Author Archives: Dan Woog

Cayla Yang Wears The Pantsuit

Donald Trump’s election took a lot of people by surprise. Many were “paralyzed or scared,” says Cayla Yang.

“I don’t do well with those emotions,” says the 2009 Staples High School graduate. “I’m not like, ‘woe is me.’ I’m more, ‘what can I do?'”

Cayla Yang

Cayla Yang

Cayla — a Staples field hockey player and yearbook editor who graduated from Northeastern University and now lives in Weston, while working as a consultant for a cloud computing company — always assumed that politicians would take care of her.

Now she’s not so sure.

But instead of paralysis, she chose action.

In the aftermath of Trump’s win, she reached out to Pantsuit Nation. The group of nearly 4 million (mostly) women had used Facebook to share stories of their support for Hillary Clinton. After her loss, it became a place to vent, express fears and frustrations, and find hope.

It also spun off local organizations, where (mostly) women began working together to do more than talk.

The Fairfield County group is called PSNCT — Pantsuit Nation without the actual name. And Cayla is one of its leaders.

“Telling stories is incredibly important. But this group is about advocacy,” Cayla says. “It’s about issues, concerns, and how to help.”

PSNCT has forged connections with politicians. A recent Town Hall meeting with Senator Chris Murphy in Bridgeport was “fantastic,” Cayla says.

Congressman Jim Himes came to an early PSNCT meeting. He discussed his priorities, and offered his assistance.

A photo posted to the PSNCT Facebook page shows a statue of PT Barnum in Bridgeport, "supporting" Saturday's women's march on Washington.

A photo posted to the PSNCT Facebook page shows a statue of PT Barnum in Bridgeport, “supporting” Saturday’s women’s march on Washington.

“We’ll do local fundraisers, and put our money where our mouth is,” Cayla promises.

“We recognize we have a privileged position here in Fairfield County. We want to use our influence to help people and organizations that don’t have our resources.”

Though Pantsuit Nation was created by Hillary Clinton supporters, Cayla says, “we shy away from labels. We want Republicans like Gail Lavielle and Toni Boucher” — state legislators representing this area — “to speak to us, and break down barriers.” Rep. Tony Hwang — a Republican state senator — attended Murphy’s Town Hall session.

As Inauguration Day looms, Cayla says PSNCT is focused on the days after.

“We’re looking to do good, and do it well,” she says.

(Click here for the PSNCT Facebook page. Hat tip: Julia McNamee)

Farrow & Ball’s Window On Westport

Unless you’re a 5th Avenue department store at Christmas, it’s tough to get folks to look in your window.

It’s especially difficult when you’re located next to Trader Joe’s in Westport. You’re set back from the Post Road — and who can pay attention when you’re weaving in and out of traffic at 40 miles an hour, anyway?

But that has not stopped Farrow & Ball from trying.

The intriguing Farrow & Ball window invites you to peek inside.

The intriguing Farrow & Ball window invites you to peek inside.

The UK-based paint-and-paper crafts shop has 14 US showrooms. As part of an AIDS awareness and fundraising initiative with DIFFA — Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS — each location chose a local designer to create a window based on the theme “Comfort and Cure.”

Westport’s Farrow & Ball selected Connie Cooper. She wanted to make her design intriguing from inside the store, as well as the street.

She imagined the vignette as the home office of an international doctor, home relaxing during the holidays. She found an antique bag from 1948, filled with all kinds of vintage doctor tools. It belonged to an actual naval physician.

And here's the view from inside.

And here’s the view from inside.

It’s a cool window. But you should do more than just glance at it, as you fly toward your parking space by Trader Joe’s.

Every time someone shares a photo of the window on social media (#FaBForDIFFA), the firm donates $1 to AIDS research.

It’s up for a couple of more weeks. So hurry! (But drive safely…)

(An open house at Farrow & Ball from 5-7 p.m. this Thursday [January 19] salutes window creator Connie Cooper. Guests receive a goody bag, while supplies last.)

Staples Students Journey 6 Miles — And Far Outside Their Bubble

“Education is the seed to the tree of success,” writes Sophie Tricarico.

Yet, she notes, Bridgeport schools lack many of the resources of those in Westport, just a few miles away. One example: While classroom teachers here enjoy the assistance of multiple paraprofessionals, in Bridgeport there may be only one for an entire school.

And while the Staples High School cafeteria is open for breakfast, snacks and lunch — with options ranging from frozen yogurt to sushi — youngsters at Luis Muñoz Marin Elementary are served “horrific” meals, like 5 chicken fingers and an “unidentifiable fruit cup.” When Staples students brought the Marin kids pizza, the children saved the chicken and fruit in their bags, for a meal later at home.

Sophie was stunned to see the differences in education between the 2 nearly neighboring communities. She wants Connecticut to make a difference for the future — “one seed at a time.”

Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School

Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School

Sophie is close to the educational disparity issue. She’s a Staples student — and a member of Linda McClary’s Child Development class.

Working with Christie Barcelona — a former Staples student who now teaches 5th grade at Luis Marin — McClary organized a pen pal project. In addition to writing each other, they arranged for the Westporters to visit the Bridgeport school this past fall.

This month, the elementary schoolers will come to Staples.

Recently, McClary asked her students to write essays about their experiences. The topic was “disparity of education in Connecticut.”

For many in McClary’s class, it’s been an eye-opening semester.

“I have been able to see outside of the ‘Westport bubble,'” Sophie wrote. She called herself “blessed” at the opportunity to meet the Luis Marin 5th graders.

Staples High School

Staples High School

Other essays were equally fascinating. Sami Levin said:

Over school breaks, dozens of Staples kids take a trip somewhere exotic like Ecuador or Nicaragua to help families living poorly by building schools, homes, etc.

I am not trying to take away from their experience, but it blows my mind the amount of people who go on these service trips plane rides away, versus the amount of people who go a few miles down the highway to help families.

Ten miles down the road, we can help. We can make the difference.

Sami contrasted her time at Luis Marin with her visit to Coleytown Elementary School — another part of McClary’s curriculum.

 

Coleytown Elementary School

Coleytown Elementary School

Coleytown classrooms have rugs, a smartboard, plenty of cubbies and “hundreds of books, based on genre and authors. An amazing environment for the students to learn.”

In Bridgeport the desks were all paired, with a few pencils for pupils to share.

“The kids who need comfort and stability at school are the ones who aren’t getting an equal education,” Sami wrote. “How is this fair?”

Sami called the visit to Luis Marin “honestly life changing. It made me deeply appreciate the teachers, janitors, principals, etc. in my school who make this environment a place I love going to every day. I just hope that one day, each child has the opportunity to value and enjoy education like I do.”

Elisabeth Tonsberg admitted — “much to my absolute dismay” — that she has been stuck in a “rich kid bubble.” She assumed everyone had dolls, piano lessons and other expensive things. Surrounded by laptops and other affluent students, she asked herself: “How many times have I driven past Bridgeport and not even had a second thought to the shattered windows and empty buildings?”

An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.

An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.

She called the “complete imbalance” of Connecticut’s schools “absolutely unacceptable.”

How can we possibly make these kids excited to learn without proper supplies? How can we expect American children to achieve amazing things, and improve our country, when they aren’t provided with enough materials to better their education?

Individual meetings proved instructive. Gabby Neufeld learned that her pen pal faced enormous struggles at home. Spending time together helped the young girl — and made the older one feel like an important role model.

“I feel so fortunate to be able to give her advice on friends,” Gabby said. “Also, to try to positively affect her future by telling her to do well in school and never slack off.”

Other students — Emma Buchanan, Morgan Leonard, Charles Overton, Emily Pozzuto — shared their own, powerful insights.

I was especially moved by Lily Williams’ unique perspective. Growing up in Fairfield, she was chosen through a lottery to attend the Bridgeport 6 to 6 Magnet School. She hated to leave her childhood friends, and dealt with enormous culture shock.

Bridgeport's 6 to 6 Magnet School

Bridgeport’s 6 to 6 Magnet School

But as the year went on, Lily learned about her classmates’ “cultures, neighborhoods, families and background stories.” That led her to “a new world full of fresh faces and experiences that changed my perspective to helping others.”

She stopped judging others — “which was hard for a middle school girl” — and felt transformed into someone who was “open-minded to accept all of the new experiences happening around me.”

In 8th grade, her family moved into her grandparents’ Westport home, to take care of them. This time, it was “culture shock in reverse.”

Lily wrote:

I have learned so much in the past several years, and recently from my Child Development class, about educational disparity. Every child deserves an equal opportunity at a good education.

As my inspiring teacher, Linda McClary, said to my class: “Get up in the morning, go to school, and thank your lucky stars your parents moved to this town and this school.”

Last year, Child Development student Nicole Dienst went to Bridgeport. Here are her interviews with Luis Muñoz Marin Elementary School teacher (and Staples grad) Christie Barcelona, and former superintendent of schools Fran Rabinowitz:

 

Remembering John Skinner

John Skinner — a pilot who leveraged his travel experience in his 2nd “career,” as co-founder with his wife Jeri of Builders Beyond Borders — died Friday evening, from complications of a fall the day after Christmas. Surrounded by family, after a happy day of sharing memories and music with loved ones, he was 80 years old.

A native of San Jose, California, he grew up in Sacramento. John joined the Navy at age 18, and served as a fighter pilot for 12 years. He met his future wife Jeri at the Officers’ Club at Moffett Field. Their sons Christian and Craig were both born on February 9 — though 2 years apart.

After the Navy, John continued his flying career as a captain for Pan American Airways. The Skinners moved to Westport so he could be based out of New York.  With Pan Am he flew to Beirut, Johannesburg, London, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. John finished his career with Delta Airlines, after their acquisition of Pan Am.

john-skinner

John Skinner

John loved flying and anything with an engine, especially cars. He enjoyed attending car races with Chris. His son’s friends used to line up their cars in the driveway so John could fix them.

Following retirement John, Jeri and Craig led Kingdom Builders and Builders Beyond Borders. He put his handyman skills to use building and repairing homes, clinics and daycare centers for the less fortunate. John and his family assembled groups of teens to travel to places like Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Honduras. Over 1,700 teenagers participated in these programs.

John leaves his wife of 57 years, Jeri; his son Christian and wife Tammy; his son Craig and wife Elizabeth; 4 grandchildren, and his French bulldog Winston.

In recent years John suffered from Parkinson’s disease but always kept a positive attitude. The effects of the disease contributed to his fall. In keeping with John’s generous nature, he donated his body to Yale University for research purposes.

John has requested that donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

A celebration of John’s life will be held this Wednesday (January 18, 3 p.m.) at Southport Congregational Church.

Glenn Hightower Memorial Set For Saturday

The life of Glenn Hightower — educator, civic volunteer and coach — will be celebrated this Saturday (January 21, 2 p.m.) at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

The longtime Westport resident died New Year’s Day, age 76. Throughout his life he was devoted to his wife Beverly, and his daughters Holly, Julie and Heather.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Glenn graduated from Mangum High School as valedictorian and class president. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University, his master’s degree at Kansas State University and his Ph.D from the University of Iowa.

Glenn Hightower at the former Bedford Middle School (now Saugatuck Elementary).

Glenn Hightower at the former Bedford Middle School (now Saugatuck Elementary).

Glenn and Beverly moved to Westport in 1969. He spent over 30 years as principal of Bedford Middle and Junior Schools, serving briefly as interim assistant superintendent.

He led through times of both consolidation and expansion, including working on the design of the new Bedford school on North Avenue.

During 8 years as principal of Westport Continuing Education, he expanded programming and grew enrollment. Glenn was committed to music, the arts and technology. He created compassionate learning environments that valued students and enabled them to excel.

Glenn was an avid sportsman. In junior high and high school he captained varsity football, basketball and baseball teams. He played handball competitively, served on the Bridgeport YMCA Board of Directors, and enjoyed playing in recreational basketball leagues around Fairfield County.

Glenn Hightower, during a Westport Road Runners race.

Glenn Hightower, during a Westport Road Runners race.

Glenn was often seen running throughout town. He competed in Westport Road Races, and completed 16 New York City marathons and 10 ultra marathons. Glenn was a competitor, but most of all he cherished lifelong friendships created along the way.

Actively involved in the Westport YMCA board of directors and Water Rats swim team, as well as the Staples High swim team, Glenn and Bev spent many days by the pool.

When his daughters played team sports, Glenn coached rec basketball. He helped grow Westport Little League softball, coaching for over 10 years. He later returned to a sport he loved, football, to coach middle school PAL football players.

Glenn served in the Rotary Club, and over many years dedicated himself to the United Methodist Church as a Sunday School teacher, lay leader and chair of the Administrative Council, among other activities.

Glenn was known for his warmth, kindness, generous spirit and devotion to his family. He held an unwavering belief in the power of public education and the importance of helping others. Glenn encouraged people to do their best, whether with their family, school, work, faith or on the ball field.

Glenn was predeceased by his wife Beverly. In addition to his daughters he is survived by 4 grandsons, and brothers Richard and Phillip and their families.

In honor of Glenn, the Hightower family encourages everyone to take time to talk with and truly listen to their children, look for the good in those around us, and strive to make a positive impact on our communities.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the United Methodist Church of Westport/Weston, 49 Weston Road, Westport, CT 06880; Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881, or Magnum High School Alumni Association (c/o Mary Jane Scott, 414 South Robinson Avenue, Mangum OK 73554).

Ghost Light

For as long as anyone can remember, “ghost lights” have lit otherwise darkened theaters. Some say the lamps or bulbs are there to ward off ghosts. Others think the tradition began as a way to prevent accidents.

Whatever the reason, the “ghost light” tradition has inspired a new action. This Thursday (January 19, 5:30 p.m.), at over 300 theaters nationwide, actors and arts groups join in a collective, simultaneous action to create light.

That light is a way to make or renew a pledge to stand for and protect the values of inclusion, participation and compassion for all — regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

ghost-lightSome of those theaters are on Broadway. Others are regional houses or high school auditoriums.

Here, the Ghost Light Project is planned for the Westport Country Playhouse.

The public is invited to attend. Attendees should bring a clear white electric light source of any kind. Flashlights, cell phone lights, flameless candles and lanterns are ideal.

Meanwhile, Staples Players is hosting their own, private event.

“Players has always strived to be an inclusive and supportive community,” says co-president and current senior Brooke Wrubel.

“Our participation in the Ghost Light Project reaffirms these long-held values.”

On Thursday evening, Staples students will be in the midst of exams.

“This is a traditionally stressful week,” co-president and senior Remy Laifer notes. “But the Ghost Light Project is a timely reminder that we’re here for each other, and never alone.”

(For a full list of participating theaters nationwide, click here.)

 

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Photo Challenge #107

Last week’s photo challenge was like Goldilocks.

It was not too easy. Not too hard. It was just right.

There was a great balance between right answers, and wrong.

The wrong guesses went in every direction. Seth Schachter’s waterfall photo showed not Lees Pond. Not Nash’s Pond. Not Devil’s Den.

It was Bulkley Pond. That’s by Sasco Mill, on the Westport/Southport border. It’s right behind Shake Shack. And — sssshhh!  — there’s a cute little parking area, for your enjoyment.

Andrew Colabella, Billy Scalzi, Joyce Losen and Katie Augustyn knew exactly where that hidden-in-plain-sight site was. Click here for the photo, and all the comments.

This week’s photo challenge is a lot uglier. But — like the 3 Bears — it takes all kinds to make up Westport.

If you know where in Westport to find this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

Ring In The Year Of The Rooster — Right Here

Westport’s Chinese population is small.

But it’s diverse. There are doctors, financiers and restaurant owners.

Some are immigrants from mainland China. Others are transplants from New York. Some have lived here for over 30 years. Others moved in the other day.

Some came here for work opportunities. Many chose Westport for its excellent public schools, safe reputation and/or affordability (compared to towns closer to the city).

Some of Westport’s Chinese residents are involved in community affairs. Others are not. In that way, they mimic the rest of the town.

But all know that their new year begins this Saturday (January 21). Many — and many other Chinese, from throughout the area — will celebrate the Year of the Rooster right here in Westport.

happy-chinese-new-year

They won’t be at Shanghai Gourmet, Little Kitchen or Tengda though. Instead, they’ll head to … the Westport Woman’s Club.

That’s where the Organization of Chinese Americans of Fairfield County is holding their annual New Year’s bash. There’s food, entertainment, raffles, an art show, book signing — in fact, there’s so much to do, there are 2 different sessions (12-3 p.m. and 4-7 p.m.).

The OCA is a social, political and economic group, promoting Chinese heritage, ethnicity and culture. The local group also operates a Mandarin language school in Stamford.

Steven Chin is the new president of the Fairfield County chapter. An “ABC” — American-born Chinese — he’s a 6-year Westport resident eager to bring the New Year’s celebration to his town.

“As our children grow older, we want them to recognize their parents’ struggles to attain the American Dream,'” Chin says. “But we want to them to be good citizens of their communities too. OCA members of all ages perform a variety of charitable services.”

Organization of Chinese Americans working at a food drive last spring.

Organization of Chinese Americans working at a food drive last spring.

OCA has held events in Stamford, Darien and Norwalk. Last May, they sponsored a beach party at Burying Hill.

Chin’s wife Lina is a member of the Westport Woman’s Club. So the venerable building on Imperial Avenue seems a perfect place to celebrate a much, much older holiday.

新年快乐

(For more information about the Chinese New Year celebration on Saturday, January 21 —  and to make reservations — click here. Non-members are welcome!)

 

Westport’s Oldest Bank?

The other day, alert “06880” reader Peter Tulupman noticed something strange on the side of the Bank of America building downtown.

bank-of-america-1

High up on the side was the numeral “1806.”

That’s not the street number — it’s 126 Post Road East.

And it’s certainly not the year it was built. Despite circling through a number of names (Fleet, anyone?) since its days as Connecticut Bank & Trust — the original tenant, I believe — this is not a 211-year-old property.

If anyone has any idea why this bank bears that number, click “Comments” below.

The first person with the right answer gets a toaster.