Category Archives: Organizations

Persona Of The Week: WTF’s Liz Milwe And Christy Colasurdo

If you can’t — or won’t — trek to New York for tonight’s Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center: no problem!

Wakeman Town Farm’s annual tree lighting is this Friday (December 6, 4:30 to 6 p.m.).

That’s just one of the many events taking place regularly at community farm/sustainability center/gathering spot.

This week, Persona’s Rob Simmelkjaer interviews Liz Milwe and Christy Colasurdo. They chat about all the great things happening all year long at WTF.

(Friday’s tree lighting at Wakeman Town Farm is free, and open to all. There’s music, marshmallows, cocoa, cookies — and a collection box for unwrapped toys, courtesy of Al’s Angels.)

Unsung Heroes #126

The other day, the Women’s Business Development Council honored 11 Connecticut business people with “Women Rising” awards.

Two are from Westport.

Suzanne Vita Palazzo

Suzanne Vita Palazzo — founder and owner of Upper Deck Fitness, in National Hall — has been here for a couple of years. This is her 2nd location (the first is in Stamford).

But she’s quickly become part of the community. Upper Deck has opened its doors for a variety of Post Road West community events, including a Women’s Wellness Day for cancer survivors.

Aarti Khosla has been serving Westport in many ways too, since 2012.

With a background in economics and international marketing, she worked for international corporations. Aarti opened her first company in her native India in 1991, then started a second business after coming to the US 3 years later.

Born with “foodie genes” and blessed with a mom who was an amazing cook, Aarti followed her passion to become an artisan chocolatier. Her initial inspiration came from a desire to use chocolate to showcase the rich diversity of Indian desserts, and “capture flavors from around the world, in the divine language of chocolate.”

She launched her business in 2012, selling through farmer’s markets, shows and holiday boutiques. In 2014 she opened Le Rouge Chocolates by Aarti at 190 Main Street.

Each piece of chocolate is made with fresh, top quality ingredients, and meticulously hand painted.

Aarti Khosla, in her red-and-black-themed chocolate shop.

She fills a great niche. She has been voted Best Chocolate Shop of Westport each year since, and Best of Gold Coast twice. She ships her creations all over the world.

But it’s in Westport that Aarti has really made her mark. She runs frequent promotions, earmarking a portion of sales to local and international causes — humanitarian, social justice and women’s issues, among them.

Westport is blessed with many female business owners. Today, “06880” follows the Women’s Business Development Council in hailing 2 special ones.

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

Tree Lighting Honors Angela Trucks

When Angela Trucks died last month at 69, she left a legacy of beauty.

Angela Trucks

As co-chair of the town’s Beautification Committee for well over a decade, she championed the Re-Greening of the Post Road. The project encouraged business owners to take pride in their property, with the most outstanding “streetscapes” recognized at an annual awards ceremony.

Today, great streetscapes include Terrain and Jesup Hall. So it’s fitting that both are collaborating on a memorial tree lighting that celebrates Angela’s life.

The event is this Saturday (December 7, 5:30 p.m.), on the Jesup Hall patio. Attendees are asked to bring coats and/or clothing, to benefit Homes with Hope.

Terrain donated and decorated the tree. The Westport Downtown Merchants Association is contributing ornaments and tree tags, so people can write warm thoughts of Angela or a loved one they’d like to remember.

The tree lighting is part of a “Holiday Jam” (4 to 6 p.m.). It includes live music, and free warm drinks for kids and adults. Rothbard’s will provide complimentary mulled wine, while Amis will have a s’mores table.

But the tree lighting in Angela’s memory is the centerpiece. “Hang messages from its branches, to sparkle in the light,” her friends and colleagues urge.

And then enjoy the beauty — literal and figurative — of downtown Westport.

Angela’s friend from Terrain, Page Englehart, adds this tribute:

Angela lived in Westport for a quarter century. Seven years ago, having gardened every allowable nook in town (legally or otherwise), she signed up to help transform our Cadillac dealership into Terrain.

Angela was an original Mother Earth. She bemoaned homes that did not have a hose, shovel or garden tool of any kind. She loved sharing her knowledge of plants and design with her clients — those who wanted “just pink flowers,” those who had budgets, and those who did not. She was a master at inspiring people who had seen it all before, and those who confessed to knowing “absolutely nothing.”

Angela Trucks, hanging a basket on Main Street.

Angela was a team player. The physical work she led us to do was at times hard, but she was always the hardest worker among us. And although she’d send newbies to string outdoor lights on the waterfront side of properties in December, she was always there to help, encourage and indulge a good natter on whatever ailed you, anytime of day (particularly over a sandwich).

Her husband Bill made her iconic sandwiches (peanut butter and apple, turkey and homemade horseradish).  She’d tear off a section of the sandwich to share with you before loading her red Toyota Tercel with bags, brooms, branches, moss, plants, lights, wires and tools.

Angela never struggled with the small stuff.  She understood the ebbs of nature and its beauty in any season, how the woods blended, how each plant worked with the other. She understood the same of people.

When Angela fell ill, and when she was no longer popping over to clients’ homes despite her cancer, our Terrain folk thought of ways we could lift her spirits — when she came home, when she got better …. a Christmas tree in her honor, perhaps.

When she died, many clients came together to celebrate her imprint on our community: Terrain, the DMA, Jesup Hall and Amis. All felt the best way to memorialize her was with a seasonal tree decorated with natural ingredients — vines, cones, branches and metal tree tags, to sparkle in the light and ring in the darkness.

The tree tags also gave us the opportunity to make Angela’s tree the town’s tree, by encouraging everyone to inscribe a thought or wish before hanging them on the branches. Whether they knew her or not, these tags allow us all to connect with Angela’a good spirit, with her love of the natural world, with a wink.

When the tree comes down at the end of the season, we hope to collect the tags and give them to the Trucks family.

Bassick Band: The Sequel

Last month, I posted a story about the Bassick High School band.

The underfunded, often overlooking Bridgeport school had finally hired a band teacher: Jon Garcia. He was eager to teach students; they were just as eager to learn.

But the band closet was bare.

Westonite Martha Deegan marched into action. She and Westport opera singer Lucia Palmieri offered to collect instruments languishing in local attics and basements.

Her Sky’s the Limit Foundation said they’d clean them. Norwalk’s AAA Band Rentals — owned by Weston resident Mike Spremulli — agreed to recondition all donations, for free.

A month later, Martha checks in with more good news. So far, over 100 instruments have poured in.

Jon Garcia, Martha Deegan and a few of the many percussion instruments donated to Bassick High School.

“The kids were so impressed to receive brand-new-looking, flawless flutes, trumpets, clarinets and saxophones!” she says.

Sky’s the Limit furnished 10 new saxes, and an assortment of Hispanic percussion instruments — congas, bongos and more — for the jazz band.

Gomez also received an enormous music-scale whiteboard on wheels, for his classroom.

And 72 uniform shirts are coming from Lands’ End for the Christmas concert.

In addition, a group called KEYES is working closely with the students, teachingi them how to play keyboard.

Donations continue to pour in. On Thanksgiving morning, Martha Deegan found this on her front steps.

Looking ahead, Martha envisions an “almost free” space near Bassick that could serve as a dedicated after-school music space for practicing and jamming. She would call it “Bridgeport Harmony.” It could become an umbrella organization for the various groups trying to help sustain arts in the Bridgeport schools.

Meanwhile, there is one more need: a volunteer saxophone player, 4 hours a week.

To follow up on that, the “Bridgeport Harmony” idea — or anything else — email marthadeegan@rocketmail.com.

Unsung Heroes #125

Last weekend, the Westport Library held its annual holiday book and gift sale. As always, it was a smash.

The success of these sales — winter and summer — depends on generous donations of materials from the community.

Yet nothing would happen without volunteers. For the most recent event, 108 volunteers donated their time and energy. All worked hard.

But late Sunday afternoon, near closing time, the teen volunteers went above and beyond.

Henry Potter

The story starts with Henry Potter. He’s a project manager for Builders Beyond Borders, and for several years has overseen B3 teen volunteers at the book sales.

Through his own very high standard of working hard, Henry sets an excellent example for the group. He always does it with a smile.

During the recent Transformation Project, book donations were accepted in a temporary construction trailer on Jesup Green. The “drive up, drop off” experience was so positive for patrons, staff and volunteers that the library built a permanent annex in the Levitt parking lot, to accept and process donations.

For the past 2 months of construction, however, the library had to stop accepting contributions. Thanks to Henry and the teen volunteers though, the  new book donation annex will be open starting next Wednesday (December 4).

Mimi Greenlee, co-chair of the book sale, says, “We knew this was going to require a great deal of manpower, not only to move the items, but also to shelve the books in the correct categories. Henry happily agreed to set his team on this project.

“In 2 hours they accomplished what would have take us days. And they did it with smiling faces and great attitudes.”

Builders Beyond Borders volunteers get the donation annex ready.

B3 has done plenty of good work overseas. Last weekend, they helped out right in their own back yard.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Rachel Reese Pegnataro.)

Great New Festival Shines A Light On Cribari Bridge

Westport is filled with holiday treats. But the lights on the Cribari Bridge outshine nearly every other winter wonder.

Ever since Al DiGuido and a crew of volunteers first hung hundreds of bulbs all over the historic span nearly 20 years ago, however, the actual lighting has been a low-key affair.

This year, there will be a very impressive ceremony.

No, it won’t rival the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.

Ours will be better.

The William F. Cribari Bridge, in all its holiday glory. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

This Friday (November 29, 6:30 p.m.), Westporters are invited to the Saugatuck Rowing Club. There on the patio — with a perfect view of the Cribari Bridge — there’s hot cocoa, spiked cocoa, Saugatuck Sweets sundaes, Donut Crazy donuts, cookies, popcorn, a hot dog cart, live music, a cash bar and more.

The actual lighting takes place at 8 p.m. But the party lasts till 9:30.

Kids go free. It’s $20 for adults — but 100% of the proceeds benefit Al’s Angels. That’s the organization founded by bridge lighter (and Saugatuck Sweets owner) Al DiGuido. All funds help children and families battling cancer, rare blood diseases, natural disasters and severe financial hardships.

The Cribari Bridge lights were created as a symbol of hope for all in town.

Let’s hope there’s a huge turnout of angels on Friday, when Al turns on the lights.

(For tickets and more information on Saugatuck Rowing Club’s Bridge Lighting Festival, click here.)

Another view. (Photo/Joel Treisman)

 

“Sounds For A Starry Night” Set

“The arts” is a broad term. Westport embraces various forms — music, visual arts, poetry — in various ways.

On Friday, December 6, a variety of disciplines come together. A pair of internationally acclaimed musicians — both Westporters — join a visual artist and the town’s poet laureate. It’s a night of classical music, poetry and vocals — and a benefit for Staples High School students needing help with college costs.

“Sounds for a Starry Night” stars violinist Igor Pikayzen and his mother, pianist Tatyana Pikayzen.

Igor Pikayzen

Igor — a Russian native — made his concert debut with the Moscow Philharmonic at age 8. Now — a graduate of Staples High School, Juilliard and Yale — he has performed with major orchestras around the world, and won numerous competitions.

Igor received a Westport Arts Advisory Committee Horizon Award, as an outstanding Westport artist under age 30 with an international reputation. Critics note his astounding technical ability and majestically lush tone.

His mother — called “the Paganini of the keyboard” — has earned acclaim on 3 continents. A top prize winner at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw, she has soloed in the world’s most prestigious concert halls.

Cellist Michael Katz completes the distinguished chamber ensemble. Casey Rose Clark will perform a vocal interlude. Noted illustrator Miggs Burroughs and Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman will speak too.

All artists will be on hand for a post-concert reception.

It’s a benefit for the Westport Woman’s Club scholarship program. Grants are awarded, on a financial need basis, to graduating Staples High School seniors.

The salon-style concert and reception take place at the Westport Woman’s Club. Seating is limited. For tickets ($50 adults, $25 students), click here.

Pics Of The Day #952

Over 100 Staples High School students spent 3 hours last night dodging the police.

It was hard to tell who had more fun: the kids or the cops.

These dodgeball players are actually Players: Staples Players. Two days after closing “Mamma Mia,” they (and a graduated ringer) headed to the fieldhouse for the time of their lives.

The event was the annual “Dodge a Cop” dodgeball tournament. Organized by Staples’ Teen Awareness Group and the Westport Youth Commission, in collaboration with Westport’s Police Department — and held in the dodgeball-friendly fieldhouse — it raises scholarship funds for Chris Lemone’s children. The founder of TAG died 4 years ago, age 49.

Some teams were coed. This one was loaded with Staples athletes.

Nearly 2 dozen teams competed. Each included at least one police officer. Staples staff and community members served as referees.

When Dana Seymour is not a referee, she is a Staples security guard.

Despite an evening of hurling balls at each other, no arrests were reported.

Like athletes everywhere, there was some fidgeting during the national anthem …

… and then the games began. (Photos/Dan Woog)

100 Cows

Alert “06880” reader Robin Moyer Chung is the editor/writer for Westport Lifestyle magazine, and a lyricist, book writer and blogger. Her musical, “The Top Job,” is produced around the world.

She and her family recently had a profound adventure. She writes:

Crossing Thresholds is an organization that works with local leaders to create 3 schools in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and a high school north of the city. They also organize trips to educate volunteers, who build and maintain these schools and interact with the students.

A school in Kibera.

I was ambivalent about writing about our trip. I knew people might accuse me of virtue-signaling, slum tourism, or voluntourism. But I’m okay with that. Call it whatever you’d like, just please keep reading. These are stories that need to be told no matter how we label them.

My only real hesitation was traveling halfway around the world for philanthropic purposes instead of focusing on vicinal needs. But a story about the Masai tribe reminded me that we’re all citizens of the world, and geography should not dictate our charity.

Robin Chung, reaching out in Kibera.

Kibera is roughly the size of Central Park, yet home to an estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million disenfranchised nationals. The government doesn’t “recognize” this rancid bit of land: they provide no electricity, water, sewage or police protection for residents.

Watching my children follow an armed guard down an uneven alley, cautiously stepping over rivulets of trash and sewage, brought the inhumane conditions into sharp focus. I thought images in movies and magazines had inured me to slums; I was wrong. The real brutality of poverty is a slap in the face.

Kibera, Kenya.

Yet within these hellish few miles, punctured with disappointment, clogged with desperation for survival, flickers an inexplicable hope. What tinders this hope is beyond Western reason. But there it is.

As a group we painted classrooms, scrubbed floors, carried firewall bricks, managed art projects, taught students games, and surrounded ourselves with dozens of children who craved our attention and affection. Every evening we returned to the hotel spent, hot and dusty.

Connecting halfway across the world: Robin’s son True.

Visiting a home in which these children live is an important part of the trip, to understand how poverty informs their lives and development. My oldest son requested that, after the visit, I not deliver a parental soliloquy about how lucky we are relative to these Kenyans. How he intuited my plan, I have no idea. But I relented.

This home is the size of 2 parking spots, typical for families of 7 or more. We crammed in. The renter, a woman, held her infant and told us she has 3 more children, but no husband.

Her home was full, with only a sofa nailed from wood planks, a chipped coffee table, and one mattress. Thin floral sheets hung from the ceiling and covered the sofa, masking the rusting metal walls and cheap wood.

Her “kitchen” was a brazier, a pot, and a few plastic dishes on a shelf. When she has money she makes gruel of flour. water and maybe a few vegetables. When she doesn’t have money, they don’t eat.

The dusty town.

It’s not unusual for a single mother to pour alcohol into her baby’s bottle so they sleep all day. Then the mother leaves home to find day work. If she works she can buy food; they may both survive. If she doesn’t, mother and child starve. Statistically, girls sell their bodies at age 14 to earn money.

We left the home quietly, shaken by her life and surroundings. No motherly monologue necessary.

But like I said, they have hope. They believe, despite living among dunes of rotting trash, that life will uptick. Even in the filthiest reaches of the slum, residents keep their clothes clean and fix their hair. They smile, greet us with Christian blessings and name their children Grace, Joy, and Sunshine.

Robin’s son Ty, and friends.

Slum residents are primarily descendants of Kenya’s many tribes. One of the largest is the Masai. Carter related a story of his friend Shani Yusef, a tribe elder:

Masai are famously resistant to modernization. Many live on earth too worn to yield significant vegetation. They work hard, beading jewelry and carving sculpture for tourists while raising herds of thin cows which are their currency.

Given their scant finances and isolation, Shani is one of the few Masai who has access to international news. On September 11, 2001, he was horrified to learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, a place he had only read about.

Shani gathered the Masai elders. After a few days of meetings, to help the people in a city few of them had heard of and none of them had seen, they decided to donate 100 of their cows, or roughly 30% of their wealth.

One hundred cows.

Remembering Turk Aksoy

The Westport Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 1081 announces with great sorrow the death of Westport firefighter Turk Aksoy. 

The 13-year Westport Fire Department veteran succumbed to an occupational cancer yesterday. He was 46 years old.

Before joining the Westport Fire Department, Turk worked for many years as a paramedic.

His wife Denise died this past January. They leave behind 2 children.

Turk Aksoy and his wife Denise.

Turk will be memorialized by Local 1081 and the Westport Fire Department. Details of services are still pending.

Local 1081 adds: “Please keep Turk’s children, his family, friends and fellow firefighters in your thoughts for strength and healing in this difficult time. Click here to make a donation in Turk’s memory, and in support of his children.”

In 2016, Turk testified before the Connecticut House Labor Committee, in support of presumptive cancer legislation. He said:

You know, it’s not easy. Every morning you wake up and you got to put your feet on the floor because you have a family looking after you and hopefully, you know, I’ll go back to work tonight actually, and then tomorrow I’m back in New York City starting chemo again. That’ll wipe me out for three days until I have to go back to work again. It’s tough on my kids, it’s tough on my wife…

Local 1081 says, “Occupational cancer has proven to be the new epidemic we face in the fire service. Far too many members of the fire service have been lost to this relentless illness.

“Rest in peace, Turk. You have served your community with tremendous honor, and will be greatly missed.”