Category Archives: Organizations

Nest Egg Foundation Helps Infertile Families Grow

About 1/8 of all couples have infertility issues.

Only half of those have insurance coverage to try to become pregnant.

And of those who do, many face strict financial limits. Becoming pregnant can cost up to $20,000.

Dr. Mark Leondires

Dr. Mark Leondires knows those issues well. As medical director and partner in reproductive endocrinology at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut, he sees them every day.

Now he’s doing something about it.

With a group of local residents — some medical professionals, others in finance and law; 4 from Westport, 1 from Weston — he’s formed the Nest Egg Foundation.

It’s a brilliant name — and a wonderful concept.

Each year, the non-profit provides $10,000 grants for in vitro fertilization treatment to people who have been unable to start their families due to financial needs.

There’s no guarantee of success in the infertility field. But the Nest Egg Foundation’s success is clear. Last year, they gave 4 grants. Three of those women are already pregnant. The 4th is getting ready to try.

It’s a rigorous process — and that refers to the selection, as well as the treatment. Applicants are vetted by a retired OB/GYN, a psychologist and a CPA.

“This is not about giving money,” Leondires notes. “It’s about giving the opportunity to try to get pregnant. My heart breaks for these people. If people want to have a child, money should not be a barrier to try.”

“Everyone thinks everybody around here can afford everything. That’s not true. A lot of our neighbors can’t.”

He adds, “In some ways, I have the best job in the world. People always send me pictures of their babies. But in some ways, this is the most challenging, because of all the people who can’t.”

The Nest Egg Foundation began when Leondires realized that although RMACT provided financial assistance to clients, it had no clear process for deciding who to help.

Now the aid is more consistent, more clearly defined — and out of the hand of the physicians themselves.

Though it’s professionally run, the Nest Egg Foundation relies entirely on volunteers. Miggs Burroughs donated the logo; others — including many from Westport — offer free legal and PR help.

Many people find the organization through RMACT’s website. “If you’re dealing with infertility, you spend a lot of time on the internet looking for information,” Leondires says.

Others hear of it through social media, or word of mouth.

Of course, the Nest Egg Foundation needs its own nest egg. Money comes from donations, board members and fundraising events like last month’s “Birdies for Charity” golf tournament.

Many worthy causes ask for money. Leondires is proud to be one of them.

“Becoming pregnant can change people’s lives,” he says. “The chance to try gives us the chutzpah to keep asking.”

(For more information on the Nest Egg Foundation, click here. To donate, click here.)

See The Solar Eclipse With Westport “Stars”

Though the full total solar eclipse next Monday (August 21) is visible along a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina, Westporters can enjoy 70% of the event.

The Westport Astronomical Society is opening the Rolnick Observatory (182 Bayberry Lane) to anyone who wants to watch. They’ll provide solar telescopes and safety glasses. Experts will be on hand to provide commentary and insights.

The eclipse runs from 1:24 p.m. to 4 p.m. The maximum eclipse is at 2:45 p.m.

The Astronomical Society is not responsible for clouds.

 

 

An Evergreen Grows In Westport

First, it was natural land: wooded, a bit wet.

Then it was cleared for farming. Eventually, nature took over again.

Stone walls show that this wooded land was used long ago for farming.

In 1959, Lillian Wadsworth sold 12 acres to the town of Westport — for $1. The year before, she’d given 62 acres to the fledgling Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum. The organization later changed its name — first to the Nature Center, then to Earthplace.

A philanthropist, artist and sculptor, Wadsworth was active in the Westport Garden Club, Westport Library, and various preservation and horticutural organizations. 

The Board of Education considered the site — bordered by Stonybrook Road and Woodside Lane — for a school. Residents of the quiet neighborhood objected.

Eventually, the town designated the 12 acres for passive recreation.

The Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called “Stony Brook Rd property” on this Google Maps Earth view. Earthplace is at top.

About 20 years ago, the town explored selling the site to a developer. Nearby resident Dick Fincher and town attorney Stan Atwood helped scuttle that plan.

In 2009, a micro-burst felled hundreds of trees. They sat, rotting, for several years.

In 2014 Fincher and Lou Mall got 1st Selectman Jim Marpe interested in the site. When tree warden Bruce Lindsay saw it, he immediately recognized its potential.

With a $50,000 urban forestry grant — and hundreds of volunteer hours — a few trails were cut. Fincher and neighbor John Howe played key roles, and saved a beautiful Norway maple.

Dick Fincher, at the entrance to the Wadsworth Arboretum (corner of Stoneybrook Road and Woodside Lane).

A Norway maple at the Wadsworth Arboretum. The teepee nearby was built by students.

Since then, volunteer restoration efforts have continued. The land was given an official name: The Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.

Now Fincher and Stein — both members of Westport’s Tree Board — are kicking the project into high gear. The Board has formed a non-profit — Westport Evergreen — to solicit foundation, corporate, civic group and individual funding to manage, maintain and improve open spaces throughout town.

The start of the Eloise Ray trail, on Stonybrook Road. Eloise Ray was a noted landscape architect.

In addition to the Wadsworth Arboretum, Westport Evergreen has done preliminary work at Baron’s South, the 32-acre wooded site between South Compo and Imperial Avenue.

So far, 40% of the Wadsworth site work has been completed. Dangerous deadfalls and invasives were removed; a trail plan has been established, and several trails added. Specimen vegetation has been planted, signage installed, and benches and tables were made by Stein from salvaged wood.

Dick Stein made this bench from salvaged wood. Lou Mall invited fellow RTM members here for a picnic.

Clearing the massive amount of underbrush is “not a job for amateurs,” says Dick Fincher.

Dick Fincher stands on a bridge built earlier this summer by Lou Mall, Dick Stein and tree warden Bruce Lindsay.

Dead creepers line a Wadswworth Arboretum trail.

Still ahead: a visitors’ information kiosk, 3- or 4-car parking area, and path along the Stonybrook perimeter.

A visitors’ kiosk will be built here. All the wood comes from the Wadsworth Arboretum site.

Westport Evergreen hopes to organize work days with groups like the Boys Scouts, Staples’ Service League of Boys, and Rotary and garden clubs.

One of the trails already cut at the Wadsworth Arboretum. Many have been created by students.

Last year, several Staples senior interns and members of Mike Aitkenhead’s environmental studies classes worked at the Arboretum.

Westport Evergreen seeks contributions to the general fund, or for planting a tree or purchasing a bench. Email blindsay@westportct.gov, or write Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum, c/o Tree Warden, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

When funding is completed, this rock will bear a plaque saying “Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.”

In the meantime, wander over to the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum. It’s open 365 days a year.

And it’s free.

That’s priceless.

BREAKING NEWS: Cribari Bridge Solution May Be At Hand

For years, the state Department of Transportation has pushed for a major renovation of the William Cribari (aka Bridge Street) Bridge.

For just as long, Westporters and town officials have pushed back. They fear that modernizing and widening the 2-lane span over the Saugatuck River would draw traffic — including 18-wheelers — off I-95, whenever there is an accident or delay on the nearby highway.

A solution appears to have been found.

And it’s a creative one.

The William Cribari (Bridge Street) Bridge. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

According to State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, the DOT is prepared to reroute Route 136. Right now, 136 includes North and South Compo Roads, and Bridge Street, through Saugatuck and on out to Saugatuck Avenue headed toward Norwalk.

Under the new plan, Route 136 would join the Post Road (also US1) at the North Compo intersection. It would head over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown, then go south on Riverside Avenue (also known as Route 33), and on toward Saugatuck Avenue.

Thus, the Cribari Bridge would no longer be a state road.

DOT has agreed to do repair work on the bridge — but not a major renovation.

When repairs are finished, DOT would hand the bridge over to the town. Westport would own it — and be responsible for ongoing and future maintenance.

The bridge and environs would no longer be Route 136.

The plan was described to a bipartisan group of state legislators from the area — Steinberg, State Senators Toni Boucher and Tony Hwang, and State Representative Gail Lavielle — by state DOT officials, including commissioner James Redeker. DOT wanted the legislators’ input, before presenting it to 1st selectman Jim Marpe.

[NOTE: An earlier version of this story described — based on a source — the meeting as a “negotiation.” It was an informational meeting only.]

“It’s not cost-free to the town,” Steinberg admits. “But once in a while we come up with creative solutions that work for everyone.”

He gives credit to the DOT. “If they weren’t on board, we’d still be battling this out,” Steinberg says.

Marpe notes, “The concept has just been presented to me. I’m working with my staff to understand the short-term and long-term implications — including finances and public safety — to the proposal. It’s certainly an alternative that needs to be seriously considered.”

Selectmen Sign ADL Pledge

All 3 Westport selectmen — Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner and Helen Garten — have signed an Anti-Defamation League petition. It requests that President Trump “publicly and unequivocally disavow white supremacy.”

The statement reads:

The White House’s repeated failure to stand up to white supremacy and other forms of domestic extremism emboldens and allows its perpetrators to increase their visibility.

Now is the time for President Trump to name the hate and acknowledge that this is not a matter of equivalence between two sides with similar gripes.

The White House’s refusal to disavow white supremacist ideology as a growing source of extremist violence empowers and abets its perpetrators.

President Trump must personally and unequivocally disavow white supremacy and end the White House’s enabling and tolerating its rise.

To truly take a stand, we urge President Trump to also terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists. There is no rationale for employing people who excuse hateful rhetoric and ugly incitement.

 

Hate Has No Home Here

The weekend’s horrific events in Charlottesville shined a spotlight on the despicable, bigoted, anti-American groups and individuals now crawling out from under the rocks where they’ve hidden for years.

It also gave fresh momentum to a no-hate movement that’s been building here in Westport.

Earlier this summer, Bedford Middle School teacher Kerstin Rao visited Evanston, Illinois. She spotted several lawn signs:

Kerstin was staying with her husband’s cousin. Both men were born in India. Like Kerstin, her husband’s cousin is in a mixed marriage.

Pushing a stroller with her relatives’ infant daughter, and seeing similar signs on every street, gave Kerstin a “truly inclusive” feeling.

She vowed to bring that feeling back to Westport.

Online, she found the website for what was becoming a national movement. Organizers laid down a few simple rules: It could not be a fundraiser; it could not be political or partisan; the original design could not be altered, and the yard signs had to be sold at cost.

“This is truly a grassroots effort to show our welcoming hearts,” Kerstin says.

She learned that a few areas in Connecticut already had signs. She bought one from a Milford friend.

When Kerstin wrote about the movement on Jane Green’s “Westport Front Porch” Facebook page, the response was immediate. She organized a meeting at Barnes & Noble.

Baker Graphics offered a great price for printing. Steam Coffee at the Greens Farms train station offered to sell the signs to commuters.

The group that met at Barnes & Noble last week loved that the project is non-partisan. They vowed to include people from a wide spectrum to help spread the “no hate” message.

On Sunday, Kerstin and her husband Vijay brought their red-and-blue sign to the demonstration on the Post Road bridge:

“Peace is non-partisan,” Kerstin notes. “We are not affiliated with any political party, religion or cause. We just want to put a message in our neighborhoods that hate has no home here.”

She adds, “As a teacher, I imagine students of various backgrounds heading back to school, maybe feeling nervous. Maybe this will be their first year in Westport schools. The thought of them looking out their bus windows and seeing so many welcoming signs — well, that is really wearing our hearts on our sleeves.”

(The no-hate group has set up a fundraising page (click here). Donations will pay for printing only. To volunteer for the effort, email hhnhhwestport@gmail.com.)

Stevan Dohanos’ Firehouse Comes Home

Pat Kery thinks of the Saugatuck firehouse as “her” firehouse.

The art appraiser once had an office at Bridge Square. She still lives nearby.

So when she found a Stevan Dohanos print for sale called “Hose Co. 4” — which looked a lot like the Saugatuck firehouse, Engine Company 4 — she was excited.

The Saugatuck firehouse.

Actually, more than excited. She helped bring it home to Westport.

Kery consults for WestPAC — Westport’s Public Art Collection. She’s also a longtime Dohanos aficionado. Researching her 1982 book, “Great Magazine Covers of the World,” she learned a lot about the local illustrator. He drew 123 covers for the Saturday Evening Post — as well as the incredible mural that has hung since 1953 in the Coleytown Elementary School office.

Dohanos’ 1950 firehouse lithograph shows firemen shooting the breeze with a mailman, as they wait for the next call.

Stevan Dohanos’ “Hose Co. 4.”

“His genius was capturing the ordinary things in life — in particular some of the small details we might miss in our fast-paced lives,” Kery says.

“Hose Co. 4” shows bedposts in the 2nd-floor windows, laundry drying on a clothesline, and an alert Dalmatian for companionship.

“From a stylistic standpoint, the artist brilliantly echoes circles and squares — the firehouse, the trees, the dog — to visually tie in elements in the print,” she explains.

Stevan Dohanos at work.

Recently, Kery learned the print — signed by the artist in the lower right, one of an edition of 250, and in pristine condition — was being sold by a dealer in the Midwest. She called, and learned he’d visited Dohanos in Westport shortly before his death.

The seller offered an excellent price — and framed it. Sam  Gault generously provided funds for its purchase. Now it joins 3 other Dohanos Saturday Evening Post covers, and various illustrations — in the WestPAC collection.

It’s a treasure trove of art, including a Picasso and other world-renowned works.

But the real value of WestPAC is the chance to bring something like Stevan Dohanos’ firehouse “home.”

BONUS STEVAN DOHANOS PHOTO BELOW: 

This circa 1950 print — donated by Kery — is from a photograph at the Norman Rockwell Museum’s Famous Artists School Archives.

It shows Dohanos hanging out with Westport firefighters, in front of the original fire headquarters. It was on Church Lane downtown, next to the YMCA Bedford Building (left).

When fire headquarters moved to the Post Road, where it is today (next to Terrain),  the old firehouse was incorporated into the YMCA. Its 1st floor became the Y’s new fitness center, while the 2nd floor was converted into a weight room and cardio studio.

Today, both the Bedford Building and old firehouse have been refashioned into  Bedford Square.

PS: Check out the dalmatian at Dohanos’ feet!

Remembering Eleanor Craig Green

Eleanor Craig Green — a longtime Westporter whose books about working with troubled children influenced generations of educators, therapists and parents — died Monday. She was 87.

Her 1st book was P.S. Your Not Listening — and its subject was as fresh as its misspelled title. (It quoted a note from a student.)

In 1965, many youngsters with special needs were sent to programs or institutions, segregated from mainstream schools. Green volunteered to teach Connecticut’s pilot class, bringing “socially and emotionally maladjusted children” to an ordinary elementary school.

Despite community resistance and student defiance, her class demonstrated the social and educational benefits of “mainstreaming” kids with special needs.

P.S. Your Not Listening was published in 1972. It contrasted classroom drama with her other lives: Westport mother of 4 young children, and wife of an aspiring writer. (William Craig, her 1st husband, wrote bestselling World War II histories and suspense novels, including The Fall of Japan.)

Eleanor Craig Green

Writing as Eleanor Craig, she published 2 more books about her work with troubled children: If We Could Hear the Grass Grow and One, Two, Three: The Story of Matt, a Feral Child.

Her 4th book — The Moon is Broken — chronicled her relationship with her eldest daughter. Ann Craig was a performance artist who earned a cult reputation at Lower East Side dance clubs, before her death in 1987.

In 1978 Eleanor Craig married fellow Westporter Paul Green, a magazine publisher. Their Old Mill Beach home was the busy center of a large blended family, and an extensive network of devoted friends.

Paul Green– now 93 — remains an activist against Parkinson’s disease. With his wife’s help, he credits rowing with adding years to his life. She did not retire from her family-centered therapy practice until last year.

Eleanor Craig’s survivors also include her children and stepchildren Richard Craig of Arlington, Virginia; William Craig of Thetford Center, Vermont; Ellen Perlwitz of Putnam, Connecticut; Andrew Green of Oakland, California; Alex Green of Oakland, California; Doug Green of Washington, DC; Katherine Appy of Amherst, Massachusetts, and Peter Green of Westport; 20 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren, and her siblings Claire Megan of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and John Russell of Hull, Massachusetts.

A memorial service is planned for August 31 (11 a.m., St. Luke’s Church). In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut.

Teens Swim 15.5 Miles, Raise $9,000. And What Did You Do Last Sunday?

The easiest way to cross Long Island Sound is on the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry.

You can also sail, motorboat or yacht across on your own.

It’s a lot tougher to actually swim those 15 1/2 or so miles yourself.

It’s especially difficult to do it faster than anyone else.

But that’s what a team of 6 Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmers did last Sunday. And they finished in just 6 hours and 20 minutes — beating 150 competitors by a wide margin.

It was hardly a day at the beach. Before taking the Swim Across the Sound plunge, they secured $9,000 in pledges for St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

Congratulations to the intrepid, strong and very fast group of 16-year-olds: Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan, Josiah Tarrant, Austin Twiss and Charlie West. All except Richard swim for Staples High School.

From left: Austin Twiss, Charlie West, Scott Adler, John McNab, Richard Nolan and Josiah Tarrant.

 

Fun fact: Swim Across the Sound director Liz Fry is a former Staples High School swimmer.

(Fast forward to the 10:00 mark below, for an interview with the Water Rat swimmers.)

 

Saugatuck Rowing Club Sets Sights On Horizons

Rowing is a great sport.

It’s demanding, but healthful. It teaches discipline, teamwork and goal-setting. It instills self-confidence, self-control and pride. Plus, nothing beats being out on the water at 5 a.m., in a driving rain.

But rowing also has a stigma: It’s expensive, and elitist.

For the past 4 years, Saugatuck Rowing Club has defied that stigma. The Riverside Avenue facility throws open its doors — and provides a place in its boats — to a special group of teenagers.

And the kids have given back as much as they’ve gotten.

Thanks to a partnership with Greens Farms Academy’s Horizons program — a national project that provides underserved children with academic, social, emotional learning and enrichment programs — SRC welcomes more than a dozen 8th graders for 6 weeks each summer.

Three afternoons a week, the Bridgeport children clamber off buses and into the sprawling clubhouse. Very quickly, it becomes their home.

“Our mission is twofold,” says Diana Kuen, a beginner/intermediate SRC coach who oversees the program.

“We want to introduce them to a sport would never otherwise have a chance to experience. And it’s our responsibility to chip away at the socioeconomic barriers that exist in our own backyard.”

They start like many beginners. Some are terrified of the river. None ever touched an oar.

Under Kuen’s direction, they row on an ergometer. When they’re ready, they step into a boat and onto the water. Figuratively — and literally — they jump into the deep end.

Diana Kuen, and a Horizons rower.

Kuen and co-coach Bridge Murphy watch closely. They figure out which kids will work best where, and who is comfortable going out alone.

The new rowers are like boys and girls everywhere. They’re quick learners. They want to succeed. They love to compete.

And they sure have fun.

“These kids bring joy and levity with them every day,” Kuen says. “They are genuine, authentic and happy.

“Each afternoon is filled with laughter, pride and a sense of purpose. When they step into the club, they light everyone up.”

Another day, with Horizons rowers on the Saugatuck River.

None of that comes easily. The coaches demand that these youngsters — just like any new rowers — step out of their comfort zones.

One girl was terrified. The first victory was getting her out on a launch, with the coaches. Gradually, she eased into a boat.

At the end of 6 weeks, Kuen says, “she was an outstanding rower.”

One boy was so successful at rowing with 7 teammates that he asked if he could scull alone. Once he pushed off from the dock however, he froze.

Kuen swam out to get him. “We tell them we will never let anything bad happen. We will do whatever we can to help.”

Every day throughout the Horizons program, the coaches and kids talk.

“They’re great communicators,” Kuen says. “They understand that this is about so much more than rowing.”

On the final day, each 8th grader spoke from their hearts about what the program meant. Kuen and Murphy listened, with tears in their eyes.

That final session ended with a pizza party. An SRC member — someone who’d witnessed the kids’ transformation, and appreciated the can-do attitude they brought every day — bought ice cream cakes for everyone.

On the way out, SRC general manager Suzanne Pullen overheard 2 girls talking.

“I’ll miss this place so much,” one said.

But not as much as the Saugatuck Rowing Club will miss them.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

The Bridgeport Horizons group poses proudly.