Category Archives: Organizations

Positive Directions Offers Suicide Help

This week’s stories on suicide have stirred many responses. 

They’ve also shined a light on the good work so many people and organizations do to de-stigmatize, raise awareness of, and prevent this tragic, and increasing, cause of death.

Denique Weidema-Lewis — director of prevention at Positive Directions, the Westport-based substance abuse and mental health service — offers condolences to the Snedeker family, and appreciation for their post. She adds:

Tragically, the suicide rate has risen by about 30% in the past 20 years. This terrible increase reflects a need for public health efforts throughout our communities, focusing on creating a healthy culture, strengthening our families, developing workplace wellness, teaching coping skills, and making services available and affordable.

 

As someone who has been affected by suicide  both professionally and personally, I want to share some local resources on how we as a community are working to prevent suicide.

In recognition of National Suicide Prevention week (September 8-14), Positive Directions will host 2 free gatekeeper trainings.

Just as people trained in CPR and the Heimlich maneuver save thousands of lives each year, people trained in Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis, and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help.

QPR will be offered at our office (90 Post Road West; click here to register) on Wednesday, September 11, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk on Thursday, September 12 (6:30 to 8 p.m.; (click here to register).

Additionally, we are proud supporters of the Connecticut Chapter of American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, and help sponsor the annual Westport Out of the Darkness Walk at Sherwood Island. This year’s event is Saturday, October 26 (10 a.m.; click here for more information).

The walk raises awareness and funds that allow the AFSP to invest in research, create local educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.

We encourage everyone to be aware of resources. Locally, we are members of The HUB CT which provides behavioral health resource guides (click here for great information).

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Lifeline 24/7 (800-273-TALK), or call 211 to be connected to a mobile crisis service near you in Connecticut.

The Crisis Text Line is another great option: text “hello” to 741741.

Quad-Town, Bipartisan Effort Aims For Accurate Census

Among other things, the decennial national census is used to apportion seats in the US House of Representatives.

After the 2000 count, Connecticut lost one of our seats. We’d been at 6 since 1930; now we’re down to 5.

The census is also used to allocate funds for programs like Head Start, food stamps and other social service projects. As well, it provides the most accurate picture of exactly who lives where — information that’s important for businesses, scientists, sociologists and many others to know.

The census begins next year. And — if a coalition of civic-minded volunteers in lower Fairfield County has its way — it will provide a very accurate count of at least this small slice of America.

“Norwalk to Bridgeport” is a non-partisan effort. Several Westporters are involved, as are men and women in Fairfield, and the 2 cities bracketing them.

The other day, one of them talked about their work.

Deb Howland-Murray graduated from Staples in 1968. She moved away after college, but has lived here for the last 34 years. An illustrator, portrait artist and diversity educator, she’s active in a variety of arts groups.

She’s politically active. But, she says, Norwalk to Bridgeport transcends party lines. She and co-chair Sandy Lefkowitz helped organize this group to bring local citizens of many stripes together, in a cause that affects everyone.

The goal is simple: spread the word, so as many people in the area answer census questions as possible.

To do so, they’ve done things like organize a September 17 training session in Bridgeport. Attendees will learn how to make presentations about the census. Then they’ll go out into their communities — to churches, schools, civic clubs, etc. — and do just that.

Deb Howland-Murray

Norwalk to Bridgeport is also compiling lists of local organizations they can reach out to, to pass the census word. They’re creating a calendar of events, so they can attend and pass out information there.

The US Census Bureau has printed materials. But, Deb says, it’s not quite user-friendly. She and her fellow volunteers are creating a 1-page handout, with graphics.

Bridgeport and Norwalk already have “Complete Count” committees — local groups working to ensure an accurate census. Westport and Fairfield do not.

“There’s a lot of suspicion about the census,” Deb says, noting the recent controversy about asking a citizenship question next year. “What’s going on in Washington is happening there. Here, we just want to provide accurate information. All we want is get people counted. We don’t care about their politics.”

Historically, she says, “the more diverse the community, the lower the participation. That hurts those communities. They need funding that comes from accurate counts. We need accurate representation. The census affects everyone.”

[OPINION] There Must Be Ways To Prevent Suicide

Alan and Sheri Snedeker lived in Westport for 30 years. He’s an “eclectic creative”; she’s a painter.

They raised 2 sons here. Kirk is a drummer, and builds websites. Mark — who left Staples High School in 1990, when he had enough credits to graduate — committed suicide at 19.

The other day, Alan saw a Tedx Talk. He learned that psychiatrists and psychologists are the only medical professionals who treat a body part that they do not test, look at or scan.

Instead, he says, “they rely on medical companies to create a pill that, hopefully, will work.” Alan is convinced that his son would be alive today if his brain had been scanned.

Alan wants Westport teenagers — and their parents — to see this video. He also sends some thoughts on Mark.

Mark told me one day, “You will never know how bad I feel.”

He attempted suicide the next day…the first time. Police found him, and rushed him to the hospital. I’m sure that a scan of his brain would tell us a lot about his depression.

He was hospitalized in Norwalk Hospital, and given nothing but lithium to help his feeling.

He was mixed with alcoholics and drug addicts, and treated like he was a moron.

After Norwalk, we had Mark on daycare at Silver Hill. He was deeply depressed. One day he went out to take pictures. At Staples, he easily shot excellent photographs. That day, he came back with nothing.

Mark Snedeker was an excellent photographer — and also a talented musician.

He was 19 at Silver Hill — legally, an adult. The psychiatrist he saw could not tell us to search his room for weapons and drugs — and we didn’t think to do it. We did not know that people who attempt suicide often do so more than once.

On the day he died I was raking leaves. I thought to myself that exercise is good for a person in depression.

The day before he died, he acted normal. That should have been a warning sign. We now know that people kill themselves when they are strong enough to do it.

I found his body in his bedroom. I could barely recognize him. He was totally disfigured. He must have suffered terribly before he died. He took hundreds of pills.

My point is 2-fold. Demand brain scans for manic depression and depression. It’s ridiculous that this is not done for mental illness.

And don’t treat a 19-year-old with mental illness as an adult. A psychiatrist should talk to parents, and possibly prevent a suicide.

There have to be better ways to treat people like Mark. The brain must be studied, and people over 18 must be able to talk to those who care.

Motorcycle Cops On A Mission

How are you spending your weekend?

While you (and I) enjoy the beach, barbecues and other perks of a rapidly ending summer, 3 Westport police officers have taken a road trip.

Officers Rachel Baron, Mark Grasso and Scott Thompson used personal time to join volunteers from police departments nationwide, as escorts in a charity motorcycle ride.

America’s 911 Foundation — an all-volunteer group — organizes the annual event. Honoring victims of, and first responders to, the September 11 terrorist attacks, the ride visits all 3 sites at which people lost their lives that day in 2001.

It started Thursday in Shanksville, Pennsylvania; headed to the Pentagon, and ends today at the World Trade Center.

The 9/11 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania …

As escorts, the Westport officers helped clear the road ahead, stopped traffic at on-ramps and intersections, and made sure the many motorcyclists felt safe and supported.

… and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Money raised goes to great causes. Last year, the foundation presented $32,000 in college scholarships to 16 first responder children; provided over $7,000 to California first responders working on wildfires, and donated funds to fire companies in Tennessee and Pennsylvania for better equipment.

Recycling The Beach

Alert “06880” reader/concerned environmentalist Amy Berkin — a Weston resident who loves Compo Beach, and often picks up straws, bottle caps, candy wrappers and other trash on her early morning visits — writes:

I’ve always wondered why there are so few recycling receptacles at Compo — especially given how many people I see throwing plastic into the trash.

I usually try to bring my plastic home with me to recycle. It seems wrong sitting looking out at the water, knowing that’s where so much plastic winds up.

The other night, I asked someone who was collecting the black trash bags from the receptacles why we don’t recycle at the beach. He explained that the town has never provided clear plastic bags, which are required for recycle collection.

Compo Beach receptacle (Photo/Amy Berkin)

Even though there are a few recycle bins at the beach, it all goes into the same fill because the collection bags are not clear. The town collectors don’t have the manpower to separate the trash (nor should they have to, in my opinion).

I think the general population is conscious enough about the need to recycle. Can’t the town supply clear bags?!

I asked Parks & Recreation Department director Jennifer Fava about this. She replied:

The issue is not about whether or not there are clear bags. The issue is that in public places it is very difficult to actually have separate recycling, as once the bin is contaminated the contents can no longer be recycled. This can occur with just one ice cream wrapper, one used food wrapper, plate, etc.

Another Sewer Leak. Another Beach Closure.

This morning, Westport Fire Department personnel were notified that sewage was coming up from a manhole in front of Saugatuck Elementary School.

Public Works was called, and a representative responded. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Parks & Recreation Department, Conservation Department, Marine Police and businesses abutting the Saugatuck River were notified too.

The Sewer Department is working to mitigate the problem. This sewer is separate from — and the discharge “significantly smaller than” — last week’s sewer leakage event downriver, the Fire Department says.

In an abundance of caution, the Westport Weston Health District closed all beaches for swimming until further testing can be done. They advised suspending river activities too.

The good news: It’s not a Saturday.

The other good news: Based on traffic around town, it’s that mid-August time of year when nearly everyone is away. Roads, stores and restaurants are empty. Enjoy!

Sewage coming out of a manhole cover. This is NOT the Riverside avenue scene, but it is the first thing that popped up on a Google Images search.

Unsung Hero #111

Ruth Sherman walks the walk.

Literally.

Every day for 50 years — in all kinds of weather* — Ruth has walked from Hillspoint Road to the top of Compo Hill.

She recently returned from Spain, where she completed the 100-mile El Camino spiritual trek.

For the 79-year-old longtime Westporter, it was no big deal.

Ruth Sherman

Yet Ruth’s walks are only part of her daily routine. Since the 1960s, she’s taught exercise and fitness at the Westport Weston Family Y. Right now she’s with the Arthritis Foundation Family aquatic program.

When the Senior Center opened, she began teaching there too.

Many class members are younger — often much younger — than Ruth. But they struggle to keep pace.

When she’s not walking or leading classes, Ruth bikes. Of course, her rides are for good causes.

Since last century, she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the Pan-Mass Challenge. She was not always alone: Sometimes she was joined by her husband Larry, 4 children, in-laws and friends. Her group was called Ruthie’s Riding Rascals.

You’ve probably seen Ruth Sherman around town. The next time you see her, say hello — and congratulate her for being this week’s Unsung Hero.

But you’ll have to be in pretty good shape to catch up.

*And in Westport, you know what that means.

(Hat tip: Richard Fogel)

State: Here’s $40 Million For Cribari Bridge Rehab. Town: Not So Fast…

The state Department of Transportation today released a draft list of projects, under the 2021-24 Transportation Improvement Program.

Included is $20 million in fiscal 2023 — plus $20 million more in fiscal ’24 — for the “rehabilitation/replacement of state-town Bridge #01349, aka William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.”

For those who haven’t followed the years-long saga, that’s the 133-year-old swing span over the Saugatuck River. It connects Riverside Avenue and Bridge Street.

One view of the William Cribari Bridge … (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

All projects on the list must be evaluated for air quality concerns. Because federal funding is also involved, national regulations — as well as state — must be adhered to.

The Cribari Bridge project may not necessarily be placed into the TIP. No decision is likely on the TIP until at least next summer.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said:

The town of Westport has not endorsed any plans for the Cribari Bridge, and awaits a conclusion to the CTDOT Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation.

As part of the EA/EIE, the DOT established a Project Advisory Committee, and met with this committee several times over the last year. DOT conducted a professional process, and I am confident they have taken away the community’s sentiments and concerns about the Cribari Bridge.

However, the town of Westport neither accepts nor rejects the CTDOT’s budgeted funding of $40 million over the 2 years until it is clear on the specific proposal for the Cribari Bridge, and the community agrees on which solution is the best for the town of Westport.

The Project Advisory Committee reviewed several alternatives for rehabilitation, including a no-build operation, and provided feedback to the DOT. No decision has been made.

The DOT continues to coordinate with other state and federal agencies, as well as various stakeholders, to consider specific concerns, such as impacts on historic properties.

… and another. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

The DOT is expected to issue a preliminary environmental document early next year. There will then be a public hearing and comment period, after which the DOT will make a recommendation of a preferred design alternative. Review by the Federal Highway Administration and state Office of Policy and Management will follow, with a decision announced later.

Marpe added:

My staff and I will stay abreast of the air quality and environmental findings for the Cribari Bridge rehabilitation or replacement options. Thereafter, we will follow the development of the TIP closely. I am committed to keeping the residents and businesses of Westport informed in a timely manner about this very important project.

Turning The Tables

Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department and Commission have done an admirable job improving South Beach.

The alcohol-allowed-but-no-glass-please section of Compo Beach was always a favorite spot for cookouts, picnics, sunset-watching and walking.

This summer, the extension of the walking path from the cannons made it much safer. The addition of new barbecue grills eased the crunch for choice spots. The rollout of a Mobi-Mat enabled folks with mobility issues, strollers, even heavy ice chests to reach the water’s edge.

Parks & Rec has done even more at South Beach. But many beachgoers may not be aware of exactly what it all entails.

Picnickers love the new round tables, placed close to the parking area:

They look great, they’re comfortable, and they’ve got a nice, modern design.

That design is not by chance. Here’s a view from the other side. That open area is specially created, for people using wheelchairs.

(Photos/Bruce McFadden)

Note the new nearby grill. It’s adjustable — and handicap accessible too.

The concrete pad in the foreground makes for easier access for wheelchairs, and others with limited mobility.

Many people with disabilities use the new tables and grills. I’ve also seen them occupied by groups in which no one has a disability.

That’s not their fault. They probably have no idea what the new equipment is designed for.

And there may be more of these tables and grills than there are people who’d like to use them.

Perhaps there could be signs on the tables and grills: “Designed for use by our neighbors with disabilities.”

I’m sure they’d still be used by non-disabled folks. But maybe they’d be the last ones occupied — not the first — on those days when everyone (including those with wheelchairs) wants to enjoy our wonderful, beaautiful beach.

Blues, Views & Volunteers

Over the past few years, the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival strayed from its local roots.

Crowds poured in from the tri-state region. They heard great music, ate smokin’ barbecue, and their kids played in bouncy houses and on slides.

The only thing lacking was Westporters. For some reason, it was hard to find our neighbors there.

The event — set for August 31 and September 1 , at the Levitt Pavilion and library parking lot — has been reimagined this year. Founder Bob LeRose returns as a producer. He, Westporters Peter Propp  and Crispin Cioe have reached out to local businesses.

They’ve targeted 2 great non-profits — Staples Tuition Grants and Wakeman Town Farm — for a portion of the proceeds.

Though they’ve scrapped the BBQ portion of the event, they’re bringing in top acts like Lawrence, Anders Osborne, Southern Avenue and the Main Squeeze.

“We view the event as Westport’s hometown festival,” Propp says.

This summer, 3 interns helped maintain that hometown feel.

In the spring, Taylor Barr — a 2019 Staples High School graduate who heads to  George Washington University soon — joined the team.

He recruited rising seniors Emily Stone and Emma Vannart. The trio worked on social media, strategy and sponsorship sales. They’re now distributing posters and postcards around town.

From left: Taylor Barr, Emma Vannart and Emily Stone.

Propp calls the interns “an unstoppable force.” They helped bring on West, Earth Animal and Greenwich Medical Spa as new sponsors.

“They analyze problems, crack jokes, are thoughtful and smart,” Propp says. “It’s been really fun to get to know them.”

As Blues & Views draws near, more volunteers (of any age) are needed. There’s work to be done before — and of course during — the festival. For more information on the event, click here. To volunteer, email info@bluesviews.com.