Category Archives: Children

If You Teach Some Kids To Fish…

Summer vacation ends with a crash on Monday. The 1st day of school is ominously close.

But last evening, a mother gave a lesson of a different type to her kids. Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor was at Old Mill Beach, and captured this classic Westport scene:

Fishing lesson at Old Mill Beach - Fred Cantor

Earthplace Adds Own Transportation

Earthplace‘s after-school enrichment program will continue as usual this fall. Thanks to an agreement with a private transportation provider, students will travel directly from all 5 Westport elementary schools, to the sanctuary and museum.

Public transportation has ended. The Federal Transit Administration ruled that Westport’s after-school shuttle bus was an unauthorized public transit service route.

Earthplace worked with the Westport Transit District and Sandy Evangelista, transportation coordinator for the Westport public schools, to secure the alternate service.

“The loss of this public service puts the financial burden for transportation on Earthplace,” the organization says. “However, we recognize that this program is vital to working parents who need to know that their child will have a seamless transition from school to an afternoon of fun and learning.”

Earthplace

Update: Earthplace, Temple Israel, And The Future Of Westport Transit

An “06880” post earlier today reported that the after-school Westport Transit District bus routes serving Earthplace and Temple Israel would be suspended indefinitely.

“06880” has learned that last-ditch negotiations may provide a solution. But time is running out.

EarthplaceThe reason for the suspension of the routes is cessation of federal funds. Because the route is geared to students traveling from schools to afternoon activities — but not run by a school district — it is out of compliance with government regulations.

If the funds are cut, dozens of Westport parents will have to figure how to get their kids to Earthplace programs, and religious education.

One result, of course, would be more cars on the road.

Temple IsraelBroader issues include: What’s the future of the Westport Transit District? How does it fit in with other area organizations? How do we live and move around in town? Is there any role for mass transportation, suburb-style?

A number of folks are working hard, seeking a resolution. State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, First Selectman Jim Marpe and town operations director Dewey Loselle, the WTD’s Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cederbaum, along with Earthplace and Temple Israel officials, have pulled many levers seeking a stay of execution — or at least a delay.

There are many layers to this onion. Stay tuned as Westport peels them back, one by one.

A Westport Transit District bus.

A Westport Transit District bus.

Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer Headline Best-Ever Blues, Views & BBQ Fest

When it comes to blues music, Westport is not exactly Chicago or Memphis.

And when you’re talking barbecue, Kansas City and Atlanta come to mind far quicker than this place.

But over the past 6 years — thanks to the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association has done a phenomenal job putting our town on the music and culinary maps.

The 7th annual event — set for Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31 on Labor Day weekend — will make all previous ones look like county fairs.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Blues, rock, brass and funk fans will be blown away by the lineup. The WDMA has signed Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer and a host of other big names — Bill Kirchen, Pop Chubby, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Raw Oyster Cult and Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, to name a few — and rented the new Levitt Pavilion for 2 days of fantastic entertainment.

There’s 9 hours of music each day, for the very cool pre-pay price of $50 Saturday and $25 Sunday ($60 and $30 respectively, at the door). A 2-day pass is just $70 — and kids under 12 are free, with a paying adult.

(For Westporters only — and only through August 17 — the Saturday all-access pass is $40. The regular pre-sale price is $50; on-site, it’s $60.)

Meanwhile, the “Family Fun Fest” — in the library and Imperial Avenue parking lots — features plenty of food (including Bobby Q’s, but also from Blue Lemon, Meltmobile, Rolling Cones and others, plus of course a worthy selection of beverages); the always popular BBQ competition; rib- and pie-eating contests; cooking demonstrations; music (including School of Rock kids); bouncy stuff, and all that jazz.

And the price for that has been cut, from $25 last year to just $10. Kids 12 and under go free.

The Packin' Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The Packin’ Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The WDMA does a great job — often without proper credit — promoting free community events, like the Fine Arts Festival, Halloween Parade and Art About Town. They donate to other non-profits, and with projects like Tunnel Vision they beautify downtown.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is the WDMA’s signature event. In just 2 weeks, Westport will be smokin’.

(For advance tickets and more information, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Westport Wins “Fan Favorite Town” Award

Forget CNN Money‘s “50 Best Small Towns” in America, and their “Top 10 Earning Towns.”  Those are as ridiculous as Newsweek’s rankings of high schools, which give points for the number of kids who take AP tests — whether they pass them or not.

But the Connecticut Fan-Favorite Town of the Year. Now that’s an honor.

And of course, Westport won it. You think I’d write about it if we were 12th?

The contest was organized by the Connecticut Office of Tourism. First Selectman Jim Marpe accepted the award on FOX CT this morning.

A video created by 5th graders Clara Holleman, Sydney Newman and Sutton Lindau, and taped and edited by recent Staples grad Claudine Brantley, helped drive votes. So did posts on the town’s social media sites, as well as (I like to think) a piece about the contest on “06880.”

As winner, Westport receives:

  • Advertising support from the Connecticut Office of Tourism
  • National and in-state public relations support
  • Editorial feature in the 2015 Official Connecticut Visitor’s Guide
  • Week-long social media feature across the Connecticut Office of Tourism’s social channels
  • And, of course, a plaque.

PS: Compo Beach was chosen as the most popular destination within Westport. They needed a contest to figure that out?

No Lifeguards On Duty…

…but if this isn’t the quintessential Compo-in-the-early-evening photo, I don’t know what is.

Lifeguard chair

Another Park. Another Plan?

For many years, Luciano Park was a thriving neighborhood playground.

For 2 years during college, in fact, my summer job was supervising the small Saugatuck spot, between the railroad station and parking lot. Another counselor and I kept an eye on kids, organized a few games, and set up bus trips to amusement parks and Yankee Stadium.

Luciano Park, looking from Railroad Place and Charles Street toward the parking lot. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Luciano Park, looking from Railroad Place and Charles Street toward the parking lot. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Later, when Parks and Rec stopped funding the positions — and the area changed — Luciano Park was known mainly as the site of the annual Festival Italiano.

These days, it’s largely forgotten. And almost completely unused.

Home plate remains, but the rest of the softball diamond is gone. View is toward Railroad Place. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Home plate remains, but the rest of the softball diamond is gone. View is toward Railroad Place. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The reasons are varied. Saugatuck is no longer a place of small homes and large families.

The few kids with free time in the summer don’t play baseball in parks. They don’t swing on swings.

No one does, anywhere in Westport — except for the very creative Compo playground, which has sand, water and food nearby.

The seldom-used playground equipment in Luciano Park. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Seldom-used playground equipment in Luciano Park. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

I was reminded of all this after receiving an email and photos from alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti. Walking through Luciano Park at 12:30 last Friday afternoon, without a soul in sight, he thought: “If there is a park in Westport that needs a master plan, this is it!”

He added:

As Westport thinks about its future, let’s give this park some thought. It need not only be for kids. Hundreds, maybe more, quite literally ‘park’ nearby every day.

Could this be a quiet place to sit before or after work? Why not add a fitness station as an alternative to the gym?

Good questions, all. And as Railroad Place prepares for the next stage of Saugatuck’s redevelopment, and residents throughout town ponder both Compo Beach and downtown improvements, why not add this tiny, valuable parcel into the planning mix?

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

Todd Coleman: “Volunteering Makes You A Better Person”

One day in the mid-1980s, Stuart McCarthy — a former Staples star now coaching a Westport Soccer Association girls team — told Todd Coleman, “It’s time you gave something back to the program.” McCarthy named him coach of the WSA’s Under-17 girls squad.

Coleman was all of 19 years old.

He coached girls for 3 seasons. And McCarthy’s words have resonated ever since.

Todd Coleman

Todd Coleman

Coleman is in his 3rd decade of giving back. Now — as the new Westport Soccer Association co-president — he’s in a unique position. A former WSA player who has seen the program and sport evolve, he’s trying to balance the fun, play-with-your-buddies aspect he remembers with the realities of youth sports, 2014-style.

Coleman’s introduction to soccer came in 4th grade, at Hillspoint Elementary School. New to Westport, he had no idea what it meant when Rob Sweetnam asked at recess, “Want to kick?”

But he quickly learned. He played WSA recreation soccer, and made his 1st travel team at 13. Each year, his teammates’ bonds tightened.

Coleman went on to captain the Staples soccer and wrestling squads. He earned the Block “S” MVP award and Loeffler Scholarship, and won a state championship as a junior. At Bates College he was a 4-year starter and captain. He won another state title with Westport’s Under-23 Kixx team.

“Real life” followed. He worked in financial services in Europe and San Francisco. His brothers Scott (a soccer player) and Keith (a wrestler) were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. But soccer kept him connected. When his buddies formed a Westport Over-30 team to honor Scott, Coleman played whenever he could. That team too won a state title.

Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left his Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman's right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players were on the Over-30 team too.

Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left is Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman’s right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players include Dr. Jonathan Sollinger, Guy Claveloux, Brian Sullivan, Dan Donovan and Mike Brown.

Seven years ago — now back in Westport — Coleman volunteered at the WSA’s indoor tournament. (A portion of the profits go to the organization’s Coleman Brothers Foundation.) He liked what he saw. He got more involved. And he always remembered McCarthy’s words.

“Volunteering makes you a better person,” Coleman says. “Giving back helps you get a little bit outside yourself.”

The WSA has expanded greatly since Coleman’s playing days, when there was 1 travel team per age group, and parental involvement was limited to coaching and driving. There are now 1,500 players; 29 travel teams; a robust recreational program, and professional coaches.

But though the organization has grown, its core mission remains the same. “The WSA should be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “I want it to be fun for the kids. I want them to have the same love for soccer I had when I was young. When I was 10, I didn’t feel pressured to make travel or think about college.”

WSA logoParents are involved, he says, “almost more than the kids now.” But Coleman has nothing but praise for the WSA’s 165 volunteers. “They’re enthusiastic about soccer, and they’re focused on the benefits for everyone. There are board members whose kids did not make a travel team. No one complained.”

Youth soccer — all youth sports — are different today than when Coleman was first invited to “have a kick.” (It was a red playground ball, he laughs — not even a real soccer ball.) Travel teams begin at younger ages. Parents drive further distances. Children are “showcased” for colleges.

Coleman can’t change that. But he will do everything he can to make sure that the organization he now heads holds true to the same principle — “soccer is fun” — that powered it when he was young.

And that impelled him to give back to it, starting at the ripe old age of 19.

A Pre-School Grows In Bridgeport

Adam J. Lewis grew up poor, in the Bronx. But he seized the educational opportunities he was given — scholarships to Dalton, then Hamilton College — and made a great, successful and fulfilling life for himself.

Then, on September 11, 2001 he was killed at his World Trade Center desk.

Out of the ashes of his life, the people who loved Adam — his wife and many friends — built a superbly fitting tribute.

Adam J. Lewis

Adam J. Lewis

Patty Lewis and Westporter Julie Mombello — friends from their days working together at Greens Farms Academy — knew the importance of pre-school education.

In Westport, pre-school — where children explore the world using all their senses, and learn letters, numbers, scientific observation, music, art, language, problem-solving, cooperation, coordination and many other skills — is a given. That’s far less true in Bridgeport, where the cost of preschool can be daunting.

Patty and Julie vowed to do what they could to give little children just a few miles from Westport the same advantages their own kids had.

The Adam J. Lewis Pre-School was born. And — despite daunting obstacles including fundraising, site selection and city bureaucracy — it has thrived since opening last December.

The Bridgeport building before (left) -- and now that it's the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

The Bridgeport building before (left) — and now that it’s the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

Many folks — including Westport board members Nancy Aldrich, Lee Bollert and Trish Tweedley, and fundraisers Carolyn Cohen, Tracy Fincher and Anne Hardy — worked tirelessly to make the pre-school a resounding success. Earlier this month, they celebrated their 1st year.

There were 12 kids, all 3 and 4 years old. Everyone received need-based financial aid. (It costs $7,000 a year to educate each child. Sometimes, Julie says, parents pay what they can “literally in quarters.”)

Several boys and girls entered speaking no English. “We saturate them all in language,” explains Julie. “There is constant talking and reading. There are books and letters all over the place.”

The very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

The very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

Julie is an administrator and teacher. Westporter Saba Pina is one of the other teachers.

Earlier this month, a “graduation” ceremony was held for the youngsters moving on to kindergarten. The school worked hard to make sure each has an appropriate placement. Some are heading to charter schools; others to the Greens Farms Academy Horizons program.

The 1st graduation was quite a moment.

“When you sign up for a project like this, you realize it’s all about the kids,” Julie says.

“You can make a difference — one child at a time. You try to give them an opportunity they otherwise would not be exposed to.”

The preschool takes great advantage of the outdoors. There's a fantastic playground too.

The preschool takes great advantage of the outdoors. There’s a fantastic playground too.

But, she realizes, beyond teaching children to count and learn their ABCs, Adam J. Lewis has given them “self-confidence, resilience and perseverance, so they can handle whatever life throws at them.” In Bridgeport, Julie knows, “you face a lot of curveballs.”

In the beginning of the school year, she recalls, a little boy always said, “I can’t do this.” Now, he never says that.

“That’s 90% of the battle,” Julie says. “If you believe in yourself, you have a much greater chance of success.”

She — and all the other folks associated with Adam J. Lewis — feel a tremendous amount of pride. They’ve launched what already is a wonderful institution.

But Julie can’t help noticing something.

“Literally 5 miles from Westport, things are so dramatically different. The need can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to think, ‘How can I make a difference?'”

She answers her own question.

“For some reason, the education of young children makes you feel like you are making a difference.”

Next year, Adam J. Lewis welcomes 16 pre-schoolers, up from 12 this year. They’ll add another teacher. And they’ll keep making a difference.

One child at a time.

(Adam J. Lewis Preschool administrators, educators and board members hope Westporters will continue to support them with money, time and energy. To learn more, click on the Adam J. Lewis Preschool website.)

US Ties Portugal — But Westport Soccer Wins

The Staples boys soccer team played host to 250 younger players today, in a sun-filled, joyful warmup to the US-Portugal World Cup match.

There were mini-games, an obstacle course, a speed gun, penalty kick contests, food, a raffle, and plenty of smiles. It was hard to know who had more fun, the kids or the Staples guys.

The only drag was the final result. Portugal scored with 10 seconds to go in injury time, to tie 2-2. But perhaps one of the kids who chanted “USA! USA!” in the auditorium will be on the field for the USA in a World Cup 20 years from now — and will remember this as the day that started it all.

Taking it steady on one part of the obstacle course. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Taking it steady on one part of the obstacle course. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Denzel Robinson (left) and Sam Kantor help on another part of the obstacle course. Denzel said he loved watching the little kids smile.

Denzel Robinson (left) and Sam Kantor help on another part of the obstacle course. Denzel said he loved watching the little kids smile. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Checking out a powerful kick, with the aid of a speed gun.

Checking out a powerful kick, with the aid of a speed gun. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Best buds, playing the game they love. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Best buds, playing the game they love — and lovin’ the US jerseys. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Staples tri-captain Andrew Puchala shows some future stars how it's done. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Staples captain Andrew Puchala shows future stars how it’s done. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Part of the crowd this afternoon. The Staples players sit proudly at top. (Photo/Kim Lake)

Part of the crowd this afternoon. The Staples players sit proudly at top. (Photo/Kim Lake)

It doesn't get better than eating pizza and wearing USA face paint. (Photo/Doug Fincher)

It doesn’t get better than eating pizza and wearing US face paint. (Photo/Doug Fincher)