Category Archives: Children


You see them every year in late September. College students stand on street corners all around Westport. They smile, dance — and hold out cans, asking for donations.

Plenty of drivers — impressed by their enthusiasm — hand over bills. They feel good, even if they’re not exactly sure what they’re donating to.

This weekend, Taylor Harrington will be one of those students. Just 3 months after graduating from Staples High School, she’s eagerly anticipating her 1st “THON” as a Penn Stater.

Taylor Harrington (left) with fellow 1st-year student Lucy Mester. Both will be "canning" in Westport this weekend.

Taylor Harrington (left) with fellow 1st-year student Lucy Mester. Both will be “canning” in Westport this weekend.

This week, she emailed “06880.” She wants to explain exactly what she — and thousands of classmates — will be doing here, and across the country, on Saturday and Sunday.

She says that Penn State’s THON — which raises money for children with pediatric cancer — is the largest student-run philanthrophy in the world.

Every sorority and fraternity at the school is paired with families who have a child with pediatric cancer. In February, students and family members dance for 46 hours straight, in the basketball arena. They don’t sleep, or even sit. They just come together to raise money for their cause.

The “canning” weekend — in which students dressed in Nittany Lion logowear ask passing drivers for donations — is another way to raise funds.

A typical Penn State "THON," last year. Katie Seel (3rd from left) will be joining Taylor Harrington in Westport this weekend.

A typical Penn State “THON,” last year. Katie Seel (3rd from left) will be joining Taylor Harrington in Westport this weekend.

Taylor first heard about THON when she visited Penn State as a high school junior. Her tour guide raved about the dance marathon.

Taylor watched videos, and got even more psyched. A couple of weeks ago — finally a college student — she rushed Delta Gamma. The sorority has 3 THON families. She can’t wait to know personally the people she is raising money to help.

She is excited to be “canning” in her hometown. Other Staples grads — including Sarah Ellman, Meghan Lonergan, Gwyneth Mulliken and Katelyn Farnen — will also travel with their sororities, to towns in Pennsylvania and New York.

But Taylor is coming home — and bringing 7 sorority sisters along.

They’ll move around, at various sites downtown. If you see her, now you “can” definitely put a face to a name.

One Town, One Team

For years, Westport has fielded 2 teams in each youth travel basketball age group. One was sponsored by the Westport Weston Family Y; the other by Westport PAL.

It was tough on kids, and their parents. It diluted the talent pool too.

Westport Y logoNow the 2 programs are joining forces. They’ll conduct joint tryouts, share coaching staffs and collaborate with scheduling practice time and league play, using school courts and the Y.

Following tryouts next month, boys and girls in grades 4 through 8 will be invited to play in a variety of Fairfield County Basketball League age groups and divisions, competing as “Westport PAL in association with the Westport Family YMCA teams.” There will be 15 teams in all.

Officials say the partnership is a response to parents’ concerns about having 2 separate FCBL programs for 1 community.

blog - Westport PAL

Jay Jaranko, senior program director for the Y, calls it “a win-win-win for both organizations, the town of Westport, and we think an even bigger win for the players and their teams.”

Howie Friedman, president of the PAL travel basketball program, says that the partnership with the Y is in line with his organization’s focus on maintaining the proper balance between competitiveness and fairness.

“Our PAL creed of ‘it’s all about the kids’ will truly be served by this collaboration,” he notes.

Last year's 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

Last year’s 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

MakerSpace: 3 Years Old (And 3.0)

It’s a toss-up who’s more passionated about the MakerSpace: Bill Derry, or the thousands of people of all ages who have embraced it as their own.

Derry is the Westport Library’s director of innovation. The MakerSpace is the large area in its Great Hall where an eclectic, ever-changing group gathers for creation, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

The Westport Library's Makerspace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

The Library’s MakerSpace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

Many folks — devoted users and head-scratching passersby alike — see technology and construction in the MakerSpace, and think of it as a place for “things.” But it’s also a tight-knit community — and a place where lives are changed.

Age does not matter there. Youngsters teach adults — including some old enough to be their great-grandparents — how to use 3-D printers and gaming consoles. Doing so, they gain important skills like public speaking. By thinking about how to teach, they crystallize their own ideas.

They also gain plenty of confidence.

A middle school MakerSpace aficionado spent 2 days teaching librarians how to create and print 3D models.

An older teenager built a gaming computer in front of an audience, then was invited to teach (for pay) at Southern Connecticut State University.

A boy who has difficulty speaking stands eagerly in front of an inter-generational audience. His speech problem vanishes at the MakerSpace.

Young people teach -- and learn from -- older ones in the MakerSpace.

Young people teach — and learn from — older ones in the MakerSpace.

That collaborative, across-age-lines sharing excites Derry. “Big companies talk about new ways of working — bringing together a musician and an engineer, for example,” the innovation guru says.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

The MakerSpace has been around long enough — 3 years — that some of its most avid users have moved on. One is studying engineering at NYU; another attends Lehigh University.

“It’s like any graduation,” Derry says. “We’re sad to see them go, and there’s a real feeling of leaving a community. But we’re happy they’re in a new and challenging place.”

MakerSpace users are not the only ones leaving the Westport Library. On October 31, Derry himself retires.

Bill Derry

Bill Derry

He’s had an “incredible” run, he says. His fulfilling career at the Library followed 3 years as information technology coordinator for the Westport school system, and 6 as library media coordinator at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Now he’s ready for the next challenge.

Before he goes though, there’s one more big event. On Thursday and Friday, September 24-25, the Westport Library sponsors “MakerSpace 3.0: Retinkering Libraries.” Panels will focus on imagination, education, economic development, and community engagement. On Saturday, September 26, there’s an optional bus trip to the New York World Maker Faire.

The public is invited to the bus trip (registration required). Including, of course, all the young people who make the MakerSpace such an exciting and innovative place.

Harvest Fest: Growing A Classroom At Wakeman Town Farm

Since its inception just a few years ago, Wakeman Town Farm has become an important, respected — even beloved — Westport institution.

Students visit for school programs, events, tours and camps. They learn first hand what it means to grow organic produce, from seed to plate. Many volunteer, discovering a passion for animals, gardening or sustainable agriculture.

Adults take classes too, and join the WTF CSA.

Running a farm takes work — everyone knows that.

It also takes money.

Despite its name, Wakeman Town Farm is not funded by the town. Westport leases the property to WTF; directors raise money to pay for all operating costs, including animal feed and care, maintenance and snow plowing.

The Wakeman Farm.

The Wakeman Farm.

Now they’re soliciting capital for a bigger project. WTF hopes to build a year-round classroom and kitchen. That’s the key to becoming a self-sustaining entity, operating 12 months a year with cooking classes, films, book signings, intimate chef’s dinners, community meetings and homesteading workshops.

The current classroom lacks insulation, severely limiting program options. For instance, this year 80 mothers flocked to the first “Mommy and Me” sessions. Despite its appeal, the program could not continue during colder months.

WTF’s annual fundraiser is Saturday, September 12 (6 p.m., at the farm). “Harvest Fest” includes live music; seasonal menus created by local chefs using artisinal cheeses, produce and meats sourced from small Connecticut farmers; signature drinks and wine pairings, and a fantastic auction offering unique experiences in dining and travel (like a 3-night Rome trip with a special Vatican visit, and a luxury suite at the Barclay’s Center with food and drinks for a party of 24).

How you gonna keep Westport’s kids (and adults) down on the farm?

You can start by heading to Saturday’s Harvest Fest.

(Click here for Harvest Fest tickets — or if you can’t attend, to donate to Wakeman Town Farm.)

Scenes from last year's Harvest Fest.

Scenes from last year’s Harvest Fest.

From Brooklyn To Westport: Life In A Changing “Hometown”

Antonia Landgraf was born and raised in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It was a tight-knit Italian neighborhood — like long-ago Saugatuck, perhaps — and she loved it.

Her grandfather — born on the same block — was a mailman. Her grandmother worked in a school cafeteria.

Her parents worked for the government. They lived on the bottom 2 floors of a brownstone, and rented out the rest.

In the mid-1980s, yuppies began to move in. Bodegas and religious artifact stores gave way to crêperies, boutiques and bars.

“The good part was there were nice restaurants and shops. Not everything was a chain,” Antonia recalls.


A “Farmacy” has probably replaced a pharmacy in Carroll Gardens.

Real estate prices rose. Some renters were priced out. Antonia’s parents and grandparents owned their property, and benefited.

Many of her friends stayed in Carroll Gardens. On Facebook, she reads their comments about the changes.

“It’s not like the days when everyone knew everyone,” she says. “That’s ironic, because the first people who came did it because it was a great Italian-American neighborhood, with everyone sitting out on their stoops.”

The oldtimers-versus-newcomers debate is not confined to Carroll Gardens. It echoes in many places — including Westport. Which is where, since 2013, Antonia and her husband have lived.

They moved first to New Jersey, in 2002, because they could no longer afford Brooklyn. Then they had kids. Her husband’s company has an office in Darien. They started looking for bigger, suburban homes.

Antonia and her husband visited Westport on a beautiful September day. The water sparkled under the Bridge Street bridge. Downtown, they walked past the gorgeous Christ & Holy Trinity church, and stopped at the Spotted Horse. “It felt like we were on vacation,” Antonia says.

Moving here has been wonderful. The town is gorgeous. Folks have been welcoming. She could not be happier.

Her 3 sons — the youngest was born here — are busy, and thriving. On the day we talked earlier this summer, one was collecting crabs on Burying Hill Beach. Another was at sports camp. This is their home town.

Antonia's boys have discovered the magic of Burying Hill Beach.

Antonia’s boys have discovered the magic of Burying Hill Beach.

Antonia sees parallels between Carroll Gardens and Westport. Both places are changing. Some longtime residents resent what’s happening. Recent arrivals feel the undercurrent. They try to be sensitive — but this is their town too.

“We moved because of the beauty, the downtown, the historical homes,” Antonia says. Some of her new friends are natives. One of them lives in new construction, she laughs.

“We’re new, but we still respect what there is here, and what there was.” Yet, she adds, Westport is always changing. “This used to be onion farms.”

She followed the Red Barn closing on “06880.” “We went there once. We were not impressed. But I understand it was an institution.”

The same thing is happening in Carroll  Gardens. Antonia pointed me to a New York Daily News story about the demise of a beloved restaurant there.

“It’s not just Westport,” she says. “It’s everywhere. If your secret gets out, that’s it.”

So, I wonder, does Antonia have any message for Westporters of every era, seeking to understand what’s going on here today?

“Not everyone who comes here is not uninterested in the town and its past,” she says.

Antonia Landgraf and her husband understand the importance of the Westport Historical Society.

Antonia Landgraf and her husband understand the importance of the Westport Historical Society.

“My husband and I are very much invested in Westport. We want to contribute to the community.

“We’re not just passing through. We’re here for at least the next 16 years, through high school for our youngest. We might stay here after retirement.

“New people come in all the time. They may be different from those who were born here. But don’t assume they don’t respect all that has made the town what it is.”

Together At The Playhouse Table

In today’s always-connected, over-scheduled world, many family traditions are lost: sharing meals. Going to live performances together. And talking about them afterward.

Which is why the Westport Country Playhouse‘s “Together at the Table Family Dinner” is such a fantastic idea.

Created to make live theater accessible to more families — and introduce young audiences to the Playhouse in a warm, informal atmosphere — the program begins with a 5:30 p.m. communal dinner in the rehearsal space next to the theater.

Actors and directors wander in, for casual conversations about the show everyone is about to see.

The meal is wonderful — and not just because kids, parents and other adults are actually eating and talking together. When the show begins, there’s a palpable connection between the audience and the actors they’ve just met. The strong feeling continues through the entire play.

Sharing a meal before the show.

Sharing a meal before the show.

A recent attendee said, “Sharing a live performance with my kids is thrilling. It’s like taking an imaginative journey together.” The shared experience is far beyond watching TV or a movie together.

On the car ride home, she added, her children could not stop talking about the play. They kept asking when they could come back.

Jim and Libby Liu of Westport have taken their 8- and 6-year-olds to the Playhouse’s children’s productions. This year, they brought them to 2 adult shows: “And a Nightingale Sang” and “Love & Money.”

Libby says the program is a great way to get younger audiences involved in mainstage shows. Her kids loved asking questions of the actors during dinner, before they got into costume.

She appreciates both the early start time (7 p.m.), and the price: $10 per ticket, which includes the pre-show meal.

Playhouse logo

Erin McAllister calls the Playhouse’s program “a rich cultural experience for the community. Without programs like this, the arts would be inaccessible to many individuals and families.”

The next 2 “Together at the Table” events are “Bedroom Farce” (Tuesday, September 1) and “Broken Glass” (Tuesday, October 13). Both are appropriate for ages 14 and up; younger at a parent’s discretion.

There are only 2 rules for “Together at the Table”:

  1. At least one family member must be a student-aged child.
  2. Have fun.

(To purchase “Together at the Table” tickets, call 203-227-4177. For more information, click here.)

1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

Remembering Leah Rondon

Colleen Rondon is a much-admired Bedford Middle School teacher. Former students remember how often — and lovingly — she spoke of her own 3 children.

The entire Westport community was stunned and saddened to learn of a tragic accident that took the life of her youngest child and only daughter. Leah Marie Rondon died last Thursday, at just 6 years old.

Leah was about to enter 1st grade, and looked forward to taking the school bus.

She played soccer, basketball and softball, and was the Ansonia Boys & Girls Club “2015 Girl of the Year.” She loved reading, and proudly listed all her summer titles on the refrigerator.

Leah Rondon

Leah Rondon

The family’s many friends have organized a GoFundMe campaign. The webpage says:

As the Rondons begin the heartbreaking task of putting Leah to rest, we are asking for donations to assist them with funeral and other miscellaneous costs they may incur during this difficult time, so they can focus on family, healing, and honoring their daughter’s memory. Colleen and Henry Rondon are amazing parents, educators, and caring members of every community in which they are involved. We know they would do the same for us and ask you to give whatever you can in their time of need.

A mass of Christian burial is set for tomorrow (Tuesday, August 25, 10 a.m.) in the Church of the Assumption, 61 N. Cliff Street, Ansonia. Family and friends may call at the church tonight, from 3-7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made John C. Mead School Library, 75 Ford St., Ansonia, CT 06401; Ansonia Boys & Girls Club, 28 Howard Ave., Ansonia, CT 06401; or Ansonia Recreation Department, 253 Main St., Ansonia, CT 06401.

Farmers’ Photo Fan Favorites

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Sunday, August 23.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

Ken Bernhard’s Missions Of Mercy

Ken Bernhard is a very busy man. But not too busy to help others in need.

The longtime Westport attorney and former state legislator is deeply committed to 2 important ventures.

One is Soles4Souls. Founded as a relief organization after philanthropists and shoe executives provided footwear to people impacted by the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the non-profit has distributed 22 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries (and all 50 US states).

A few years ago, Bernhard helped collect over 700 pairs in Westport. He’s organized another collection this month. Collection boxes are set up in Town Hall and the Senior Center. More than 150 pairs of shoes have already been donated this year. Breaking that 700 mark should be a walk in the park.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

In October, Bernhard heads to Jordan. With an Arab-speaking colleague, he’ll purchase and deliver everything from toothpaste to school supplies — to Syrian refugees. He’s helped set up the 501(c)(3) Syria fund, under the umbrella of Helping Jordan Refugees and Mercy Corps.

“When I listened to the news about millions of refugees who have lost so much, and endured incalculable suffering through no fault of their own — ending up in bleak compounds with nothing but a will to survive — I thought I and our community should do something to help.”

If a busy guy like Ken Bernhard can find time to help these 2 excellent causes, the rest of us can pitch in too. Donations made payable to The Syria Fund should be sent to Ken Bernhard, 11 Woods Grove Rd., Westport, CT 06880; online, click on TheSyriaFund.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.