Fresh Air Fund A Great Experience For Guests — And Hosts

Alert “06880” reader — and very generous Westporter Seth Schachter — saw a posting here in January about the Fresh Air Fund. Remembering his parents’ experience with the program, which brings inner-city children to suburban and rural communities many years ago — and their lessons about opening doors to others in need — he decided to participate.

He and his wife just wrapped up a week as hosts to 9-year-old Jonathan, from the Bronx. Seth wants to share his emotions, insights and lessons. He writes:

Of course, we had some reservations and concerns going into this. Would Jonathan get along with our 2 children (Aiden, age 10 and Rebecca, 9)? Would he enjoy a week in our home? Would he get homesick? What would we say to his mom or dad before he arrived, and then during his stay?

Aiden and Rebecca painted “Welcome” signs for Jonathan. We picked him up in Fairfield.

Fresh Air Fund - welcome

While the week was not without a few bumps (as we expected), Jonathan loved his time in Westport. A few hours after returning home he left us a phone message, asking to come back!

And we definitely enjoyed having him as part of our family. We told him many times how courageous he was for leaving his home to stay with complete strangers.

Aiden had occasional struggles sharing his room for a week, something he’d never done before. I supposed many children would react the same way. It was also a bit hard for him to carve out “alone time.”

A friend of mine recently said that our experience hosting was like a non-stop, 7-day play date. Anyone who has hosted play dates knows that some are easier than others. They often require a little nudging to get kids engaged.

Our week was full of activities. We kept our children out of camp, to allow more quality time together. (Some host families enroll their Fresh Air Fund child in the half- or full-day camps their children are attending.)

Fresh Air Fund - baking cookie

We took Jonathan to a few of Westport’s easily-taken-for-granted jewels: the Levitt Pavilion, Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, Longshore pool.

Fresh Air Fund - Levitt Pavilion

Fresh Air Fund - Compo crab

Fresh Air Fund - Burying Hill

We included some good old-fashioned fun around the house, like slip-and-slide, water gun and water balloon battles, and his first overnight “camping” experience (n a tent he helped set up). He was equally fascinated catching fireflies at dusk.

Fresh Air Fund - tent

We ate at the family-friendly Rio Bravo restaurant. Jonathan was amazed we got unlimited free chips and salsa just for sitting down there.

He also devoured treats at one of our favorite places, Saugatuck Sweets.

We took him out on a boat. He loved it, especially steering it at the helm. At the end of that day we had dinner at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo. Aiden, Rebecca and Jonathan all enjoyed riding their first mechanical bull.

Fresh Air Fund - boating

We wrapped up our final full day taking the ferry to Port Jefferson. We had lunch, playground fun, and shopping at a mom-and-pop toy store.

Fresh Air Fund - Port Jefferson ferry

We were pretty confident that Jonathan and Aiden would have no problem clicking. But a great surprise all week was seeing Jonathan and Rebecca click too.

Some memorable quotes and observations:

Jonathan asked Aiden why he was reading at home. He said he only reads at school, when he has to. He asked me if I would read “all those words” when he saw me with a newspaper at the beach.

He had never played with Legos, and was surprised that Aiden and Rebecca had created things with them by themselves. They helped Jonathan build a speedboat, which he was very proud of. We learned he spends most of his time at home playing video games.

After being in the Longshore pool for over 4 hours, he looked at his shriveled hands and worried that he had skin cancer. He rarely goes in a pool, and never for such a long time. He learned how to play Marco Polo, and loved it.

Fresh Air Fund - Longshore Marco Polo

As we drove him to Fairfield for the bus that would take Jonathan and other Fresh Air Fund children back to New York, he said, “Everyone has cars around here. I barely see anyone walking.” I explained how hard it is to get around the suburbs without a car — unlike a city, with mass transit everywhere, and so much within walking distance.

Fresh Air Fund - goodbye

Our Westport world is vastly different than Jonathan’s in the Bronx. One of our hopes was that could enjoy a change in scenery, and participating some of the treasures our community offers. We’re certain this was realized.

Another hope was that our children would come away from the experience with a greater respect and appreciation for all that they have, in addition to heightened awareness of those in need. We feel this was accomplished. Who knows — perhaps lifelong friendships were initiated too.

The question for our family is not whether we will take part in the Fresh Air program again — we’re certain we will — but whether or not we will host Jonathan next summer. Families can request the same child up to 18 years old. But Rebecca would really love hosting a girl, so there are some things we have to figure out.

All in all, we thing the program is wonderful. It offers the opportunity to give so much to a child in need. We hope that many of you reading this will think about taking part too. I am happy to talk with anyone about the program, and our experience. Dan can put us in touch.


North Miami Police Shooter Is A Staples Grad

Jonathon Aledda — the North Miami police officer who shot at an autistic man playing with a toy truck, wounding instead his black caregiver — is a Staples alumnus.

Jonathon Aledda, in the Staples High School Class of 2004 yearbook.

Jonathon Aledda, in the Staples High School Class of 2004 yearbook.

Aledda played Staples football, and was a hurdler on the high school track team. He graduated in 2004.

A 4-year veteran of the department, SWAT member and Officer of the Month in October 2014, he has been placed on administrative leave without pay.

The Miami Herald described the difficult challenges officers face:

As happens often with people who suffer from severe autism, the 27-year-old wandered away from his caregivers, in this case leaving a group home. Someone in the neighborhood misinterpreted his behavior, calling 911 while apparently mistaking his toy truck for a gun.

When North Miami police confronted the man sitting cross-legged in the middle of an intersection, he refused commands to lay down. That’s not unusual, experts say, for profoundly autistic people who cannot process verbal commands from police officers trained to think the worst.

“It looks like they’re being defiant, when in fact they have a disability,” said National Autism Association spokeswoman Wendy Fournier. “A lot of times they’re not verbal either, so they can’t even talk to police to explain why they are not responding.”

“This case is so crazy. I’m so glad that the man didn’t get shot and so grateful that his caregiver is going to be OK.”

Jonathon Aledda in 2016.

Jonathon Aledda in 2016.

The shooting of caretaker Charles Kinsey sparked widespread outrage Thursday after bystander video emerged showing him with his arms raised as police officers confronted the unnamed autistic man, who began hollering loudly. The president of North Miami’s police union said Thursday that the officer was aiming for the autistic man — fearing Kinsey was in danger — but hit the caretaker by mistake.

A Police Story

The time: An hour or so ago.

The place: Compo Beach.

The situation: A woman zoomed past the entrance gate, pulled into a spot near the pavilion, and began yelling incoherently.

The police arrived. She was clearly emotionally disturbed. In fact, she said she had not taken her medications.

Two officers talked to her. She rolled up the window. She refused to get out of her car.

Another officer arrived. Calmly, patiently, firmly — yet with compassion, empathy, care and plenty of professionalism — they continued talking.

Police encounter - July 22, 2016

They asked about her family. They asked about her home. They asked about her meds.

Eventually, she calmed down. After many more minutes, they got her into an ambulance, headed for help.

I am sure the Westport police see similar situations like this, many times a week.

Westporters like us seldom do.

At a time when police-civilian relationships are rocky, in many places around the country, it’s nice to see an encounter like this.

It probably was not remarkable to the officers in charge. It may have been all in a day’s work.

But it opened my eyes wide to the job our Westport cops do, every day.

And do so well.

Long May She Wave

I sure screwed up yesterday’s post about a “missing” AED. (It wasn’t stolen from Winslow Park at all – it had never been installed. I also misidentified the donor — it’s the Gudis Family Foundation and Norwalk Hospital, not the Adam Greenlee Foundation. Click here to see how many times I could be wrong in one post.)

This one is on the money.

A year ago, Tarantino owner John Paul Marchetti installed an American flag outside his Railroad Place restaurant.

He’s a proud Marine Corps Reserves veteran — he served in Iraq — and was honored to fly it 24/7.

Tarantino flag

Yesterday, he and his brothers — co-owners of the popular Saugatuck spot — noticed the flag was gone.

Marchetti was angry. “This country gave my immigrant parents everything,” he said. “The flag is a symbol of freedom. Someone stole that symbol.”

I told Marchetti I would post the story on “06880.” We’d ask the thief to return the flag, no questions asked.

Meanwhile, Marchetti posted a photo on social media.

Westport Hardware Store owner Richie Velez saw it. He promised to bring a replacement over, as soon as he got off work.

So, if you’re the flag thief, do the right thing. Hand it off to someone who can fly it as proudly as Marchetti, and cares as much as Velez.

(Hat tip: Johnny Carrier)

Pictures From A Party

If you were among the 100 or so folks who made it to Compo for yesterday evening’s 4th annual “06880” blog party: thanks!

It was a wonderful evening: fun, relaxed, beautiful, filled with very cool people, very good food, and very great weather.

If you could not join us, here’s the next best thing.

PS: We hope to see you there next year!

Bart Shuldman brought a pair of dueling beverages: Trump Tonic ("Make America grape again") and Hillary Hooch ("classified flavor").

Bart Shuldman brought a pair of dueling beverages: Trump Tonic (“Make America grape again”) and Hillary Hooch (“classified flavor”).

"06880" party-goers had the best tables, the best views -- and the best time -- at Compo last night.

“06880” party-goers had the best tables, the best views — and the best time — at Compo last night.

Musician Warren Bloom (harmonica, guitar) and artist Miggs Burroughs (painting, photography, graphic design) compared their awesome heads of hair.

Musician Warren Bloom (harmonica, guitar) and artist Miggs Burroughs (painting, photography, graphic design) compared their awesome heads of hair.

Honoring the party with "06880" hats -- well, 3 of the 4, anyway.

Honoring the party with “06880” hats — well, 3 of the 4, anyway.

State Representative Gail Lavielle was in the house. (Get it?)

State Representative Gail Lavielle was in the house. (Get it?)

Happy together.

Happy together.

Longtime Compo lover Mike Calise enjoys the beach, just the way it is.

Longtime Compo lover Mike Calise enjoys the beach, just the way it is.

A breeze played havoc with the balloons, provided by Jennifer Hershey and Mary Hoffman. But the sunset was as spectacular as always.

A breeze played havoc with the “06880” balloons, provided by Jennifer Hershey and Mary Hoffman. But the sunset was as spectacular as always.

Joe DeJesus Revolutionizes America’s Workforce

It’s a side of life Westporters seldom see, but contractors and laborers here know well: pick-up points in places like Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford, where builders and workers connect every morning.

Bosses are never sure what type of workers they’ll get. Workers are never sure if they’ll be paid what they’ve been promised. It’s a risky, inefficient dance.

A new app may revolutionize the entire process — all over the world. And it was born right here in Westport.

Joe DeJesus is a 1981 Staples High School graduate. A builder himself, he’d long been frustrated by the process of finding skilled, reliable carpenters, electricians and others to work on his projects.

Dayworks logoA couple of years ago he used Uber for the first time. He realized the on-demand idea could work for laborers too.

He pitched the idea to Andre Haroche, a friend who had brought Liberty Travel into the digital age. He signed on as co-founder.

For $1,000, coders in India created a prototype. Convinced they had something, DeJesus and Haroche plowed ahead.

Dayworks launched locally, in the Port Chester-Danbury-New Haven area.

The idea is simple. After downloading the app, workers list themselves for free. They note their specialties (plumbing, HVAC, masonry, painting, tile setting, wood flooring, etc.); the languages they speak; the minimum number of hours they’ll work: their rate. and how they want to be paid (cash only or check); whether they have a ride or need one, and if they have a license and/or insurance.

Workers can post photos of themselves too. Coming soon: video.

Bosses — both builders and individuals with home-improvement projects — can search for workers by skill. Clicking one button completes the hire.

Builders and laborers connect through Dayworks.

Builders and laborers connect through Dayworks.

A boss can also post an entire project, including conditions like start and end date, maximum hourly rate, and whether English is required. Workers can respond immediately.

Bosses rate workers. And workers rate bosses.

Dayworks makes money by charging bosses $3.99 a month, or $1 per hire. (The 1st 5 hires are free.)

It’s a win-win situation, DeJesus says. For one thing, it takes the uncertainty out of the pickup-site process, which is both time-consuming and uncertain.

For another, it offers a transparent way of offering — and seeking — pay. Rates are often standard at pick-up sites. With Dayworks, bosses can offer a bit more to clearly qualified workers. Workers — who sometimes miss out on jobs because they’re pressured by peers to not ask for less than the prevailing rate — can increase their chances of being hired by pricing themselves accordingly.

It’s also a boon to workers like electrician Andrei Petrov, who explains:

Since its launch, Dayworks has spread across the globe. Bosses and workers are connecting everywhere in the US, and as far away as Australia. (Locally — and personally — DeJesus has hired excellent people through his own site.)

Much of the growth has been by word of mouth, and YouTube videos (created by Westport’s own Bobby Hudson).

Flyers — in English and Spanish — are also handed out at job sites.

But Dayworks is not just for builders and tradesmen. Other categories include house cleaners, automotive (mechanics, detailers, etc.), boating, restaurants (dishwashers, barbacks, busboys) and catering, tech repair, even personal trainers.

Joe DeJesus got the idea for Dayworks from Uber. Soon — like the revolutionary car service — his labor finding-and-sharing app may be everywhere.

And maybe — like Uber — it will even be a verb.

(Dayworks is available free; click here for Apple and Android devices. Click here for the website.)



I goofed!

This just in from Mark and MaryGrace Gudis:

Please do not worry; the “missing” AED has not been used or stolen. It has yet to be installed, as we are awaiting activation of the security features.

This particular AED is one of the 100 that the Gudis Family and Norwalk Hospital donated to the towns of Westport, Weston, Wilton, New Canaan and Norwalk as part of their recent AED and CPR awareness initiative implemented after the incident last October. Iff you look closely, the picture has the Norwalk Hospital-WCHN logo on the case and a number to call if there is an issue. A vast majority of the others around Westport have been installed, including 3 at Compo Beach. So do not fear: The AED will be installed within the next few days, and will be available to save lives. (It is also bilingual.)

The AEDs purchased from the fundraising efforts of the Greenlee Foundation are in the schools and on the Board of Education fields.

The others donated by our 5-Town  initiative are in locations around town, where the selectman’s office, Westport EMS and Parks and Recreation felt would provide excellent benefits.

We are looking to expand this initiative around the state, given the response we have had by all of the towns and our local politicians. In addition, we continue to work with the Board of Ed in each of the 5 towns to implement mandatory CPR certification and training to high school students as part of the PE and health curriculum, at no charge to the school budget.

All of this is very exciting for us. We appreciate being able to give back, and hopefully save lives.


When a Staples High School senior suffered cardiac arrest on the soccer field last fall — and was saved by the quick use of a portable defibrillator — alarms were raised.

And they were not just the beeping of the device — also known as an AED.

The Adam Greenlee Foundation — named for a Bedford Middle School student who was also saved by an AED — swung into action. They raised over $85,000, purchased 75 AEDs, and gave them to schools and organizations around town.

You now see them nearly everywhere, from Wakeman Field to Compo Beach.

Many others — donated by the Gudis Family Foundation and Norwalk Hospital (see above in red) — are placed around town, from Wakeman Field to Compo Beach.

Another place was is Winslow Park.

Earlier today, alert “06880” reader/Staples soccer player/dog walker Daniel Brill noticed that the dog park AED is missing from its case.

AED at Winslow Park

One of 2 things happened.

The AED might have had to be used. While unfortunate, that’s what it’s there for. However, we probably would have heard about it.

Or someone stole it.

If that’s the case, just put it back — no questions asked.

And if you really want one of your own, just ask. I’m sure the Greenlee Foundation — and many others in town — would be happy to help.

Starbucks Parking Problem Solved: The Follow-Up

Supposedly in Seattle, 2 Starbuckses squat directly opposite each other, across a street.

That’s not happening in Westport. But it’s close.

As reported first on “06880” last October, the Starbucks near the Sherwood Diner is moving. Its new home is across the Post Road, the former Arby’s. That puts it even closer to another Starbucks: the cafe in Barnes & Noble, a few yards away.


Arby’s is empty now (nothing new). After refurbishing, the site — formerly Burger King, and before that Carrols — will be open.

It will include a drive-through, for vanilla mocha pumpkin toffee nut latte-lovers who don’t even want to park.

Not that they ever could.


Cuba Trip Opens Eyes — And Ears

Every year, Saugatuck Congregational Church sponsors a youth mission trip.

Last year they went to Portland, Maine.

This year they headed to Cuba.

The 24 teenagers and 15 adults did not do as much “work” as usual. This was more “cultural immersion,” says youth group coordinator Dana Johnson.

They visited an orphanage, churches and families whose children have disabilities. They did plant coffee, pick and peel “thousands” of mangoes, and moved bags of sand at a construction site.

Peeling mangoes...

Peeling mangoes…

...and moving bags of sand.

…and moving bags of sand.

They also went to Varadero Beach, a favorite spot for Canadian and European tourists.

But mostly, they forged what they hope are lasting friendships.

The Saugatuck Church group rode around in an old school bus, emblazoned with “Pastors for Peace.”

The bus...

The bus…

...and a peek inside.

…and a peek inside.

Wherever they went, Cubans waved. “They’re so happy to see Americans,” Johnson says. “We felt like rock stars.”

One woman excitedly handed her baby to the female travelers. She could tell everyone that Americans held her child.

At a seminary in Matanzas, a pastor asked them to pray for him, and his country. “He was excited that the blockade has been lifted,” Johnson explains. “But he’s worried about the future. Capitalism can be precarious. He’s concerned that income inequality will widen.”

The teens and adults spent only a couple of hours in Havana. Mostly they were in Matanzas, and outlying villages. Though Matanzas is a big city, Johnson says it felt like something from “a different era.” Horses and buggies roamed the streets; farmers sold eggs and bread from bicycles.

A dusty road.

A dusty road.

Before the trip, Johnson says, the teenagers thought their task was to help people.

They realized quickly, though, the power of simply meeting other people, and hearing their stories.

“Our kids came away feeling that they’d been helped,” Johnson notes.

“When we debriefed each night, they talked about not judging people until you listened to them.”

Listening, and learning.

Listening, and learning.

The Cubans do not need help, she adds. “They just need their stories to be heard and validated. The kids got that. I think they came home more willing to hear other people’s stories.”

Sharing food, and stories.

Sharing food, and stories.

Rev. Alison Patton (2nd from right), with old and new friends.

Rev. Alison Patton (2nd from right), with old and new friends.

Saugatuck Congregational Church mission members kick up their heels in Cuba. (All photos/Mark Mathias)

Saugatuck Congregational Church mission members kick up their heels in Cuba. (All photos/Mark Mathias, Marion Yingling and Miggs Burroughs)





Save Westport Now: Stop Hiawatha’s Sewer Request

Valerie Seiling Jacobs, co-chair of Save Westport Now, sends this letter:

The Westport Water Pollution Control Authority, which is comprised of our 3 selectman, is meeting tomorrow morning (Thursday, July 21, 8:30 a.m., Town Hall auditorium) to decide whether to allow a developer to extend the sewer to the Hiawatha Lane area in Saugatuck.

The Planning & Zoning Commission has already rejected this developer’s request twice, on the grounds that the nearby pumping station and the sewer pipe that runs under the river from the Saugatuck area to our wastewater treatment plant are already in danger of failing.

Both items are on the town’s list of infrastructure repairs, but before work can start, the town needs to obtain a lot of permits and approvals from the state and feds, which still hasn’t happened. P&Z recognized that adding potential effluent to a failing system was not a smart move. If, for example, the repairs are delayed and the pipe bursts, it could have catastrophic environmental and other consequences for the Town.

Westport's wastewater treatment plant, across the Saugatuck River from the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

Westport’s wastewater treatment plant, across the Saugatuck River from the proposed Hiawatha Lane development.

Save Westport Now agrees with P&Z’s conclusion: that it would be foolhardy for the town to approve a sewer extension before the pipe and pumping station are actually fixed/replaced. This is especially true since — no matter what we hope or the developer claims — the repairs are likely to take more time than usual, since they will need to be scheduled around other projects already planned for the area, including most notably the rehab of the I-95 overpass, the repair of the MetroNorth bridge, and the repair of the Cribari/Saugatuck bridge.

This will not be a simple or quick repair, and the Town should not risk the town’s resources just because a developer stands to lose money if he doesn’t get his way.

I hope you will attend the meeting or email the selectman’ office ( about the matter as well. As residents and taxpayers, we need to let our elected officials know that we care about the environment — and that we believe in smart planning. Adding effluent to a failing sewer system before we are sure when and how the system will be fixed is just not smart.