in the TD Bank lobby.

Building Castles In The Sand

For some reason, the Castles in the Sand event seems to be held every year on the chilliest Saturday in May.

But for many other reasons, no one cares.

Judging one of the contest entries. (Photo/Jeff Wieser)

Peter Cadoux judging one of the contest entries. (Photo/Jeff Wieser)

It’s one of the most intriguing events on the civic calendar.

It brings a variety of Westport organizations — plus families and friends — to Compo Beach for good-natured competition.

And it’s fun.

Animals seemed to be a theme this afternoon at Compo Beach. (Photo/Jeff Wieser)

Animals were a theme this afternoon at Compo Beach. (Photo/Jeff Wieser)

This year, approximately 40 “lots” were sold.

That’s a lot of sand. A lot of creativity. And a lot of much-needed funds for Homes With Hope, the non-profit that does so much housing good, for so many.

The most colorful creation, by far.

The most colorful creation, by far.

An intricate ziggurat.

Relaxing after building an intricate ziggurat.

I have no idea what this is. But the kids who made it seem to be having a blast.

I have no idea what this is. But the kids who made it seem to be having a blast.

It was cold at Compo today -- and, in a way,

It was cold at Compo today — and, in a way, “Frozen.”

Perhaps the only true

The Greens Farms Church’s lighthouse: intricate, clever and very well constructed.

Queen Of F***ing Everything

No, I didn’t write out the whole “f-bomb” in the headline.

But it’s there — uncensored — right on Main Street. Just check out the checkout counter at Brandy Melville.

Brandy Melville 1

Which prompted one irate mother to write “06880”:

As I walked through downtown yesterday on a glorious afternoon with my 11-year- old daughter, we talked about how nice the new sidewalk will be. It’s great to see.

But the afternoon was dampened for me when we stopped briefly at a popular clothing store. I was really bothered by the pile of stickers that Brandy Melville gives out.

I guess this national retailer considers it to be a “fashion-cool” statement. Yes, I get the message, but I don’t think it has any place in a store catering to elementary, middle school and high school-age girls.

As we strive to clean up our sidewalks and make our downtown shine, we should also strive to “clean up” the stores that peddle their wares to our kids.

Maybe a solution is to gets kids (through the support of their parents) to stop shopping at Brandy M until they clean up their act. The town and Downtown Merchants Association should take a stand.

What do you think? Is it a harmless marketing tool? Or very offensive? Is a boycott the right idea? Should the town and DMA get involved, or is it none of their business?

Click “Comments” below. We want your f***king opinion.

Brandy melville 2