Category Archives: Children

Pic Of The Day #7

Little Leaguers practicing this morning. (Photo/Leslie Flinn)

Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note. 

It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:

Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”

When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?

Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.

Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.

There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.

Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.

The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.

Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans.  Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.

What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.

We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.

Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”

We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them.  Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.

We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.

WTF: Aitkenheads Leave Town Farm

Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead are synonymous with Wakeman Town Farm.

Their official title was “stewards.” But they’ve really been shepherds, leading the town-owned facility from a fledgling farm into a flourishing year-round center for environmental education, community events — and plenty of produce.

Yet after 7 years as the public faces of the Town Farm — and inspirations to Westporters of all ages — they’re leaving Cross Highway.

Mike’s contract is up in June. He and Carrie have decided to concentrate on growing something else: their family. They have 2 young children, who have grown up at Wakeman Town Farm.

Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead posed last year for the Westport Library’s “I geek…” campaign. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

Mike will continue as a beloved environmental science teacher at Staples High School — just down the hill from WTF.

He and Carrie promise to stay part of the farm. They’ll serve on the advisory board, and will teach and participate in events there throughout the year.

“Farm life takes a tremendous commitment of both time and energy,” Mike explains.

“We’re so proud of the work we’ve done to build the farm into what it is today. But as it grows and expands, it’s time for my wife and me to pass on the torch so that we can enjoy more time with our  own 2 amazing young children.”

Carrie Aitkenhead and her 2 young children, at a Wakeman Town Farm event.

“We’re excited to see the farm embark on its next great and exciting chapter. We look forward to watching it grow and flourish under the guidance of its dedicated committee of volunteers.”

Mike calls his family’s time at WTF “an amazing adventure and incredibly rewarding experience.” He credits the farm with enriching his family’s life immensely.

“We’re forever grateful for all the love we’ve received from this incredibly supportive community.”

WTF co-chairs Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo praise the Aitkenheads profusely.

“We are very sad to see them go. Yet we recognize that running an operation like Wakeman Town Farm is a tremendous undertaking in every sense of the word.

“Both Mike and Carrie poured their hearts into making the farm a magical community resource. We are devoted to continuing the great work they started.”

Farmer Mike Aitkenhead in action.

The chairs call Mike “the Pied Piper of teens.” They promise that the junior apprentice and senior internship programs he started will continue.

Carrie’s forte was working with younger children, through programs like Mommy and Me and summer camps. The popular summer camp will also continue, beginning July 10.

“As the Aitkenhead family steps down, we cannot overstate their immense impact on the farm,” the co-chairs say.

The Aitkenheads leave just as the farmhouse has been renovated. A search is underway for their replacement.

To everything there is a season. Thanks, Mike and Carrie, for all the seasons you gave, to all of us!

Wakeman Town Farm is thriving, thanks in large part to Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead.

High Point Road, One Brick At A Time

My parents moved to Westport in March of 1956. A blizzard prevented the truck from going up the driveway. The movers hauled just one bed inside, so my parents spent their first night in a barren bedroom.

My mother died in that same room almost a year ago.

This winter, my sisters and I sold her house. That ended 60 years of the Woog family on High Point Road.

It was quite a run.

I guess that qualified me for an email the other day from current High Point residents. The Westport Historical Society is building a Brickwalk, and my old street is going all in.

A special stone will say “High Point — The Best Road in Town,” with residents adding their own bricks engraved with the year they moved in.

I was honored to be asked. When she died, my mother had lived on High Point longer than anyone else.

The Woog brick will say “1956-2016.” But there’s no way that small rectangle can encompass 6 decades of life there.

High Point is the longest cul-de-sac road in town. Call me biased, but it’s also the best.

I was so fortunate to have grown up where and when I did. My parents — both in their early 30s — had no idea what High Point would become when they moved out of my grandparents’ house in New Rochelle, and up to this much smaller town.

Rod Serling and his family celebrating Christmas, at their High Point Road home.

They had a few friends here — including my father’s Antioch College pal, an already famous writer named Rod Serling. He and his wife Carol had just moved to High Point. There were plenty of building lots available, so my parents bought one.

The price — for an acre of land, and a new house — was $27,000.

As I grew up, so did High Point. My parents were among the first dozen or so families. Today there are 70.

I watched woods and fields turn into homes. Nearly each was unique, with its own design.

And nearly each had a kid my age.

My childhood — at least, my memory of it — was filled with endless days of bike riding, “hacking around,” and kickball at the cul-de-sac (we called it “the turnaround”).

At dinnertime in spring and summer, we’d wander into someone’s house. Someone’s mother would feed us. Then it was back outside, for more games.

When my parents chose High Point, they were only vaguely aware that the new high school being built on North Avenue was, basically, in the back yard of our neighbors across the street.

Having Staples so near was a formative experience. My friends and I played baseball, touch football and other sports on the high school fields. We watched as many football, basketball and baseball games as we could, in awe of the guys just a few years older. Once, we snuck into a dance in the cafeteria. (We did not last long.)

This aerial view from 1965 shows the separate buildings of Staples High School. Behind the athletic fields is High Point Road. My parents’ house is shown with an arrow.

There were enough kids on High Point to have an entire bus to ourselves (with, it should be noted, only 3 or 4 bus stops on the entire road).

But by 5th grade, my friends and I were independent enough to walk through Staples, across North Avenue and past Rippe’s farm, on our way to Burr Farms Elementary School.

We talked about nothing, and everything, on our way there and back. It was a suburban version of “Stand By Me,” and to this day I cherish those times.

The young families on our street grew up together. There were block parties every fall, carol sings at Christmas.

Every summer Saturday, Ray the Good Humor man made his rounds. High Point Road probably put his kids through college.

Spring and summer were also when — every Monday — one family opened their pool to the entire street. With 40 boys cannonballing, racing around the slippery deck and throwing balls at 40 girls’ heads, I’m amazed we all lived to tell the tale. I can’t imagine any family doing that today.

From the front, it was an average home on a wonderful road …

But that was High Point Road, back in the day. It was not all perfect, of course. Some of the older kids were a bit “Lord of the Flies”-ish (and the amount of misinformation they taught us about sex was staggering).

Behind closed doors, there was the same bad stuff that goes on anywhere (and everywhere).

But I would not have traded growing up on High Point Road for any place. As much as any street could, it formed me and made me who I am today.

… but the back yard was beautiful.

High Point Road has changed, of course. Many original houses are gone, replaced by much larger ones that could be on any Westport street. There are plenty of kids there now, but each has his or her personal bus stop. And I don’t think I’ve seen any gang of kids riding bikes since, well, we did it.

Still, it’s a wonderful road. The “new” residents have kept that neighborhood feel. There are social events. And they always welcomed — and looked out for — my mother.

Of course, you can’t put any of that on a brick.

So ours will just proudly say: “The Woog Family. Jim, Jo, Dan, Sue, Laurie. 1956-2016.”

And that says it all.

(Westport Historical Society bricks are available in sizes 4×8 and 8×8. They can include a custom logo, with a family row of 5 bricks for the price of 4. For more information, click here.)

Mitch & Lisa 4Ever

For decades, an odd-shaped building on Hillspoint Road has been home to early childhood programs.

It’s called the Parent Child Center. But back in the day, it was Hillspoint Elementary School.

The kids were bigger than the ones there now. They could write cursive.

And — because Hillspoint went all the way to 6th grade — there were some budding romances.

Which is why one day — back in the 1960s or ’70s — Mitch F. and Lisa R. grabbed a pencil, snuck into an art room closet, and scrawled their love on a metal plate.

It’s stood there — untouched and unnoticed — all these years.

Until — the other day — Children’s Community Development Center director Eileen Ward found it.

“06880” readers are intrepid. You’ve got long memories.

So, Eileen and I want to know:

  • Who were Mitch F. and Lisa R.?
  • And did their love really endure 4ever?

Golfers Give Back

While many Westport students are on spring break, Staples High School athletes remain in town. They’re practicing and playing.

The Wrecker girls and boys golf team made the most of their week — and gorgeous weather — yesterday. They hosted young golfers from Bridgeport’s Sheehan and McGivney Centers.

The Stapleites introduced their guests at Longshore to the game of golf, with a fun clinic. They also gave them equipment, which had been donated through Golf to Give.

The organization is the brainchild of Sophie Carozza, a Staples junior on coach Patty Kondub’s team.

There were smiles all around yesterday, as Staples’ girls and boys golf teams hosted Bridgeport youngsters at Longshore.

Golf to Give plans more events — and they’re still collecting donations of clubs, balls, shoes, etc. They’ll even pick up at your house! Click here, or email sophiecarozza@gmail.com for more information.

Sophie Carozza, with some of her first donations.

Westport Women Raise Epidemic Awareness

Astonishingly, 52% of all American children are diagnosed with chronic illnesses.

That’s a broad definition — it includes allergies, ADHD, Asperger’s, irritable bowel and celiac disease, Lyme, hay fever and obesity — but it caught the attention of Jennifer Boyd and Julie Blitzer.

The women share the same initials, the same Westport hometown, and a desire to do something for that large population of kids with chronic diseases — and their parents.

They’re dissatisfied with most conventional treatment methods.

Julie Blitzer

They joined forces through Epidemic Answers, an organization that believes the rise in children with chronic diseases stems from “insidious environmental factors (beyond just ‘pollution’) that have been introduced slowly into our lives over the course of the past few decades.”

Epidemic Answers says these environmental influences destroy kids’ immune systems, affect their growth and development, and prevent them from living full lives.

The founder of the organization “recovered” her child from chronic illness. She now helps other mothers do the same for their kids.

Three years ago Julie — a therapeutic dance teacher — founded Authentic Matters. The group organizes classes, workshops and events for women who “seek to live with heightened awareness/ consciousness.”

Julie met Jennifer — a wellness practitioner — who says she “recovered” her 2 children from Lyme disease. Jennifer is now chair of Epidemic Awareness’ national board.

Another board member is Westporter Maria Rickert Hong. Jennifer says Maria “recovered” her child from sensory processing disorder.

Jennifer Boyd

“The first step is taking people down the rabbit hole of diagnosis,” Jennifer says.

“The next step is focusing on environment. There’s a saying: ‘Genetics loads the gun. Environment pulls the trigger.'”

She means the total environment — internal too. “It’s important to think about things like diet and gut flora,” she notes.

Next month (May 4, 7 p.m., Mora Mora in South Norwalk), Epidemic Answers sponsors a dance party. The goal is to raise awareness (and funds) for the organization’s film project, “Documenting Hope.” Jennifer is on the video’s advisory board.

Designing a dance party is important to the 2 women. Both are trained in dance therapy. (The event features “consciously curated appetizers and spirits” — along with a DJ.)

“There’s a gluten-free bread crumb trail to follow,” Jennifer says, referring to her belief that chronic illnesses need not last a lifetime.

“There’s hope to recover your child.”

(For more information on the “Dance for Hope” event, click here.)

 

“Heart Moms” Pay A Bummer Bear Forward

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) occur in 1 out of every 100 births. The impact on babies — and their families — is profound.

Westporter Britt Sheiber is the mother of twin boys, Evan and James. They turn 1 on April 27 — her birthday.

It’s been quite a year. During Britt’s pregnancy, a 16-week ultrasound revealed Evan’s CHD. His type — “half a heart” — is extremely rare.

The Sheibers searched for the best treatment. They found it at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Evan was in the NICU for a few weeks. Britt drove to Westport every other day for a few hours, to see James and her 2 older children.

Finally, Evan came home. But he caught a cold, and ended up in the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital ICU.

A Bummer Bear.

That’s where he received a “Bummer Bear.” Passed on by the (coincidentally) Westport mother of another boy with CHD, it’s a special teddy bear. His zipper — representing the surgery scar — opens to reveal a tiny red heart, with little white stitches.

The mom sent an inspirational letter too.

The gifts gave Britt hope, and made her realize she was not alone. They helped her through Evan’s first open heart surgery — along with calls and texts from Ali Marcus.

Ali is another Westport mom whose son West was born with CHD. The women had  been introduced by mutual friends right before Britt gave birth to Evan, as West was preparing for his own surgery.

After Britt received her Bummer Bear for Evan, she paid it forward by sending one to Ali for West.

West Marcus loves his Bummer Bear.

Not long ago, the women heard about Fatemeh Reshad. The 4-month-old Iranian child — born with a congenital heart defect — was flying with her parents to Oregon for a life-saving procedure.

But when President Trump’s executive order banned travel from 7 countries, they had to cancel the surgery.

The women were stunned. As “heart moms,” they would go to the ends of the earth to get their children the best treatment possible. They knew Fatemeh’s mother was doing the same.

Britt and Ali posted Fatemeh’s story on social media. They reached out to their contacts at Yale-New Haven and Boston Children’s for help. After Governor Andrew Cuomo and the International Refugee Assistance Project intervened, the federal government allowed Fatemeh and her family into the US.

The women quickly sent Fatemeh a Bummer Bear, plus other gifts: a personalized pillow, cheerful button-up onesies, a pacifier/lovey for her chest, and cozy socks for Fatemeh’s mom. They added encouraging letters too.

Bummer Bear and assorted donations for Fatemeh, thanks to Westport’s “heart moms.”

Today, Britt monitors Evan’s oxygen numbers daily. They see his Boston cardiologist every few months. Evan will need another open heart surgery in a couple of years.

Britt takes care of him — and many others. Realizing the lack of awareness (and funds) for children with CHD, she founded Evan’s Heart Fund. All money goes to single ventricle research. This winter at JoyRide, she raised $27,000. Another fundraiser is in the works.

James (left) and Evan Sheiber today.

As for West: He’s a happy 1-year-old, chasing his 3 big brothers and 1 big sister. He too must be monitored every day for the rest of his life.

“Our family has been changed forever by this,” Ali says. “We are grateful for our hearts every day. What an incredible organ!”

So she, Britt and other moms stand ready to help the next heart mom, and the one after that.

It’s the heartfelt thing to do.

Remembering Susan Ei

Alert “06880” reader and Westport resident Marcy Sansolo writes:

If you ever visited the children’s room at Pequot Library, you knew Susan Ei. And you felt her presence.

The children’s librarian for over 10 years — an unusual and beautiful woman, inside and out — died this week. She was 64.

Susan Ei

Susan had terrific energy, boundless enthusiasm, a genuine love of children, legendary patience, and a bunny kids could practice reading to.

She embraced all things Harry Potter, and never missed an opportunity to discuss a good book with good friends around a roaring fireplace.

She loved organizing potluck dinners, bike rides, holiday singalongs, and sleepovers under the stars on the library’s mighty front lawn.

Her summer reading programs were epic. She was tireless at the yearly book sale, even though it always falls during a massive heatwave.

In late 2003, I was still in shock over leaving the 212. My family and I found ourselves in Fairfield. I had discovered the Pequot Library within the first month. It was love at first sight.

Susan and my then-3-year-old became fast friends. Their relationship lasted well into the young adult section.

Jack is at Staples now. But when we returned to the Pequot for the book sale or a concert, we still made our way to the children’s room to see dear Susan.

Despite the countless people she met over the years, she never forgot us. We were always greeted by our first names.

In 2007 we brought a new puppy home. Susan knew how excited Jack was, and told him to bring the dog to the library. I cracked up with her, at the lunacy of having an untrained dog at a library.

It was one of the very few times the puppy was well-behaved. After he had a good smell of the library, he and my son climbed up on a couch. Susan captured the moment in this photo.

Jack, his dog and his book.

Out of the hundreds of images I have, this is one of my all-time favorites. I’ll forever be grateful she captured this moment in time.

In a world of skinny jeans and blown-out hair, Susan — with her braids and cowboy boots — was a breath of fresh air. I’ll never forget her kindness.

I know her many fans join me in sending love, light and strength to her beautiful daughters, husband, family, friends and colleagues.

Thank you, Susan. We miss you already!

(For Susan Ei’s full obituary, click here.)

Dave Jones’ Tale Of The Sea

This is a story about Compo Beach lifeguards, stage 4 cancer, Stew Leonard and inner-city children.

If you don’t think they’re all related, you don’t know Westport.

And you really don’t know Dave Jones.

His tale begins at Staples High, where he played football before graduating in 1971. It continues on the University of Idaho football field, with summers lifeguarding at Compo Beach. It includes marriage (and divorce) with his high school sweetheart; moves on to a long career in ad sales with NBC, then veers off to remarriage, and raising twin sons.

In 2010 — in the midst of a very successful career at WJAR-TV in Providence — Jones saw a doctor for lower back pain.

The diagnosis: stage 4 colon, liver and gallbladder cancer.

Then came spots on his brain. And lymph node issues. Jones was dying.

He underwent surgery, and 18 months of chemotherapy. Last year, he crossed the magic 5-year survival window.

Dave Jones (Photo/M. Kiely)

An event like that does something to a person. Jones left the TV station, took a huge pay cut, and worked as the major gifts officer for 100-bed South County Hospital in Wakefield, Rhode Island. He helped build a $6.5 million community cancer center there. “Neighbors taking care of neighbors,” he explains.

Then he lost his job. “That’s healthcare,” Jones says simply.

He retired. “I had a great life,” he says. “I was healthy, living on the ocean. But how much SportsCenter can you watch?”

A friend owned Capital Wealth Management. Jones suggested the firm start a foundation, to help people donate money in personal, non-traditional ways: building a roof for an animal shelter, say, or providing computers to autistic kids.

“They’re micro-grants that previously fell through the cracks,” Jones says. “But nobody gave us a shot. You can’t put a private foundation next to a wealth management firm. It looks nefarious, like you’re hiding money. The SEC has lots of questions.”

But he did it. Jones is now president and CEO of the Capital Wealth Foundation. One of his key board members is former Staples classmate Mike Perlis — now president and executive chairman of Forbes Media.

The foundation gives out 100% of its funds — “well into 6 figures” already, Jones says.

His most recent project is one of his favorites. Growing up in Westport, he knew Stew Leonard Jr. Like Jones, Leonard has achieved quite a bit of success.

Like Jones too, he’s known tough times. In 1989 Leonard’s 21-month-old son, Stew III, drowned. The Stew Leonard III Children’s Charity now promotes water safety and awareness.

Jones’ son Jack follows in his footsteps: He’s a lifeguard. Unlike relatively tame Compo though, he works on the Narragansett surf. Jack often sees city kids rush into the waves. They can’t swim, and get caught in the very strong undertow.

Later this month, Jones and Leonard will meet to plan the Capital Wealth Foundation’s next project: providing swim lessons for inner-city kids.

Jones is going all in. He’s asking every former Compo lifeguard he knows for contributions. With the help of ex-guards Will Luedke and Mary Hughes, and Ann Becker Moore — who hosts an annual lifeguard reunion in Westport — he’s got a great list to start with.

But Jones wants to reach even more. If you ever lifeguarded in Westport, and want to help teach kids how to swim, email David@CapitalWealthInc.com. Or call 401-885-1060, ext. 115.

Of course, you don’t have to be a former lifeguard to help. You just need some connection to Jones, Compo, Westport, Stew Leonard, cancer or kids.

And that includes us all.