Category Archives: YMCA

Downtown Westport Springs To Life

Yesterday was the 1st real day of spring. And talented photographer Lynn U. Miller was there to capture it.

Many folks headed to the beach. But Lynn was intrigued by the number — and variety — of people wandering around, and enjoying, downtown Westport.

She enjoyed shooting a variety of scenes. You’ll enjoy seeing our familiar town with fresh eyes. (Click or hover any of the photos to enlarge!)

This relaxed couple enjoyed the view on a bench behind Oscar's. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

This relaxed couple enjoyed the view on a bench behind Oscar’s. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

University of Bridgeport grad students Neevaj Ram Motaparthy (electrical engineering) and Gopal Dugglna (computer science) snap their own shots. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

University of Bridgeport grad students Neevaj Ram Motaparthy (electrical engineering) and Gopal Dugglna (computer science) snap their own shots. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Ruben Alva of Bridgeport takes a break from work at the Spotted Horse. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Ruben Alva of Bridgeport heads to the river for a break from work at the Spotted Horse. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

From left: Fang Chih Lee, her mother Li Lee, and son/grandson Drake Chen. Drake lives in Westport. His mother and grandmother were visiting for the weekend, from Plymouth, Mass. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Fang Chih Lee, her mother Li Lee, and son/grandson Drake Chen. Drake lives in Westport. His mother and grandmother were visiting for the weekend, from Plymouth, Mass. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

An old-fashioned Church Lane sign. Reflected in the window: the former Max's Art Supplies. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

An old-fashioned Church Lane sign. Reflected in the window: the former Max’s Art Supplies. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

As the former Westport Y is  remade into Bedford Square, a window goes missing. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

As the former Westport Y is remade into Bedford Square, a window goes missing. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Before it was the Y fitness center, there was a firehouse next to the Bedford building. Now, you can see right through it. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Before it was the Y fitness center, there was a firehouse next to the Bedford building. Now you can see right through it. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Everyone out of the water! The deep end of the Y's large pool.

Everyone out of the water! The deep end of the Y’s large pool.

Near SoNo Baking -- across from the construction -- flowers bloom. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Near SoNo Baking — across from the construction — flowers bloom. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Now You See It…

YMCA construction

No, you’re not looking out a Metro-North train window.

This is a view Westporters have not seen in nearly 40 years: the east side of the old YMCA building (and next to it, the former firehouse).

But we won’t see it for long. Construction begins soon on the new Bedford Square.

Going, Going…

With the Westport Family Y firmly entrenched now at Mahackeno, David Waldman is moving ahead to build Bedford Square: the retail/office/ restaurant/residential complex that will substantially redefine our downtown.

Westporters are watching carefully, as work begins on the old Bedford building — the handsome Tudor-style structure that since 1923 has marked the Post Road/Main Street corner.

The 1978 Weeks Pavilion never engendered such love. A stark box with all the warmth of a Russian factory, it was thankfully hidden from view by trees, the Kemper-Gunn House, and the narrow confines of Church Lane.

When the Kemper-Gunn House was moved across Elm Street in November, the Weeks Pavilion was exposed.

Now, it’s being prepared for demolition.

Y demolition

The Weeks Pavilion, as viewed from Elm Street. An old, low-slung wooden medical building that fronted the road has already been removed.

Soon, all that will remain are memories of swim meets, racquetball, a cramped lobby, and newcomers wandering helplessly through a maze of hallways trying to find their way out.

On the other hand, compared to the new Y lockers, those in the Weeks Pavilion were like the Taj Mahal.

 

Giving It Up For St. Baldrick’s

Most kids would do anything to make sure their hair looks cool.

Some would do almost anything.

So when they hear about an important fundraising event that involves sacrificing their hair, they say, “Go for it!”

The Westport Family Y gym buzzed today. That was the sound of clippers, as hundreds of youngsters got shorn.

Taking it all off, in the Y gym.

Taking it all off, in the Y gym.

It was all part of the 11th annual TeamBrent St. Baldrick’s Celebration.

The idea is simple: Participants raise funds to fight childhood cancer. In exchange, they give up their hair.

The Y was behind the effort 1000%. There were opening ceremonies, a DJ, head painting, complimentary T-shirts, hats and photos — and free use of every part of the facility.

A selfie to remember.

A selfie to remember. (Photos/Scott Smith)

Before today, TeamBrent — named for a 6th grader who, after a dozen surgeries, 6 rounds of chemo and 2 stem cell transplants, has survived Stage 4 neuroblastoma — raised $3.4 million for St. Baldrick’s, and $7.3 million overall.

After today, that figure is waaaay higher.

When we tip our cap to these kids, all we see is something beautiful.

Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

A capital campaign for a new Westport Weston YMCA  fell short of its goal earlier this decade. So the Mahackeno facility — called the Bedford Family Center — was broken into 2 phases.

Phase I opened last fall, with an airy fitness center, gleaming new pool, well-lit exercise rooms, nice new gym and a much-needed child’s play space. The site was purchased decades ago — with the generous help of Frederick T. Bedford, Ruth’s father.

The new YMCA -- known as the Bedford Family Center -- at Mahackeno.

The new YMCA — known as the Bedford Family Center — at Mahackeno.

But the new Y lacks other amenities, like childcare, gymnastics and racquetball. And the locker rooms are badly cramped. Y officials promised they’d be added some vague time later, during Phase II.

Phase II suddenly seems a lot closer to reality.

The Y announced today that it has received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford. The last surviving granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — a director of Standard Oil and founder of the Westport Y, among many other philanthropic projects — died last June, at 99.

Norwalk Hospital logoYet this is not Ruth Bedford’s only astonishing gift. She also left $40 million to Norwalk Hospital. She loved that institution too — and volunteered there, logging almost 17,000 hours in the gift shop, over 5 decades. (A previous gift from E.T. Bedford, decades ago, enabled the hospital to double its patient capacity.)

But wait! There’s more! Another $40 million bequest — believed to be the largest ever to an all-girls’ school — went to Foxcroft, a tiny private girls school in Virginia that was Bedford’s alma mater.

The Y’s plans for the fallen-from-the-sky money are not yet set.

Officials say they will use it for “current and future capital development needs” — perhaps including new locker rooms? — and “to endow programs for wellness and youth in a way that honors the tradition of the Bedford family legacy.”

For nearly a century, that legacy has enriched Westport. It continues to do so, even after death.

Weather Cold, Action Hot

It’s friggin’ freezing out. And the wind is blowing like we’re in Siberia.

All the more reason to head to the Y.

The Westport YMCA‘s new Mahackeno facility was filled today — as always. There was basketball, swimming and classes — you name it.

But nothing beats working out in the fitness center. From inside, the view almost makes you want to go outdoors.

Almost.

Y fitness center

Be Careful What You Wish For

While planning for its move to Mahackeno, the Westport YMCA assured the public (and politicians) that there would be plenty of parking. Even during big events, Y leaders said, they could handle the crowds.

They can’t.

Today, a masters swim meet — “not even a major one,” an employee admitted — caused chaos. People parked in snow banks, at odd and dangerous angles, on the narrow entrance road — anywhere they could. Between drivers circling endlessly looking for spots, folks pulling out in very cramped quarters, and families dodging traffic as they trooped over from the Merritt Parkway commuter lot, it was a dangerous scene.

One small part of the giant parking mess today.

One small part of the giant parking mess today.

I don’t mind walking a good distance before I work out. But plenty of Y users are not as mobile.

The move out of downtown has made the Y wildly popular. Officials may be surprised at the number of new members. But they should not be surprised at what happens, now that they can hold swim meets with more teams than before.

A couple of weeks ago, a 16-team youth swim meet caused a similar parking frenzy. The Y sent several teenage employees outside, telling swim team parents to drop their kids off in front and then park in the commuter lot. They were ignored, so today they were nowhere in sight. The result: one big goat rodeo.

Not to mention the even-more-cramped-than-usual locker room. So I won’t.

Y’s Words On Shoveling

The Westport YMCA posts daily health tips on a whiteboard near (of course) the “Wellness Center.”

Today’s suggestions are worth passing along to everyone:

Y's words on shoveling

Be sure to show this to your kids, who will no doubt be very eager to help.

Coming In 2015: Outdoor Fitness Parks In Westport?

Four years ago in Tel Aviv, Vadim Mejerson looked out his hotel window. He saw what looked like a child’s playground — but it was filled with adults. They were all exercising, on equipment you’d find in a gym but adapted for outdoors.

You or I might think, “Hmmm … interesting.” Meyerson — a longtime Weston resident with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, who helped Exxon and many other companies develop fitness centers for executives — thought: “Wow … opportunity!”

He and his son Adam — who’d seen the same sight, independently, on that trip to Israel — did some research. They learned the parks were open 24/7. Some were roofed. Some were linked by bike trails.

A fitlot park by the sea in Israel...

A Fitlot park by the sea in Israel…

Vadim and Adam found that outdoor fitness parks were exploding in popularity around the world. England, Switzerland, Australia, Canada — everywhere, it seemed, governments and private sources were developing 1,000-square-foot areas where people could work out, get fit and socialize.

Everywhere — except the U.S.

Believing that every individual should enjoy the health benefits of parks like these, they formed a 501(c)(3) organization called FitLot. Partnering with neighborhood associations, and with funding from corporations, foundations and governments, it’s developing outdoor fitness parks throughout New Orleans.

That’s a perfect place for them. The city is burdened with obesity, diabetes and other health-related problems — but it’s also rebuilding itself, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

...and one in Europe.

…and one in Europe.

Now Mejerson wants to build facilities closer to home.

The other day he and 2 fellow enthusiasts — Steven Lewine and Rick Jaffe — talked about their vision for Westport.

“It’s free. It’s easy to access. It’s not an intimidating ‘gym environment,’ so it appeals to everyone,” Lewine said.

They ticked off potential spots for outdoor fitness parks: Compo Beach. Luciano Park, near the train station. The Y. The library. The Senior Center. Winslow Park. Baron’s South. The front lawn of Town Hall. Mini-parks, like Grace Salmon on Imperial Avenue.

They also like Sherwood Island. Connected by bike trails, they say, the fitness parks would be a way of tying the town together with the state park in our midst.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

A roof may be necessary for a Westport outdoor fitness park.

They know there are obstacles. Compo Beach is in the early stages of a renovation project. Winslow Park has been deemed “open space.” Bike paths are tough to build and maintain.

Still, the 3 men have had preliminary discussions with town officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Parks and Recreation Department director Stuart McCarthy, and Parks and Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh. The talks were “constructive and productive,” Lewine says.

The cost of an outdoor fitness center is no more than $100,000 — 10% of the cost of an indoor facility, Jaffe says.

“It’s inexpensive, it’s public, it’s a beautiful concept,” notes Mejerson. “There’s no downside.”

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

Westporters embrace physical fitness.

“We think the community would welcome this gift with open arms,” Lewine adds. (It would be a “gift” thanks to corporate or private sponsorship.) “Westport is an enlightened town that considers physical fitness to be an important value.”

The big problem, the outdoor parks advocates know, is finding the right space(s), then gaining public support.

In Israel, Mejerson says, outdoor fitness parks are everywhere: hospitals, schools, prisons, gas stations, eldercare facilities.

Will one or more rise in Westport? If so, where? Click “Comments” to weigh in.

 

 

 

Not Your Father’s YMCA

Despite this morning’s post, there are some holiday decorations downtown.

But they’re not Christmas lights.

And they’re not where you might expect them.

Alert “06880” reader Jeff Giannone sent along this shot:

Y menorah

A menorah stands ready for tonight’s celebration of Hanukkah — the “Festival of Lights.” Set for 6:30 p.m., it’s sponsored by the 4 synagogues in town. All Westporters — of all faiths — are invited.

So head down to the site of the recently vacated Y.

Or — as it was once known — the Young Men’s Christian Association.