Category Archives: Organizations

“X” Marks The Spot

We never get tired of the holiday lights on the William  Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge. Thanks, Al’s Angels!

cribari-bridge-christmas-2016-peter-tulupman

(Photo/Peter Tulupman)

Heading the other direction, the same lights make this ordinary scene of an I-95 sunset seem almost magical.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

 

Martha Deegan: To Tanzania With Love

What do you do if you’ve been a Fairfield County lawyer for 30 years, but your son teaches in Tanzania and says he needs help building a school?

If you’re Martha Deegan you close your practice, and head to Africa.

Once there, you meet a young engineer from Indiana. You join forces, and build a home for orphans.

You become a missionary, sponsored by Westport’s United Methodist Church.

You work with a children’s home called Kwetu Faraja — “our comforting home.” You welcome Christians, Jews, Muslims, and boys with animist beliefs. You serve over 1,000 street children with medicine, food, clothing and emergency advocacy.

Martha Deegan, with some of the boys she's helped. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

Martha Deegan, with some of the boys she’s helped. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

You raise money for a solar project in the village, Kahunda. You are proud that there’s now electricity, and potable water. You develop a 35-acre farm for them, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

You live in Weston, but every year you go back to the village for a few months. You form relationships with people there.

You are appalled that they live in mud huts with straw roofs, without running water. You are impressed by their openness, generosity and loving spirit.

You know you can’t do everything. But you help a few kids — some as young as 4, sleeping in garbage bags on cardboard on the mean streets of Mwanza — by offering them a chance for an education at your school. You know that even though education is “free” in Tanzania, many youngsters cannot afford their required uniform, books or the interest they must pay on their desk.

Boys at , with a goat. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

Boys at Kwetu Faraja , with a goat. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

You turn to your next project: raising $22,500 to buy a tractor and farm implements. Right now, land is sown entirely by hand. You want the farmers, and the boys at the orphanage, to become self-sufficient.

Then, if you are Martha Deegan, you ask “06880” readers to help. You have faith that your neighbors will understand that you can’t do everything.

But you know that — especially in this season of giving — they (like you) will do whatever they can.

(Donations can be made for scholarships and for the tractor by clicking here. You can also send a check to Kwetu Faraja, 223 West 12th Street, Anderson, IN 46016-1331.)

As young boys swim in Tanzania, older ones keep watch for crocodiles and poisonous snakes. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

As young boys swim in Tanzania, older ones keep watch for crocodiles and poisonous snakes. (Photo/Thor Deegan)

Westport Bids Tina Goodbye

Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore jeans and wool caps.

Some were politicians, social service workers, police officers and Westporters who live in very comfortable homes. Others live at the Gillespie Center.

Ushers from Homes With Hope showed down-on-their-luck folks to their seats. Clergy from 3 different congregations conducted the service. The 1st selectman gave a reading. So did a Westport police officer, who spent much of his own youth in shelters.

Over 150 people — some from as far away as Baltimore and Brattleboro — filled Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church this afternoon, for a funeral service honoring a woman some never met.

tina-wessel-funeral-program

Tina Wessel died last month. A homeless woman with a pronounced limp, she was a longtime fixture in downtown Westport.

In her life on the streets — and in the shed near the Senior Center where her body was found — she touched many hearts.

“She gave a lot of people the finger. She dropped a lot of f-bombs,” one woman said. “But look at all these people. They saw beyond that.”

They did indeed. As one woman related in remarks after the service, Tina had another remarkable side. An hour after receiving a donation of food, Tina knocked on the agency’s door.

“Here’s what I don’t need,” she said, returning some of her goods. “Can you give it to somebody else?”

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from the program today.

Rev. Peter Powell — who founded and served as the first CEO of Homes With Hope — delivered a powerful, challenging sermon.

“Tina touched many of us in ways that would probably surprise her,” he said.

He noted that many of the readings at the service mentioned bringing bread to the hungry, and giving homes to the homeless.

“She was a challenge to work with,” Rev. Powell acknowledged. “But Tina had a role in Westport — one that we all need to think about.”

Rev. Peter Powell before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green's Farms Congregational Church.

Rev. Peter Powell (center) before the funeral, flanked by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Rev. Jeffrey Ryder of Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

He recalled similar Westporters whose funerals he officiated at  — though one had only 3 mourners. He told their stories, and mentioned them all by name. They may have been homeless, but they were not faceless or nameless.

“Tina died cold, sick, alone and homeless,” Rev. Powell said. She — and others like her — should be remembered not because they needed us, but because “we need them.”

The town of Westport, police and Homes With Hope tried to help, Rev. Powell continued. Westport — “an amazingly generous town” — does far more for its homeless citizens than virtually any other affluent suburb in the country.

Tina did not accept some of that help. “Her reasons make no sense to you. But they did to her,” Rev. Powell explained.

“It’s not enough to love prodigiously, if people are cold or alone. We admired her pluck, her nature, her independence. But we could not find a way to house her as she wished.”

Calling Tina “an apostle,” Rev. Powell said that she has enabled us to “discover ourselves.”

When the service ended, Tina’s ashes were honored outside, in the church courtyard. It’s in the midst of downtown, where she spent so much of the last years of her life.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina's ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Mourners stood outside, as Tina’s ashes were honored in the heart of downtown.

Then everyone — social service workers, police officers, Westporters in very comfortable homes, residents of the Gillespie Center, and anyone else who knew Tina (or wished they had) — gathered downstairs. They shared food and coffee together.

And they remembered Tina.

(Donations in Tina’s name may be made to Westport Animal Shelter Advocates or Homes With Hope.)

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy -- when both were young -- were displayed on a board in the church's Branson Hall.

Photos of Tina and her brother Ludy — when both were young — were displayed on a board in the church’s Branson Hall.

Friday Flashback #18

For over 60 years the Tri-Town Teachers Federal Credit Union has served educators in Westport, Weston and Wilton, plus many other Westport town employees.

Most recently, the credit union has been housed in the historic Godillot Carriage House. It’s on Jesup Road near Imperial Avenue — catty-corner from the police station.

The credit union is proud of their home — and the entire neighborhood. So they recently commissioned a painting of it circa 1882, when it was built.

Artist Jack Conti did plenty of research, to make sure he got the details right.

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Alexis Godillot was an importer of French foods. He and his wife Julia expanded and improved his property, making it a showplace of the community.

Conti’s painting shows the property looking north across Deadman’s Brook, from Imperial Avenue.

The main house (yellow) sat on a knoll. Originally built in 1804 in Victorian stick style, by 1882 it had an attached greenhouse. The building is now occupied by the Smith Richardson Foundation.

The credit union is now housed in the carriage house — the red building next to the main house. It once included a stable.

The white cottage housed servants. It too had a greenhouse. The building — once the offices of the Westport Board of Education — is now occupied by the Sherwood & Garlick law firm.

The boathouse (red structure on the brook) served as a place to store small recreational boats. It was relocated elsewhere in Westport in the 1950s.

The Jesup Road neighborhood is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It looks much the same today.

godillot-house-and-credit-union-john-coniglio

Still, the credit union — the building in the center, in the photo above — is not stuck in the past.

On its roof now are solar panels.

And gone are the stables. They’ve been replaced by free charging stations, for drivers with electric vehicles.

(Hat tip: John Coniglio)

Tina’s Cat: The Sequel

In the aftermath of the death of Tina Wessel — the homeless woman known to many Westporters, who died last month — “06880” readers have wondered about the fate of her beloved cat.

Julie Loparo — president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates — reports:

Tina’s cat — now named Elsie — is a delight. She is approximately 4 years old, healthy…just wonderful.

Elsie

Elsie

She is temporarily being boarded at Schulhof Animal Hospital, receiving excellent care and attention from staff and WASA volunteers. Now, WASA is searching for a local forever home for Elsie. She will need to be kept indoors for her safety.

Potential adopters should email wasa1@optonline.net, or call 203-557-0361.

Tina’s funeral will be held today (2 p.m., Friday, December 9), at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Westport.

Taylor Harrington Speaks Strongly For Those Who Can’t

For some Staples High School students, club rush is a chance to grab candy, as organizations try to lure in new members.

For Taylor Harrington, it was a life-changing event.

As a freshman in 2011, she discovered Best Buddies. The organization — which fosters 1-on-1 friendships between students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their classmates — grew to be a passion.

As a junior, Taylor was paired with Wyatt Davis. Though they shared similar interests — sports, music and food — and had attended Coleytown Elementary and Middle Schools together, they did not know each other well.

Their relationship grew quickly. They attended Staples games together. Wyatt invited Taylor out on his family’s boat. They attended a “Walk the Moon” concert in New York.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game.

Wyatt Davis and Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game…

Their friendship has lasted beyond high school. Wyatt has gone to Penn State — where Taylor is a sophomore — for a football game. She showed off the school she loves, and hit the Waffle Shop for eggs and pancakes.

For years the 2 friends have sat in Wyatt’s kitchen, watched his dad Brett cook, and chatted. “He makes the best food!” she says.

Wyatt — who has cerebral palsy — communicates using an iPad attached to his wheelchair. He has a great sense of humor, Taylor notes.

“I love being Taylor’s friend,” Wyatt — now a student at Gateway Community College — says by e-mail. “She makes things easy when we hang out. When she comes over, she’s like part of my family. She is incredibly genuine and sincere.”

“We are all way more similar than we are different,” Taylor notes. “Too many people judge Wyatt and other people with disabilities just because of their medical condition.

“That’s not fair. Wyatt doesn’t let his disability define him, which I love. Any time I think I can’t do something, I think of Wyatt’s attitude. I tell myself, ‘I can do this — just maybe not in the easiest way, or the first way I think of.'”

...and on Wyatt's parents' boat.

…and on Wyatt’s parents’ boat.

Last year — her first in college — Taylor realized how much she missed Best Buddies. She noticed that fellow students who had not gone to school with students with disabilities felt disconnected from them. She also wanted to learn more herself.

That led her to minor in disabilities studies. This semester she’s taking a course with a blind professor. She’s learning how blindness affects the woman’s life, and is asking questions she could not get from a textbook.

Last year, a Deaf Culture class helped her understand hearing impairments as a difference, not a disability.

Taylor’s major is advertising. Her other minor is entrepreneurship. All of those subjects converged in September, when Project Vive — a small State College-based start-up that makes communication devices for people with cerebral palsy and ALS — hosted a poetry night at their workspace.

A 70-year-old woman named Arlyn shared her poetry with an audience, for the first time ever. Because her speech is slurred, she used Project Vive’s Voz Box.

Project Vive's Vox Box.

Project Vive’s Vox Box.

The Box is a speech generation device. It’s customizable — Arlyn operated it with her foot; others use a hand — and at $500 it costs far less than the $16,000 average of similar devices.

Taylor was excited to hear Arlyn — and eager to help.

Soon, she was hired as Project Vive’s marketing intern. She runs social media accounts, promotes events, and creates innovative ways to expand the company’s network of supporters.

She also runs an Indiegogo campaign.

That’s necessary, because even though the Voz Box is a lot less expensive than other speech generators, it’s still out of reach for many.

Her goal is $10,000. But she has less than 24 hours to reach it. The campaign ends tonight (Thursday, December 8) at midnight.

Taylor Harrington, Wyatt Davis, Arlyn the poet and Project Vive have one voice. Through it, they speak loudly and clearly: “Please help!”

Click here to contribute.

Nothing Says Christmas In Westport Like…

…the Minute Man Monument, decked out in a Santa cap …

minuteman-monument-lynn-u-miller

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

… and the William Cribari/Bridge Street bridge, decked out in Al’s Angels lights:

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Bullying And Cyber-Threats: The (Teen) Experts Speak

“Stricter parents make sneakier children.”

That was one of the gems offered Thursday night. The Westport Arts Center and Anti-Defamation League presented a workshop on “What Children Wish Their Parents Knew About Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Name-Calling.” It was part of the WAC’s current “More Than Words” exhibition, about that topic.

Marji Lipshez-Shapiro — ADL-Connecticut’s director of education — led the event. But the high school panelists stole the show.

They’re the ones who delivered insights like the one about strict parents and sneaky children. The speaker above was explaining that because teenagers’ technical skills far outstrip their parents’, mutual trust makes that relationship work.

Johnny Donovan and Megan Hines — co-presidents of Staples’ Kool To Be Kind group — and fellow K2BK members Gavin Berger, Brian Greenspan, Isabel Handa, Ben Klau and Emerson Kobak — reassured the 100 parents in attendance that they’re raising their kids well. They praised the school system and town for their bullying prevention and intervention programs.

The panelists also presented some scary previews of what’s ahead.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center….

Among their thoughts:

One Stapleite said that Instagram is a good way for 7th graders to start on social media. Facebook can be added in late middle school. Beware: Snapchat can be “dangerous.”

But another said, “Let kids discover social media on their own. Putting on age restrictions makes something seem taboo.”

When one panelist’s parents gave her a smartphone, they asked for her passcode — and told her they could check it any time. They don’t — but she realizes they can. “So I know the boundaries,” she concluded.

Parents should teach their children that the cyber world is not private. Middle schoolers “don’t know that innately.”

Some parents limit their kids’ technology use by making sure phones, laptops and other devices are charged each night in the kitchen — or parents’ rooms. One K2BK member was actually relieved by that rule. “I would’ve gotten no sleep in middle school if I could have texted all night,” he said. Another explained, “It’s not healthy to be distracted all the time.”

...And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

…And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

Stresses on tweens and teens are real. “Don’t say ‘get over it,'” one of the panelists noted. “That doesn’t help at all.”

As for bullying: Classmates and older kids are not the only perpetrators. “The meanest thing anyone ever said to me was by a teacher,” one boy noted.

When should parents call other parents about an issue between their children?

“It ends at elementary school,” one girl said. “After that, kids need to learn to fight their own battles.”

“It’s never too young to encourage your child to have her own voice,” another member added. “But you still have to let them know you’ll always be there for them.”

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Megan gave a particularly powerful presentation. Speaking personally — as someone who does not take Advanced Placement or Honors courses, and who has been called “stupid” because of her passion for fashion merchandising — she spoke articulately, and at times painfully, about her journey to believe in herself.

Ultimately, the panelists agreed, raising a child who can stand up to name-calling; who does not bully, and who can navigate the complex world of cyberspace, is a comes down to trust.

“My parents gave me the stage,” one of the Staples students said. “And they let me tell my own story on it.”

Downtown Affordable Housing To Be Demolished Soon

Westport is about to lose 14 more very affordable housing units.

And downtown is set to lose 2 more pieces of its history.

Applications have been filed to demolish 2 buildings: #7 and #15 Belden Place. That’s the tiny, seldom-noticed piece of Main Street property just past Avery Place, opposite Veterans Green and Town Hall.

Supposedly, a developer plans to expand 201 Main Street — the former Nappa screen repair shop — and level the Belden Place rentals behind it, to create the required parking spots.

15 Belden place sits right on the Saugatuck River.

15 Belden place sits right on the Saugatuck River.

#15 is listed in the Westport Historic District Commission inventory. It sits on the bank of the Saugatuck River (with quite a view!).

Though the HDC says #15 was built around 1930, that may be the date it arrived here. It might have been moved from New Hampshire in pieces in the ’30s by Alfred G. Violet. It has long been said that the houses on Violet Lane — not far away, off Myrtle Avenue — which he built in 1928 also came from New Hampshire.

#7 was built in 1920.

Both Belden Place buildings are in disrepair. For years, however, they provided hidden-in-plain-sight, much-needed rental units for local restaurateurs, artists, teachers, hippies and whatnot.

7 Belden Place is behind 201 Main Street (formerly Nappa Doors and Windows), and in front of 15 Belden Place.

7 Belden Place is behind 201 Main Street (formerly Nappa Doors and Windows), and in front of 15 Belden Place.

As Westport prepares to lose more affordable housing units, it should be noted that because these 14 were built before 1990, they do not count toward our 8-30g requirements. So losing them will not hurt us as we try to comply with the state affordable housing mandate.

But losing them will certainly hurt the Westporters who lived there, up until recently when they were told to go.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Hat tips: Morley Boyd and Wendy Crowther)

 

Boathouse Restaurant: Saugatuck Secret Slips Out

It’s one of those enduring urban — okay, suburban — myths: The restaurant at Saugatuck Rowing Club is private. It’s for members only, but if you go there they’ll (wink, wink) serve you.

Once upon a time, that was semi-true. The restaurant was private, but signing in made you a member for the day.

Now it’s totally false. The Boathouse at Saugatuck is a full-fledged, legit, open-to-the-public restaurant.

And a great one.

With indoor and outside (enclosed in winter) seating, and a spectacular setting — overlooking the Saugatuck River — the Boathouse is one more in a long list of excellent dining options in the neighborhood that has become Westport’s dining hotbed.

Plenty of windows offer a view of the Saugatuck River -- including rowers from the club.

Plenty of windows offer views of the Saugatuck River — including rowers.

Several months ago, says manager and event planner Nancy Burke, the Boathouse added needed parking spots and changed their liquor license, to become an actual restaurant. They can now advertise, and market themselves to the public.

Word is getting out. Executive chef Paul Scoran — formerly of Paci in Fairfield — focuses on innovative American cuisine. There’s plenty of local fish, with other selections too. (I had a really interesting pasta dish, with lobster, shrimp and crab.) The menu changes seasonally. Full catering services are also available.

Westporters may still be confused by the relationship between the restaurant and rowing club. They share a building — and from the dining room you can watch rowers work out in the gym — but they’re 2 separate entities. Both, however, are owned by the same man: Howard Winklevoss, a Greenwich businessman perhaps better known as the father of Tyler and Cameron, twin Olympic rowers/litigants who claim Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea to create Facebook.

There's indoor dining on the 2nd floor (left), and outdoor dining on the deck (enclosed in winter). The bottom floor -- and part of the 2nd -- is devoted to rowing.

There’s indoor dining on the 2nd floor (left), and outdoor dining on the deck (enclosed in winter). The bottom floor — and the right side of the 2nd — is devoted to rowing.

Winklevoss’ Saugatuck Rowing Club helped jump start the revitalization of Saugatuck. Now his restaurant will draw even more folks to the neighborhood.

But although the Boathouse is relatively new — at least as a public venue — it is in some ways part of the “old” Saugatuck.

One of the waiters is Frank DeMace. His grandfather — Tiger DeMace — was the longtime owner of a restaurant that for decades had quite a name of its own: Mario’s.

boathouse-logo