Category Archives: Organizations

Just So You Know: The Gift Of Gab

For an organization that is all about sharing stories, Just So You Know stays pretty quiet.

Since 2007, the Westport-based non-profit has partnered with hospitals and cancer support groups around the country. They’ve helped hundreds of people diagnosed with serious illnesses talk, reminisce, ask and answer questions. Sharing stories is a way to connect meaningfully with loved ones and close friends.

The project began when Gail Addlestone — a friend of Westporter Robin Weinberg — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gail — who was pregnant — wanted to spend quality time with family and friends. She also hoped to find a way to tell her as-yet-unborn daughter the things a little girl should hear from her mom.

Just So You Know logo

Both goals were accomplished when Robin set up a video camera. Her questions enabled Gail to share stories — big events, small moments, important milestones and finally-funny embarrassments. The women chatted and laughed for hours.

To help others do the same, Just So You Know was born. “It’s more than fun, rewarding and deeply satisfying,” Robin says. “Research shows that storytelling is a powerful, universal way to make sense of things. It’s especially therapeutic as part of coping with a life-changing or threatening illness.”

This holiday season, Westporters can videotape their own stories. Robin is opening her first pop-up recording studio here.

It’s a great way for folks to tape stories, then share them with anyone they wish (via a flash drive, after editing). The videos can be given as gifts to relatives and friends. They can also be passed on to future generations. (With permission, the interviews will be posted on Just So You Know’s website.)

A variety of folks record videos for Just So You Know.

A variety of people record videos for Just So You Know.

But Westport’s pop-up studio is also a fundraiser. The $50 fee helps Just So You Know offer its programs to people living with serious illnesses.

Any combination can record stories: spouses, siblings, entire families, friend groups, grandparents and grandchildren, co-workers, teachers and students — you name it.

Some bring props or photos. Others read stories. There are no rules (beyond a 30-minute time limit). Whatever is meaningful is good.

They say talk is cheap.

Nope. Thanks to Just So You Know, it’s priceless.

(Just So You Know’s pop-up recording studio is set for Westfair Shopping Center, 1767 Post Road East — opposite Super Stop & Shop — from December 5 to 13. To reserve a session, click here. For more information — including how to bring Just So You Know to your organization — click on

Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)


From Westport To Anatevka And Syria, With Love

For the past 2 weekends, Staples Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof” awed and inspired packed audiences.

The show’s run ended last night. But its magic lives on.

The plight of early 20th century Russian Jews resonated with the teenage cast and crew. They made connections with world events today. At each performance, Players collected money for Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

At the end of last night’s final show, Players president Vig Namasivayam announced that audiences had donated $4,750 to the cause.

Staples Players:  Take a bow!

The symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night's performance.

A symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night’s performance.

(To add your own donation, click here.)

Happy 100th, Howard Munce!

Mark your calendars, Westport. On Friday, Howard Munce turns 100.

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Howard’s resume — advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — ranks him with the most prominent creative folks in our history.

He served his country in World War II, seeing action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

He’s served his town too. Howard has been an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library.

Whenever he was asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the Westport Historical Society; mentoring young artists — he always said “of course.”

Howard Munce epitomizes 2 of our community’s proudest traits: our arts heritage, and our spirit of giving back.

He’s been a proud Westporter since 1935. He came here to live with family friends, while commuting to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was modeling for famed artist Harold von Schmidt.

Westport has been an important part of Howard’s life ever since. And he’s been an even more important part of ours.

What do you give a man who has seen and done everything? How about a townwide ton of birthday wishes?

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

Just click “Comments” below. Howard does not get on the computer much, but his daughter and home health care aide look forward to reading them to him.

Here’s my contribution:

Howard, happy hundred! Thank you for all you have done, for all of us. You have made Westport a far better place, and my life is far richer for knowing you. May your momentous day be as bright as your ever-present smile!

What’s yours?



Customizable Calendar App Covers Westport sponsors a “Celebrate Westport” calendar — which, for some reason, does not include town government meetings.

WestportNow offers a calendar — with events for that day only.

A new startup hopes to become our go-to local calendar app.

Burbio — a “fun play” on the word “suburb,” they say — has spread to 30 Fairfield and Westchester County towns. Users pick and choose calendars for local organizations, non-profits and schools, customizing which ones they see. Color coding permits everyone in, say, one family to see every other family member’s calendar at once.

Burbio users can also sync information to a digital calendar, and be notified of changes or additions.

An email digest of “important school, community and school sports events” is sent to users every Sunday, a press release says. (It looks, though, as if the sports link is not yet live. It also looks pretty minimalist, as shown below.)

A Burbio screenshot.

A Burbio screenshot.

Burbio is the brainchild of Julie and Dennis Roche. The Pelham, New York couple with 4 kids was going bonkers trying to keep track of everyone’s activities. Dennis is no stranger to Westport — he lived near the beach in the 1990s.

Burbio is still finding its way. The groups currently listed for Westport are the library, schools and Farmer’s Market. So the main calendar includes events like a 6th-7th grade “can competition,” and an elementary school parent social.

A “Westport Holiday Events” page included “The Nutcracker,” craft shows — and Staples Players’ “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Okay, maybe they were thinking Chanukah.) And there are no town commission or board meetings.

Burbio is just getting started. As more people use it — and more organizations add their calendars — it will become more inclusive, more robust and livelier.

For now, check it out:


Surprise! Merritt Parkway North Avenue Bridge Work Will Not Be Done By Promised Date Of Late October

In mid-September, the state Department of Transportation installed a temporary traffic light on North Avenue. That allowed alternating 1-way traffic to flow over the Merritt Parkway bridge. Repairs had begun in June, and were expected to be done in late August.

Two things happened almost immediately:

  • Traffic returned to normal.
  • Repair work stopped.

It has not resumed. There were not the promised round-the-clock shifts. There were not 2 shifts. There was not enough 1 guy standing there, putting out orange cones for no good reason at all.

There was no way DOT could meet its 2nd completion date — late October — unless an entire Army Corps of Engineers division parachuted in. And then worked harder than they ever had in history. Including wartime.

Scaffolding underneath the Merritt Parkway bridge -- shown here at North Avenue last month -- has been struck 9 times since mid-June.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, when actual work was being done.

The spectacular lack of work has continued for over a month. Today, the selectman’s office announced that “unforeseen engineering problems” will further delay the repairs.

With winter coming, the new completion date is “expected to shift to” … June 2016.

And not June 1, you eager beavers. No — June 30, 2016.

“Fortunately,” the news release chirps, “the alternating single lane will continue to operate during the winter months.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe — whose office has repeatedly pushed DOT to please get to work — calls the latest development “a major disappointment to us all.”

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

DOT has told the town “there is no alternative solution at this time.” DOT has assured the town that “it will make all accommodations necessary to leave the bridge job site in a condition whereby snow plows can operate in the winter and that the bridge can be safely traversed.”

I ran the press release through Google Translate. Here’s its translation of DOT-talk:

“Hey, shit happens. Don’t worry. Our latest promise is only 10 months later than the original one. See ya! PS: Hope there’s not a lot of snow this winter.”

The press release concludes with DOT’s official explanation for the delay:

Due to numerous accidental strikes by unauthorized oversized vehicles on the Merritt Parkway (Rte. 15), the integrity of the temporary support system became compromised. The Contractor removed the lower support beam of the system on September 13, 2015 to assess the damage and make repairs. A revised design for a different system providing additional clearance was submitted for review to the District on November 2, 2015.

Due to this delay, which pushed temperature sensitive work into the winter season the Department and the Contractor agreed to resume work in the spring, given the additional challenges, risks and costs of winter weather work. The Town of Westport was also informed and coordinated with to ensure local traffic was accommodated for safe passage over the one lane bridge during the winter.

In the next few weeks the Contractor will conduct dowel bar pull-out tests to verify the condition of the concrete and install additional drainage on the North bound right shoulder of Rte. 15 to alleviate water runoff on the roadway and potential icing issues. The jobsite will be secured for the winter and any height restriction signs on Rte. 15 will be removed or covered until construction resumes in the spring of 2016. We estimate a revised completion date prior to June 30, 2016.

DOT logo


Share The Pie!

Despite an up-and-down year, much of Westport enjoys far more than its share of the economic pie.

Which is why, as Thanksgiving looms, the Conservative Synagogue and Homes With Hope team up to “Share the Pie.”

The annual effort is simple:  Apple, pecan and pumpkin pies sell for $22 each. All are kosher.

Proceeds help Homes With Hope provide permanent affordable housing, casework and support services, emergency shelter, food, meals, and life skills training.

Donations also provide pies for local Thanksgiving feasts in our community (Saugatuck Congregational Church) and to families in need (Carver Center).

Individuals and families order pies.  So do local businesses; they give them to their employees as thanks, while at the same time aiding a great cause.  Last year, 500 pies were ordered. Can Share the Pie beat that record this year?

There is no better — or more nourishing — way to give thanks.

(Deadline for ordering is tomorrow — Monday, November 16.  Order forms are available at Ordered pies can be picked up on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23 and 24, at the Conservative Synagogue, 30 Hillspoint Road. Corporate orders will be delivered. For more information, call 203-454-4673.)

Day After Thanksgiving Is Stuffed With Love

As little girls, Layla and Maya Wofsy spent their birthdays at Build A Bear. They created stuffed gifts to give to children who needed them more than they did.

Taking cues from their kids, in 2007 Westporters Hallie and Scott Wofsy created Stuffed With Love. The charity event provides an environment where children can create stuffed animals, to be donated to needy youngsters.

Three years later the Wofsy family expanded the idea, forming the Kidz Give Back Foundation.

This area remains a focal point of SWL’s efforts. The day after Thanksgiving every year Kidz Give Back sponsors a Stuffed With Love event, at Weston’s Norfield Grange. Hundreds of children stuff, dress and prepare gifts for others in hospitals or financial distress.

The messy but happy aftermath of a Stuffed With Love event.

The messy but happy aftermath of a Stuffed With Love event.

But as important as the gift of giving is, many children and communities lack the financial resources to host their own Stuffed With Love events.

Fortunately, Kidz Give Back received a Fanny and Svante Kilstrom Foundation grant. That gives 400 children in Bridgeport the chance to create stuffed animal gifts to give to children in need in their own communities. The circle of care ripples outward.

The Wofsys invite all area children — and families — to join their efforts. To join, host or donate to a Stuffed With Love event, click here.


Sunday’s TEA Talk: Where Are Our Arts?

You’ve heard of TED Talks. They cover global topics, in intriguing, inspiring ways.

Westport’s TEA Talks are just as important. And they touch on topics that, while broad in scope, are intensely personal.

This Sunday’s event (November 15, 2 p.m., Town Hall, free, with reception to follow) focuses on the arts. Specifically, it examines how changes in the state mandate toward STEM — science, technology, education and math — might affect our school district’s flexibility to take full advantage of the strong arts curriculum and programming we’ve spent decades nurturing.

This TEA Talk — it stands for Thinkers, Educators, Artists — is sponsored by the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. They celebrate our wonderful artistic and cultural heritage — and keep them thriving.


Where will the arts fit in our schools? Will future students have the same opportunity to embrace them? What about students in neighboring communities, not as fortunate as ours? Those are some of the questions Sunday’s TEA Talk will address.

Despite Common Core requirements, Westport educators have found ingenious ways to enhance the curriculum even more, in subjects far beyond visual art. In subjects like math, English and social studies, teachers are utilizing town collections to develop students’ analytical thinking and communication skills.

For example, starting this year every Westport 3rd grader will look at Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” mural. They’ll explore the painting, and tie it in with many aspects of their curriculum. For instance: How have our town and Connecticut changed — and stayed the same — over time? And what influence does geography play on development?

Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Sunday’s TEA Talk includes the state commissioner of education; 2 Westport educators, and world-renowned pianist (and local resident) Frederic Chiu. He’ll lead a discussion of the differences in music education in Westport and less affluent districts.

Anyone can watch a TED Talk on the web. But TEA Talks — those are what make this town (like our arts) special.

(For more information on Sunday’s TEA Talks, click here.)

Another Bridge Needs Work

Bridges are all over the Westport news. There’s the uncertain fate of the Bridge Street bridge, and the uncertain date — because work has apparently stopped forever — for finishing the North Avenue Merritt Parkway bridge.

Now a 3rd bridge has grabbed the attention of at least one Westporter.

Alert “06880” reader Jonathan McClure wondered what’s up with the Merritt’s Newtown Turnpike bridge. It’s been encased in wood for a while. He searched the web, but found no explanation.

The Merritt Parkway Newtown Turnpike bridge. (Photo/Jonathan McClure)

The Merritt Parkway Newtown Turnpike bridge. (Photo/Jonathan McClure)

So he contacted the Merritt Parkway Conservancy. Executive director Jill Smyth replied that the state Department of Transportation had safety concerns about stones coming loose from the bridge. To protect drivers and preserve the exterior, DOT braced it with wood.

The Conservancy is working with DOT on repairs. Restoration of the bridge will begin in 2017.

2017!  You know — the same year that work resumes on the North Avenue bridge.

The same bridge, before being encased in wood.

The same bridge, before being encased in wood.