Category Archives: Children

Pic Of The Day #743

On Saturday, Fairfield County Hunt Club held its annual Father-Daughter dance. The outdoors photo opp was chilly. As soon as it was done, the girls raced inside. (Photo/Diana Kuen)

!mpaCT Makes A Huge One

Make-a-Wish is a wonderful organization. Countless volunteers and donors help children facing critical illnesses go to Disney World, become honorary police officers or meet their favorite athlete or entertainer.

Mikey Friedman used his Make-a-Wish to help other youngsters enjoy the same electronic devices and games that took his mind off his own battle with cancer.

Mikey Friedman

“When you’re a kid in a hospital, you’re cut off from friends, even family,” notes Mikey’s brother Brian. “You’re isolated and bored.” A laptop and iPod helped 16-year-old Mikey stay engaged — “and feel like a kid again” — despite days filled with medical procedures, IVs, pain and fear.

But not every young patient has that entertainment. “When you’re sick, luxuries are the first thing to go,” Brian explains. “That’s especially true when one parent stops working, to take care of the child.”

Make-a-Wish thought Mikey’s idea was fantastic. He went to Best Buy, loaded a cart with electronics and hand-held devices, then handed them out on the pediatric oncology floor at a Buffalo hospital. It was the start of Mikey’s Way.

The idea snowballed. Today his foundation sponsors 25 to 30 “Mikey’s Way Days” each year around the country. Over 7,000 youngsters in hospitals across the country have joyfully received laptops, iPods, handheld game devices and LeapPads.

Sadly, Mikey is not here to see their joy. He died in October 2008, 4 1/2 years after his diagnosis.

But the Easton native’s legacy lives on. His father runs Mikey’s Way Foundation, and Brian — now a Westport resident, and general counsel for a private asset management firm — sits on the board.

When Brian heard from his friend Eric Ritter that !mpaCT — a new charitable group with a mission to support Connecticut charities — was looking for a great cause for its first-ever fundraiser, he knew exactly what to suggest.

Mikey’s Way is one of 2 beneficiaries of the May 16 event (7:30 p.m., Longshore Pavilion at Norwalk Cove). The other is Kids Helping Kids. They organize coat drives, birthday parties and holiday gifts for underprivileged children, and encourage thousands of students to participate in youth-led service projects.

Kids Helping Kids, in action.

The May 16 gala includes a full bar with specialty cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner stations, music and a silent auction.

It’s a great start — but !mpaCT is dedicated to making an impact far beyond raising tons of funds.

On May 17, team members begin volunteering with Mikey’s Way and Kids Helping Kids.

(For more information and tickets to the May 16 gala, click here. Hat tip: Megan Rutstein.)

All’s Faire

Thousands of folks — of all ages, from across the area, with a wide range of interests but united by curiosity and creativity — descended on Westport today.

The 8th annual Maker Faire runs now through 4 p.m. on Veterans Green and in the Baldwin parking lot (off Elm Street, between Brooks Corner and Christ & Holy Trinity Church).

From astronomy to terrariums, electromagnetics to music, pickleball to ratatouille, there’s something for everyone.

Including the world’s largest 3D duck.

History in the making: the world’s largest 3D printed duck takes shape right now.

I have no idea what this kid is doing, but it looks cool.

Music meets technology.

Pic Of The Day #739

Lots of action at the Little League field (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

Compo Beach Playground Celebration Postponed To Tomorrow

The weather was great in 1989, when during one glorious late April weekend hundreds of volunteers — including many from the Westport Young Woman’s League — constructed the Compo Beach playground.

The weather will not be great this evening, when veterans of that wonderful project (and anyone else who worked on subsequent maintenance days, plus their kids, and all other Westporters who enjoy a good party) planned to celebrate the playground’s 30th anniversary.

So the event is postponed to tomorrow (Saturday, April 27). All are invited to South Beach (the area nearest the cannons).

It’s BYO food and drinks.

And don’t forget that old souvenir t-shirt you’ve held on to for all these years.

Adults and kids at the Compo Beach playground.

Human Services Helps Young Grads Look And Feel Great

As high school and middle school graduations approach, many Westport students worry about what’s ahead.

Some have more immediate concerns: having the right clothes for the ceremony, and the festivities that surround it.

For 16 years, Westport’s Human Services Department has eased those fears. Its “Ceremonies and Celebrations” program helps purchase new clothing for graduates who cannot afford them.

Last year, 29 Westport students were able to purchase “special event” wear.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault says she always receives “numerous heartfelt notes of thanks and photos of the proud young people, as they walk across the stage or stand with relatives on their special day.”

In the grand scheme of things, the right clothes for graduation might not seem like much. To a teenager, it can be the biggest thing in the world.

“Small investments can enhance a young person’s self-esteem, mark new beginnings and celebrate their hard work despite financial challenges,” Daignault notes.

“Helping a young person feel good about their appearance is a momentous gift that can impact them for a lifetime.”

Tax-deductible checks (payable to “DHS Families Program”; memo line: “Ceremonies”) may be sent to the Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave., Westport CT 06880, or dropped off in Room 200 of Town Hall daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Gift cards of any amount (American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Trumbull Mall/Westfield Shopping Center) are also gratefully accepted.

Human Services notes that donations honoring a teacher or special person in a student’s life will be acknowledged with a letter to the honoree.

If you know people who could benefit from this program, email familyprograms@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1050.

Jackson Ruscitti’s Amazing Journey

Like many young Westporters, Jackson Ruscitti loves playing soccer.

Unlike many, he has cerebral palsy.

That’s a challenge. As the physical gap with his peers grows, it’s hard for the 12-year-old to keep up with his able-bodied friends. (He does play in the Westport Soccer Association recreation league.) But programs for youngsters with developmental delays are not appropriate either.

Fortunately, there is also CP Soccer.

Jackson Ruscitti

In the fall of 2017 Jackson’s mom Elizabeth heard of a non-profit. Its mission was to build a nationwide league for kids with cerebral palsy.

There are already 5 US teams, in New York, New Jersey, the Mid-Atlantic, South Florida and Houston. Another 4 to 6 teams are planned.

Jackson travels a couple of hours, to Clifton, New Jersey. But he’s learning new skills weekly. His teammates include a boy who plays for his high school freshman team, and another on the US Paralympic soccer squad.

Jackson also attended his first-ever sleepaway camp, at Clemson University. (Coincidentally, the head coach of the Tigers’ national Top 10 team is Staples High School 1979 graduate Mike Noonan).

Elizabeth calls that experience “life-changing.” Many of the youngsters had never spent time away from home — or met another child with the same disability. The environment was safe, fun and totally accepting. No one had to hide his arm, or try to disguise a limp.

But that was just the start. In March Jackson helped represent the US in the first-ever international tournament for kids with CP: the Friendship Cup in Dublin, Ireland.

A U-14 team of 17 kids was formed. They came from around the country, and played squads from Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. They were accompanied by Kevin Hensley, a US Paralympic soccer team captain.

It was an amazing experience — and not just because the former strangers came together to ring up 3 wins, 3 ties and 3 losses.

Coach Ash Hammond, wrote down his thoughts after the trip. He tried to put into words what the tournament meant to him. He wondered:

Was it the training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday where everyone met for the first time and we all realized that we had a TEAM?

Was it the USA Flags everywhere, and realizing that you were representing your country, not just playing soccer?

Was it seeing one of the coolest signs EVER on the side of the field- “Soccer For ALL”

Was it the new friends we have made all over Ireland, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Was it that the national team players back in the US kept posting “support messages” recognizing our young charges as the future of US CP Soccer?

Was it our crazy (GREAT) sibling cheering section?

Was it that we made history becoming the first US U-14 CP team ever to play a game, let alone an international game?

Jackson Ruscitti is in the back row, 2 to the right of the goalkeeper.

Then the coach offered a personal shout-out to the young Westporter:

Was it Jackson, who offered to go in goal when his team needed it and pulled off a magnificent save, along with his incredible effort in the field in the other games, or his crazy good split passing that we covet yet see so rarely in the youth game?

Then the coach revealed what really was his favorite part of the week.

It was all of those things and much more, but mostly it was the knowledge that we non-CP players, coaches and families were in the minority this weekend.

That the minority got to watch the majority, unabashed; perform, enjoy, revel, laugh, make friends, play, score, pass, tackle, dance, be recognized for their greatness, win, lose, tie, be happy, be upset, be exhausted and most of all seeing so many be among others like themselves for the first time.

Finally it was seeing our amazing children have a week like none other that they richly deserve, and giving US much joy along the way.

Jackson is already looking forward to his next camp at Clemson.

And 2 of his new mates from Ireland have signed up to go too.

(For more information, or to make a donation to support CP Soccer, click here.)

Unsung Hero #95

The Westport school district is filled with fantastic administrators. To a man (and woman), they go far beyond their job descriptions to give personal, authentic, honest and loving devotion to everyone in their buildings.

Particularly kids.

“06880” hates to single out any one principal or vice principal for special mention. So, while we honor Kevin Cazzetta — because the Greens Farms School head has been named Elementary School Principal of the Year (and will be honored at a dinner on May 2) — he symbolizes so much that is good about our district. Today’s Unsung Hero award goes to Mr. Cazzetta, and all his fellow school building administrators.

Kevin Cazzetta

The GFS lauds him for his “even-handed approach to addressing difficult situations, and his balanced perspective in considering everyone’s near- and long-term needs, while always maintaining a focus on what is best for the students and his staff.”

He is accessible and responsive. He meets with parents on any topic. He knows each child’s needs, and works hard to figure out how best to support them.

One specific example of his hands-on approach: When a tree was planted as a memorial at GFS, the principal watered it, and tended diligently to it.

He’s also the elementary school representative on the Community Advisory Committee, representing all 5 schools in analyzing options for the coming year.

This has been a tough year for students, staff, parents and administrators. Congratulations to Kevin Cazzetta, and all his colleagues, for all they’ve done to keep all our schools on top of their game.

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

“Fractured Fairy Tales”: The Story Behind The BMS Show

This has not been an easy year for middle schoolers.

Coleytown was closed in September due to mold; 6th and 7th graders have been at Bedford ever since. Every day, administrators, staff and students of 2 schools make compromises. Everyone involved has done a great — and often unheralded — job.

But it’s one thing to move classes, or share gym and cafeteria space. It’s another thing entirely to accommodate 2 different drama productions simultaneously.

Traditionally each spring, CMS stages an all-school musical. BMS puts on a 6th grade non-musical.

Both are fully staged, with professionally produced costumes and sets. Both involve scores of students.

Directors Ben Frimmer (CMS) and Karen McCormick (BMS) agreed to keep the schedule the same as in past years. They would share space during rehearsals, but — to provide stage time for actors and the technical staff — Bedford would push its opening back to April.

Bedford Middle School art teacher Lynn Karmen, with one of her set painters. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Musicals require tons of space — for dancers, singers and scene work. Coleytown’s “42nd Street” was especially big. With only 3 weeks for Bedford to install their set, create costumes and the actors to transfer what they’d learned from such a small space to a big stage, the BMS show could not be technically complex.

Normally, Bedford’s non-musical is a version of a classic childen’s book like “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Phantom Tollbooth.” But with such limited room for rehearsals, plus set and costume construction, McCormick and her staff decided on a series of short stories from the 1960s “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon show, called “Fractured Fairy Tales.”

They crafted 15 stories, and added short “fairy tale” commercials.

That provided 70 actors with over 240 roles to share. There are 40 narrators, 15-plus kings, queens, princes and princesses, and dozens of goblins, beasts, chickens, ogres, court jesters and peasants. Each youngster is featured in at least 2 “plays.”

The Do It All Wand cast. (Photo/January Stewart)

They found space in hallways and classrooms. Combined with Coleytown’s set construction crews, tap dancers, costume people, there were some very noisy afternoons.

“The kids didn’t mind,” McCormick says. “They worked very well under the circumstances.”

With just 12 days of unfettered access to the stage, BMS got creative with their set. “Fractured Fairy Tales” uses a new 25-foot floor-to-ceiling movie screen as a backdrop. It features hundreds of colorful images, most from old cartoons. On stage, 20 colorful 18-inch cubes instantly turn into thrones, tables or mountains.

Transferring the off-stage rehearsals onto the large stage has taken some work. But, McCormick says, the actors are working hard on new blocking, and pumped-up motions.

“Fractured Fairy Tales” rehearsals are fun — and energetic. (Photo/Melissa Fass)

Costumes were done later than usual too. BMS actors received theirs only a few days ago. Each person has 2 to 4 costume changes — some with only minutes to spare. They’re working on that too.

But this is Bedford Middle School. Like their Coleytown counterparts, the young actors and their tech crew embrace the challenge.

When the curtain rises this Friday, audiences will not even realize what everyone went through to produce “Fractured Fairy Tales.” They’ll smile, laugh and applaud. Just like every other BMS show.

(“Fractured Fairy Tales” performances are this Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 27 at 2 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

(NOTE: Coleytown’s show — “42nd Street” — overcame several obstacles too, beyond shared space. Click here for that “06880” story.)

The Compo Beach Playground Is 30 Years Old. Let’s Party!

If you moved to Westport after 1989, you’ve enjoyed the Compo Beach playground without a second thought.

It’s fun, creative, intricate — everything parents want for their kids.

Plus the water, Joey’s and bathrooms are all a few steps away.

There’s no place like the Compo Beach playground for kids (and their parents.)

If you were here that fateful year though, you know that the playground did not just magically appear.

It was designed by children (with help from famed playground architect Robert Leathers).

It was built by 1,500 volunteers, of all ages. They hauled wheelbarrows, cut wood, hammered nails and poured cement. It was a true town undertaking.

Yet none of it would have happened without a huge legal battle.

(Of course whether you moved to Westport in 1959, 1989 or 2019, you know this is a litigious town.)

Playground opponents — no, that’s not an oxymoron — feared a ruined beach vista. They worried the swings and ladders would be a magnet for out-of-towners, or taken over by beer-drinking, pot-smoking, sex-having teenagers.

The playground controversy brought the first — and only — death threat of 1st selectman Marty Hauhuth’s tenure.

Anti-playground activists obtained a court injunction. (They were not playing around.)

As soon as it was lifted, construction began. It was a magical weekend.

The playground quickly became one of Westport’s prime attractions. It did not ruin the view; it enhanced it. And the only problem now is that on beautiful days, too many people use it.

The Compo Beach playground is popular many months of the year.

It also became apparent that the playground not only did not ruin property values; it enhanced them.

Opponents changed their views. I know, because a year or two after it was built, I saw one of the most vocal critics romping there with what I assumed were his grandchildren. (If they weren’t, that’s a whole other issue.)

Which brings us to this Friday (April 26). The 30th anniversary of construction of the Compo Beach playground will take place just to the right of the cannons. (Not the playground? Hmmmm…)

It starts at 6:30 p.m. All Westporters are invited to this BYO picnic. If you were there in 1989, you’ve got a special invitation: Haul out an old t-shirt. Bring a commemorative hammer.

And everyone: Don’t forget beer and wine.

Which is why — now that I think about it — the party is just to the right of the cannons, not the playground.

(Pass the word far and wide. Remember: Bring your own food and drink. Questions? Email ben3rb@aol.com.)