Category Archives: Children

Westport Arts Center Offers A Bully Pulpit

Whether you’ve got a school-age kid or not, these days it’s tough to avoid hearing about bullying. Its causes, its effects, how to change it (or whether we’re overreacting) — bullying everywhere, from our schools and the media to the presidential campaign.

Soon, even the Westport Arts Center will tackle the topic.

WAC - More than WordsAn exhibition called “MORE Than Words” opens September 9. Utilizing artists, speakers, panels and films, it examines bullying within a broad cultural context. The exhibit focuses on courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying, and considers how imbalances of social, physical and political power can marginalize others.

The WAC show includes artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, and includes cyber-bullying. The goal is to inspire dialogue and change.

Recognizing that the best responses to bullying are community-wide, the WAC has enlisted the help of important local organizations. They include the Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Library, SKATE/K2BK, Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport, Anti-Defamation League and Norwalk’s LGBT Triangle Community Center.

Also involved: Athlete Ally and the National Charity League.

WAC exhibition - Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer’s piece in the “MORE Than Words” exhibition.

The exhibit was conceived by board member — and father of 2 young girls — Derek Goodman.

“We’ve all dealt with bullies,” he says. “At the same time, a number of well-known, influential artists have used their work to address it. We hope we’ve put together a platform to open dialogue, so that people in Westport feel comfortable discussing it.”

As the WAC partners with a variety of local organizations, he says, the town has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the battle against bullying.

“We’re not the experts,” he notes of the Westport Arts Center. “But we’re honored to put together a show for experts to help lead the conversation.”

(An opening reception is set for September 9, from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 29. For more information on “MORE Than Words,” click here.)

Backpacks For A Cause

Back-to-school shopping is seldom the grinning, hand-holding experience portrayed in TV and print ads.

backpacksKids worry they’ll have the “wrong” notebooks or pens.  Parents fear they’ll forget something important, and their kid’s teacher will think they’re idiots.

Other Westporters have a deeper, more realistic fear:  They can’t pay for everything their kids need.

Fortunately, Westport’s Human Services Department is on the case.

Its annual Back to School program, offering supplies to eligible families, begins Monday (August 8).

The program provides gift cards to income-eligible families with children in the Westport schools. Families can then buy new backpacks and school supplies together.

Last year, 152 kids from 102 families received assistance. That’s almost 8 full classrooms of kids.

The program depends entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations.  Tax-deductible monetary donations — of any amount — made payable to “Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs” (memo:  “Back to School”) can be sent to, or dropped off at, Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave. (Town Hall), Westport CT 06880.

Gift cards of any amount to stores like Target, Walmart, Old Navy, Staples, etc. are appreciated too. They can be dropped off at Room 200 of Town Hall weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4;30 p.m.

To find out if you qualify for assistance, call Elaine Daignault: 341-1050.

Rummaging Through A New Sports Attic

If you’re like many Westport families, your house is filled with things your kids have grown out of, moved on from or otherwise discarded: Clothes. Toys. Sports equipment.

Greg DiLenge can’t unclutter your home of clothes or toys. But those too-small skates, extra lacrosse sticks and unused skis?

Take ’em from the basement to the attic. The Sports Attic.

Sports AtticThat’s the name of his new business, across from the train station at 26 Railroad Place.

He’s still buying “quality secondhand sporting equipment.” He’s in the midst of a soft opening — but he offers cash on the spot.

Or you can check out the amply stocked shelves, and buy gear — inexpensively — for your kid who may (or may not) end up loving a sport.

Growing up, Greg did. “To me, sports have always evoked a sense of responsibility,” the Philadelphia native says.

“They taught me the value of working with others. Sports encouraged a sense of self. I love the camaraderie of playing sports, and am in awe of the discipline required to be an elite athlete.”

But he knows not everyone will reach that goal, or wants to.

He knows too that not everyone can afford sports equipment.

As a kid, Greg loved hockey. But there was not enough money for both him and his brother to play. So they flipped a coin. Greg lost, and got basketball. His brother went on to play hockey at Penn State.

Greg cheered him on. But he always wondered, “What if…?”

For many years, Greg worked traded commodities in New York — while looking for a lifestyle change. His uncle started a new and quality pre-owned sporting goods store in Westchester over 15 years ago. The business model attracted Greg.

Now — with his 1st child due later this month —  Greg is ready to make that leap. It’s the perfect time to launch a new business aimed at helping kids.

Greg DiLenge, in his Sports Attic.

Greg DiLenge, in his Sports Attic.

“We want to be more than a store,” Greg says. “We want to connect with families, schools, camps and local sports organizations, to collaborate and help each other.”

His goal is to provide “an interesting alternative for acquiring sports equipment.”

Though Greg loves all sports, he has a soft spot for hockey and lacrosse. Both are expensive — and can be daunting for parents who don’t know if their children will follow through.

Greg has reached out to major vendors, amassing “starter” kits to help soften the sting on wallets.

His narrow shop is rapidly filling with sports gear. His goal is to turn it over rapidly — buying good-quality equipment from parents whose kids have outgrown or discarded it, then selling it to others whose kids are just starting out.

And when those youngsters move up or on — well, Sports Attic will be there for them too.


Where Tess’ Love Begins

How do you define forever?

That’s a question Suzanne Tanner faces every day.

Tess Tanner (Photo/Suzanne Tanner)

Tess Tanner (Photo/Suzanne Tanner)

She’s the mother of Tess Tanner, a 12-year-old Coleytown Middle School musician, actor, environmentalist and fun-loving girl who died 5 summers ago in a motor vehicle accident, while attending summer camp in Maine.

For Suzanne, “forever” means never letting go of her daughter’s poetry, passions and determination to make a difference.

It also means honoring Tess with a musical theater production that Suzanne herself has written.

“Where the Love Begins” is a musical memoir — “a mother’s love story,” she says — titled after Tess’ 1st poem, written when she was 5.

Suzanne performs a world premiere reading of the musical on Wednesday, August 17 — the 5th anniversary of her daughter’s death — at Saugatuck Congregational Church (7:30 p.m.).

The free event includes a special dance tribute by Staples High School junior Katherine Flug.

where the love beginsThere’s special poignancy to the show. Many of Tess’ classmates leave soon, entering college and pursuing passions of their own.

Suzanne — an award-winning musician while at Harvard — calls her multimedia composition “a musical monument” for her daughter, and “a thank-you gift to the universe for the profound privilege of parenthood.”

The show has received Broadway interest. It will workshop next year, fulfilling Suzanne’s mission to immortalize her daughter’s essence, and continue Tess’ emphasis on family, friendship and faith in forever love.

(For more information, click here or email

Cole Dickinson’s Baseball Career Is A Cakewalk

Three years ago, Westport’s all-stars electrified the town with a great run to the Little League World Series championship game.

Among their many fans was Rick Dickinson. A huge baseball fan himself (and former high school state champion), as the owner of Great Cakes Rick knew many of the players. Their parents bought Rick’s great cakes to celebrate birthdays, and Rick chatted with them about their sons’ achievements.

Many of those players and their families — all of Rick’s customers, really — knew his son Cole too. The little kid was there behind the counter during busy times, helping his dad.

Great Cakes closed just a few months after Westport’s World Series thrill.

But Rick is still baking locally — and Cole has turned into a baseball star himself.

Rick Dickinson stands proudly with his son Cole.

Rick Dickinson stands proudly with his son Cole.

The 12-year-old is a 3rd baseman on the New Milford Pride. His team recently won the New England regional championship, and is headed to the Cal Ripken World Series.

It’s set for July 29-August 6, in Aberdeen, Maryland. Cole’s first game is Saturday, July 30 against the Pacific Southwest team, from Hawaii.

(It’s worth noting that in the final inning of the regional final, the score was 9-9. The bases were loaded, with 2 outs. Cole’s hit won it.)

All of Westport — especially those former Little Leaguers — wish Cole and the New Milford Pride good luck at the Cal Ripken World Series.

Win or lose, we’re sure they’ll celebrate their week with plenty of great cakes.

Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Everyone Into The Pool!

Westporters love their privacy. 

And their pools.

But here, counterintuitively — and from the very exclusive Burritts Landing neighborhood on Long Island Sound, off Saugatuck Avenue — comes this story from Bruce Kasanoff. It originally appeared on the “What Inspires Me” section of LinkedIn:

My neighborhood is a bit odd, in that a few dozen houses share one swimming pool. This is because 50 years ago, one large property was subdivided and the developer left the existing pool intact. He specified that all houses would jointly share in its usage and upkeep.

The 100-year-old pool has two-foot thick walls and is larger than a typical residential pool. It is great for swimming laps. (I say this theoretically, as someone who doesn’t actually swim laps.)

Very few people aspire to share a pool with a few dozen neighbors. Instead, people want their own pool.

After 15 years of sharing, I can tell you that sharing is much, much better. You pay less for upkeep, yet enjoy a bigger pool. But that’s not even close to the best benefit.

Bruce Kasanoff wasn't kidding. That's one giant swimming pool!

Bruce Kasanoff wasn’t kidding. That’s one giant swimming pool! (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)

Thanks to the pool, we have an extremely social and friendly neighborhood. Instead of hanging out in our own yards, we hang out together at the pool. We meet each others’ friends and relatives. We share food and sometimes have communal dinners.

Here’s where it gets really interesting, at least to me. Sharing the pool created a culture of sharing in our neighborhood. When my kids were younger, our neighbors approached us with a proposal. Our swing set was getting pretty shaky, and our kids had mostly outgrown it. So our neighbors offered to buy a much nicer new one that we would share, but — because they didn’t have a flat spot in their yard — they asked to put it in ours. We agreed.

Then another neighbor bought a trampoline, that everyone shares. Another bought a soccer net. Same deal. Today, the swing set is long gone but we share a garden with our neighbors.

I’d like to think that this is where we are headed as a society: sharing more.

Increasingly, technology makes this easier. For example, The People Who Share website lists over 8,000 companies and organizations that facilitate sharing. Share a car, house, meal, artistic event, or even a dog.

You don’t need a venture capitalist and a programming team to start sharing. You just need to adopt a sharing mindset. Once you do, don’t be surprised if you discover that sharing is contagious.

(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)

July Comes In With A Bang!

Westport celebrated the arrival of July — and Independence Day — with perfect weather, and one of the largest fireworks crowds ever, last night.

It was a wonderful, friendly, community vibe. There was food and fun, glow sticks and sparklers, and wall-to-wall people.

Westport may have been the 1st community in America to celebrate July 4th this year. But the date doesn’t matter. The great feelings — about our town and our country — do.

Thanks, Westport PAL, Melissa & Doug, our police and fire and EMTs and Parks & Rec crew, and everyone else who made last night special!

Click on or hover over photos to enlarge. All images below by Dan Woog, unless otherwise noted.

It's not Independence Day unless you wear red, white and blue.

It’s not Independence Day unless you wear red, white and blue…

...whatever your age...

…whatever your age…


...and deck your house in an American flag.

…and deck your house in an American flag.

Celebrating the 2nd Amendment.

Celebrating the 2nd Amendment. (Don’t worry! They’re toys!)

One man found solitude around 5 p.m. The large crowds had not yet arrived.

One man found solitude around 5 p.m. The large crowds had not yet arrived.

On Compo Beach Road, youngsters sold lemonade and cookies to raise funds to fight Alzheimer's.

On Compo Beach Road, youngsters raised money to fight Alzheimer’s.

Police officers did their job -- and mingled with the crowds. Ned Batlin knows everyone.

Police officers did their job — and mingled with the crowds. Ned Batlin knows everyone.

This scene was repeated hundreds of times, up and down the beach.

This scene was repeated hundreds of times, all along the beach.

Boats were out in force, all afternoon and evening.

Boats were out in force, all afternoon and evening.

Up and down Soundview, the boardwalk and beyond, teenagers strutted their stuff.

Up and down Soundview, the boardwalk and beyond, teenagers strutted their stuff.

New York City's Cobras put on a great dance and drum performance. They appeared in the movie "Birdman."

New York City’s Cobras put on a great dance and drum performance. They appeared in the movie “Birdman.”

A classic shot. We sometimes forget that the cannons represent Westport's part in our war for independence.

A classic shot. We sometimes forget that the cannons represent Westport’s role in our war for independence.

As night fell, bunting was illuminated on Soundview Drive.

As night fell, bunting was illuminated on Soundview Drive.

The main attraction.

The main attraction.

The fireworks, as seen from a Soundview Drive front porch. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

The fireworks, as seen from a Soundview Drive front porch. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)


Pregnant Parents Collect Info, Friends

It’s tough being pregnant. (I am told.)

It can even be tougher once your baby is born — particularly if your partner works long hours, and you’re home alone. (That makes sense too.)

Every new mother has questions and concerns. Every new mother needs a support network.

The Brits have an answer. Their National Childbirth Trust offers pre-natal classes — organized by neighborhood and due date. Mothers-to-be receive important information — and new mums have a ready-made, nearby group of friends.

Melissa Griffin is a native of London. When her daughter was born 5 years ago, the NCT was a godsend.

Jessica Hill is American. She spent 10 years in the UK. When her son was born there 7 years ago, she was an ocean away from family. She too found education and friends at the Trust.

Melissa Griffin and Jessica Hill.

Melissa Griffin and Jessica Hill.

Melissa and Jessica did not know each other in England. But a few years ago, both moved to Westport. Both had children at the same pre-school. As they became friends, both realized that nothing like the National Childbirth Trust existed here.

So they set out to create one.

“So many newcomers in Westport are pregnant,” Jessica says. “It can be an isolating experience. You have no way to meet people. And once the baby comes, you’re on your newborn’s schedule.”

Beginning last fall, the women conducted focus groups. Out of those discussions came The Parent Collective.

Parent Collective logoIn some ways, it’s even better than the NCT. Melissa and Jessica reach out to women pregnant with their 2nd or 3rd children. Husbands are warmly welcomed too.

The Parent Collective launches its first classes this fall. They’ll be taught by labor delivery nurses, childbirth educators, lactation specialists and therapists, from Yale and St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Each group of 12-15 couples will attend 4 sessions (once a weekend, for a month). There’s 90 minutes of content, and 30 minutes of socializing (“tea and biscuits,” Melissa calls it).

First-time parents will talk about labor and delivery, pain management and relaxation, breast and bottle feeding, and new baby care. Second- and 3rd-timers get a refresher on delivery and newborn care, plus sleep training and scheduling tips, strategies for helping older children adjust, and — kids are encouraged to attend — how to be a good big brother or sister.

Classes are “judgment-free,” Melissa notes. “It’s not about breast feeding or bottle feeding, or natural childbirth versus Caesareans.”

The women begin with 3 locations: Intensity Fitness on the Westport/Norwalk border, Magic Beans toy store in Fairfield, and Go Figure barre studio in New Canaan. All are “peaceful, beautiful, clean spaces,” Jessica says.

(Photo/courtesy of Classic Kids Greenwich)

(Photo/courtesy of Classic Kids Greenwich)

Sure, hospitals offer informational sessions for new parents. But, Jessica says, they don’t include the social aspects. It’s important for wives (and their husbands) to form friendships with others whose kids will be born around the same time. They can offer each other help — with newborns, and with life.

Jessica’s husband reluctantly went to the London NCT group, she says. He quickly learned how to help her in many ways.

She recalls an exercise the men went through: Donning a backpack filled with water bottles, and wearing it around their chest and stomach. “It was eye-opening,” she smiles.

The response during this roll-out phase has been uplifting. Mothers-to-be are delighted to find both support and friends. Ob/Gyns are recommending it to their patients.

Jessica couldn’t imagine being pregnant, and then a new mother, without the NCT. She recalls her last session, when the group planned a party before their due dates — and scheduled a morning coffee for after their babies arrived.

Her new British parent friends acted collectively.

Now — thanks to the Parent Collective — Fairfield County parents can do the same.

(The Parent Collective is accepting applications for its fall classes. Parents who are due then — and any others — can click here for more information.)

A Photo Shoot For Gun Safety

In the days following the Orlando massacre, Connecticut politicians have once again been in the forefront of the fight to force Congress to address gun legislation.

Chris Murphy led a 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor. Colleague Richard Blumenthal joined in. And Congressman Jim Himes earned national notice by walking out of the House of Representatives’ moment of silence, demanding real action rather than empty gestures.

Many Westporters were moved by our legislators’ stances.

Melissa Kane was moved to act.

The chair of the Democratic Town Committee sent out an email this weekend. In it, she called the three men’s actions “a wonderful lesson for my children.”

To show her appreciation, she invited anyone and everyone — especially kids — to gather for a group photo today at Compo Beach.

The shot below — taken by Pamela Einarsen — will be sent to Senators Murphy and Blumenthal, and Congressman Himes. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

Though they’d no doubt appreciate actual legislation more.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Pamela Einarsen)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Pamela Einarsen)

PS: After the shoot, some latecomers arrived. They posed with a few stragglers, for a 2nd image:

(Photo/Pamela Einarsen)

(Photo/Pamela Einarsen)

This One Time At Cello Camp…

At 5  years old — an age when many Westport youngsters are fascinated by whatever Disney movie is being marketed to their impressionable brains — Danielle Merlis got hooked on Yo-Yo Ma.

But not just any piece by the master cellist. Over and over, she listened to “Butterfly’s Day Out.” To this day, the Westport native returns to the track for inspiration.

Now though, she can actually play the piece.

Danielle Merlis in action.

Danielle Merlis in action.

In elementary school, when she had to pick an instrument for orchestra, Danielle asked her mother — a musician herself — for advice. Joan talked about the cello in a special, almost magical way.

Long Lots music teacher Betsy Tucker was an important influence. She instilled enthusiasm and excitement, while teaching fundamentals so thoroughly that students felt confident at the outset.

Starting a string instrument can be daunting, Danielle says. Tucker made sure she enjoyed the cello, no matter how awkward she felt.

Danielle studied with local cello legend Lois Errante. She worked her way to first chair in the Staples orchestra and Norwalk Youth Symphony, winning awards throughout the state. She played in Tanglewood’s Young Artists Orchestra.

While a Staples High senior, Danielle attended Manhattan School of Music Precollege. She then studied for 2 years with the renowned Matt Haimovitz, at McGill University.

New York drew her back. At NYU Danielle discovered a new passion: composition. She earned her master’s at NYU’s prestigious film scoring program.

Danielle Merlis

Danielle Merlis

She plays and composes in a range of styles, using the cello for tragedies, romantic stories and nostalgic moments. A trip to Mongolia last year led her to compose an original score for a documentary about that distant land. She scored “The Kidnapping of a Fish,” which was accepted in to the Cannes Film Festival.  Right now, she’s writing genre tracks for ABC-TV.

Danielle has performed with Chris Brubeck, Glenn Frey and the entire Eagles band, and in venues like Lincoln Center, the Ozawa Concert Hall, Joe’s Pub and the Provincetown Playhouse.

While performing, Danielle says, “I completely let go of all boundaries, expectations and rules. I truly live in the moment of the sound and story I express within the music. Playing cello allows me to access my most natural instincts.”

She loves the instrument because of its “warmth, and its ability to speak and connect with people in an intimate, personal, non-aggressive yet potent and powerful way.”

All her experiences — particularly the importance of a strong, positive early introduction to music — come together in Danielle’s next venture. She’s started a Cello Camp (“a cellobration”) for aspiring young musicians.

Cello Camp logo

“I want to give back to a community that gave me so much,” she says. “And summer is the best time to combine fun and growth.”

Danielle hopes that “cool” musical experiences — through repertoire and collaborations with musicians they might not have access to in school — can expand youngsters’ vision of the cello.

“I want to give them what Betsy Tucker gave me, when I first started: tools and excitement,” Danielle explains.

Who knows? Perhaps one of them — or their teacher — is the next Yo-Yo Ma.

(Danielle is collaborating on the Cello Camp with Staples graduate Lucas DeValdivia. The program runs from August 22-28, and is geared to students entering grades 5-9 with at least 1 year of experience. For more information, click here. For Danielle Merlis’ website, click here. )