In the 1950s, a surge of new families changed Westport forever.
They built new homes. They needed new schools. They got involved in town affairs.
Those post-war parents picked up the volunteer reins from the men and women who had made Westport what it was in previous decades. They joined well-established local organizations, and started others. They ran for political office. They asked how this beautiful, resource-rich town could be even better; then they made it happen.
Their baby boomer children continued that tradition. Some were their literal descendants, who stayed in Westport or moved back later. Others were baby boomers who grew up elsewhere, then somehow found their way here and understood that for a community to thrive, every member who can, must contribute to it in some way.
Coleytown Capers was a 1950s fundraiser for the elementary school. It was directed, produced and acted in by dozens of parents. Many worked fulltime in entertainment and the arts. PTAs today find it difficult to recruit volunteers.
In the 2020s, Westport is changing again.
The pandemic brought a new surge of new families. They moved here for all the right reasons: the schools. The amenities. The space. The community vibe.
They are young and energetic. They are smart and creative. They are our future, and that future is very bright indeed.
But as baby boomers age, there is a concern that the civic value of volunteerism is fading.
Certainly, plenty of newcomers have picked up the mantle. They join organizations, run for office, coach teams.
But there are not enough of them.
Katie Augustyn and Haley Schulman volunteer with Food Rescue US. They deliver excess food from stores and restaurants to pantries and shelters in the area. Volunteers are always needed.
Nearly every group in town — PTAs, non-profits, town commissions — wonders: How can we get the next generation more involved?
“They do everything they can for their kids,” one current leader said. “But they don’t always do everything they can for their town.”
Last Saturday, the Town of Westport and League of Women Voters sponsored a volunteer fair at the Westport Library. (Right there, those are 3 organizations that rely often on volunteers.)
Over 2 dozen community groups had tables. Turnout was good (bad weather may have helped or hurt). Representatives offered information, answered questions and encouraged participation.
Saturday’s Volunteer Fair, at the Westport Library. (Photo courtesy of Town of Westport)
If you missed it, here they were:
- A Better Chance of Westport
- Center for Senior Activities
- Club 203
- Food Rescue
- Friends of Sherwood Island
- Guiding Eyes for the Blind
- Homes with Hope
- Levitt Pavilion
- Staples Tuition Grants
- Sunrise Rotary Club
- TEAM Westport
- Town of Westport
- Verso Studios
- Veterans of Foreign Wars
- Wakeman Town Farm
- Westport Book Shop
- Westport Community Theatre
- Westport Country Playhouse
- Westport Emergency Medical Services
- Westport League of Women Voters
- Westport Library
- Westport Permanent Art Collections
- Westport Rotary Club
- Westport Woman’s Club
- Westport Young Woman’s League
- Westport-Weston CERT
- Westport Weston Family YMCA.
What a list!
Education, community service, seniors, people in need, people with disabilities, the environment, the arts, politics, entertainment, veterans, health, youth — no matter what your interest, there was something for everyone.
That’s not counting the groups that were not there: PTAs. Sports. And one that I profiled earlier this month (started — yes — by new arrivals): Bike Westport.
Imke Lohs, Adam Ganser and Markus Marty are young Westporters who started Bike Westport. The non-profit is addressing our town’s transportation crisis.
I am often asked what I think about “changing Westport.” I respond that I am excited and invigorated by all the new people. Some are families; some are young singles moving into apartments.
They’re excited to be here. They quickly learn to love this town.
Now it’s up to them — not just some, but all of them — to make their mark on Westport.
And set the standard for future surges of newcomers, in the 2090s and beyond.
PS: Adults are not the only volunteers who make this town go.
The Library will host a volunteer expo for teens on Wednesday, October 4 (4:30 to 6 p.m.), featuring local youth organizations with volunteer opportunities.
(“06880” covers all of Westport: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Please click here to support our local journalism. Thank you!)