Category Archives: Children

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)

Hurricane Victims: More Ways To Help

Westport continues to respond to the recent hurricanes. Here are 2 intriguing ways to help.

Kidz Give Back — a local organization that lets children stuff, dress and prepare plush toy animals for others in hospitals or financial distress — encourages area youngsters to “send love” to boys and girls in Texas.

Their goal is 1,000 “Stuffed With Love” animals.

Clicking here brings up a donation form. $25 buys a kit with animal skin, stuffing, a wish star, clothing, accessories, gift card, “adoption certificate,” and bracelet so you (well, your child) can build a stuffed animal. Kits can be picked up at 23 Silverbrook Road, where the Wofsy family — originators of the project — live.

It takes less than 30 minutes to assemble an animal. You bring it back to their house; they ship it to Houston.

If you don’t want to assemble the stuffed animal yourself, your donation can purchase a kit for a child to do it.

The Wofsy family (from left): Hallie, Maya, Layla and Scott.

Help of a different kind comes from “Rhythms of Hope.” The benefit drum circle is set for this Saturday (September 16, 2 to 5 p.m.), at the Unitarian Church.

Westport resident Randy Brody — head of Sound Directions — offers his facilitation and drumming skills. Donations ($20 for adults; $10 for seniors; children under 12 free) to participate will raise funds for Direct Relief, which provides medical supplies and health services in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Everyone is welcome. No drumming experience is necessary. For more information call 203-227-7205, ext. 14, or email rbdrumguy@sbcglobal.net.

Randy Brody and his drums.

 

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

GoKid! Get This Carpool App!

Like many New Yorkers, Stefanie Lemcke started looking outside the city for schools for her children.

She and her husband took day trips here. When they realized “wow, people actually live in Westport!” they made the move.

Like many new arrivals, she loved the town. And — like many — she had to adapt to becoming a chauffeur. “No one told me I’d do so much driving!” she says.

Like no one else, however, she turned that mind-numbing chore into a flourishing business.

Stefanie Lemcke

On the Upper West Side, Lemcke walked her kids to school. Here, she had to learn to navigate carpools. Emails, Excel spreadsheets, texts — there had to be a better way.

Having worked for years with companies like Uber and Lyft, she thought instinctively of an online platform. She had not been involved on the tech side, but she became “obsessed” — her word — with her idea.

Her solution: a secure website that allows families to connect easily with others in their school, and identify carpool opportunities. She called it GoKid.

Lemcke hired 2 freelancers in California to write the initial code.

Techstars — a Detroit-based startup accelerator — accepted GoKid. That helped her raise over $1 million in funding.

She hired the best people she could find — wherever she found them. Lemcke’s team includes 3 developers in New York; 3 Argentines; a London COO, and one guy who travels in a truck.

Despite very little marketing, growth as been explosive. Over 50,000 carpools have been organized, in more than 25 countries.

But GoKid — which works on a desktop, smartphone and other devices — is very much a Westport company. Its official address is here, and visitors to the site see photos taken all around town.

Many of GoKid’s promotional photos were shot in Westport. This scene is at Staples High School.

GoKid fills a clear need. For budget and other reasons — one bus route averages $37,000 a year — over 50% of all school districts no longer use buses, Lemcke says. In California, just 17% do.

Of course, Lemcke notes, “Kids still have to get to school” — and their many other activities. GoKid allows users to organize carpools by neighborhood, grade, even kids’ interests. It’s a way to find trusted drivers beyond a small group of friends.

Last week, GoKid rolled out advanced features, like “recent participant” and “recent location”; the ability to set up return carpools with different participants, and customized alerts and notifications. It’s now available on Android devices. And it’s making its first marketing push.

The screenshot on the left shows text messages regardiing a carpool event. The one on the right shows a carpool map.

Lemcke knows the carpooling problem first hand. She lives on North Avenue — a few feet from Staples High and Bedford Middle schools. “Everyone drives their kids, even though we have buses,” she notes.

But the founder of an app that makes carpooling easier is not convinced that’s the only solution in her home town.

“It would be nice to create an initiative here around walking and biking,” she says.

“This is a progressive community, with great schools. But we’re backward when it comes to transportation.”

Of course, parents will continue to drive their children. That’s a fact of Westport life.

“Given the traffic and congestion, we welcome the opportunity to work with  Westport schools to help parents save time and reduce traffic,” Lemcke notes.

(For more information about GoKid, click here.)

 

Be Courteous Out There!

A Westport mother of 3 — soon to be 4 — writes:

We live by the beach for the reason so many others do: the ability to walk and bike to Compo, the close-knit neighborhood, and the freedom all this allows our children at a young age.

However, what should be enjoyable bike rides with my 3 boys — ages 9, 7 and 4 — is constantly ruined by the rude adults we encounter on our rote.

I have had “serious” bikers yell at my children that they aren’t allowed in the bike lane because it wasn’t on the right hand side of the road.

These bikers are wrong. Yes, one should stay to the right of the road — biking with the flow of traffic — but a review of our state biking laws shows there are more than a few exceptions.

One includes “riding on parts of a roadway separated for the exclusive use of bicycles.”

When it comes to biking, no one will confuse Westport with the Netherlands.

I’ve been reprimanded by adults walking on the sidewalk for my boys not having bells on their bikes to warn that they are approaching.

Connecticut law demands “an audible signal within a reasonable distance before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.” Apparently my boys saying “excuse me” repeatedly before cautiously passing a walker is not sufficient.

I’ve seen adults be extremely rude to my 4-year-old when he passes them a little too closely. Shouldn’t we applaud a young child riding without training wheels, not make nasty comments? How will he ever learn to bike courteously like his older brothers if I don’t take him out there with me, and teach proper etiquette?

The beach, the sidewalk and roads around it are for all to enjoy. You’d think the adults of this town would be happy to see a pack of little boys enjoying their bikes, rather than sitting home with their heads stuck in iPads.

Friday Flashback #55

For over 50 years, The Willows medical complex — aka “Fort Apache” — has sat at the Kings Highway North/Wilton Road intersection.

But for 3 decades before that, it was the 3rd home to The Bolton School — aka The Westport School for Girls.

Mary E. E. Bolton

The school was opened in 1925 by Mrs. Mary E.E. Bolton and her sister, Miss Katherine Laycock. The founders’ main goal was to educate Bolton’s 2 daughters.

The women were “completely unknown in Westport,” a school history in the 1951 yearbook says.

But they put up a sign outside a 3-story Myrtle Avenue house. Bolton leased room for her school — and living space for herself and her daughters — there.

Besides Betty and Bunny Bolton, 2 other girls — all 7 years old– enrolled. By year’s end, 14 others joined them.

The next year the school moved to a large Greek Revival house on the corner of Post Road West and Ludlow Road.

Three years later, they relocated to the Kings Highway North site. The Bolton School occupied a large Victorian farmhouse, and 3 outbuildings.

Each year, a new grade was added. The first graduating class was 1935.

By the mid-1950s though, the old house, barn and sheds were fire traps. Mrs. Bolton’s lease was nearing an end, and the owner of the property wanted to sell.

The Bolton School, on the corner of Kings Highway North and Wilton Road. The photo was provided by Bonnie Bradley, from the school’s 1950 yearbook.

A group of concerned parents and friends of the school, including Lucie Bedford Cunningham, approached the sisters with the idea of incorporating The Bolton School as a not-for-profit, which could raise money to build or buy new facilities. Mrs. Bolton declined, preferring to retain ownership of her nursery school and lower school, but Miss Laycock, headmistress of the Upper School, agreed.

Long story short: In 1956 the Kathleen Laycock Country Day School opened in the dilapidated house. After a search, the Bedford/Vanderbilt family sold 26 acres of property on Beachside Avenue — for $250,000.

Kathleen Laycock

In 1959, Kathleen Laycock School moved in. The next year, Mrs. Bolton’s younger school followed.

Both prospered. But by the end of the 1960s, single-sex schools were under siege. In 1969, after a year of study and deliberation, the trustees voted to admit males.

Knowing the difficulty of attracting boys to “Kathleen Laycock Country Day,” the trustees renamed the school. In September 1970, 23 young men joined 300 young women at Greens Farms Academy.

The rest is history. You can still see the remnants of what was once the Bolton School on Beachside Avenue.

If you close your eyes, you can visualize it too at Fort Apache.

(Hat tip: Bonnie Bradley)

Back To School: 2017

After a summer of sleeping in, Westport students headed back to school this morning.

Senior girls woke up at the crack of dawn, to caravan to Staples High School:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

An hour later, 2 young girls send an important message, as they wait for their bus:

(Photo/Gery Grove)

Meanwhile, on Compo Hill, parents sent off their kids. They celebrated with a continental breakfast — and pondered what to do next:

(Photo/Rich Stein)

Slice Of Saugatuck Returns September 9

Saugatuck keeps growing. Every day, it seems, there’s something new and exciting in what was once our original town center.

There are new restaurants and stores. There’s new life and activity (like “Tuesdays at the Train”).

And — on Saturday, September 9 — new businesses will participate in the Slice of Saugatuck.

From Bridge Square to Railroad Place — and everywhere else — Slice of Saugatuck is packed. (Photo/Terry Cosgrave)

Six years ago, the 1st street festival drew 27 participants, and a few hundred people.

This time, 54 establishments have signed on. A crowd of more than 2,000 is expected to stroll the streets, nibble food, listen to live music at 6 venues, and enjoy kid and family activities like an obstacle course, bouncy houses and Maker Faire area.

The list of attractions includes 31 restaurants and 23 merchants. They’ll put tables outside, open their doors, then let the fun begin.

Slice of Saugatuck also boasts 2 beer gardens with wine), and specialty drinks at many venues. After the festival, a Saugatuck Happy Hour keeps the celebration going.

The “Slice” name comes from the street fair’s shape. Ranging from Riverside Avenue on one side and Saugatuck Avenue on the other, narrowing to Railroad Place, it resembles a pizza slice.

Of course, for many years Saugatuck was a heavily Italian neighborhood. There are still plenty of premier pasta-and-pizza places there — along with restaurants specializing in seafood, steaks, Mexican and Thai cuisine and more.

But you know that already. Saugatuck is a favorite destination for Westporters, and everyone else in Fairfield County.

It’s a little slice of heaven, right here in town.

(Tickets for the Slice of Saugatuck — $15 per adult; 2 for $25; children under 13, $5 — go on sale on-site at 1:50 p.m. the day of the event; cash only. Proceeds help fund the Gillespie Center’s food pantry. The Slice is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. For more information, including a map and list of participants, click here.)

 

Former Compo Guards Keep Saving Lives

Back in the day, a group of Compo lifeguards kept the beach safe.

Decades later, they’re still saving lives.

Spurred on by Dave Jones — a 1971 Staples High School graduate and longtime lifeguard who battled several cancers, built a community cancer center and started a foundation that gives away money in non-traditional ways — the former guards raised money for Stew Leonard III Children’s Charities.

Honoring the 21-month-old son of Stew Leonard Jr., who drowned in 1989, the organization promotes water safety and awareness.

but the former Compo lifeguards did more than raise a few bucks. On Sunday, they presented the charity with a check for $10,000.

Dave Jones (2nd from left) and Stew Leonard Jr. (5th from left) pose with former Compo Beach lifeguards, at the check presentation.

That’s inspiring. And they’ve inspired the current guards to do their part too.

On Sunday — next to the daily quotes posted in the lifeguard shack window, which everyone on the boardwalk stops to read — the 2017 crew posted Stewie the Duck’s water safety rules.

Remember:

  • Swim with an adult
  • Always wear a life vest
  • Take swim lessons.

(To read Dave Jones’ remarkable back story, click here.)