Only Good For Victoria Gouletas

The tree limb that fell on Victoria Gouletas last winter broke her back, paralyzed her from the chest down, and upended her and her family’s life.

The road back has been long and hard. But Victoria — a real estate attorney and Zoning Board of Appeals member — has been buoyed by the kindnesses of family members, friends, neighbors, and total strangers.

Two of those strangers are twins. Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti deliver home-cooked meals to people going through hard times. Victoria was high on their list.

She was nominated by Westport Moms, the resource-rich platform run by Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post.

Judy and Joy’s good work now inspires others on Only Good TV, which — as its name implies — is a much-needed addition to today’s media landscape.

It’s a pay site — but you can watch Victoria, Judy and Joy’s episode as part of a free trial.  Click here to be uplifted.

Victoria Gouletas (far right), her kids, and Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti on Only Good TV.

Kerry McGrath: 30 Years In Immigration Law

Growing up in Westport, Kerry McGrath had 2 main influences.

There was her Catholic faith. Assumption Church, she says, provided a strong foundation in social justice.

And there was also Jewish culture. “Tikkun olam,” she explains easily, embodies the concept of repairing the world, and doing good for others.

“My family and I had so many Jewish friends,” she says. “That was instilled in me as well.”

McGrath had the “good fortune” to spend plenty of time with Manny and Estelle Margolis. He was a lifelong civil rights and civil liberties advocate who died in 2011. She continues to crusade for social justice — including maintaining vigils on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

“Their focus and passion made a big impression on a very impressionable teenager,” McGrath recalls.

Kerry McGrath

Though she went through the Westport school system, she did not graduate from Staples High School. Her parents moved to New Jersey when she was in 10th grade (and “thankfully moved back 4 years later”).

After graduating from Duke University and New York University Law School, McGrath has focused on immigrants. Fourteen years ago, she opened her own firm. She continues to work on immigration law.

McGrath’s first job gave her her first exposure to the special needs of immigrants. Working with teenagers and young people at Covenant House, she realized that many ended up on the streets of New York after fleeing violence in Central America. Others were sent to the US by their parents from around the world, in hopes of making money.

That experience opened her eyes to the many complex layers of teen homelessness and world affairs. She moved to Guatemala, to work and learn Spanish.

Then, at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, she started an immigration rights project. At her next job — Amnesty International — McGrath looked at the biggest picture: “the world forces causing oppression, and violations of human rights.”

After working in Washington, she returned to Atlanta and joined Catholic Charities. Her clients were all detainees.

“That was so hard emotionally,” she says. But it inspired her, when she opened her solo office, to concentration on immigration issues.

Many clients are landscapers, roofers and house cleaners. She works with them on family petitions and Dreamer status. Some are victims of crimes, including domestic violence.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, she says, things have changed dramatically. In the past, someone who overstayed a visa, married a US citizen and was put in removal proceedings could have the case terminated by Homeland Security, in order to pursue a green card.

Now, McGrath says, “discretion has been eliminated.”

She understand that this is a controversial issue. “Violating the law is wrong,” she says. “But the consequences far exceed what’s been done. The effects can be felt on children and spouses. And often these are people who are contributing a lot to this country.

“It’s very complicated. Immigration issues are not black and white.”

She also knows that some Americans think immigrants get “special treatment.” However, she notes, “you can’t just come to the US and apply for citizenship right away. Even children of legal residents have to wait a long time.”

One client fled civil war in El Salvador in 1990. She received her green card a couple of months ago — 28 years later.

The president, she fears, is “trying to minimize both illegal and legal immigration. This is not just about a wall to keep people out. It’s about preventing permanent residents from becoming citizens. And preventing others from coming her legally, on temporary status.”

McGrath points to another often-overlooked aspect of immigration.

“I don’t think people realize why Central Americans come to the US. Our illegal drug use fuels violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. If we stop consuming, gangs would not have the money or power to conduct all that violence. We’ve created the push out of those countries to the US.’

She connects her work back to Westport. The schools and town gave her the education and skills for her work.

Westport also taught her “how lucky and privileged” she is. It was here — from her church, and her Jewish friends — that she first heard the saying, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

And where, she says, she also learned: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Pics Of The Day #484

Lucky lifeguard chair, a couple of hours ago … (Photo/Nancy Axthelm)

… and the view by the cannons… (Photo/Jen Greely)

… plus this full hemi rainbow … (Photo/Seth Goltzer)

… and a pot of gold at Greens Farms Elementary School. (Photo/Kurt Dasbach)

Westport Firefighter Battles Western Blaze

California’s wildfires are snagging all the headlines.

But other states face fires too.

They need help. And — just as the rest of the country sends aid when we’re battered by hurricanes or blizzards — Connecticut firefighters have headed west.

Deputy Chief Michael Kronick joined 18 other members of the CT Interstate Fire Crew. They traveled last month to Colorado, where thousands of acres burned in the Buttermilk and Green Mountain Fires.

Kronick returned home last night.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Kronick, in Colorado.

Connecticut participates in a reciprocal aid program operated by the US Forest Service. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection maintains a roster of staff and personnel from local fire departments who are certified to fight wildfires.

Kronick — a member of the Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew since 2002 — has been deployed on 11 wildfires throughout North America. He’s a great representative of Westport’s superb Fire Department.

Westport — and Colorado — salute Deputy Fire Chief Michael Kronick!

Colorado wildfire


Don’t Forget To Vote Today!

Turnout was light this morning around town, as the Democratic and Republican parties held primary elections.

The scene at Town Hall earlier this morning. Similar light turnout was reported throughout Westport.

Sure, there’s not the drama of a presidential race. But the offices of governor, attorney general and treasurer are important.

And of course, generations of Americans have fought and died protecting our right to vote.

Polls close at 8 p.m. To find your polling place, click here.

Orphenians Bring Down The (Opera) House

Last month, the Staples High School Orphenians traveled to Australia. The elite singing group performed at the Sydney Opera House.

The teenagers are home now, but they’re still talking about it in Westport. I imagine they are in Sydney too.

But you didn’t have to be Down Under to hear their remarkable voices. Here, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, is a video of the entire concert.

The Orphenians’ individual performance — directed by Luke Rosenberg — begins at 23:49.

The combined choirs’ performance, including several other schools — directed by Craig Hella Johnson, one of the most popular conductors in any hemisphere — starts around 55:00. Staples’ rising senior Georgia Wright is featured at 1:45:30.

The Orphenian girls are in the second 2 rows, on both ends. The boys are behind them, in black ties.

(Hat tip: Kerry Foley)

More Post Road Changes: Kowalsky Out, Assisted Living In

In the 1940s, Joe, Paul and Ed started Kowalsky Brothers Construction Company. Their headquarters was on the Post Road, where Westport Hardware is today.

In the 1960s they moved across the street, to the former site of in the Fresh Market shopping center.

A decade later they moved again: down the Post Road, just east of what was then Parsell’s Garden Mart (and later, Geiger’s).

Kowalsky Brothers headquarters, 1141 Post Road East.

Kowalsky Construction — now owned by Jay and Edward, the 2nd generation — is once again relocating.

This time, it’s much further: to Stratford. They need more room than their current 5.4 acres. A spot near I-95 exit 30 is perfect.

Kowalsky — you don’t need the rest of the company name — has been part of the Westport community for nearly 80 years.

They built Parker Harding Plaza, behind Main Street. (Evan Harding — who helped plan the project — was friends with Joe Kowalsky.)

The company dredged and built Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. Every year, they provide the trucks and manpower to prepare Compo Beach for the summer.

After Hurricane Sandy slammed Westport in 2012, CL&P trucks were scarce. But Kowalsky Brothers was out early, clearing Compo Beach and environs.

“We’ve done literally hundreds of projects — parking lots, roadways, you name it,” Jay says.

Kowalsky gives back plenty too. They provide many of the flatbed trucks that serve as floats in the Memorial Day parade. When floats were a thing at Staples High School Homecoming, they donated those too.

“We’ll still bid on jobs here,” Jay promises.

Right now, they’re excavating the new apartment complex across from Greens Farms Elementary School — next door to their soon-to-be-vacated headquarters.

Those apartments are a visible symbol of a changing Westport.

So is what will move in when Kowalsky moves out.

The new owner — LCB Senior Living of Boston — is building an assisted living facility.

It will be 3 stories high, 97,194 square feet, and have 96 rooms.

If you think this fills a need in Westport: You’re right. The most recent senior facility in town is Westport Rehabilitation Complex next to Kings Highway Elementary School, clear across town.

Originally called Mediplex, it opened in 1964.

Kowalsky Construction has always been a good neighbor. For years, they’ve maintained the handsome garden at the Sherwood Island Connector, around the corner from their headquarters.

Pics Of The Day #483

Compo Beach clouds last night … (Photo/Lauren Bromberg)

… and the scene at Grace Salmon Park. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Remembering Hope Berry

Hope Berry — a 1987 Staples High School graduate, and social justice advocate — died in June, from complications of pneumonia. She was 49.

Her death was little noticed in Westport. In national LGBT circles, it was big news.

Hope was the daughter of a gay man and a lesbian. Her father, David  Berry, died of AIDS in 1989. Her mother, Karen Veronica, founded Bread & Roses, the AIDS hospice just over the Westport border in Georgetown.

Her obituary calls Hope “a queer femme, a political junkie and activist, a mom to daughter Lila, a long-time ASL interpreter and active member of LGBT deaf communities, and a hub of the spokes of many communities.”

Hope Berry

She served in many roles with COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), including advisor to directors and mentor to staff, board members and youth leaders.

The organization called Hope “the keeper of our institutional memory, history and legend. (She) helped transform our nation’s concept of family.”

At a time when children of LGBT parents were ostracized, physically attacked and removed from their homes, Hope was a frequent TV guest, and often quoted in the press.

Professionally, she worked as an ASL interpreter. In 2003 she married Dion Manley, president of the transgender organization FTM International. Their daughter was born the next year.

Shortly before her death, she began a new career in hospitality with Marriott.

A memorial gathering in Hope’s name is set for the Benedectine Grange in West Redding on Wednesday, August 29 (1 p.m.). In lieu of flowers, donations to handle final expenses and provide for Lila can be made here.

Wilton Road/Kings Highway Apartment Proposal: It’s Back!

Just over a year ago, the state Appellate Court denied a plan to build a 7-story, 48-unit apartment complex at one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive spots in town.

The ruling was based on grave concerns about safety, and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at 122 Wilton Road — right at the Kings Highway North intersection.

Undeterred, the owner has come up with a smaller plan. Garden Homes of Stamford wants to build a 19-unit, 3-story, 20,078-square foot rental complex. With 31 parking spots at grade, that would total 4 stories.

There would be 4 1-bedroom units, 8 2-bedroom units, and 7 with 3 bedrooms.

The site plan for 122 Wilton Road. Wilton Road is at the left; it intersects with Kings Highway North (Willows Medical Complex location) at the top.

The project is being submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission with 2 affordability plans. The default sets aside 30% of the units as “affordable,” according to state 8-30g regulations. An alternative plan offers 60% as affordable — “if certain conditions are met by the P&Z and other Westport town bodies and staff.”

The goal of the project, Garden Homes says, is “to enable low and moderate income families with children the opportunity to live in Westport and have access to its excellent public schools and amenities.”

The developer submitted a traffic impact study. It included 2 proposed roadway improvements: lengthening the westbound left-turn lane for Kings Highway North by 50 feet, and adjusting the traffic signal at that intersection.

“With these improvements,” the report said, delays there “during the critical weekday peak hours will be shorter than those under the 2015 existing conditions.”

Traffic concerns were only part of the opposition to Garden Homes’ previous proposal.

Another reason was the location: abutting the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

Safety was another major issue. Westport Fire Department officials worried about access to the site.

Former fire chief Andrew Kingsbury reviewed the new proposals. Many concerns remain.

Access is still a major issue: The emergency fire lane is not wide enough, has a tight turning radius, and can only be approached from the south. The access driveway on the east side is also too tight to accommodate Westport’s aerial apparatus.

Kingsbury adds that congestion in the area during rush hour hampers firefighting efforts.

The developer no doubt hopes that a scaled-down version of the previous proposal — and inclusion of 8-30g housing — will carry the day.

“Garden Homes” is a bucolic-sounding name. But I’m betting the reception to this new proposal will not be all peaches and cream.

(Hat tip: Wendy Pieper)