Category Archives: Organizations

Ratatouille Serves Up Empowerment For Women

Four months ago, a recent Syrian refugee helped cook and serve a delicious Middle Eastern dinner in a private home.

She was eager. It was a chance to gain a foothold in a new country, one that really does offer the possibility of building a new life far from the the horrors of war.

Hong Thaimee

Hong Thaimee saw the hope in the woman’s eyes. She too is an immigrant. She came to the US from Thailand 10 years ago. Now she’s the chef/owner of Ngam in New York (with 2 more restaurants opening this year), a cookbook author, global speaker and humanitarian activist.

Thaimee is also co-founder — with Westporter Evelyn Isaia — of Ratatouille and Company. A “sophisticated catering company with a social purpose,” the intriguingly named business helps women who face difficulties and challenges become self-sufficient through hospitality.

Thaimee comes from a family of chefs. Isaia spent 30 years in wealth management.

But ever since she was a teenager, Isaia volunteered for social causes. She’s a longtime partner with Social Venture Partners Connecticut, and a board member of the Women’s Business Development Council of Connecticut.

Evelyn Isaia

Last month, Isaia retired. Thanks to meeting Thaimee 2 years ago through mutual friends, a new career — and business – was born.

Both share a passion for culinary arts, and a desire to help others “bridge the opportunity gap.”

“Women often get the short end of the stick,” Isaia explains. “They can be empowered only by knowledge.”

With her ability to organize — and Thaimee’s passion for cooking — the new business is a natural.

It gained steam even before Isaia formally retired. Last September, they organized a black-tie tasting event in Paris. Thaimee’s cooking class and book-signing — and a gala dinner — raised €80,000 for the American Church of Paris.

Three months later in Greenwich, the Women’s Business Development Council was the beneficiary of a sit-down dinner and auction.

Now, with the opening of a commercial kitchen, Ratatouille is ready to partner with other organizations, including Building One Community in Stamford and the International Institute of Connecticut. Those refugee resettlement programs provided the path for the Syrian woman to start finding her new way in America.

Ratatouille’s owners are full-service. Thaimee works with the women on cooking; Isaia teaches them to make beautiful table decorations, serve at a cocktail party or 4-course meal, and organize the flow of a gala event.

Last month’s Middle Eastern dinner — a private party — was a triumph. Miriam Fawez made the delicious food, and learned how to present it artfully. Nervous at the start, by the end of the night — after hearing diners’ compliments, and seeing their smiles — she felt confident and happy.

“Mirian just wanted a job,” Isaia says. “Now she’s got a stage.”

(From left): Hong Thaimee, Fufu Fawez, Evelyn Isaia and Miriam Fawez, with food Mirian prepared and presented for last month’s Middle Eastern dinner.

The co-founders look forward to working with other non-profits, like domestic violence centers in Bridgeport and New York.

The word will spread quickly. Ratatouille is delicious.

(For more information on Ratatouille and Company, click here.)

Tuesdays @ The (T)rain

Call it a “dry run.”

Except a sudden, unexpected thunderstorm sent dozens of commuters, parents, kids and random Westporters scurrying for the safety of tents set up by food vendors, local organizations and the sponsoring Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — while knocking out the live music that had just kicked in.

And except for a storm-related Metro-North overhead wire problem that created delays of up to 30 minutes, and caused trains to shuttle back and forth between Westport and Rowayton.

Apart from those glitches though, the 1st-ever “Tuesdays @ the Train” event went swimmingly, at Luciano Park next to the station.

The sun came out. There were games and eats. Everyone relaxed, went with the (still-wet) flow, and had a great time.

Mark your calendars for the next 2 Tuesdays @ the Train: July 18 and August 8.

First Selectman Jim Marpe checks out the “Tuesdays @ the Train” tents in Luciano Park.

Kids played in a variety of ways.

Meanwhile, all around town, a rainbow lit up the skies. Here’s a sampling:

Compo Beach (Photo/Rich Stein)

Burying Hill Beach (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

The downtown view, from iFloat (Photo/terry Stangl)

Compo Pavilion Roof: The Sequel

According to initial reports from Westport Parks and Recreation, the Compo Beach pavilion roof is being removed and replaced.

Like Republican promises about Obamacare however, that might not be exactly what’s happening — at least, right now.

In fact, this week the roof is only being removed.

For a while now, Parks and Recreation director Jen Fava has been on the Board of Finance July 5 agenda, to ask for funds for removing and replacing that roof.

However, when a consultant reported that the roof was structurally unsound, Parks and Rec decided to remove it ASAP.

That project began yesterday.

The Compo Beach pavilion — including the soon-to-be-removed roof.

Fava will still go before the moneymen next month. If approved, a new roof will be installed before next summer.

But for the rest of this season, the pavilion will be open to the sky. Unless, Fava says, another type of roof solution is found.

The rest of the structure — brick walls and cement floor — is not being worked on at all.

The roof removal is expected to be completed before the July 4th weekend crush.

The Palm Tree Lives!

When I posted yesterday’s photo of a palm tree that appeared suddenly last Friday at Compo Beach near Ned Dimes Marina, I thought it was just a cute little piece.

More than a dozen readers responded. Most loved it.

Charlie Haberstroh did not. The chair of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission commented:

Just to be clear, it was not planted by the Parks and Rec Department nor was it by the Tree Warden. Hopefully, whoever planted it will remove it and save the tree.

Boo!

One view of the palm tree … (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

When I heard the back story (Butchie Izzo planted it as a replacement for a tree that died) — and posted it this morning — I figured folks would be amused.

Very quickly, over 40 “06880” readers added their thoughts. All of them love the palm tree. It’s fun; it’s quirky; it was done by a great guy, with a huge Westport heart.

Haberstroh heard you.

… and another. (Photo/Randy Christophersen)

A few minutes ago, he wrote:

Since the tree is a replacement for a tree originally planted with town authorization, we have decided to let the palm tree stand. It will replaced by Butchie by contract in the fall. Enjoy!

Yay!

Score one for Westport.

For Butchie Izzo.

And for our friends on the Parks and Rec Commission, who will hopefully enjoy our special palm tree with the rest of us, all summer long.

Stew Leonard, Dave Jones Bring Water Safety To All

A few months ago, “06880” reported on an intriguing Staples High School alum, and his water safety project.

More than 45 years after graduating, Dave Jones is now president and CEO of the Capital Wealth Foundation. A key board member is fellow 1971 classmate Mike Perlis — president and executive chairman of Forbes Media.

The foundation hands out 100% of its funds — “well into 6 figures” already, Jones says — to help people  in personal, non-traditional ways: building a roof for an animal shelter, say, or providing computers to autistic kids.

His most recent project is one of his favorites. Growing up in Westport, he knew Stew Leonard Jr. Like Jones, Leonard has achieved quite a bit of success.

Like Jones too, he’s known tough times. In 1989 Leonard’s 21-month-old son, Stew III, drowned. The Stew Leonard III Children’s Charity now promotes water safety and awareness.

Jones’ son Jack follows in his footsteps: He’s a lifeguard. Unlike relatively tame Compo though, he works on the Narragansett surf. Jack often sees city kids rush into the waves. They can’t swim, and get caught in the very strong undertow.

So Jones and Leonard have planned Capital Wealth Foundation’s next project: providing swim lessons for inner-city kids.

Everyone in Westport knows Stew Leonard Jr. And everyone here knows the importance of lifeguards. The ones we have at Compo are fantastic.

Jones hopes to present a check to Leonard in late August — in the middle of the Compo lifeguards’ annual reunion. But he needs helps.

Donations in any amount can be sent to: Capital Wealth Foundation, 1300 Divison St., Suite 203, West Warwick, RI 02893. Put “water safety” in the memo line. For more information, call Jones: 401-500-5632.

Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

Connecticut teachers can retire with maximum benefits after 37.5 years of service.

When Al Jolley retired this month — for the 2nd time; he taught 1 or 2 classes a year since his 1st retirement 5 years ago — he’d been an educator for nearly 52 years. That’s 19.5% longer than nearly any other retiree.

I used Google to figure out that percentage. If I’d had Jolley as a math teacher — and he had already taught for several years when I was a Staples High School student — I could have done that calculation in my head.

Jolley is a self-proclaimed dinosaur. He spent his entire career at Staples. He never wanted to go anywhere else — nor did he want to earn more money as an administrator.

Al Jolley in 2011…

The man who grew up with a slide rule took to new technology grudgingly. First he warmed to calculators — though he still frowns on the fancy graphing ones. Then he learned to use a computer (he still doesn’t care for them).

He never adopted smartboards. He still uses a blackboard — with actual chalk.

“I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

Jolley does not apologize for his prehistoric predilections. They’re simply who he is. He doesn’t change much, and that’s fine with him.

He knew as young as age 12 that he wanted to teach. He did not take education courses at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey. But he turned down Harvard grad school to enroll in Wesleyan University’s excellent Master of Arts in Teaching program

“God orchestrates everything,” Jolley says. “He sent me there, and then he sent me to Westport.”

Wesleyan assigned Jolley to Staples — a school he knew nothing about. In 1966 he was given 5 classes.

When it came time to apply for a full-time job, Jolley applied here, and a few other districts. “Staples kept this young whippersnapper on,” he says.

… in 1968 …

Those were exciting days. He and many other young teachers rented homes at the beach. They represented every department. Because of the physical layout of the school — 9 separate 1-story buildings, with active courtyards in between — staff members knew each other well.

But the math department was Jolley’s special home. It was a collaborative family. He says it still is, half a century later.

“We treasure each other’s company. We help each other out,” he notes.

In the beginning, Jolley’s office desk was in the back of a math classroom. He learned his craft by observing other teachers.

Like any instructor though, he developed his own style. He posted inspirational quotes around the room, and planned his lessons meticulously.

“I’m a concrete/sequential thinker to the extreme,” he admits. “I always had lots of detailed notes.”

… and 2000.

Jolley’s philosophy is simple: “I want kids to enjoy math. I always taught different levels. My goal was for kids to find success at their appropriate level. If they succeed, they’ll work harder.”

After his original retirement 5 years ago, Jolley taught Algebra 2C. Those students will not become mathematicians. But their teacher wanted them to see the same beauty and excitement in numbers that he always has.

Over the years, new ideas — about what to teach, and how to teach it — have come and gone. Jolley never paid much attention to cycles. He was too busy teaching the way he wanted to. It worked for him — and for thousands of students.

He interacted with many of them — including those he never taught — in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Jolley organized Staples’1st ultimate Frisbee team. They played in what is believed to be the 1st coed interscholastic sports event anywhere in the country. In 2015 he and several players were inducted into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago. Buckley and Davis played on Jolley’s first teams.

Jolley also led a bible study group at the United Methodist Church, and served the Boy Scouts as an assistant scoutmaster.

When Jolley and his wife bought their house, a sapling stood in the yard. Today, it’s 18 feet tall.

“When God put me at Staples, I was a sapling,” Jolley says. “My roots there grew so deep. Like that tree, I can’t be transplanted anywhere else. I can’t imagine working in any other school. I never wanted to, and I never did.”

He may volunteer with an organization like Mercy Learning Center. He’ll continue to run Staples’ SAT testing.

But — after nearly 52 years — Alan Jolley has picked up his last piece of chalk.

Go figure.

Tuesdays @ The Train

One of the enduring images of postwar Westport was Mom rounding up the kids, tossing them in the back of the station wagon, and driving down to Saugatuck to pick up Dad as he stumbled off the bar car — I mean, got off the train — after a hard day of work.

Times have changed. Mom now commutes; Dad works from home. One-car families gave way to 2 (or 3, or 4); the “station car” is now likely to be a BMW or Tesla. The bar car went the way of the 59-minute train ride (it’s now 68 — at least).

But the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce pays homage to those days. Starting this Tuesday, June 27 — and continuing July 18 and August 8 — they’re sponsoring a new event.

“Tuesdays @ the Train” are family-friendly (and free). From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., you can meet Mom (or Dad) at the train, then cross under the tracks to Luciano Park (for 25 years the home of Festival Italiano).

There will be live music; food for purchase from Dunville’s, Tarry Lodge and Viva’s, plus Phil and Tom’s ice cream; a beer-and-wine garden, and games like bocce, bean bag target toss and badminton.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Matt Mandell built 2 giant Jengas and a Giant Kerplunk.

There’s a playground right in the park too, with a basketball hoop.

NOTE: You don’t need to be a commuter — or have a family — to enjoy “Tuesdays @ the Train.” Local workers, those who drive to work or work from home, retirees — and singles, divorced, flown-nest and childless couples — are warmly welcome too.

(For more information on Tuesdays @ the Train, click here.)

Compo Pavilion Closed; New Roof Ahead

The Compo Beach pavilion — the brick structure next to the bathhouses and Joey’s by the Shore, popular with picnickers, people-watchers and photographers — is off-limits for a few days.

Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission heeded the report of consultant Jim DeStefano that damage to the pavilion — from age and storms — made it unsafe.

It’s been blocked off with security tape. On Monday, work begins on a new roof. It’s expected to take 5 days — just in time for the surge of July 4th weekend beachgoers.

The Compo Beach pavilion roof is a favorite home for seagulls…

“We’re sensitive that the pavilion is in a historic district,” says Parks and Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh.

He noted that there will be no changes to the structure itself. The roof was last replaced in 1988.

“We’re being very careful not to touch any walls,” Haberstroh says.

Parks and Rec may provide canopies or umbrellas for shade during the project.

Joey’s (and the lockers and restrooms) will remain open throughout.

… and a favorite too of photographers, who love to frame shots through it. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

Congratulations, Staples Graduates!

The Staples High School Class of 2017 is now history.

Over 450 members of the 130th graduating class received their diplomas amid the usual pomp and circumstance in the fieldhouse. 

It was a day of celebration, joy, pride — and relief, sentimentality and longing.

Graduates and their parents looked ahead — and back.

And of course, everyone took photos.

For weeks, seniors have filled a large poster with their post-high school plans. Today it was on display for all to see.

Fabian Becerra waited for the ceremony to begin…

… and so did salutatorian Christopher Scherban and valedictorian Emily Schussheim.

The processional into the fieldhouse isn’t a red carpet — but at graduation it can seem like one.

Some seniors decorated their caps with messages. St. Andrews is in Scotland.

Class speaker Megan Hines had a wonderful message. She described never taking AP or honors classes, but finding herself — thanks to caring friends, guidance counselors and teachers. “You are never alone” at Staples, she said.

Listening intently to the student speakers were (from right) superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer, principal James D’Amico, 12th grade assistant principal Pat Micinilio, assistant principal Rich Franzis, and and assistant principal (and proud father of graduate Jimmy) James Farnen.

Shelby Lake got special congratulations from big brother (and Staples Class of 2011 graduate) Court Lake.

Brooke Wrubel posed with her family in the courtyard.

A celebration isn’t complete without some good cigars.

A Better Chance scholars Manny Ogutu and Sam Larkin enjoyed a post-graduation party at Glendarcy House with their proud parents — and a host of well-wishers.

jUNe Day: When Westport Welcomes The World

It’s one of the longest-running, most enjoyable, most visible — and yet least remarked upon and little noticed — events in Westport.

For more than half a century in early summer, our town has welcomed guests from the United Nations. It’s called jUNe Day — clever, no? — and the 2017 version takes place this coming Saturday (June 24).

Over 300 folks — ambassador types, embassy and headquarters workers, and their families — arrive at the train station. (Whether they come from a 1st or 3rd world nation, they’ve probably never seen anything quite like Metro-North.)

On jUNe Day, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge brims with flags from around the world. Cohen originated jUNe Day in 1965. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

Having overcome that initial hurdle, they’re shuttled to Saugatuck Elementary School for a 10:30 a.m. welcome.

The UN is known for speechifying, but these are short. Then comes the real fun: a tennis tournament and golf at Longshore, tours of Earthplace, a visit to Wakeman Town Farm — you get the idea.

There’s a soccer match between a UN team and the Westport Knights men’s side. It’s not the World Cup, but some years tensions are nearly as high.

Many guests head straight to Compo, or the Longshore pool. They shop. They enjoy Westport.

Sometimes we forget what a day in “the country” can do. Many UN folks and their families don’t get many chances to leave New York.  jUNe Day is an opportunity for them to do just that — and for us to show off our town.

We may not be a “typical” American town. But this is our chance to offer typical American hospitality.

Volunteers are needed to serve breakfast and lunch, help out at Longshore, and clean up. “Tour guides” on buses are also needed. If interested, call 203-526-3275, or email andreasusa@yahoo.com.

Or just give a big hello on Saturday to anyone wearing jUNe Day hats, and an orange bracelet.