Category Archives: Children

“In Wonderful Westport…”

When technical difficulties prevented a video of 2nd graders singing Westport’s praises from being shown at last night’s swearing-in of town officials, most of the Town Hall audience probably breathed a sigh of relief.

There’s a thin line between cute and cringe-worthy. Very few of the board, commission and RTM members wanted to test it.

But 1st Selectman Jim Marpe had an ace up his sleeve: Suzanne Sherman Propp,  and her Greens Farms Elementary School music students.

The song — which she and the kids wrote, with Cheryl Buck — is catchy and clever. It covers tons of Westport people, places and history. The 2nd graders are not the Vienna Boys’ Choir (for one thing, there are girls), but they carry a tune better than I do.

And the video — produced by Josh Margolis — is first-rate. Newcomers, old-timers and (especially) ex-pats will love the fast-paced photos. (It’s also clever. When the kids sing about famous families and come to “Sherwood,” there’s a shot of the diner.)

So go ahead. Click below. Enjoy the show!

Yes, There’s A Marathon In Antarctica. No, Richard Garland Is Not Crazy For Running It.

We’ve all got travel goals.

I’d like to see all 50 states (I’m at 48). You might want to go on a safari, or walk along the Great Wall of China.

Richard Garland plans to hit all 7 continents. But that’s just the means to an end.

His goal is to run a marathon on all 7 continents.

I got tired just typing that sentence.

Until I talked to Richard, I didn’t even know there were marathons on all 7 continents. Antarctica, after all, is a continent.

Turns out, there is a marathon there.

Not only that, it’s happening right now.

And Richard Garland is there to run it.

But he’s not just running 26.2 miles, on ice and snow in sub-zero temperatures while dodging penguins and, I’m sure, man-swallowing crevasses.

He’s doing it to raise money for the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

Some very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

And not just a few bucks. Richard’s goal is $100,000, for the fantastic Bridgeport institution that — with strong Westport support — honors the memory of a special 9/11 victim.

Richard has a special bond with the school that’s changing the lives of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in the West End. He knew Adam Lewis. Patty Lewis — Adam’s widow, and a driving force behind the school — is Richard’s wife’s best friend.

Travel — and giving back — are in Richard’s blood. A London native, he came to Westport to work. He thought he’d stay 2 years. Twenty-three years later, he’s still here.

Though he grew up playing sports, Richard hated running. “I thought it was for people with no lives,” he says.

But when he turned 50, he challenged himself to run the New York Marathon. He raised funds for the Westport-based Hole in the Wall Gang Camp — and got hooked.

Richard Garland, completing the New York Marathon.

Richard travels the world for work. He timed one trip to run a marathons in London. Others followed, in Kenya and Tokyo.

He ran the Boston Marathon too — in 2013. “I was slow enough not to be at the finish when the bombs went off,” he says.

Antarctica marks the 5th continent Richard will race on. On Sunday he flew to Punta Arenas, Chile. He boarded a Russian cargo plane, and arrives in Antarctica today.

The marathon is Friday. Unlike New York, Boston, London, Kenya, Tokyo — or anywhere else on earth — runners face an average windchill of -20 degrees Celsius, and strong winds. (And this is summer down there!)

It’s tough impossible to train for something like this. The best he could do, experts told Richard, was run on a treadmill in a walk-in freezer.

He did not. But he took the next-best advice, which is train on sand.

The Greens Farms resident ran at Burying Hill, Southport and Fairfield beaches. “It’s not very easy,” he reports. “I think I’ll run this marathon very slowly.”

You and I would relax after such an exhausting event. We’d check out the scientific stations and penguins, maybe see what Punta Arenas offers on the way home.

But you and I are not Richard Garland. He has a business meeting right after the marathon.

In London.

“I’ll pack my business suit, along with my Antarctic running clothes,” he says cheerfully.

The coldest continent marks Richard’s 5th for a marathon. He plans to run Easter Island — off the Chilean coast — next year. The last will be Sydney, in 2019.

Richard Garland in 5 marathons. Clockwise from upper left: New York, Tokyo, Kenya, London and Boston.

But 7 marathons on 7 continents is not Richard’s final goal. In fact, it’s just a warm-up.

In 2020, he’d like to run 7 marathons on 7 continents — in 7 days.

“Impossible!” you and I say. In addition to sheer exhaustion, just getting from one 26.2-mile race to the next is incomprehensible.

“No, it’s a thing,” Richard says, as if this is like walking down your driveway to pick up the mail. “There’s a private plane, with business class seats.”

But if he does that, he warns, there’s a price.

“It’s a million-dollar fundraiser for the Adam J. Lewis preschool.”

(Click here to contribute to Richard Garland’s current Adam J. Lewis marathon fundraiser.)

Mat Jacowleff’s Pints: The Sequel

Last month, “06880” shined a spotlight on Mat Jacowleff. The 2015 Staples High School graduate — now a Northeastern University junior — has encouraged dozens of his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers to donate hundreds of pints of blood to Boston Children’s Hospital.

But that’s hardly the end of the story.

Evan Sheiber is a young boy born with only 1 pumping chamber in his heart. Like Mat, he too is a Westporter.

Evan had a blood transfusion during open heart surgery a year ago. He’ll need another in his next operation. When Evan’s mom Britt saw the “06880” story, she posted a thank-you on Mat’s Facebook page. (Like Mat too, Evan was featured on “06880,” last spring.)

Evan is also the star of an inspiring video, produced this past summer by Boston Children’s Hospital.

The video inspired Mat and his fellow blood donors to write cards to Evan.

Last week, Mat delivered them.

There were over 100. All, Britt says, were “incredibly thoughtful and sweet.”

A few of Evan’s many cards.

One young man wrote: “Hey Evan. I’m a student at Northeastern. Just wanted to say I’m rooting for you buddy. Thank you for showing me what courage is. Much love buddy. Chris Li. ”

Another said, “Dear Evan, You are an inspiration to all the brothers at Northeastern in Delta Tau Delta. Keep Fighting. “

A third read, “Surf’s Up. Ride the wave to greatness.”

And this: “ While we’ve never met in person, you’ve left a lasting impact on me. You inspire me to give back and help every day.”

Britt read each one to her son. He’s only 1 1/2 — not yet old enough to fully understand the words — but he loved the colorful drawings.

Evan enjoys his cards.

Britt put them in Evan’s safe-keeping box. She’ll read them to him again, when he is 3 or 4 — before his next open heart surgery.

“I know they will encourage him to be brave, and to fight. Some will make him laugh,” she says.

“I am deeply touched by these college students. This is such a selfless act. These college students took time away from their crazy schedules to write thoughtful notes to my heart warrior, my son Evan.”

Britt and her husband Brett (!) have 3 boys (including Evan’s twin James), and 1 daughter.

She will be “incredibly proud” if her 4 children grow up to be the kind of fine young adults who give back to their communities.

You know — just like those inspired by her and Evan’s fellow Westporter, Mat Jacowleff.

Trick Or Treat With Teal Pumpkin Project

You can tell Halloween is coming.  CVS, Walgreens, Party Harty and pop-ups are chock full of ghosts and skeletons — plus Kit Kats, Hershey bars and other fine foods, most of them the size of small planets.

It’s a great time to be a kid.

Unless you’re allergic.

When Blake Hofmeister was 3 1/2, he ate an M&M. In a delayed reaction he broke out in hives, and could barely breathe. Tests showed he was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

His mom, Lisa, learned to scrutinize food labels. Now a 1st grader at Kings Highway Elementary School, his life — and his family’s — has never been the same.

The Hofmeister family.

A year ago Lisa heard about FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). The non-profit works to improve the quality of life of people with food allergies.

Last month, she helped organize a charity walk/fun day at Sherwood Island. The event drew hundreds, and raised over $150,000.

Now — as Halloween nears — Lisa is focused on her next effort: the Teal Pumpkin Project.

The national initiative promotes the inclusion of all trick-or-treaters in a holiday that excludes some.

Participation is simple. Parents are encouraged to buy inexpensive toys, rather than candy. They place a teal pumpkin or sign from FARE outside the home, indicating there are non-food treats inside.

“Parents are surprised how easy this is,” Lisa says.

Blake (Chewy) and Paisley (Minnie Mouse) Hofmeister enjoy Halloween last year.

Kings Highway has gotten on board. A “Pumpkin Palooza” fundraiser the Friday before Halloween includes magicians, music and other non-candy fun.

“Halloween used to be my favorite holiday,” says Lisa. “I loved the costumes, the candy, everything about it. Now I’m so nervous.”

She loves welcoming trick-or-treaters to her Old Hill neighborhood home. Last year, participating for the first time in the Teal Pumpkin Project, she was excited that many children — even those without food allergies — chose toys over candy.

“I want Blake to enjoy Halloween, like other kids,” she says. “I don’t want him to feel like an outsider.”

FARE makes it easy to take part. The website provides links to resources, including flyers, yard signs, ideas for non-food treats, and a trick-or-treat bag.

The Teal Pumpkin Project is not the food police. Giving candy is still okay.

But for kids with food allergies — as well as celiac disease and other issues — it can be a life-saver.

Literally.

Stop The Presses! Kids Walk To School!

If you were anywhere near Kings Highway Elementary School this morning, you saw an unusual sight:

Kids walking to school.

Ella Turner and Silvia Snow enjoy the fall sunlight.

The newsworthy activity comes courtesy of International Walk to School Day. Begun in 1997, it’s now a movement in over 40 countries. Students (and teachers!) walk and bike to school on the same day. The goal is to highlight the need for safe routes.

This is the 4th year Kings Highway has participated.

First Selectman Jim Marpe joined welcomed the crowd — and gave a shoutout to Officer Ned Batlin, who kept everyone safe.

On a perfect fall day, over 200 youngsters took part.

And, of course — this being 2017 — everyone who walked to school got a certificate.

Micah Turner shows off his reward.

Age Of Reason Reopens

In May, Age of Reason closed.

Fans of the unique toy store mourned. Founded in 1983, it became a Westport favorite for items hand-picked to deliver creative, developmental and educational encouragement and enjoyment.

With no sign — and no message on its answering machine — it seemed Age of Reason was one more victim of the Toys R Us/Amazon one-two punch.

But this is even better than Toy Story.

The shop was merely closed for 5 months. Now it’s reopened at 9 Post Road West — 4 doors down from its previous location. It’s between Winfield Deli and Stephen Kempson custom tailor.

Age of Reason has swapped spots with a bridal shop. The brides needed more space; the kids, a bit less.

Sounds “reason”able — and wonderful — to me!

Photo Challenge #144

The 1st of all 143 photo challenges to show an aerial view of a Westport scene proved to be the easiest of all 143.

A whopping 24 “06880” readers quickly — and correctly — guessed that the image was of 90 Hillspoint Road, from the air. (Click here to see.)

But was it Hillspoint Elementary School? A Child’s Place preschool? The Learning Community? Children’s Community Development Center?

All were correct. The architecturally daring, functionally absurd school opened in 1960 (and promptly closed, when a large glass panel fell into a classroom).

After it closed in the 1980s, it became home to 3 daycare/childcare/preschool programs. All operate under the umbrella of the Parent Child Center.

Congratulations to every “06880” reader who was not fooled by the top-down photo: Christopher Buckley, Fred Cantor, Amy Day, Jerry Kuyper, Susan Schmidt, Joyce Barnhart, Seth Schachter, Iain Bruce, Andrew Colabella, Beau James, Phil Rubin, Joseph Weisz, Linda Amos, Craig Clark, Scott Brodie, Tammy Barry, Jacques Voris, Kathleen Burke, Stephanie Ehrman, Seth Braunstein, Rebecca Wolin, Darryl Manning, Amee Borys and Diana Sawicki.

We’re back on the ground this week. If you know where in Westport you’d find this — and what it refers to — click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Mark Bates)

 

Mat Jacowleff’s Pints

Mat Jacowleff hates needles.

But his desire to help people is stronger than that fear.

The 2015 Staples High School graduate is a junior business major at Northeastern University. He’s also community service chair at his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta.

When he saw a “Give Pints for Half Pints” sign at Boston Children’s Hospital, his next project was born.

Within days, he pitched a blood donor idea to his 100 brothers. Dozens responded.

Mat jacowleff (right) and a fraternity brother, with a commendation from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Mat was especially touched by a friend who approached him after the meeting. He said his younger sister had a disease that required frequent hospital stays — at Boston Children’s.

“Having someone I personally know say that to me really put things into perspective,” Mat explains. “It’s hard to imagine how much of an impact one donation can make if you don’t need it, or someone you love doesn’t need it. Having someone bridge that gap made me even more determined to make this event happen.”

The hospital responded as enthusiastically as Mat and his frat brothers have. The first day, the donors got pizza — in a room decorated in Northeastern’s black and red colors.

They were excited — and told the rest of the house. The next night. 20 more guys showed up.

“The best part is watching the impact this has had on my friends,” Mat says. “They come in hesitant and nervous. But they walk out with the biggest smiles on their faces, and they’re ready to book their next appointment.”

A hospital rep is impressed. “Planting the seed for long-term donation is key,” says donor recruitment team member Cynthia MacKinlay.

“People come once and they feel great. But once they come 2, 3 and 4 times, it becomes a habit.”

Mat continues to recruit donors. Already, another fraternity and one sorority have set up donation nights.

“If you are in a position of influence — as small as it may be — and you arent’ using it to make an impact, it’s a waste,” Mat says.

“I’m hoping this goes big. If donating blood becomes a trend at Northeastern, then it can spread to other schools in Boston and so on. There’s really no limit.”

(Hat tip: Gaetana Deiso. To read a fuller story from Boston Children’s Hospital’s blog, click here.)

Fashion Show Stomps Out Bullying

In elementary school, Emerson Kobak was the target of bullies.

“I was really short. I wore glasses. People just weren’t nice,” Emerson recalls.

The result, she says, was that “for so long I didn’t feel like I had a voice. I was always nervous about speaking. I worried that whatever I said was wrong.”

Emerson Kobak, in elementary school.

Middle school — with its intense social pressure — was even worse.

Looking back, she says, if she saw someone sitting alone during lunch, she’d go over and join them.

“One act of kindness can change a whole life,” she says.

When Emerson entered Staples 3 years ago, she looked around for kindred spirits. She founded the Fashion For a Cause Club with like-minded designers. On weekends she studied drawing and sewing at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

As a sophomore, Emerson joined Kool To Be Kind. Last year she discovered the Anti-Defamation League. Emerson co-wrote the introduction to a schoolwide “Truth About Hate” assembly, then spoke at it. She also addressed Staples’ school climate assembly.

The girl who was once afraid to speak up had found her voice.

That voice — and Emerson’s drive to fight bullying — has found an important outlet, thanks to her passion for fashion. Her 2nd annual “Fashion For a Cause” show is set for this Sunday (September 24, 5 p.m., Toquet Hall).

Emerson Kobak, before the junior prom. She made her dress herself.

Emerson will show one collection. Fellow senior Alessandra Nagar will show another. Students will model all outfits — all of which were created by club members. There’s also live music by a Staples band, and food from local restaurants.

Proceeds benefit Stomp Out Bullying, a national non-profit.

This is Emerson’s 2nd “Fashion for a Cause.” Last year’s event raised over $8,000 for Dress for Success.

Bully for Emerson Kobak!

(For tickets to “Fashion for a Cause,” and more information, click here.)

Designers at last year’s “Fashion for a Cause” show.

Pic Of The Day #152

Every Friday, members of the New to Westport Moms group take their kids to Compo. Last night was the final “Beach Friday” of the summer. (Photo/Erin Spillman)