Rach’s Hope: Weathering The Storm Of Critical Illness

When friends and relatives face crisis, tragedy and heartbreak, many of us offer help.

“If you need anything, just call,” we say. “We’re here for you.”

We mean it. But it’s not enough.

Alan and Lisa Doran lived through a nightmare last summer. Their daughter Rachel — a rising senior at Cornell University, National Merit Commended Scholar at Staples High School, talented Players costume designer, and founder of her own pajama company — developed a rare reaction to common medications.

She suffered severe burns to 95% of her body. She then developed another life-threatening syndrome. On August 18 — after 35 harrowing days — Rachel died.

Rachel Doran, after her Staples High School graduation.

Her parents made it through that awful time thanks to wonderful doctors, caring hospital staffs, and many supportive friends.

And those friends helped by not simply saying, “just call.” On their own, they figured out what Alan, Lisa and their younger daughter Ellie needed. Then — without burdening the family — they acted swiftly, decisively and efficiently to make it happen.

When Rachel was in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, for example, a woman found a boutique hotel 2 blocks away.

She booked it. Lisa never wanted to leave Rachel’s bedside. But with a place to sleep — and shower — she was able to take care of herself, as well as her daughter.

Another friend showed up every morning with healthy muffins and a protein shake.

“People caring for loved ones eat junk — if they eat at all,” Lisa says. “Having that food, every day, was so important. I could never have done that on my own.”

Countless gestures like that sustained the Dorans during the most horrific time of their lives.

Rachel Doran (right) and her sister Ellie.

But how many people have friends with the resources to book a hotel room, or bring fresh food to the hospital every day?

Alan says his family’s experience at Bridgeport Hospital and Columbia Presbyterian opened their eyes to the reality that during a critical illness, most people are on their own.

The New York facility, for example, draws patients from all over the world. Families — if they can get there — have no support network nearby. Countless other obstacles — finances, language, you name it — conspire to make a medical emergency even more daunting than it already is.

Alan and Lisa know how fortunate they are. They could take time off work to devote all their time and energy to Rachel. They had “incredible care” at 2 hospitals. And they had the communication skills to talk clearly and often with those superb doctors and nurses.

They realize — despite the tragic ending — how lucky they were, in those respects.

Rachel and her boyfriend Rob traveled to Cuba during spring break. This is his favorite photo of her.

After Rachel died, the Dorans were devastated. But they wanted to find some sense in a senseless situation.

So — keeping their daughter’s spirit, beauty, kindness, style and wit alive — they’ve created Rach’s Hope.

The mission is to help others weather the storm of critical illness. “We want people to have a team like we and Rachel had,” Lisa says.

The foundation’s name has special meaning. “Hope” was Rachel’s middle name. The Dorans always had hope that she would recover. Her boyfriend said hope got him through every day. Today, the word “Hope” is tattooed — in her handwriting — across his chest.

And, Alan says, “we know Rachel would hope that no family goes through what we did. But if they do, she’d hope they’d have the resources that we did.”

Rachel’s Hope will make a concrete difference. For example, it will partner with hotels, and negotiate VRBO home rental rates.

It will also provide for items like housing, transportation to and from the hospital and outpatient appointments, access to mental health professionals, therapies not covered by insurance, meals (including gift cards to Uber Eats and Seamless), childcare and respite care during and after ICU stays, advocates to assist with hospital bills and health insurance communication, therapy dog visits, and funding for wellness expenses.

The Dorans are taking all that they’ve learned, and paying it forward — figuratively and literally — to other families.

A kickoff fundraiser is set for Saturday, March 2 (7:30 p.m., Penfield Pavilion, Fairfield). The date has special meaning: It’s the day after what would have been Rachel’s 22nd birthday.

“Rachel always told me that instead of a wedding, she’d have a big party at the beach,” Lisa says. “She wanted Bodega Bites catering, and Tito’s vodka bar. They’ll be there, and it’s on the water. We’re having the wedding she hoped to have.”

Her family and friends will share stories. But you don’t have to know and love Rachel to attend. Everyone is welcome. There’s live music, and huge live and silent auctions.

As for the dress code: When Rachel was 11, she started Rachel’s Rags. The company made intricate cotton and fleece pajamas. She sold them at stores and craft fairs, and on Etsy.

Rachel loved “pajama chic.” So attendees should wear pajama bottoms, and a chic top.

There’s one more thing: The day before the fundraiser — on March 1, Rachel’s birthday — Rach’s Hope is starting a “Cozy Across America” social media campaign. The idea is for students everywhere to go to class in pajama bottoms.

The attire will draw attention to the importance of comforting people in need — and offering hope.

Rach’s hope.

(Click here for more information and tickets to Rach’s Hope March 2 fundraiser. Can’t go? No problem — click here to sign in or register to bid online for the silent auction. And click here to donate any amount.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pic Of The Day #671

Compo Beach jetty at low tide, late this afternoon. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Photo Challenge #216

You don’t get more “Westport” than last week’s Photo Challenge.

Michael Tomashefsky’s image showed rocks, a jetty and water. It’s a scene we see all over town — from Frost Point on Beachside Avenue and nearby Burying Hill Beach, to Sherwood Island, Schlaet’s Point and Compo.

Those were some of the guesses. Others ranged further afield: Cockenoe, and Canfield/Sprite Island. John McCarthy was somewhat correct, but not quite precise enough, when he suggested “somewhere near the water.”

The first winner was Diane Silfen. She knew that this photo was taken at the end of Canal Road, off Saugatuck Shores. That’s a part of Westport that many residents may not be familiar with.

But — like so many other spots in town — it offers stunning, and ever-changing, water views. (Click here for the photo, and all the guesses.)

Caitlin Engle checked in later, calling it one of Westport’s “hidden gems.”

There’s a bit of water in this week’s Photo Challenge too. If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Dave Wilson)

Avi Kaner Hopes To Kick This Can Down The Road

Avi Kaner is a poster boy for civic involvement.

He’s chaired Westport’s Board of Finance, and served as 2nd selectman. He and his wife Liz are active members of Chabad of Westport, and lead philanthropic efforts in this town and Israel.

Now, Avi Kaner is a poster boy — and cover subject — in a battle against expansion of a New York law.

When Crain’s New York Business ran a long story on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to expand the state’s nickel-deposit law to include plastic and glass bottles containing juice, coffee and tea concoctions, plus sports and energy drinks, they illustrated it in print and online with a photo of a less-than-pleased Kaner — holding plastic bottles.

(Photo/Buck Ennis for Crain’s New York Business)

This issue has nothing to do with the Westporter’s civic work. His day job is co-owner of Morton Williams. That’s the family-owned chain of supermarkets, primarily in Manhattan, focused on fresh, organic, specialty and international foods.

Crain’s says Kaner “isn’t relishing the thought of folks bringing in a lot more bottles and cans” to his West 57th Street location. Morton Williams recently spent $10 million, turning the ground floor and lower level into retail space.

“We keep this place nice and clean, in fitting with the neighborhood,” Kaner told Crain’s. “The last thing we need is people bringing more of their garbage here.”

Customers can return up to 240 items a day. They are first stored near a street-facing window, then in the basement.

“It’s not an optimal use of space in a store where rent is $200 per square foot and every inch of shelving counts,” Crain’s says. Workers who sort the returnables earn $15 an hour.

Kaner is not anti-environment.

“Anything that can be done to prevent waste and help the planet is a good thing,” he told Crain’s. “But the economics of recycling don’t work for a business like ours.”

To read the full story — including its possible impact on curbside recycling — click here.

(Hat tip: John Karrel)

Pic Of The Day #670

Winslow Park — without dogs (Photo/Rachel Bassick)

Aquarion Water Towers: Jim Marpe Responds

This morning, “06880” reader Robert Harrington criticized 1st selectman Jim Marpe and other town leaders for their actions during the Aquarion/North Avenue water tower debate. The 1st selectman responds:

Thank you for the opportunity to address Mr. Harrington’s concerns and accusations. I will try to clarify certain facts and misstatements, as well as explain how my staff and I have willingly assisted a group of residents who abut Aquarion’s property on North Avenue. I have remained sympathetic with their concerns regarding quality of life and property values, and have sought to mitigate the impacts that this vital infrastructure project may have on them.

The town attorney, operations director, director of public works, fire chief, fire marshal, tree warden, other staff, volunteers and I have devoted hundreds of hours over the past year and a half researching and mediating toward a solution that would help the neighbors, and at the same time address the water supply needs of the entire community. I personally have taken the following actions:

  • led public and work group meetings;
  • facilitated communications between Aquarion and the neighbors;
  • advocated for a peer review paid for by Aquarion;
  • dedicated my staff’s time;
  • enlisted experienced resident volunteers to assist with mediation;
  • remained non-partisan and neutral with the goal of compromise; and
  • wrote several letters to PURA on behalf of the residents.

These are tangible services that I believe speak volumes over appearing at a single public regulatory hearing to make a statement. I appreciate the state legislators’ ongoing efforts to help, but my office and several dedicated town employees have been consistently involved in trying to reach an acceptable solution. The positions that I have taken are not just advocacy. They also reflect a careful weighting of all the options and their outcomes, as well as the benefits to the greater good of all Westporters.

The town stayed involved in this process and conveyed to Aquarion the importance of:

  • finding a way to lower the height by eliminating the dome;
  • increasing the landscaping;
  • managing the traffic and disruption; and
  • expediting the water main upgrade.

Had we not stayed involved, Aquarion would never have agreed to the most recent settlement offer. They also would never have agreed to the peer review. It is clear that my pressure on Aquarion led to the agreement on several concessions.

In advance of the public hearings in New Britain, I submitted a detailed letter to PURA with very specific requests. Furthermore, while I remained in Westport to address other town-related issues, at my behest and with my full confidence the town Attorney and operations director attended the hearings held in November and January. PURA requested that the fire marshal and public works director testify. That totals 4 senior town representatives involved with 2 hearings in New Britain.

Public works director Mr. Ratkiewich is a dedicated 29-year town employee who has no affiliation with Aquarion. He was requested by PURA to testify under oath and responded to specific questions on a factual basis. This testimony, along with that of our fire marshal and Mr. Harrington, are all available for the public to review. I am confident that upon review of the public proceedings, no one would describe Mr. Ratkiewich’s tone and commentary as anything but professional and forthright.  I will not accept attacks on, and I will always defend, our town staff when they are inappropriately accused.

It is easy to say that a tank should go “here” or “there” as an alternative, but Mr. Harrington fails to mention the related costs and potential disruption to our town. Also, he doesn’t point out that his proposed alternate sites include the entrance to the Bedford Middle School property and a location in another residential zone. If PURA believes that these locations or other alternatives should be pursued, then I’ll direct the efforts of our town staff accordingly.

We know that the water main upgrades in Westport have been on Aquarion’s capital plan. Aquarion offered to accelerate them in order to come to a compromise. The town remains skeptical that Aquarion has the ability to complete the work within the accelerated timeframe, which is why the tank construction is vital to our water supply infrastructure.

We have gone above and beyond to assist. I am proud of the compromises the neighbors and the town have accomplished during negotiations with Aquarion. In fact, the final settlement agreement was close to acceptance by both parties until the fire marshal would not agree to further lower the height of the tanks because of the impact on fire flow. Since I trust his expertise and experience, I removed the additional lower height provision from my request to PURA. I agreed that the town should not reduce the fire flow improvements that we are receiving from this project. At that point, several residents split apart because many were ready to settle. Mr. Harrington now represents a smaller fraction of the impacted homes.

Last fall, PURA members — and a few protesters — toured the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site.

Despite all the time, energy, costs and effort that my staff and I have dedicated in the mediation process, the neighbors were not able to reach a settlement with Aquarion. That is why PURA, the regulatory authority tasked with oversight of Aquarion, has become the forum to address the issues. The proposal to allow Aquarion to build one tank while a second site location is found is best left for PURA to decide.

In conclusion, I stand by the efforts of the town as well as my leadership. Other local challenges also require my time and attention, including the rehabilitation of Coleytown Middle School and finalizing the town’s operating budget. Nevertheless, the North Avenue water tanks remain an important issue for the town. As such, our staff and I will continue to be involved as appropriate, and if we believe it can bring us to a settlement that all parties can accept.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to state the facts and provide my support of the town’s dedicated employees.

 

[OPINION] Robert Harrington: Leadership Needed On Aquarion Tanks

Robert Harrington, his wife and 4 children have been Westporters since 2004. He speaks out on local issues — including the Aquarion/ North Avenue water tank debate. 

“I live over a mile away from the approved tanks, so this is not a NIMBY issue for me,” he says. “It’s about elected representatives supporting local residents.” In the wake of a recent regulatory hearing in New Britain, he wrote this letter to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

I was greatly disappointed by how several town officials came to speak out against community requests at the recent Aquarion Public Utilities Regulatory Authority hearing in New Britain. This will likely ensure that the town of Westport will fail to get the best results for all residents.

No Westport resident should be put in a situation where the quiet use and enjoyment of their property is destroyed by a private company.

This is not just another large-scale development. This is the largest public works project in our town’s history. It is being placed in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

An aerial view shows the North Avenue Aquarion tank site. It is opposite Staples High School.

In particular, I was personally angered by the tone and commentary from public works director Peter Ratkiewich.

Neither Mr Ratkiewich nor any of his staff attended any of the P&Z meetings in 2017 when the project was discussed and voted on. He never explored valid alternatives. Then, at PURA, he sought to undermine any attempt to consider alternatives that could have offered  increased fire protection and fire flow.

At times during his testimony, Mr Ratkiewich sounded more like an Aquarion employee than a town of Westport representative.

Other towns across the state from Greenwich to Derby to Mystic have supported residents and successfully fought back against private interests. They found workable alternatives. Westport did not.

I was very careful not to attack our fire marshal in New Britain. I didn’t want to undermine one of our key leaders before the commission. However, if this project is really that urgent why are we not looking at all potential supplies, in addition to tanks? Why did Aquarion and Westport do nothing for 5 years following the Saugatuck Congregational Church fire in 2011? Why are the key players not making a much stronger argument for water main upgrades?

The water mains may yet be improved, although we have not been able to get concrete guarantees from Aquarion. Our community group fought hard to have upgrades included in any deal, despite the fact that in August 2018 your staff meekly recommended that we drop the effort given Aquarion’s stubborn refusal to do so. We wouldn’t take no for an answer, and upgrades are thankfully back on the table.

Even more worrisome, Aquarion has changed the fire flow numbers that were contained in the original reports they gave to rgw town. No one from our town is questioning this.

Why have these numbers changed?

The town of Westport has approved a plan that is better than the current situation — but will leave places like Saugatuck Shores vastly below what is recommended for fire flow.

Party politics should play no role in a project that will last for the next 100 years. That said, as a Republican I was embarrassed by the fact that Republicans didn’t come and represent any of the people in the room at PURA, New Britain over the past 3 months.

Westport was well represented by many Democrats and small parties. We had wonderful representation from State Senator Will Haskell, Representative Jonathan Steinberg and many RTM members

You took the explicit choice not to stand with the community — or even attend.

We also had strong participation from community leaders like Valerie Jacobs and Ian Warburg from Save Westport Now, and Jennifer Johnson from the Coalition for Westport.

Many residents spoke about losing value on their homes, and had to do the work that Aquarion and the town of Westport should have done.

We will likely see 2 huge tanks constructed on the current 3-acre site, which is far too small to provide full screening.

Balloons show the height of Aquarion’s proposed water tank on North Avenue.

We also offered several alternatives to PURA to evaluate. PURA could immediately approve one tank on the site and rule that a second location must be found for a second tank. You and your staff dismissed this.

Alternatively, Aquarion could build two2 shorter tanks on the  site. But getting approval for the second tank, they would have to demonstrate to the community that they were being good neighbors and honoring their commitments while the first tank is constructed – including committing to material water main upgrades.

If 2 tanks are squeezed on to the site, Aquarion could plant taller trees to fully screen the tanks — and reduce the side wall by 3 feet. They offered the community this height reduction in August 2018, but didn’t bother to speak to the fire department first.

You and your staff chose not to support these common sense proposals.

There is a potential deal to be done on Bayberry Lane for a second tank location, but that would require political leadership. Alternatively, you could have explored leasing land on school property — potentially giving the town a much needed revenue source.  None of that happened.

Any delay at this point is your responsibility.

We urge PURA to approve one tank on the current site, and begin the work immediately driving almost a 50% increase in storage within 12 months versus the current single tank. Until the current old tank is decommissioned, the 2 tanks will contain almost 150% more water today.

The Westport P&Z was misled by Aquarion. Your town employees are helping to ensure a project that won’t fix Westport’s water pressure and fire flow gets the go-ahead because this is the easiest and cheapest route for Aquarion.

We need your leadership.

Teachers Whip Up A Tasty Day

For years, the Westport Farmers’ Market and Staples High School’s culinary arts program have teamed up to bring great food to folks in need.

Once a month, students shop for provisions at the market. Then they prepare and serve a delicious, nutritious meal at the Gillespie Center.

Yesterday, many more people got in the act.

As part of Westport’s Professional Development Day, culinary students and staff helped interested teachers — from throughout the district — shop for ingredients, then create and serve a meal too.

The initiative was led by Staples’ 3 culinary instructors: Cecily Gans (owner of The Main Course Catering, and a member of the Farmers’ Market Board); Alison Milwe-Grace (owner of AMG Catering and Events), and Laura Wendt.

Staples’ 3 culinary instructors (from left): Laura Wendt, Alison Milwe-Grace, Cecily Gans.

The goal was to give educators in the district “an overview of the culinary program’s relationship with the community, the Farmers’ Market, the farmers who provide the raw product for meals the students create, and the challenges those students face as they put meals together,” Milwe-Grace says.

Gans adds, “Building relationships around local food, and connecting farmers to the recipients of the food they grow, catch or raise is fundamental to the Farmers’ Market mission.” The Professional Development Day event strengthened other relationships too: those between students and teachers.

The Farmers’ Market and culinary instructors are dedicated to helping students “grow” — as cooks and people.

Yesterday, those students turned the tables on some of our town’s top teachers.

Westport teachers cook for the community.

Pic Of The Day #669

Nice beach weather before the holiday weekend (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Meatball Shop Update: ImPortant News

Earlier today, “06880” reported that the Meatball Shop will open its 8th restaurant this spring in Westport.

The location has just been confirmed. They’ll be serving ‘balls in what was, most recently, The ‘Port. The family-style restaurant closed last June.

National Hall, when The ‘Port restaurant was there … (Photo/Dave Dellinger)

National Hall has seen a lot, since it was built in the early 1800s. It’s housed the Westporter Herald newspaper, Horace Staples’ bank (and, very briefly, the first classes of his high school).

It was the site of the town meeting hall, and — for many years — Fairfield Furniture.

In the early 1990s, Arthur Tauck saved the historic building from the wrecking ball. (After decades of pigeon droppings, the roof was ready to cave in.)

… and back in the day. (Photo/Peter Barlow)

He and his family converted National Hall into an inn and restaurant of the same name. Several other restaurants later occupied that prime ground floor space.

Now it’s ready for its next phase.

Arlo Guthrie once sang, “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.”

You can only get meatballs (of many kinds, for sure) at the Meatball Shop.

But — with Arezzo, OKO and Bartaco all just steps away, and David Waldman’s new project at the old Save the Children headquarters moving quickly along — the west bank of the Saugatuck River just got a little spicier.

National Hall: The view from Post Road West, even further back in the day.