Westport’s Quiet Role: Addiction Recovery Hub

It was a simple dental procedure..

Back in 2005, Al Samaras was a healthcare sales executive. He owned a large home in Madison, where he and his wife were raising 2 kids.

He loved the opiates that lessened the post-operative pain. Within 8 months, Samaras lost his career. His wife. And his kids.

It took a while to recover. But while still living in a sober house in North Haven, he was asked to manage it.

“I was in my late 30s. I had life skills to fall back on,” Samaras says.

Al Samaras

Yet the model he used for recovery almost never worked for 18-22-year-olds. Most of them start abusing substances — drugs or alcohol — around age 13. Their emotional development stalls.

The financial model most recovery centers use does not support the level of staffing and services — with constant support and oversight — young men need to succeed.

So Samaras helped develop a 2-pronged system aimed at young male addicts.

Very quietly, both are succeeding.

And both are right here in Westport.

With a felony cocaine conviction, Samaras could not go back to his old life. Gradually — as he remarried his wife, put his family back together and built a new house — he developed an extended care sober-living model.

He knew Westport has a strong recovery community. Though he understood possible resistance to establishing a sober house here — not in my backyard! — he searched for property.

The 2nd homeowner he contacted — “We want to rent your house, and put young addicts there” — was willing to talk. “That’s all I ask,” Samaras says.

The 1st “Westport House” opened in 2014, on Fragrant Pines Court (opposite Coffee An’). A 2nd house followed on the same street. A 3rd is around the corner, on Cross Highway.

One of the Westport Houses, not far from downtown.

The homes are large, with plenty of privacy. Several residents live in each, 1 to 2 per room, plus support staff. There are 35 beds in all.

They are life-changing places.

“These are not just ‘sober houses,'” Samaras explains. “They are programs for young men in their teens and 20s who lack life and coping skills. They come in overwhelmed and anxious. They can’t navigate the world without drugs in their system.”

Westport House’s 2-phase system helps reintegrate them into society.

Phase I lasts about 90 days (with various goal-oriented levels for residents to attain). The homes are staffed 24/7, with 3 case management managers, and program aides. There are 17 employees in all.

Though half of the young men come from the tri-state area, nearly every state has been represented.

The interior of the Cross Highway house.

Residents take classes at Fairfield and Sacred Heart Universities, and Norwalk Community College.

They also work. Jim Gabal places each young man at a site. Some volunteer at the Gillespie Center. Others are at non-profits; Christ and Holy Trinity Church; businesses like Sperry Top-Sider and Vineyard Vines, and in law firms.

Given the chance, they can handle it. Some residents attend schools like Cornell and Vanderbilt. One recent “grad” is headed to Yale.

In Phase II, the staff is on site from 9 a.m. to midnight.

“We’re super-fortunate that Westport has been so great to us,” Samaras says. “From the zoning department to neighbors, we’ve been welcomed warmly.”

The program is very conscious that they’re in a residential neighborhood. Cars are not parked on the street. “Hanging out” is prohibited.

“We want to be enmeshed in the community,” Samaras says. “We like manning booths at civic events, and participating in life here however we can.”

Westport House is not cheap. Costs starts at $12,000 a month in Phase I. Insurance may cover some or all of the expense.

The 2nd component of Samaras’ work is Clearpoint Recovery Center. Dual-licensed to treat substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, and located nearby on Kings Highway North — in the former Internal Medicine Associates suite — this is where Westport House residents meet 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 days a week for intensive outpatient groups.

“In recovery, environments matter,” Samaras says. “That’s why we chose large, professionally decorated homes. It’s the same with Clearpoint.”

Treatment centers are typically sterile, he notes. Clearpoint features reclaimed barn lumber, and comfortable furniture.

A Clearpoint meeting room.

Clearpoint’s 20 employees include experienced therapists, and — in administrative roles — several program graduates. “They come in here, and can’t look anyone in the eye. Now they work here,” Samaras says proudly.

But Clearpoint has another component. While it’s used mornings for Westport House residents, the rest of the time it offers services for the rest of Fairfield County.

For example, there are female-only groups. “Women in recovery have different issues than men — there’s often trauma and psychological disorders,” Samaras explains.

One women’s group meets 3 times a week, for 3 hours per session.

There are professionals groups, for those struggling with alcohol. (In most AA groups, Samaras notes, alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds mix together. Westport House residents may also be involved in AA.)

There are also young adult groups, and one centered on medication management.

A small Clearpoint meeting.

“I love Westport for many reasons — including its recovery community,” Samaras says.

“There are a lot of people here recovering from drugs and alcohol. They are amazing human beings. And they’ve been very supportive of us.”

Before today, you may not have heard of Westport House, or Clearpoint.

That’s okay. For hundreds of people who need them, they’re there for them.

And how wonderful it is that “there” means “right here.”

Pic Of The Day #97

Miggs Burroughs curated the “Day in the Life of Westport” exhibit at the Westport Library. It included 70 great images, all taken on June 21 (summer solstice) in Westport by amateur and professional photographers. The exhibit runs for about 3 more weeks. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Photo Challenge #134

Everyone knows the “06880” tagline: “Where Westport meets the world.”

Which means it’s okay that last week’s photo challenge — taken by Paul Curtis, of a sign at a train station saying “Westport” — is located not within our Westport, but rather in Westport, New York.

It’s a lovely Adirondacks town, on the western shore of Lake Champlain. Camp Dudley — where (Connecticut) Westport kids have gone for years — is there.

“Dirty pool! Isn’t the photo challenge supposed to highlight Westport, Connecticut?” one reader complained.

Chill out. It was a joke!

Tom Ziobro, Elaine Marino, Bill Coley, John Kelley and Lynda Hennessey all knew where this Westport was. Other guesses included Westports in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ontario and Ireland.

Not one person thought it was in 06880. Good job, “06880” readers! (Click here for the photo, and all comments.)

Here’s this week’s photo challenge:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

I’ll give you one hint: It’s in Westport, Connecticut.

If you think you know where, click “Comments” below.

Jean Donovan Honored With Assumption Church Plaque

Jean Donovan is one of Staples High School’s most famous alums.

And one of its least recognized.

Just 9 years after graduating with the Class of 1971, Donovan — a lay missionary helping poor people in El Salvador — was one of 4 American churchwomen killed by Salvadoran national guardsmen.

Jean Donovan

Jean Donovan

She and 3 nuns were beaten, raped, shot in the head, then dumped by the roadside.

The Catholic church is considering her for sainthood.

Her story was told in“Salvador.” Written by Oliver Stone — who directed it too, as his 1st major film — the character based on her life was played by Cynthia Gibb. Amazingly, she’s a 1981 Staples grad — and lives here still.

Other films, and several books, portray her life and death.

A Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship at Santa Clara University supports students interested in social justice, while in Los Angeles the Casa Jean Donovan Community Residence houses members of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

But until recently, the only memorial to Donovan was a framed photograph in Assumption Church. That’s where her memorial mass had been held, and where she attended elementary school.

The existing memorial to Jean Donovan — a story from the Assumption Church bulletin.

John Suggs — a longtime Westporter, and Assumption parishioner — has worked tirelessly to keep her memory alive here. He enlisted the help of Donovan’s ’71 classmates.

Father Tom Thorne was proud of the chance to house a plaque in the vestibule. A blessing and unveiling ceremony will be held soon.

 

Ringo’s Hair

For the sold-out crowd in the Town Hall auditorium last weekend, Fred Cantor’s documentary “The High School That Rocked!” combined Woodstock and class reunions with a trip down memory lane.

Men with far less — but grayer — hair than in the mid-’60s, and women wearing not granny but actual glasses smiled, laughed and clapped as the true story of how the Doors, Sly & the Family Stone, Rascals, Cream and Yardbirds played at Staples High School was told by folks who Really Were There.

There were plenty of anecdotes. Two Westport girls baked a cake for the Rascals; another touched Jim Morrison’s face.

Ed Baer

And then there was the tale told by Ed Baer. A former WMCA radio “Good Guy” and longtime Westporter, he spoke on camera about the astonishing effect the Beatles had on everyone at the time. The example he used was a contest his station sponsored. The grand prize: a locket of Ringo Starr’s hair.

The audience smiled knowingly.

But one woman could not believe her ears.

Leslie Schine graduated from Staples in 1971 — Cantor’s year. But in 1964 she was 11 years old.

And she won the same contest Ed Baer described in the film.

A Bridgeport Post news story shows 11-year-old Leslie Schine clutching her Beatles album.

At a reception after the showing, she mentioned the astonishing coincidence. And, she said, she had not even entered the contest. She did not know who sent in her name.

A 1964 story in the Bridgeport Post suggested it was a colleague of her father’s. Leonard Schine was a noted local attorney, and a former Westport Town Court judge.

The lock of hair — clipped from Ringo’s head on the Beatles’ 1st US tour — arrived at Leslie’s Bayberry Lane home, along with a photo of the Beatles cutting his hair; an affidavit signed by Ringo; a letter from WMCA, and a fan club postcard signed by all the Beatles (except John).

More than 50 years later, Leslie Schine mimics her previous pose. Here, she holds a photo she was sent by WMCA, showing “the Good Guys” cutting Ringo’s hair. (Photo/Carlotta Grenier Schaller)   

When Leslie told this story last weekend, she thought she still had it “somewhere.”

Sure enough, the next day — in just 15 minutes — she found it in her attic.

Along with the documentation.

“I seem to remember bringing it to Coleytown Elementary, and handing out single strands to friends,” Leslie says.

It’s amazing. Of all the anecdotes Ed Baer could have told, that’s the one he chose.

And of all 300 people in the auditorium last weekend, one of them was Leslie Schine.

Ed Baer was there too. Unfortunately, neither he nor Leslie knew of the coincidence, so they did not meet.

Still, it’s an astonishing story.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Pic Of The Day #96

Burying Hill — Westport’s “other” beach. (Photo/Peter Tulupman)

Image

Today’s Trader Joe’s Stupid Parking Trick

(Photo/Howard Silver)

Trader Joe's 2

(Photo/Barbara Jay)

Another Staples Reunion — With A Twist

Every winter, a bunch of retired Staples folks get together for a mini-reunion in Florida.

Still, after spending so many years working in Westport, they know there’s no place like “home.”

So last Thursday, the 1st-ever “Staples Retiree Reunion” was held at the picnic area near the Longshore marina.

Former staff members — teachers, administrators, secretaries, nurses, you name it — gathered to socialize, reminisce and laugh.

Front Row: Alice Addicks (grade level assistant), Jyl King (secretary), Elaine Haner (secretary), Camy Rando (secretary). : Rear: Bill Brookes (science), Alan Jolley (math), Ernie Harrington (science) Geza Taranko (secretary), Amedeo Cannone (dean), Jeff Lea (French).

The crowd included spouses, and one “retiree-in-training.”

Former vice principal Lee Littrell organized the event.

They stayed as long as they wanted. There were no bells.

Front Row: Joanne Kalif, Todd Kalif (dean) Lee Littrell (vice principal). Rear: Drew Strauss (science), Carol Burgess (nurse). (Photos/Bruce McFadden [science])

[OPINION] Questioning The Good In Goodwill

An alert “06880” reader named Jennifer writes:

I frequent Goodwill in Westport, both as a donor of my kid’s outgrown clothing and a shopper looking for unique items. I am a single mom often in search of a bargain. (I love estate sales, so I enjoy the thrill of the chase). My favorite pair of shoes are Kate Spade hot pink velvet flats, proudly purchased at Goodwill.

More and more I notice that drivers dropping off Goodwill donations then make a U-turn in the parking lot, find a spot, and go in to shop. I am one of them.

It seems that Goodwill has adjusted their prices to the Westport clientele. For instance, a man’s Orvis or Tommy Hilfiger polo goes for $25 a shirt, rather than the usual $2 to $11 Goodwill price. It seems like the store is appealing to those donating (who end up parking the car to shop), rather than those who actually need clothing at discounted prices.

I have not done any research on how Goodwill uses the income from the goods we purchase. I recently read on a Facebook Moms group that a local mom was looking for a place to donate clothing that actually went to a family in need, rather than Goodwill.

PS: I am curious how Tina Dragone now feels about her neighbor. In 2012 she was not pleased Goodwill was moving closer to her boutique. Has she warmed up?

The Goodwill store in Westport, on opening day.

Pic Of The Day #95

A kayaker contemplates last night’s sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)