Category Archives: Children

March 11, 2020: The Day COVID Crushed Our Town

On Sunday, March 8, 2020, town officials hosted a community forum on COVID-19, at the Westport Library.

“A small, well-spaced-apart crowd was joined by many more online participants this afternoon,” I wrote.

“Presentations were clear and cogent; questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful; answers were direct and honest.” Topics included schools, the Senior Center, restaurants, Metro-North, budget implications, gyms and the YMCA.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (far right), at the March 8 COVID-19 panel.

The key takeaways:

  • There were dozens of “what-ifs.”
  • The best precautions included rigorous hand-washing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, and careful monitoring of surroundings and contacts.
  • It was virtually inevitable that COVID would come to Westport.

In fact, it already had.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left),and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrated the best way to say hello, COVID-19-style.

Three days later — on Wednesday, March 11 — fear had heightened considerably.

A student at Staples High School asked me if I thought schools would close. “Maybe Monday,” I replied.

That night I was supposed to have dinner with my sister and nephews in New York, and see Andy Borowitz. We texted all day about what to do. With trepidation, we said: Let’s go for it.

Suddenly, news came that Westport schools were closing. A news conference was quickly planned for outside Town Hall. Forget dinner, I texted. I have to cover this.

The weather outside Town Hall was beautiful, I reported. But the officials on the front steps were grim.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper and others outlined the day’s rapid developments.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announces COVID-19 news.

They noted a private party in Westport the previous Thursday, March 5. Of the 40 or so attendees — of all ages — 14 reported coronavirus-like symptoms.

“It’s likely many people were exposed,” Cooper said. “And others will be.”

Schools would be closed indefinitely, for deep cleaning. Also shut: Town Hall. All meetings, including the Board of Finance budget. The Senior Center. Toquet Hall. The Westport Library (until Monday).

Marpe noted that private institutions must decide for themselves which events to cancel. “We recognize these are tough decisions,” he said.

Print and television reporters kept their distance from each other, at the press conference on the steps of Town Hall. (Photos/Dan Woog)

I still planned one last hurrah that night in New York.

I never went. Midway through writing my story, I got a text. Andy Borowitz had canceled.

The next day, I walked downtown.

The scene was surreal. Main Street was abandoned. Stores were shut; every parking spot was open.

A friend in an office above Brooks Corner spotted me. We talked for an hour. He runs a summer camp. He had no idea if — or how — he’d be affected. We agreed: None of us knew what’s ahead. But suddenly we were very, very worried.

One of my fears was that with Westport locked down, I’d have nothing to write about.

An hour or so after the Westport Public Schools announced they were closing, Trader Joe’s looked like the day before a snowstorm. (Photo/Armelle Pouriche)

I could not have been more wrong.

After returning home, I did not leave for the next 4 days. I wrote constantly. There were stories everywhere.

I wrote about:

  • Constantly changing advice on numbers and safety precautions
  • Store closures: How to get food
  • Church closures: What to expect for Easter and Passover
  • What students should expect, with schools closed
  • The emotions of the Staples girls’ basketball team; COVID canceled the state tournament, just as they reached the semifinals
  • The lack of test kits
  • A raging debate on whether “small gatherings” were okay. “It’s not a snow day!” one news story reported. Some in Westport disagreed.

And of course, I wrote about the beach.

The weekend was gorgeous. Stuck at home Thursday and Friday, Westporters flocked to Compo. Some wore masks. Most did not. Some practiced that new concept: social distancing. Others did not.

Compo Beach, March 13, 2020 (Photo/Jo Shields Sherman)

Alarmed, Marpe shut the Compo and Burying Hill parking lots, and the Compo playground.

Some Westporters applauded his action.

Others protested. They drove to the beach, and parked up and down Soundview Drive.

Police issued tickets. But they were playing whack-a-mole. As soon as one beachgoer left, another arrived.

With the parking lot closed, folks parked up and down the exit road.

All that was within the first 96 hours of COVID in Westport.

It’s been here since.

I realized quickly that I would not run out of stories.

The pandemic has affected every aspect of life here. I’ve written about:

  • The return of college students and 20-somethings to their parents’ homes
  • The continued fallout from “the party”
  • Mental and physical health
  • Westporters of all ages coming together: teenagers shopping for the elderly; women making masks (and yarn bombing trees); churches providing meals; children painting positive messages on rocks
  • Where to find toilet paper, paper towels and Lysol
  • Businesses and restaurants that closed — and new ones that opened
  • Pop-up entertainment, like the Remarkable Theater and a Staples grad who sings opera
  • How to access business loans and other help
  • Hybrid education, Staples’ unique graduation, and the virtual Candlelight Concert
  • 12-step programs, religious services and more online
  • App developers who help the world trace contacts, visualize impacts, connect with others
  • Virtual programming: the Westport Library, JoyRide, non-profit fundraisers and more
  • Where to get tested, and how to get a vaccine.

One of the yarn bomber’s first works, at fire headquarters. (Photo/Molly Alger)

One year ago today, I stood on the steps of Town Hall. I still thought I could get to New York that night.

I haven’t been back since.

This has been a year like no other. Every man, woman and child in Westport has been affected.

We’ve lost 28 neighbors. Over 1,400 here have been diagnosed with COVID. If we did not believe that COVID was real on March 10 last year, we sure did on March 11.

Soon, “06880” will look ahead. We’ll try to figure out what March 11, 2022 will feel like.

But today, let’s look back. We want to hear your thoughts on the past year.

What did the town do right? Wrong? What are you most proud of, or regret the most? How did your life change?

Click “Comments” below.

And remember: Wear a mask!

James Dobin-Smith created the OneWestport.com website in a matter of days. It provided up to date information on what’s open and cloed, all around town.

Roundup: Leaf Blowers, Paper Source, Cable Monopoly …

=================================================

Leaf blowers — those must-have yet most-hated suburban scourges — are the subject of a proposed Representative Town Meeting regulation.

The RTM Ordinance Committee meets March 25 (7:30 p.m., conference call). They’ll discuss these rules:

  • Summer (May 16-October 14): Gas-powered leaf blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered leaf blowers allowed.
  • Fall cleanups (October 15-November 30): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Winter (December 1-March 31): Gas-powered blowers not permitted; electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.
  • Spring cleanups (April 1-May 15): Gas- and electric/battery-powered blowers allowed.

In addition:

  • No leaf blower of any kind may be used before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
  • No more than 1 leaf blower (regardless of power source) may be used simultaneously on any site less than 2 acres in size.
  • No gas-powered leaf blower may be used on any state or federal holiday.
  • Exceptions: If the 1st Selectman declares an emergency, then gas-powered leaf blowers and/or electric/battery-powered leaf blowers may be used as necessary.

Fines (property owner is responsible):

  • $100 for 1st offense (after a warning)
  • $200 for 2nd offense
  • $500 250 for third or subsequent offense.

The public can call in to the meeting: 646-876 9923. The meeting ID is 850 4769 6393. The passcode is 788806.

 

 

====================================================

Paper Source — the Chicago-based stationery store chain — closed 11 stores in the past year.

The downtown Westport shop — between Bank of America and Barnes & Noble — remains open.

It is corporate owned. A recent story on the Well-Appointed Desk blog notes that headquarters “bought a bunch of product from small makers, declared bankruptcy so they would not have to pay the bills, then sell it in the stores for 100% profit.”

It’s great to shop local. But caveat emptor: Supporting this Westport business may mean complicating situations with its corporate owner. (Click here for the full story.)

=======================================================

The weather’s nice. Time to get the kids moving!

The Joggers Club has opened a group for youngsters. Led by experienced runners, the focus is on form, endurance and fun.

It “runs” Sundays, 2 to 3:15 p.m., April 4 to May 2 at the Staples High School track.

Space is limited to 20 children, grades 3 to 8. The cost is $50 per child.

The Venmo account is “TheJoggersClub-Westport.” Questions? Email thejoggersclub@gmail.com.

===================================================

This evening Wednesday, March 10, 6:45 p.m.), Congressman Jim Himes hosts a “telephone town hall.” He’ll discuss the American Rescue Plan. Audience members can ask questions during the call. Click here for the link.

Congressman Jim Himes, at Bedford Middle School.

=======================================================

Looking for another COVID test center?

There’s an under-the-radar spot right under our noses. Yale New Haven Health operates a drive-through operation at 140 Mill Plain Road in Fairfield, just off I-95 Exit 21.

Hours are by appointment only. Click here for more information, or call 833-275-9644. (Hat tip: Carol Waxman)

=======================================================

Westport’s MaryGrace Gudis is one of 4 new members of Norwalk Hospital’s board of directors.

Director of the Norwalk Hospital Foundation Board since 2011, she has spent more than 1,000 hours researching and compiling the hospital’s history.

Active at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, MaryGrace is also involved in initiatives providing college educational assistance to disadvantaged students.

The Southern Methodist University graduate has held senior communications positions in the financial industry, including director of public information and senior liaison to the board of directors at the Federal Reserve Bank. Her husband Mark is on the board of directors for Nuvance Health, Norwalk Hospital’s parent company.

MaryGrace Gudis

======================================================

Last month, “06880” reported that the Tristate Coalition for Fair Internet Service is working on legal challenges to Optimum/Altice through the New York State Attorney General’s office, and promoting alternate providers. They’re also collecting data on customer experiences with the longtime cable service.

That survey data was lost when Google disabled the account without the group’s knowledge. They’re appealing. Meanwhile, they created a new survey.

They ask people to complete the Optimum/Altice survey, even if it was already done before. Click here for the link.

=======================================================

The Webb Road goose is ready for every holiday. Next up: St. Patrick’s Day!

(Photo/MaryLou Roels)

====================================================

And finally … exactly one year ago today, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

You know: WHO.

Roundup: Parks & Rec Signups, Playhouse, Help Wanted …

===================================================

Registration for Westport Parks & Recreation spring and summer programs begins online on March 22 (9 a.m.). Click here for all offerings, including sports, Camp Compo and RECing Crew. Click here to register.

The Parks & Rec office remains closed to the public. Staff is available via email (recreation@westportct.gov), phone (203-341-5152 weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and mail (260 Compo Road South, Westport, CT 06880).

For registration, check your online account tnow. Log in, then click “Manage Family Members” on the bottom right. To view more details, click the name of a specific family member. Make any changes, then hit “save.” For address changes, email recreation@westportct.gov.

If you cannot log into your online account, do not create another profile. Email recreation@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-5152.

=====================================================

Speaking of recreation:

These residents were spotted yesterday on Longshore’s first fairway.

They had not asked to play through. Nor were they wearing proper attire. Sad!

(Photo/John Richers)

=======================================================

Alisyn Camerota is starring in a new role.

The Westport resident — a journalist, author, and anchor of CNN’s morning show “New Day” — has been elected as a Westport Country Playhouse trustee.

Camerota led a community conversation 3 years ago on “Female Power Unleashed:  Politics and Positive Change.” She was featured in a documentary celebrating the theater’s 90-season history last fall, and has been a Playhouse subscriber and supporter for several years.

She’ll serve with artist, economist, producer, fellow Westporter — and new board chair — Anna Czekaj-Farber. Former chair Barbara Streicker of Westport remains on the board.

Playhouse managing director Michael Barker lauds Streicker for her leadership during the pandemic

The 2021 season is scheduled to begin in April — online and in-person. Safety guidelines will be announced soon.

Alisyn Camerota

=======================================================

4-year-old Elodie Kubik was born with Epidermolysis Bullosa. She is missing a critical protein that binds the layers of the skin together, making it extremely fragile and causing severe pain and wounds. There are no treatments for this life-threatening disease.

Elodie’s mom’s friends organized a Plunge for Elodie n 2018. It grew into an international movement, raising $700,000 to fund critical research aimed at curing EB and other rare diseases.

This year’s virtual Plunge (March 28) honors the life of Sophia Ramsey, who died just after her 1st birthday. She was the daughter of Westport Public Schools employee Tricia Lash’s friend and coworker. Click here for details.

=======================================================

Finding Westport — the great local listing location, with both a website and social media posts — is starting a “Help Wanted” section. If you’re a business looking for help, contact Jillian@findingfairfieldcounty.com.

And if you’re looking for work, click here.

=======================================================

Very quietly —  but for 70 years — Abilis has helped people with special needs throughout Fairfield County. The non-profit currently serves over 800 people — and their families.

Last year, COVID forced them to hold their biggest fundraiser online. They raised over $400,000. This year’s goal: top that.

It’s virtual again. Comedian Brett Walkow (“The Tonight Show,” Seinfeld’s “Comedian,” Comedy Central, much more…) hosts the May 1 (6:30 p.m.) show. It’s 90 minutes packed with entertainment, laughs, and a live auction.

The event is free (though of course there are many opportunities to donate). To register, click here (button is on upper right — hard to find!). For sponsorship information, call 203-531-1880 ext. 161, or email flatow@abilis.us.

=====================================================

And finally … John Philip Sousa died on this day in 1932. He was 78.

“Know A Good Therapist?” Lauren Barnett Does.

COVID has exacerbated the American mental health crisis. But when people seek help — for their children or themselves — it’s tough to find the right person. Often, the defaults are Google (“therapist near me”) or Facebook (“Does anyone know a therapist? Asking for a friend”).

Of course, there are plenty of professionals. Sometimes, too many: psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, you name it.

Many are excellent at what they do. But they are not businesspeople. They do not have websites — or if they do, they don’t include a lengthy bio, including education, specialty, technique and treatment philosophy.

How can a potential patient find a therapist. And how can a therapist get his or her name in front of people needing help?

Well, click on Family Consultants of Westport.

Lauren Barnett

The site is the brainchild of Lauren Barnett. A Westchester native who “escaped” Florida 12 years ago when her husband’s work brought him to the area, she had a brainstorm last year.

Lauren spent 25 years in the mental health field. She was a middle school guidance counselor (“I love kids that age!”) and the director of a Berkshires girls summer camp.

She watched with concern as the emotional and psychological needs of youngsters grew — particularly in the last 5 years. She has 2 teenagers of her own.

“People are drowning,” she says. “They don’t know how to get the right help for their kids, or themselves.”

The mental health landscape is vast. Which means it’s intimidating to navigate — particularly during tough times.

Besides Google and Facebook, people can ask pediatricians and guidance counselors. Lauren is a “huge advocate” of their help. But, she notes, “they jump through so many hoops to meet the needs of kids with issues. They don’t have the time to vet everyone who’s out there, or match the right therapist with what a certain kid needs.”

Which is where she comes in.

Lauren curates a list of people who can help. It includes not just psychologists, psychiatrists and trained therapists, as well as recovery specialists, nutritional counselors, educational consultants and more. They address a broad range of behavioral, social and psychological concerns.

When she speaks to a client, she determines the type of help needed — and the type of personality that’s the best fit.

She uses herself as an example. “I might be drawn to someone boisterous, or with a sense of humor. But that might turn off someone else.”

Lauren makes 3 matches. She tells those 3 professionals to expect a call. Then she tells her client to call all 3, and make the decision that feels right.

“I do the legwork. I make the calls, so they can get help when they need it,” she explains.

Lauren has approximately 25 categories of professionals, with 25 or so names in each.

She speaks with new clinicians every day. They appreciate her service as much as clients.

Her initial interview takes about an hour. She learns about their background and training, and assesses their personality.

Lauren Barnett, with her family.

As they talk, they often mention the names of others. “She’s great with younger adolescents,” the might say. Or “he’s really good with social anxiety.”

“I want a broad network,” Lauren notes. “Therapy is not ‘one size fits all.’ You need the right fit for personality, approach and comfort level.”

Family Consultants of Westport is not just for parents needing help with their children. One client was “paralyzed” by her daughter’s issues. After finding Lauren, she realized she needed help too.

Lauren describes herself as “a sounding board, a point person, home base. I’m where you start, right at the beginning. The last thing you need is to waste hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars, with the wrong therapist.”

(Click here for the Family Consultants of Westport website.)

Roundup: Vaccine, Leah Rondon, Rotary $$ …

===============================================

The latest COVID news, via Kerry Foley and Facebook’s “Westport Coronavirus Info” page:

  • “Tens of thousands” of additional doses should be added to the system this week. That means appointment slots will open up soon.
  • If you have a vaccine appointment in  April May or June, you should be able to get an earlier date in the next 3 weeks. If you do get an earlier date, cancel your later appointment.
  • The state is on target to open appointments to the 45 to 54 age group on March 22.

======================================================

For several years, a Birthday Bash in honor of Leah Rondon raised money for several scholarships. It honored the 6-year-old daughter of Bedford Middle School teacher Colleen Rondon, who was killed when struck by a car while playing at a friend’s house.

COVID canceled the most recent event. But the show goes on — literally.

This Saturday (March 6, 6 p.m.), a cabaret with young performers from around the globe will be livestreamed on Triple Threat Academy‘s Facebook and YouTube pages. Triple Threat founder/noted “Fame” actress/Staples High School grad Cynthia Gibb co-hosts, with Leah’s mom Colleen.

Performers – most of whom train with Triple Threat in Westport and Hollywood — include Makayla Joy Connolly of Broadway’s “Harry Potter,” and Westport’s own Jamie Mann, of Netflix’s new show “Country  Comfort.”

Leah’s brother Sam joins on sax, Cooper Sadler tears it up at the Levitt Pavilion, and Sophie Walther sings her heart out from the UK.

The family-friendly benefit relies on donations from viewers and supporters. Click here for the link; click for the livestream via Triple Threat’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages.

=======================================================

It’s been a tough year for non-profits. In-person fundraising has suffered, while demands for their services has spiked.

But thanks to one organization, another can continue its work.

Westport Rotary Club recently donated $1,075 to Homes with Hope. The funds will provide transportation for children living in supportive housing to HwH’s After School Academic Program, where they receive food, tutoring and mentoring. It’s especially important with the rise in online learning, and the widening academic gap for children without a parent to assist them.

Westport Rotary will distribute all of the funds donated by the community to its 2020 LobsterFest Charitable Giving fundraiser. More grant recipients will be announced soon.

Rotary meetings now held virtually 3 Tuesdays a month (12:30 to 1:30 p.m.). For more information, click here.

======================================================

March is Women’s History Month. For 25 years, Winged Monkey has been a woman-owned Westport business.

To celebrate both the month and their 25th anniversary, the popular Post Road East shop is offering — yes — 25% sales. There are other promotions all month long too.

=======================================================

And finally … 3 big birthdays today. They represent a wide range of genres.

Karen Carpenter was born March 2, 1950. She died in 1983.

Jon Bon Jovi was born today in 1962.

And happy 50th birthday to Method Man.

Newcomers: We Need You!

I’ve been writing a lot of “Remembering…” posts lately.

In just 3 months, Westport has lost many memorable residents. Doris Jacoby, Lee Greenberg, Shirley Mellor, Jack Shiller, Joan McCarthy, Gloria Cole Sugarman, Matt Johnson … they and several other notable men and women died.

Lee Greenberg was an important part of Westport from the 1940s through her death last month at 103.

They left lasting imprints on our town. The arts, recreation, religion, medicine, human rights, youth activities — no part of Westport life was untouched by their efforts and energy.

Some of their contributions were professional. Much of it was volunteer work. All of it made our town a better place.

Many of those men and women were longtime Westporters. They were active into their 80s, 90s, even (Lee Greenberg) their 100s.

But they began when they were in their 30s and 40s,

Now it’s time for a new generation to take their place.

Specifically, all you newcomers.

The past year has seen an influx of arrivals unrivaled since the 1950s. The impetus then was the post-war baby boom. Today, it’s a global pandemic.

But the opportunity is the same: a chance to make a mark on your community.

You chose this place over others for reasons — the schools perhaps, or the beaches, Longshore, the Library, the arts, the restaurants, the sense you got that people here really care about the environment, social justice and neighbors in need.

An iconic Longshore scene. (Photo/Robert Augustyn)

Whatever those reasons, they are part of something bigger: community. You got the sense that Westport is more than just a collection of nice homes in a beautiful setting.

You understood, perhaps without realizing it, that Westport is a place where people get involved.

None of the many parts that make up Westport happened because they were destined to. They exist because people made them happen.

And they will continue to exist because — and only if — other people take up the cause.

We have Longshore because a group of officials — elected and volunteer — had the foresight to buy a failing country club moments before a developer snatched the land to build 180 homes.

We have an outstanding school system because we support it. With our tax dollars, sure — but also with countless volunteers, who give untold hours to every aspect of it.

We have music and arts and civic organizations and sustainable agriculture and sports teams and a remarkable Remarkable Theater and a ride-on-demand program for the same reason.

People had a vision. People cared. People acted.

The Remarkable Theater was a pop-up hit last summer.

Now it’s the newcomers’ turn. Every group in town needs help.

We need you because you are smart. You are energetic. You are motivated. You are young.

First, we need you to step up. Then we need you to take over.

Whatever your interest, there is a spot for you.

The Westport Young Woman’s League. The Westport Woman’s Club. AWARE.

Earthplace. Wakeman Town Farm. Friends of Sherwood Island. Aspetuck Land Trust.

Boy Scouts. Girl Scouts.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee. Westport Permanent Art Collections. MoCA Westport. The Westport Country Playhouse.

The Westport Country Playhouse is 90 years old. New blood will keep it going for another 90.

Westport PAL. Westport Soccer Association. Westport Baseball and Softball. Any other sport you can think of.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA. The Senior Center.

PTAs. The Westport Library. The Maker Faire.

Al’s Angels.

TEAM Westport.

The Democratic Party. The Republican Party. The League of Women Voters. The Representative Town Meeting. Every board and commission in town.

You can’t do it all. You can’t do it alone.

But if you pick one or two areas of interest — and every other newcomer does the same — then we’ll have enough volunteer man and womanpower to propel this place to unfathomable heights.

And 40 years from now, whoever is writing the 2061 version of “06880” will remember your legacy too.

Roundup: Kids’ Grief, Senate Parliamentarian, More

===================================================

Kids are resilient.

We say that a lot. Partly, it’s true. Partly, we want to believe it.

But COVID has caused grief for many youngsters. They’ve lost relatives. They fear others may suffer and die. They’ve lost so much of their own normal lives. And there’s so much uncertainty, day after day after day.

Experience Camps knows a lot about grief. The national, no-cost program for grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver runs great summer camps for children and teens.

When the coronavirus derailed last year’s programs, they focused instead on raising awareness of the many facets of childhood grief.

A key part of that effort is a Zoom panel discussion next Tuesday (March 2, 2 p..m.). Experts from a variety of perspectives will discuss “How the Pandemic of Grief is Impacting Kids.”

Experience Camps founder Sara Deren says the audience is “anyone and everyone. Everyone is grieving now. This is not just for professionals. If you have or know kids, it’s important to understand COVID’s impact on them.”

Click here to register, and for more information.

=====================================================

There’s always a Westport connection to national news.

When the US Senate parliamentarian ruled against yesterday that raising the minimum wage to $15 violated budgetary rules limiting what can be included in the legislation, at least 2 “06880” readers wondered: Who exactly is this parliamentarian.

Google (and Wikipedia) provided the answer: She is Elizabeth MacDonough. And although she grew up near Washington, DC, she graduated from Greens Farms Academy in 1984.

The New York Times reports that MacDonough — the first woman in the post — has “retained both the position and bipartisan respect under the leadership of both parties since she was named in 2012.”

Not much else is known about her local ties. If you’ve got more — or her remember her from GFA — click “Comments” below. (Hat tip: Clark Thiemann)

Elizabeth MacDonough:  (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

======================================================

One of the town’s most important — and least publicized — honors is the James S. Bacharach Service to the Community Award.

Presented annually for the last 32 years by the Westport Youth Commission to one or more high school seniors who live in or attend school in town, it recognizes significant service to Westport. Bacharach founded and served as president of the Youth Adult Council. He was also deeply involved in the organization that is now Homes with Hope.

Any Westporter — adult or student — can nominate a high school senior. Nominees should have a strong record of community service within Westport. Click here for a nomination form.

Submissions must be accompanied by 2 references. A maximum of 2 letters of support can be uploaded to the application or emailed separately to kgodburn@westportct.gov. The deadline is March 26.

======================================================

Last night’s nearly full moon was big.

But not as big as it was as seen through the Westport Astronomical Society’s telescope, at Rolnick Observatory.

Franco Fellah sends along this shot, and points out the prominence of the Tycho impact crater on the right.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

======================================================

And finally … there are some red-letter birthdays today. Johnny Cash was born February 25, 1932. He died in 2003.

Fats Domino was born on this date in 1928. He died in 2017.

And of course Victor Hugo, born today in 1802. He died in 1885.

Craig Bergamo: Westport Kids’ Best PAL

Craig Bergamo has quite a back story.

He grew up “everywhere,” he says — in and out of shelters. He and his brother were shuttled from place to place.

When Bergamo was 17, his parents died. He wanted to join the military, but for his brother to keep Section 8 housing, Bergamo had to live there as his dependent.

During tough times, police officers had always been nice to Bergamo. He looked up to them. To give back, he studied criminology in college.

Craig Bergamo

In 2006 — just 22 years old — he was hired by the Westport Police Department. His duties include overseeing the car seat program, motorcycle instructor and field training.

Bergamo won the Medal of Valor, for his actions in the Westport force’s first shooting in 30 years.

He also earned a Community Service Award for his fundraising with LivFree, a pediatric cancer support group.

Giving back is a key part of who Bergamo is. He coached in Norwalk’s Pop Warner football program for 6 years.

Early in his Westport police career, PAL athletic director Carmen Roda suggested he get involved with the local program. He became head football coach for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, then volunteered as secretary and vice president.

Now he’s in charge of the entire Westport PAL.

Earlier this month, Bergamo succeeded Ned Batlin as president.

It’s a big job. PAL serves thousands of youngsters through football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, rugby, track and cheerleading programs.

PAL also runs a robust scholarship program, the ice skating rink at Longshore — and Westport’s annual Independence Day fireworks.

Plenty of (pre-COVID) action at the PAL Rink at Longshore.

“This is an amazing organization,” Bergamo says. “The motto is ‘All about the kids and community.’ It’s safe and friendly. There are not many Police Athletic Leagues still out there. But ours is going strong.”

Bergamo is already planning new fundraising efforts — like a car show, digital events, perhaps a gala “when things are normal.”

Wrestling is one of Westport PAL’s many programs.

For someone who grew up in shelters, and lost his parents as a teenager, offering hope and activities to youngsters is crucial. In addition to his PAL efforts, he coaches his daughters in softball.

“When I see 3rd graders I coached move up to high school, and then graduate. I get chills,” Bergamo says. “I’ve had great interactions with them, and their parents. That’s what PAL is all about.”

(To learn more about Westport PAL — and participate in the See’s Candy Shop fundraiser — click here.)

Roundup: Art, Dogs, More

===================================================

Valentine’s Day is over. But a “Share the Love” art is exhibit is on display for the next 2 weeks, at The Residence at Westport. The display highlights 18 professional and emerging local artists.

This Friday (February 19), The Residence hosts “Cocktails and Curating.” It’s an interactive, on-site reception where artists will share their stories, inspirations and highlights live, and to guests via Zoom. Senior Center members are particularly welcome.

The project was developed by Lisa Stretton, founder of RealArtRealArtists, an online directory through which users search for original art for sale by professional artists.

“Morning Walk,” displayed at The Residence at Westport. Artist Lisa Stretton was inspired by Compo Beach.

====================================================

The Westport Book Shop wasted no time becoming part of the arts community.

The used book store on Jesup Green opened earlier this month. Already, their first art exhibit — in what they call the Drew Friedman Art Place — is on display.  The show features photographic prints of artworks by renowned local assemblage artist Nina Bentley.

The exhibit is open during business hours: Thursdays and Fridays 3 to 6 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

Miggs Burroughs is curating the Westport Book Shop exhibits. They’ll change monthly.

Nina Bentley, with photos of her art at the Westport Book Shop.

======================================================

Westport native Cathy Malkin moved back here in November, after 31 years in the Bay Area. Her sister Stefani Malkin Cohen now lives in New Rochelle.

Cathy is an animal communicator and animal Reiki practitioner. Stefani is a therapist, working with children and families.

Stefani developed a niche helping kids who are afraid of dogs (it works with adults too). That’s a real fear — and unlike spiders or snakes, it’s hard to avoid dogs.

“Overcoming Your Child’s Fear of Dogs” covers understanding dog behavior; how dogs communicate, and staying safe around dogs.

“We teach kids to look both ways before they cross the street, to not touch hot things and to stop, drop and roll in a fire,” Stefani says. “But parents rarely teach them how to interact safely and respectfully with dogs.”

Click here for more information, and to order Stefani’s book.

=======================================================

The Westport Book Shop is serious about adhering to COVID limits on customers. Here’s the new guard:

=======================================================

We missed a couple of great Valentine’s Day photos yesterday. So here’s to love — 24/7/365!

Saugatuck River (Photo/Lori Dodd)

Old Mill Beach (Photo/Les Dinkin)

======================================================

And finally … Happy Presidents Day!

Who knew that “Hail to the Chief” has words?

For all you history nerds (like me), here is the first time “Hail to the Chief” was played for every president from John F. Kennedy to Joe Biden …

… and the last, for every president funeral from Kennedy to George H.W. Bush:

Roundup: IRS, MLK, WCP, More

==================================================

Congressman Jim Himes reminds residents of free tax filing resource,

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers federal and state tax help to people earning under $56,000 a year. VITA is largely virtual this year, but there are also some drop-off locations. Click here to learn more.

The Connecticut Department of Revenue Services provides free tax help over by phone. Call 860-297-5770 to schedule an online appointment.

The University of Connecticut School of Law offers federal and state tax assistance for low-income Connecticut residence by phone. Call 860-570-5165 to learn more or book an appointment.

Click here for links to more tax assistance.

=======================================================

“King in the Wilderness” is an Emmy-winning HBO documentary about the last 3 days of Martin Luther King’s life. At the end of the 1960s, the Black Power movement saw the civil rights leader’s focus on nonviolence as a weakness, while President Lyndon Johnson believe his antiwar activism was dangerous. King himself was tormented by doubts about his philosophy and future.

The executive producer was Westporter Trey Ellis. He’s an award-winning novelist, Emmy and Peabody-winning filmmaker, playwright, professor of screenwriting in the Graduate School of Film at Columbia University, and contributor to The New Yorker, New York TimesWashington Post and NPR.

On Thursday, February 25 (7 p.m.), the Westport Library hosts a conversation between Ellis and TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey. Registrants can view the film for one week prior to the event. There is no charge; click here to register.

The program is part of Westport READS. This year’s them is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

Trey Ellis

=======================================================

The popular Westport Country Playhouse “Script in Hand” play-reading series returns Monday, February 22 (7 p.m.).

This time, audiences can hear the scripts in their own homes. The virtual performance is also available on demand any time, from noon February 23 through February 28.

This reading — “A Sherlock Carol” — should be particularly fun. It’s about a grown-up Tiny Tim, who asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate the death of Ebenezer Scrooge. Six actors take on the famed characters of Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens. Click here for more information, and tickets.

In addition, the Playhouse presents a free virtual conversation about Thornton Wilder’s timeless “Our Town” — particularly as it applies to the 21st century.

It’s this Sunday (February 14, 3 p.m.), on the Playhouse website and YouTube channel (Westport Playhouse).

Participants include Howard Sherman, author of a new book about “Our Town”; Anne Keefe, associate artistic director with Joanne Woodward for the Playhouse’s 2002 production of “Our Town,” and Jake Robards, who appeared in that show. The host is Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos.

In other WCP news, the Playhouse has announced the 13 members of its inaugural Youth Council. They include Staples High School students Henry Carson, Kate Davitt and Sophia Vellotti, plus Cessa Lewis, a Westporter who attends St. Luke’s School.

“A Sherlock Carol”

======================================================

Suzuki Music Schools’ Connecticut Guitar Festival returns for a 4th year on March 5 to 7 — virtually, of course. It’s all part of the Westport-based organization’s mission to make international artists accessible to everyone — for free.

For a list of events, click here. For an overview of the entire festival and artists, click here.

=======================================================

And finally … pioneering jazz pianist Chick Corea died Tuesday in Florida, of cancer. He was 79.