Category Archives: Economy

Westport’s Day Without Immigrants

An alert “06880” reader — and helpful mother — headed out to Chipotle today. A sick kid at home craved a burrito.

To her surprise, the fast-food chain was closed.

So she drove a couple of miles east, to Border Grille.

That locally owned place was also shut.

How weird, she thought: Two Mexican restaurants, neither serving lunch on a normal Thursday.

But when she got home and read the New York Times, she realized today was not a normal Thursday.

It was “A Day Without Immigrants.”

Border Grill was closed today.

Border Grill was closed today.

The national campaign encouraged foreign-born people nationwide — regardless of legal status — to not work or shop today. The goal is to show the importance of their labor and spending to the U.S. economy.

When she realized what was happening, the Westport burrito-seeker’s mood turned from annoyance to understanding.

“This is an important point to make,” she says. “Our town relies heavily on immigrants who work in our stores, restaurants, lawn services, home improvement projects, etc., etc., etc.”

The Westporter offered to take photos of the closed stores. She headed out again.

She reported back: Chipotle is now open. They said they were closed earlier because of “broiler problems.”

But Border Grill is still closed.

Did you notice any local businesses that were closed today? Do you support or oppose the “Day Without Immigrants” campaign? Click “Comments” to share.

Kami Evans Empowers Women

If you’re a Westport woman on Facebook, you know Kami Evans.

A local mom, she’s created “Kami’s Kloud.” Thousands of followers — okay, not all of them women — check in frequently. She connects businesses with non-profits and charities, helping build community. (She also creates many separate social media groups and pages, again connecting people with good causes.)

Kami — who could be called a “mom-cierge” — does not favor one event over another. But this one is definitely close to her heart.

Kami Evans

Kami Evans

On March 29, she presents a Women’s Empowerment Forum. Focusing on love and money, it features guest speaker Siggy Flicker (author of “Write Your Own Fairy Tale: The New Rules for Dating, Relationships and Finding Love on Your Own Terms”).

In addition, financial expert Jennifer Scheffer will share tips and tricks about managing finances and personal assets.

“More than ever, it’s important for women to come together to benefit humankind, their families and themselves,” Kami says. “You’ll leave with knowledge and inspiration, to balance your hearts and wallets.”

You’ll also aid a good cause. A portion of the proceeds go to Person-to-Person, a longtime, low-key local helping organization.

(Reservation deadline for the March 29 Women’s Empowerment Forum [10 am to noon, Delamar Hotel, Southport] is March 1. Click here for tickets.)

[OPINIONS] State Budget Woes Will Strike Westport Hard

Hartford often seems to be a lot more than 60 miles from Westport. This part of the state is New York-centric. We sometimes think our state capital is Albany.

But decisions made in Connecticut’s capital can have quite an impact on our lives here. With the state budget in free fall, that’s seldom been more true.

Alert “06880” writer Peter Flatow writes:

When people talk about the advantages of living in 06880, our schools and educational programs almost always top the list. Many people move to 06880 for the schools.  We did!

Among the many subjects Westport students study: robotics.

Among the many subjects Westport students study: robotics.

Having great schools requires adequate funding. In the past, both the state and federal (to a much less degree) governments have assisted in funding our school system, through grants and subsidies.

That appears to be changing — and not for the better. Reviewing the educational budget, Westport has over the last 5 years been doing more with less.

Now, with the state looking to eliminate over $1.5 million in grants to Westport, the situation will get tougher.

And while the federal government accounts for roughly 4% of Connecticut’s revenues for schools (8% nationally), who knows what pressures the new administration will put on the State and local school systems.

What does this mean for Westport? Is our biggest asset under attack? If so, what can or should we be doing now? Will local taxpayers just make up the difference?  Will programs be cut? If so, which ones? Will school athletics programs be eliminated? After school activities? Is there a silver lining? If towns don’t get state or federal funding, does that allow them to set their own education rules?

Conventional wisdom suggests that it is best to be proactive. We have an excellent Board of Education. It will be instructive to learn how they view these forces against our top town asset.

Peter Flatow worries about the state budget crisis impact on Westport's schools. Greens Farms Elementary is shown above.

Peter Flatow worries about the state budget crisis impact on Westport’s schools. Greens Farms Elementary is shown above.

Equally alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman worries about the cost in taxes — particularly to seniors. He writes:

Residents face the serious potential of higher property taxes, or cuts in service and funds to education, as Governor Malloy transfers some costs normally paid by the state down to Westport.

At the same time funds are cut, Governor Malloy is requiring Westport taxpayers to fund 1/3 of the teacher’s pension that was already paid by us, through state income tax dollars. State income taxes will most likely increase, as the governor tries to balance a $3 billion deficit over th next 2 years.

Shuldman’s figures show the loss of $465,334 in state education cost-sharing grants from the state; a loss of $646,975 to cover costs of educating severely disabled students, and a cost to Westport of $5,877,870 in 1/3 pension sharing for the fiscal year beginning July 1. He warns:

If you live elsewhere in Connecticut, a similar negative financial impact will happen to your town.

Clothes Make The Families

For more than 30 years, Laurie Vogel ran stores in Westport: Joan & David. Country Road. Plaza Two.

Three years ago, she moved here. She also made a slight career change: She became a wardrobe consultant.

Vogel was not the type to encourage clients to just buy more. She helps women organize their closets, to maximizing the clothes they already own — and getting rid of those they do not need.

Laurie Vogel

Laurie Vogel, hard at work.

Around the same time, Barbara Butler — a friend and Westport’s former human services director — introduced her to Lynn Abramson, the head of Homes With Hope‘s mentor program.

Vogel became a mentor. “This is not about giving advice,” Vogel notes. “Mentoring is listening, encouraging, suggesting, making them strong enough to make it on their own.”

Vogel learned that some Homes With Hope clients needed clothes. So she began collecting items — including children’s clothing — for them. In addition to her own clients, she calls around for donations, then delivers them herself.

Vogel describes the clothes she collected for a 3-year-old girl. In addition to regular clothing, there were dress-up items.

Homes With Hope“She was overwhelmed with excitement,” Vogel says. “She never dreamed she’d get a chance to play with clothes like any other little girl.”

“People here want to do good,” she says. “But a lot of times they don’t know how. Or they don’t have the time.”

Like so many of us, Laurie Vogel is busy. But not too busy to help.

Now you can too. To learn more about donating clothes, email lvogel236@optonline.net.

“I Should Be A Statistic”: Startling Insights Into Westport’s “Privilege”

The recent brouhaha over TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest got many folks thinking. Throughout town — and around the globe — they dissected the meaning of “privilege.”

Amelia Suermann has a unique perspective. Today, she shares it with “06880”:

I’m privileged to have grown up in Westport. It is a wonderful and supportive town. I’m so proud to say “I’m from Westport” — even when fellow Nutmeggers roll their eyes.

I did not have the “typical” Westport upbringing. My parents aren’t CEOs or executives. I didn’t live in a McMansion, and I wasn’t raised with other stereotypes of Westport.

But make no mistake: I’m privileged.

I’m privileged to have been homeless in Westport. It could have been a lot worse. I am privileged to have been raised by a single mother who worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs, to afford rent and necessities so that I could grow up in a great town with amazing resources, and attend school in a public system that rivals some of the best private institutions in the country.

Amelia Suermann

Amelia Suermann

I’ve posted before on this blog — anonymously — about growing up homeless in Westport. Without the town’s incredible resources, including the Bacharach Center and Gillespie food pantry that fed us many times when money was tight, God only knows where I would be.

I worked minimum wage throughout high school. Sometimes I used my earnings to pay phone bills or buy groceries. I should be a statistic.

But I grew up in Westport — a community with supportive neighbors and teachers. Because of that, I graduated high school. And as Elizabeth wrote a few days ago, the assumption that I would do so was privilege in of itself.

I went to college in Boston and then DC, where I settled and started my life. I’m a product of Westport’s world. The perspective that Westport has provided me is truly unique.

It’s a perspective of 2 worlds: Food pantry “shopping” on Friday night, lounging on friends’ boats on Saturday. You don’t get more privileged than that.

Addressing your own privilege should be about recognizing that maybe we have it a little easier than a lot of people.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

A colleague who is originally from Milford sent me a newspaper story on the essay contest. While I understood the intent, a part of me sighed “Ohhh Westport…” as I shook my head.

I thought about my own life, my own privilege. Could we have had an easier life in a less expensive place? Probably.

But I would not have had the excellent education that set me up for the life I have now. People in other towns and of other ethnicities don’t have the same opportunities as many in Westport do. And while I would like to believe that if a non-white peer having the same experience as I would end up with the same happy ending, I don’t.

There are hundreds of comments on Dan’s various posts. Isn’t that the true intent of the essay contest — to inspire thought and a dialogue about one’s own privilege?

Let’s all vow to not let these conversations about privilege go away, simply because they’re hard or embarrassing.

Let’s make them matter.

Frosty Bear’s Final Scoop

John Hooper — owner of Christie’s Country Store, which leases its gazebo to Frosty Bear ice cream — says:

I am saddened to inform you that Frosty Bear will not open this season. John Martin — aka Frosty — has hit some tough times, and must contract his operations.

I think it’s been a 7-year run. John came to me in 2009 when, as a graphic artist, he was having problems finding jobs. He rented the gazebo and, at the same time, worked for an hourly wage at the cafe in the Darien library. He would rush to us at 2 p.m. in order to open every day.

In time he bought the rights to the cafe, and opened a small ice cream shop in Monroe. His 2 daughters helped out in all locations.

frosty-bear

Frosty Bear at Christie’s Country Store, on Cross Highway.

Selling ice cream is not easy, and many more well-capitalized folks have entered the business selling ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Early last summer, John got tough news that his oldest daughter Lauren, who had just graduated from UConn, was diagnosed with MS. A month later, Alyson was having trouble scooping hard ice cream. She, a UConn student, was diagnosed with the disease as well.

Our customers may have noticed that he had trouble staffing the gazebo this year, and this is why. It got a little worse when his wife Ann, broke her ankle. The challenges have just become too great for him to stay open.

We are so sad to see him go. But you can find John at the Darien Library on the Post Road, and at 695 Main Street, (Rt 25), in Monroe.

Westporters Ring The Bell For Wounded Vets

Ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange is a great tradition. Many times, the honor goes to business executives, politicians, sports idols or movie stars.

Today the bell was rung by real heroes.

Catch a Lift Fund — the organization that provides wounded veterans with gym equipment and memberships — did the honors. And when they were done, the entire floor gave the vets a rousing ovation.

Catch a Lift has a strong Westport presence. So it was quite appropriate that — flanking 2 veterans this morning — were Westporters Adam Vengrow and Andrew Berman. Both have done yeoman’s work here — and nationally — for the cause.

After the event, 6 Westport volunteers posed for a group hug.

At the New York Stock Exchange this morning (from left): Lance Lonegran, Adam Vengrow, Johanna Rossi, Andrew Berman, David Frost and Tom Dippel

At the New York Stock Exchange this morning (from left): Lance Lonegran, Johanna Rossi, Andrew Berman, Adam Vengrow, Tom Dippel and David Frost.

A Very Merry Bridgeport Christmas

It started with a small request.

Kathy Mahieu — a Westporter who teaches in a Bridgeport elementary school — asked if I could write about the differences between our school district and theirs. I had a better idea: I’d post her 1st-person account. Her words would be far more meaningful than mine.

A Tale of 2 School Districts” provoked a powerful response. Dozens of commenters offered thoughts. Many wondered what they could do to help.

The answer: Plenty. And here’s where this story really gets good.

Catherine Walsh called Kathy, and provided cartons of paper for the Read School. That simple gesture solved an enormous need.

Simultaneously, Jimeale Hede and Carolyn Russo got involved. Using Facebook, they installed “room moms” in every pre-K through 3rd grade classroom. The women published wish lists on their grassroots Brighter Lives for Kids Foundation website. Classroom supplies poured in.

Kathy Mathieu in her Bridgeport classroom. Very few teachers have whiteboards.

Kathy Mathieu in her Bridgeport classroom. Very few teachers have whiteboards.

In just one week this month, over $71,000 was raised. Much of that came from a Cushman & Wakefield fundraiser. The money will pay for the purchase of 90 Chromebooks with educational programs, as well as field trips and a soccer program.

“06880” readers — and others in an ever-widening circle — volunteered to address other needs. Teachers are identifying students who need shoes or a backpack, for example, as well as requesting items like rugs, headphones and books for their classrooms.

Help is on the way Cesar Batalla Elementary School too.

Read Elementary School

Read Elementary School

Watching the generosity unfold brought Catherine to tears. Westport and surrounding communities rallied around the needy school. Importantly, she says, they’ve “committed themselves long-term” to aiding these children and their families.

One of the Westporters who helped with Pamela Long. She heard about a toy drive for the Cesar Batalla and Read Schools. She bought some, but was chagrined to learn that donations were slow.

She asked “06880” for help. Again, I was happy to help. Again too, I asked for the story in her own words.

Pamela was eloquent. “These kids are in desperate situations — the highest poverty brackets, shelters, you name it. 100% of these children are fed breakfast and lunch at school,” she wrote. “Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

“Westport:  We can do better. Every child deserves the joy of opening a gift this season. We’ve got 4 more days to come together as a community and show our compassion, by helping those who do not have our good fortune. Open your hearts and your wallets — and get shopping!”

Westporters — and readers far and wide — responded instantly. Taking advantage of an Amazon link — and thanks to a generation donation from locally based/internationally known toymakers Melissa & Doug — they blew past the goal.

Plenty of people also helped with the logistics: wrapping, transporting, and making the toy magic happen.

Some of the presents that poured in to the Read and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools.

Some of the holiday gifts that poured in to the Read and Cesar Batalla Elementary Schools.

So — when it’s almost time for boys and girls all over America to enjoy the wonder of Santa Claus — let’s pause to thank the men and women (and kids) of our “06880” community (real and virtual) who helped bring smiles to kids a few miles away.

And let’s vow to keep helping the boys and girls of Bridgeport every day in the coming year.

Staples Students Buck Centuries Of Tradition

Harriet Tubman notwithstanding — in 2020 — US paper currency has long been filled with old white guys.

You or I can’t do anything about that. But Carla Eichler’s Advanced Design and Technology students can.

Every year, the Staples High School art class creates posters for events like the Candlelight concert, library programs and more. They also study packaging and marketing concepts.

But the most creative part of the course is a major project, which changes each time. This year, Eichler asked her class to redesign the dollar bill.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler's class.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler’s class.

It was not easy. First the students studied the history of American currency. Then they looked at other countries’ money.

They realized that, by comparison, ours is dull — in both color and content. While some nations celebrate their cultures and values, ours honors (it bears repeating) old white guys.

Eichler’s assignment had certain requirements. New designs must incorporate traditional elements, like the Federal reserve seal. But other than that, the sky — literally — was the limit.

Some students kept familiar characteristics: the flag, the eagle, even the green and gray color palette.

Others changed colors, iconography and themes.

Senior Gabe Holm took the “sky’s the limit” charge seriously. The front side of his design — which cleverly rises vertically — shows an astronaut floating in space. The reverse side includes the Apollo 11 rocket blasting off for the moon, and Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step…” speech.

“My philosophy was to honor achievements, rather than people,” Gabe says. “That avoids any controversy over gender or race. And the moon landing is one of America’s greatest achievements.”

gabe-holm-dollar-redesign-space

Sophomore Ben Matteson wanted a person of color on his bill. He chose Martin Luther King — “a man who changed America. He made a big impact on what our country is today.”

Ben chose one of King’s lesser-known quotes for the front. The back shows the Lincoln Memorial. It was the site of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech — while also honoring a president who had an enormous impact on equal rights.

ben-matteson-dollar-redesign-mlk

Jacob Stanford selected a white guy for his bill — but one of far more recent vintage, to “modernize” our currency. John F. Kennedy is “iconic,” the sophomore says. He then found an iconic color photo of the president, his finger jabbing at a press conference, but made it black-and-white.

Jacob juxtaposed JFK in front of the New York City skyline — a city he calls “the most iconic place in America.” But on the back of his design — in place of the usual Washington buildings and monuments — he offers a nod to traditionalism: a soaring eagle.

jacob-stanford-dollar-redesign-jfk

Perhaps the most intriguing departure from the same-old same-old came from Alyssa Domenico. The senior — born in China, adopted by American parents — wanted to portray this nation’s diversity and multiculturalism.

She researched Ellis Island, and studied the languages we speak here today. The result: a beautiful design incorporating the storied immigration center, the Statue of Liberty, American flags on the front and back — and “one dollar,” rendered in over a dozen languages.

alyssa-domenico-dollar-redesign-immigration

As part of the assignment students wrote artist statements, reflecting why and how they chose their designs. They also critiqued each other’s work, and used that feedback in their revisions.

This is Eichler’s 12th year teaching Advanced Design and Technology. Many of her students have gone on to careers in graphic arts, marketing, art education and animation.

Perhaps others will one day actually redesign our U.S. currency.

We sure need it.

Westport Library’s Iconic Eikon

It’s been there in the Westport Library — right near the reference desk — since spring.

You might not have noticed it.

But plenty of business executives, investors, entrepreneurs and job seekers have.

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It’s a Thomson Reuters Eikon database. And Westport is the only public library in Connecticut to have one.

The financial analysis tool enables users to track market, company and economic data. It’s sophisticated, strong — and completely free.

For Westport Library patrons, that is.

If you installed one of these babies in your office or home, or on a mobile device, — according to published rates — it could cost up to $1,800 a month.

Thomas Reuters donated both the hardware and software to our library. They’re looking to expand their market, and thought making it visible — in a community that cares very much about the markets — would be a smart move.

Feedback has been great. Eikon is used often, by a variety of folks for a host of reasons. It’s already led to positive results for job seekers, as they’ve researched potential employers before interviews.

But this is not our library’s only just-one-in-the-state database. For the past few years, LexisNexis has provided legal and business research — also free. That’s a donation too, from the Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm.

Our library is amazing. In fact, there’s none other like it in Connecticut.

You can take that to the bank.