Category Archives: Children

“Spirit Animal” Art At Powell Place

Art lifts. Art energizes. Art inspires.

So does the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. The non-profit — funded by a $500,000 bequest from the late downtown landlord and Cobb’s Mill Inn owner — has quietly but strongly impacted the lives of young Westporters. Led by passionate volunteer artists, these boys and girls create their own art — right where they live.

Homes with Hope runs an after-school program for children and teenagers living in the organization’s Powell Place housing, and the surrounding neighborhood Saugatuck Avenue neighborhood.  It provides positive role models, academic support and enrichment, 4 days a week.

First, with the guidance of Miggs Burroughs, the Drew Friedman Center helped kids in the program create a mural of their self-portraits.

Recently, they embarked on their 2nd project. Each student chose a “spirit animal,” then created their own interpretation of that animal and its environment.

Hard at work on the mural.

Artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca worked with them to devise a layout and composition for the mural, then helped them realize their visions.

Art is a collaborative process.

The mural now hangs proudly in the Powell Place community room.

Artists young and old, and their mural. (Photo releases were not obtained for all young artists.)

This project — run by Lynn Abramson — is just the latest for the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center. They’ve already sponsored art classes at Project Return, in Randy Herbertson’s studio, and for developmentally disabled youngsters at CLASP Homes.

Art lifts, energizes and inspires. Thanks to Drew Friedman’s generosity, it’s also accessible now to every child, no matter where in Westport they live.

This young artist’s work began as a sketch.

Unsung Heroes #94

Earlier this month, the Learning Community celebrated the national Week of the Young Child.

On “Friendship Friday,” children at the Hillspoint Road preschool and kindergarten participated in activities with buddy classes. They also helped youngsters at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.

Many children there depend on the school as their primary source of food. School breaks — like this one — mark a week of food insecurity.

So throughout the Week of the Young Child, Learning Community families donated healthy snacks and drinks. The children made signs, and helped organize the food into categories.

At the end, every boy and girl helped fill 131 huge bags with granola bars, applesauce, pretzels, crackers, milk and juice.

The bags were delivered to Cesar Batalla before the end of the school day. It was a true group activity.

Thanks to the Learning Community kids, for helping their less fortunate peers.

Congratulations too to the Learning Community staff and parents — led by kindergarten teacher Valerie Greenberg — for instilling the values of care and compassion, and emphasizing the importance of volunteerism, in Westport’s youngest citizens.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Downtown Business Challenges Kids: Earn Money, Get Free Jerky

As a kid, Matt Levey earned money mowing lawns, shoveling snow and working lemonade stands.

Those experiences served him well. Today he owns Field Trip. That’s the red-hot producer of healthy, protein-rich jerky, in flavors ranging from beef, chicken, turkey and pork to jalapeño, cracked pepper and everything bagel.

They’re in 50,000 retail outlets nationwide. Field Trip is served on Jet Blue and United Airlines.

They’ve got only one store, though. It’s connected to their world headquarters on Post Road East — right across from Design Within Reach.

The Field Trip counter: fun, and filled with great-tasting products.

Levey would love to see kids in his home town — future entrepreneurs, who will create the next Field Trip (though hopefully not in the jerky industry) — put down their phones and video games, go out and earn money.

Anyone can do it. So he’s offering everyone an incentive.

If you’re still in school, and you make money doing something, head down to Field Trip. Matt will give you a “buy one, get one” deal on anything in the store.

This coming week — school vacation — is a perfect time to do it.

Just show proof of what you’ve done with a photo on (uh oh) a cell phone.

(Field Trip is at 153 Post Road East, Westport.)

This photo was not taken in Westport.

Unsung Hero #93

Alert “06880” reader Tracy Porosoff nominates this week’s Unsung Hero. She writes:

Nina MacMillan stands at the front door of Greens Farms Elementary School every day. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, she greets every child with a smile and a friendly hello.

Nina MacMillan

Nina has suffered through bouts of bronchitis without complaining.

She is there for early morning orchestra, chorus, band and gym. She never scolds kids when they’re late.

She starts their school day with kindness, friendship, and a sense that they are welcome and eagerly awaited.

To have our kids receive such warmth each and every day is truly a gift for which we are grateful.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Pic Of the Day #722

Winslow Park kids (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Soccer Players Give Bridgeport The Boot

Some Westport teenagers do community service far from home. They build toilets in Honduras, or schools in Africa.

Some do what they can much closer to home.

Thanks to Staples High School boys soccer reserve (junior varsity) coaches Russell Oost-Lievense and Reilly Lynch, 10 varsity and reserve Wreckers are spending the spring working with younger boys and girls just a few miles away in Bridgeport.

This is the 3rd year that Russell — himself a former Staples captain, now a special education teacher — has worked with Brighter Lives for Kids. The non-profit runs in-school and after-school programs for underserved youngsters.

He organizes the soccer component. Last year, 8 Staples players volunteered at the Cesar Batalla School. Twice a week for 8 weeks, they helped 60 boys and girls learn to play and love soccer. They also mentor the kids.

From left: Ana Simunovic, Sam Liles, Vig Kareddy, Callum Wisher, Russell Oost-Lievense and Brendan Lynch, with their eager young players in Bridgeport.

This spring, Russell has expanded the program. It’s now twice a week for 10 weeks, and involves 80 children.

One of the driving forces — last year and this — is current junior Carter Bassler.

He enlisted teammates Emerson Anvari, Surya Balaji, Colin Corneck, Josh DeDomenico, Sam Liles, Brendan Lynch, Patricio Perez Elorza, Enzo Valadares and Callum Wisher. Former player Vignesh Kareddy also participates.

It’s a fantastic, important program. 100% of Cesar Batalla students qualify for state-provided breakfast and lunch by the school, because they fall into the highest bracket of poverty. They have little access to sports, beyond this program.

Of course, it takes money — for equipment, transportation and more. Click here for a GoFundMe page.

In addition, soccer shoes and shin guards can be donated in Westport. A box is set up at the front door of 40 Sturges Commons (with security camera), between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Westport teenagers do plenty of good things, when no one is watching. Whether it’s halfway around the globe, or just up the road.

For Coleytown Company, The Show Must Go On. And Boy, Did It!

First, Coleytown Middle School’s Company lost their stage.

Then they lost their lead.

But the show must go on. This weekend, it did.

Big time.

With great cooperation from Bedford — where Westport’s 2 middle schools now share space, following the closure of CMS last fall due to mold — Coleytown Company was deep in rehearsals for “42nd Street.”

Andrew Maskoff (tie) with (front row, left to right) Drew Andrade, Melody Stanger, Anna Diorio. Rear: Lucy Docktor, Jordyn Goldshore, Kathryn Asiel and Demitra Pantzos. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

On Tuesday, director Ben Frimmer learned that Andrew Maskoff — the 6th grade lead — had to go on vocal rest. He could not talk or sing until the show.

Frimmer was determined to get him on stage. In the meantime, he needed a fill-in for rehearsals — and the possibility that Andrew could not perform at all.

There were 3 possibilities.  Frimmer could recruit his son Jonah — a 7th grader in Weston who has done 3 Equity productions. He could go on himself. Or he could ask a Staples High student to step in.

Frimmer chose the third. He called Staples Players director David Roth, who suggested Max Herman. The senior had just completed a fantastic run in “Curtains.”

Frimmer knew Max well. They’d worked together on 3 CMS shows.

The director called him at 1 p.m. An hour later, Max was at Bedford rehearsing.

He rehearsed all week — including following behind Andrew, who walked him through the blocking.

Andrew Maskoff (center) helps Max Herman with his blocking. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Andrew went on Friday night. But it was clear that 2 more shows would be too much. Max took the stage Saturday, so Andrew could close out the run on Sunday.

“I have never seen a student make as mature a decision as Andrew,” Frimmer says.

Having survived Saturday night, the cast was excited yesterday to have everyone back on stage.

Suddenly — just 30 minutes before the curtain rose — another supporting lead was struck with a migraine.

Staples freshman Nina Driscoll — another Coleytown Company alum who had served as assistant director — immediately offered to step in.

In just half an hour Frimmer and his assistants ran her through her songs and dances, and highlighted her script. Ten minutes before showtime, she announced she was off book — she knew the script — and was ready to go.

Nina Driscoll (3rd from left) with (from left) Sacha Maidique, Callum Madigan and Maggie Teed.

That’s show business.

And that’s why Westport loves Ben Frimmer, Staples Players — and especially Coleytown Company.

(Hat tips: Tami Benanav and Nick Sadler)

Drew Andrade dances, accompanied by (from left) Eliza Walmark, Rima Ferrer, Emma Schorr. Cece Dioyka, Drew Andrade, Ava Chun, Kathryn Asiel, Keelagh Breslin. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

“42nd Street” dancers (from left) Vivian Shamie, Kathryn Asiel and Demitra Pantzos. (Photo/Colleen Coffey)

Ian O’Malley’s 1978 Single Malt “Experience”

Ian O’Malley is a busy guy.

He’s a realtor. He’s a longtime New York radio DJ. He and his wife Debbie have 2 young children.

So he can be forgiven — maybe — for forgetting that he owned a very special bottle of 1978 Macallan single malt whisky, worth thousands of dollars.

Ian bought it years ago. When his son was 2, he moved it to a top shelf because — well, you know kids. Over time he placed a couple of other bottles in front of it.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Last year, as the O’Malleys moved from Wilton to Westport, Ian discovered the bottle. He was thrilled, but had the same idea as when he first bought it: Save it for a special occasion.

That special occasion is now. But Ian won’t be drinking.

Not long ago, he told Debbie about a friend who works for Edrington — Macallan’s parent company. He raffled off a bottle; the proceeds went to charity.

And his bottle wasn’t nearly as exclusive as Ian’s. (The cheapest price Ian could find for his 1978 was $3,300 — from an Italian retailer who won’t ship to the US. For $4,600, you can buy it from a store in the UK that will.)

Ian O’Malley

Ian volunteers for a number of non-profit groups, here and in New York. He did not want to choose one to benefit, and alienate the others.

Debbie suggested Experience Camps. The Westport-based organization sponsors 1-week camps for boys and girls after the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver.

Kids laugh, cry, play, remember the person who died, or forget the grief that weighs them down. They feel “normal,” because everyone there has been through something similar.

When Ian was 12, his father died of pancreatic cancer. Decades later, Ian says, “I would have loved an opportunity like Experience Camps.”

A unique raffle needs a unique price. Tickets are $104 each — because Ian is a DJ on New York’s classic rock station, Q104.3.

They’re tax-deductible, Ian notes. And available by clicking this easy link.

The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Sunday, April 14. The drawing takes place at 9 p.m. the next day. It will be streamed on Facebook Live, from his house. (Where the lucky bottle still sits, unopened.)

Yet Ian’s generosity does not stop there. If the winner lives within 60 minutes of Westport, he promises to deliver it personally.

Just thank him. You don’t even have to invite him in for a drink.

 

Saugatuck El’s “Willy Wonka”: Scrumpdiddlyumptious!

This month, Greens Farms Elementary School staged its first-ever musical.

Now it’s time for Saugatuck El’s (star) turn.

When the curtain rises on “Willy Wonka” this Friday and Saturday (March 29 and 30), it will be the culmination of a true community effort.

It takes a special kind of person to stage an elementary school show. Second grade teacher Katie Bloom was just back from maternity leave. But she’s a theater veteran — from age 8 through Hofstra University — and hey, there’s a special kind of people known as “show people.”

In less than a month Bloom helped form the Saugatuck Theater Club. Casting began. Anyone who tried out was promised at least a small part.

She hoped for enough children to fill every role. She got 120.

That number was impressive. The talent: even more so.

Some of the “Willy Wonka” leads.

The 3 rounds of callbacks demonstrated, Bloom says, how much the SES students wanted the program.

Bloom was aided by an army of parents. Jen Berniker, Miriam Young and Carole Chinn led the charge. Working with principal Beth Messler, they created a Movie Night fundraiser.

John and Pam Nunziato — parents of one of the leads — own a branding and design firm. They created Wonka and STC logos, developed projection backdrops (parents took up a collection to buy the screen), signage, Wonka Bars and a playbill.

The “Willy Wonka” Imagination Room.

The Caricato family donated printing costs. The Greelys spent hours making enormous sets. Melissa Crouch Chang designed and sewed costumes for every cast member (including 60 Oompa Loompas).

Other parents supervised rehearsals, worked backstage or simply spread the word.

Middle school youngsters helped with choreography, stage management, lighting and sound.

Professional photographer/SES dad John Videler gifted every cast member with a head shot.

Then there was Saugatuck El mom Megan Bolan. A Broadway performer, teacher and choreographer, she worked with the cast on major numbers.

The entire school got in the spirit. Guess what book they chose for their annual “One Book, Two Schools” event? And thanks to the art department, “candy art” now blankets the halls.

“This has engaged faculty, students and parents,” says principal Messler. “It’s created new opportunities for our community to connect with one another. It’s been a one-of-a-kind experience.”

The show is just under an hour (very kid-friendly!).

Of course, there will be chocolate. Doors open 45 minutes early, so theater-goers can visit the candy shop (featuring hand-made Wonka Bars, commissioned by a local chocolatier).

Five lucky winners at each show will open their bars to find a golden ticket. One gets a scrumpdiddlyumptious grand prize.

So what will the Saugatuck Theater Club do for an encore?

I have no idea. But they’re already making plans for next year.

(“Willy Wonka” will be performed Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 each; click here to order.)

Pics Of The Day #706

Hundreds of people had a close shave today at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Boys and girls, men and women — they all lost a lot of hair.

And gained the great feeling of doing something for a fantastic cause.

The 15th annual St. Baldrick’s Event raised over $100,000 to fight childhood cancer. The money came from pledges made to all those folks who willingly donated their locks. They sat in solidarity with those who lose their own hair to chemotherapy.

The volunteer barbers were professional stylists. They took their work seriously.

Other funds came from a bake sale, and a chess challenge by Brent McCreesh. He was the impetus for the fundraiser a decade and a half ago, when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Now 17, he’s been cancer-free for over 13 years.

Since that first event, “Team Brent” has raised over $4.2 million through St. Baldrick’s. That’s a lot of work, a lot of commitment — and a lot of hair.

(Photos/Madi McCreesh)