Category Archives: Organizations

It’s Her Time For AWARE

Westport is filled with non-profits that do great work. Near & Far Aid, Pink Aid, Westport Rotary, Sunrise Rotary — we know their names, see signs for their events, support them as much as we can.

But many others are lower-key. Every bit as worthy — and run by equally dynamic volunteers — they fly under the radar.

For example: Are you aware of AWARE?

Founded nearly 30 years ago in New York by Amy Saperstein and friends, the goal is to make a difference in the lives of women and girls. (AWARE stands for Assisting Women through Action, Resources and Education.)

When Amy moved to Westport, she launched a local chapter. She now runs it with Erica Davis.

Each year the group selects a women’s cause, then partners with a charity to benefit it. Through a fundraiser, hands-on activity and educational event, AWARE shines a light on a different meaningful women’s issue.

One year for example, AWARE supported female veterans. The Westport chapter partnered with Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, a Bridgeport transitional home.

Once a month, AWARE volunteers served dinner to homeless female vets there. They worked with “AWARE kids” to assemble diaper bags filled with newborn supplies, for pregnant veterans in need. And they organized a panel discussion in Westport, with female veterans from 4 military branches.

The partner this past year was Her Time. The local organization helps women impacted by incarceration and domestic violence.

AWARE provided monthly dinners in Bridgeport. Members gave presentations on finance (Galia Gichon), parenting health (Dr. Nikki Gorman), low-cost nutrition (Lisa DesMarteau), special education (Jennifer Kanfer), writing (Jessica Bram), mindfulness (Michelle Didner), family meals (Erica Davis and Amy Saperstein) and meditation (Beth Furman).

AWARE members at a monthly meeting at Her Time. From left: April Lebowitz, Jen Epstein, Allegra Gatti Zemel, Tree Roth, Stephanie Frankel, Michele Glassman.

Other partnerships have included Mercy Learning Center, Women’s Mentoring Network, Connecticut Institute for Refugees & Immigrants, Malta House, Caroline House, Homes for the Brave, International Institute of Connecticut and the Cancer Couch Foundation.

Every year, AWARE hosts a soiree. This year’s is May 20 (6 to 8 p.m.).

Called “Our Time for Her Time,” it’s one more way to aid Hang Time — this time with funding.

Tickets ($75 each) include a whiskey tasting courtesy of Greens Farms Spirit Shop, wine and blueberry vodka from Ridgefield restaurant Brasserie Saint Germain, and lite bits from The Granola Bar.

Click here for tickets. For more information, email

Both Staples and Weston High Schools support active AWARE youth clubs too. These volunteers did arts and crafts with children at the Her Time holiday celebration.

Unsung Hero #280

Jane Ferreira is not a Westporter.

She does not serve — directly, anyway — Westport residents.

But when she steps down next month as president and CEO of Mercy Learning Center, Ferreira’s impact on our town will have been profound.

Jane Ferreira, at Mercy Learning Center.

In her 21 years of service to MLC, she transformed the lives of tens of thousands of people. The Bridgeport non-profit offers literacy and life skills training for women with low incomes

Coming from 40 different countries, they study English, math, science, health, civics, computers, and employment and life skills.

They are supported by an early childhood education program; social services including case management, mental health counseling, health and financial screenings; job and counseling advice, and enrichment opportunities.

Mercy Learning Center clients earn high school equivalency diplomas; learn job skills, and get help finding work; receive assistance applying for college, job training programs and scholarships, and prepare for US citizenship exams.

The Bridgeport building buzzes with activity. The women who study, learn and are supported there are hard-working, committed, and driven to succeed.

In a county filled with organizations doing great work, MLC stands at the top of any list.

But Ferreira’s impact extends far beyond the countless people she has helped.

Jane Ferreira

Mercy Learning Center’s success is due in part to a large corps of volunteers. Men and women teach classes, offer expertise, act as role models, provide friendships, and donate generously too.

Ferreira’s work has affected them too. They have gotten a close look, and gained important insights, about a world just a few minutes away from Westport. Their horizons have been broadened, and their own lives enriched, through the center that Ferreira has dedicated more than 2 decades of her life to.

In an email announcing her retirement, she wrote:

It has been an honor and privilege to serve the women and children of Mercy Learning Center. I treasure the relationships that I have made with so many beautiful, gifted, and unique women and their families.

It has been a tremendous experience working with so many generous donors and dedicated volunteers over the years.  Your dedication and support have been incredible and most appreciated. You have made MLC a remarkable place.

I leave with great confidence knowing that Mercy Learning Center is structurally sound, programmatically and financially, to move forward with a new leader.  Please know that I will carry the mission of Mercy Learning Center forever in my heart, to “Educate a woman… Educate a family!”  I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this critical mission and to have worked with you.

Thank you, Jane Ferreira, for your service to Mercy Learning Center. You have made Bridgeport — and Westport — better places, by far.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Send nominations to

Firing Up Westport’s New Fundraising Gala

When Westport firefighters began planning their 1st-ever fundraising gala, they did not have to look far.

Autostrada — the very cool club/classic car spot/event space — is right next to fire headquarters, on the Post Road.

The result is an exciting new event on the local calendar. The whiskey tasting on April 19 includes silent auction items far beyond the usual, plus a DJ, great food and drinks.

And it’s put on great folks, for several excellent causes.

The Westport Uniformed Firefighters Charitable Foundation includes all 64 men and women in the department. For more than a decade, they’ve hosted a Santa Run and golf tournament.

Proceeds benefit soup kitchens, scholarships, and — most recently, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission (with a donation of more than 800 winter coats).

Westport is indebted to our firefighters for keeping us safe, and protecting our lives and property.

Many of us don’t realize how invested they — even those who live far away — are in helping our community.

Now they’ve targeted another important cause for their April 19 whiskey tasting-and-more.

“Bed-shakers” are devices that are installed on beds of hearing impaired children. They warn sleeping youngsters who cannot hear smoke alarms, or see flashing lights, of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Bed-shaker smoke fire and carbon dioxide alarm system.

The Uniformed Firefighters’ goal is to provide one of the devices for every hearing impaired child in Westport. Eventually, they’d like to expand it to the elderly, and beyond our town.

Proceeds from the gala will also help the Hole in the Wall Gang, and provide cancer screening for firefighters. Carcinogens in smoke, chemicals in their uniforms and diesel fuel in trucks are all occupational hazards. One firefighter recently died of cancer; 2 others under the age of 35 have been diagnosed with it.

Sure, a whiskey tasting is a bit outside the WUFCF comfort zone.

“In the past we’ve stuck with what we know,” says president Rob Lenois. “But Gioel and Ronni” — Molinari, the owners of Autostrada — “are right next door. They’re really excited to host us. It’s been a great collaboration.”

Lenois adds, “If people haven’t been there, they’ll be amazed at the venue. They’ve got a bar, an espresso machine, and all those amazing cars.”

Westport Uniformed Firefighters Charitable Foundation president Rob Lenois. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The evening includes — in addition to whiskey provided by Greens Farms Spirit Shop, and food catered by On the Marc — a DJ, photographer and door gifts.

Plus auction items seldom seen at a fundraiser, like estate planning for 2 from attorney Joseph Maya, a half-day tattoo session with Rebel & Rose, a “King for a Day” package from Hammer & Nails men’s grooming shop, and a year of trash pickup from Malone’s Refuse.

There’s also a diamond necklace from JL Rocks, a month of services and gift basket from Moxie Salon, Guess watches, yoga and spin classes, and over a dozen restaurant gift certificates.

It’s a new, special event, at a new place, for new causes.

But one thing will be old: fire engines.

In keeping with Autostrada’s “classic vehicle” theme, the Fire Department will show off Westport’s old Engine #9, and a fully restored 1918 fire truck from Westbrook.

They’ll be parked outdoors, just a few feet from the fire station.

The whiskey will be waiting inside.

(For tickets to the WUFCF whiskey tasting, click here or use the QR code below. For more information or to donate, click here. To become a sponsor or provide an auction item, email, or call 203-341-5179.)

Senior Center Names New Director

There will never be another Sue Pfister.

But now there’s a Wendy Petty.

The Fairfield resident — and, for the past 11 years, Weston Senior Activities Center director — was announced today as the new director of the Westport Center for Senior Activities.

Pfister — who led Westport’s Senior Center for 36 years — retired December 31.

Wendy Petty

Petty led Weston’s Senior Center expansion through fundraising, capacity-building and advocacy. She established partnerships with local organizations, volunteer networks, colleagues and social services agencies, to develop innovative social and recreational opportunities for seniors.

Originally from Southern California, Petty and her husband Jim raised their children in Weston. She has a BA in counseling and human Services from Notre Dame de Namur University.

In addition to her specialty in senior services, Petty has experience in non-profit operations, team leadership, grant and program development, and budget administration.

“I am very happy to welcome Wendy to Westport’s Center for Senior Activities,” says 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker. “She brings professional expertise, operational management and local knowledge to the Human Services team and, most importantly, to the WCSA.”

Petty says, “I am very excited to join WCSA’s team and look forward to building on their success as an exemplary hub for local seniors. Together, we will continue to provide the best possible care and service to the senior community.”

In her free time Petty enjoys running, taking long walks with friends, and spending time with family. She and her husband are active in the local car enthusiast community, and enjoy weekend rallies on the back roads of Connecticut.

Westport Senior Center

“The Senior Center’s success can be attributed to a variety of factors, including a Town administration that prioritizes seniors, participants who both contribute and drive programming, and our professional staff members who facilitate connections and run the programs day in and day out,” says Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault, which oversees the Senior Center.

“Under Sue Pfister’s leadership, the WCSA’s dedicated team helped to build the center of Westport’s dreams.

“Today, we prepare for a new era of growth and prosperity for our most esteemed senior residents. I could not be more excited to welcome Wendy to the team.”

In addition to Petty’s appointment — effective February 1, 2023 — Tooker promoted Holly Betts to assistant director of the Senior Center, and Jason Wilson to program specialist, effective immediately.

Give The Gift Of Giving

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

And to give.

This year — which despite economic headwinds, was a good one for many Westporters — as we buy presents for loved ones, friends, and people whose good graces we need to keep, we should also think about helping others.

Give what you can.

(Of course, helping them can also ease our own tax burdens a few months from now.)

But who to give to?

Far be it for “06880” to say. So here is a list — off the top of my head — of some worthy local organizations. Each one has a clickable link 🙂

I know I’ve missed some. Rather than bite my head off (very un-Christmas-y), please mention them in the “Comments” section. I’ll add them to this list.

And please: Keep your suggestions local (southern Fairfield County). There are way too many very worthy national and international groups to include. Thank you!


Christine’s Critters: Rehabilitation of big birds
Connecticut Humane Society
: Westport branch
Save Our Strays: Animal rescue
PAWS: No-kill animal shelter
Rising Starr Horse Rescue: Gives at-risk horses a second chance at life
TAILS: Spaying and neutering
Westport Animal Shelter Advocates: Care, shelter and adoption of homeless dogs
Wildlife in Crisis: Preservation and emergency help

Arts and history

Artists Collective of Westport: Creativity, education, shows, forums and more
Beechwood Arts and Innovation: Exhibits, salons, talks, food — wow!
Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County: Supporting cultural organizations, artists and creative businesses
Levitt Pavilion: More than 50 nights of free entertainment
MoCA Westport
: Exhibitions, concerts, education and more
Music Theatre of Connecticut: Musical theater education for youngsters ages 4 through high school
Remarkable Theater:
Providing entertainment and employment for people with disabilities
Westport Country Playhouse: 92-year-old cultural institution
Westport Museum for History & Culture: Exhibits and education
Westport Public Art Collections: Bringing art to schools and public spaces

Community aid

Al’s Angels: Help for children and families battling diseases and hardships
Bridgeport Rescue Mission: Fighting poverty, offering help
Center for Family Justice: Provides services to fight domestic, child and sexual abuse
Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants: Service and advocacy for immigrants, refugees and survivors of human trafficking and torture
Integrated Immigrant & Refugee Services: Resettlement agency
Lifebridge Community Services: Bridgeport youth development behavioral health and family resources organization
Norwalk Hour
: Aid to families in need
United Way of Coastal Fairfield County:
Access to food, shelter, transportation and childcare
VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399: Helping veterans, servicemembers and their families
Westport Department of Human Services “We Care”
Many options, including financial help with school supplies and heating costs
Westport PAL: They do it all: college scholarships, youth sports programs, fireworks, ice rink, etc., etc., etc.
Westport Weston Family YMCA: Help in many ways


06880: This blog — now a non-profit — sponsors community-wide events. Projects include the Holiday Stroll, an educational seminar at the library, and a soon-to-be announced Westport/Marigny/Ukraine school project. “06880” also publishes this daily blog, to help create community.


Catch a Lift: Westport supports veterans through fitness programs
Circle of Friends: Teens work with children with disabilities
: Group homes and opportunities
Club 203: Provides fun, engaging activities for adults with disabilities
MyTEAM Triumph:  Road race support for children, adults and veterans
STAR Lighting the Way: Support for all ages
Sweet P Bakery: Provides jobs for adults with learning disabilities; supplies The Porch at Christie’s with delicious baked goods

Education and youth

A Better Chance of Westport: Education and support for outstanding minority boys
Achievement First: Schools provide Bridgeport families of color with a high- quality education at no cost
Adam J. Lewis Academy: High-quality experience for Bridgeport youngsters
Carver Foundation: K-12 pre- and after-school programs in Norwalk
Child Advocates of SW Connecticut: Providing advocates for abused children
Child & Family Guidance Center: Counseling and support for youth and families
Kids in Crisis: 24-hour support, including emergency housing and crisis counseling
Kidz Give Back: Children helping children
Neighborhood Studios: Arts education for Bridgeport youngsters
Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities: Helping fulfill potential; support for parents too
Staples Tuition Grants: Need-based scholarships for Staples High School students and alumni
The Susan Fund: Scholarships for young people affected by cancer


Aspetuck Land Trust: Preserving open space; maintaining 45 preserves
Connecticut Audubon Society: Protecting birds, other wildlife, and their habitats through conservation, education and advocacy
Education, wildlife exhibits, and a 62-acre sanctuary
Friends of Sherwood Island: Preserving, maintaining and enhancing our state park
Future Frogmen: Teaching students to protect the oceans
Norwalk River Valley Trail: Maintaining 30 miles of open space 
Save the Sound
: Protecting Long Island Sound
Sustainable Westport: Helping our town become Net Zero by 2050
Wakeman Town Farm: Sustainability center, with plenty of programs
Westport Farmers’ Market: Food, education, programs and more

Food and shelter

Filling in the Blanks: Providing weekend meals for children in need
Food Rescue:
Helping volunteers pick up and deliver excess food
Homes with Hope: Supportive housing, food pantry, food distribution and more
Open Doors Shelter: Aiding Norwalkers in need
Person-to-Person: Food, rent help, clothing and more

Grant-giving and foundations

100 Women Who  Care of Fairfield County: Raising funds to give them away!
Fairfield County Foundation: Philanthropy to strengthen communities
Near and Far Aid:
Fighting poverty in Fairfield County
Newman’s Own
: Okay, they’re global — but they’re headquartered in Westport!
Westport Rotary: Noontime chapter meeting of Rotary International
Westport Sunrise Rotary: 7:30 a.m. chapter meeting of Rotary International
Westport Woman’s Club: Raising funds for charitable, educational, cultural and public health services
Westport Young Woman’s League: Building community through volunteerism and social activities

Health and Safety

Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation: Funds for non-medical expenses
Domestic Violence Crisis Center:
Help for victims and families
Fairfield County House: End-of -life facility, providing hospice and palliative care in a home-like setting 
: Helping survivors create lives after cancer
Pink Aid: Financial aid and services to woman and families facing breast cancer
Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service
: Providing staffing, supplies and apparatus to keep the town safe


Triangle Community Center: Providing programs and resources for the LGBTQ+ community
Westport Pride: Our town’s own LGBTQ+ organization — sponsors of the June festival, and much more


Mercy Learning Center: Life skills training for low-income women
Read to Grow: Promoting children’s literacy from birth, supporting parents as babies’ first teachers
Westport Book Sales: Providing employment for people with disabilities — and offering books, while providing funds for the Westport Library
Westport Library: They do it all!

Mental health and addiction 

Laurel House: Mental health and recovery resources
Positive Directions: Treatment and prevention for addictive behaviors


Jewish Senior Services: Skilled nursing and other care
Friends of the Westport Center for Senior Activities: Support for the Senior Center (below)
Westport Center for Senior Activities
: Senior Center provides programs, meals and more

Women and girls

AWARE: “Assisting Women through Action, Resources and Education”
Dress for Success Mid-Fairfield County: Empowering women by providing professional clothes and other support
LiveGirl: Leadership development and mentoring for females, grades 5 through college
Malta House: Shelter and programs for young pregnant women and their babies

Flora Levin’s Eye On Guatemala

Flora Levin is a Westport plastic surgeon. She just returned from Guatemala, where she volunteered with the International Esperanza Project, a medical aid organization. Her  9th-grade daughter went too, working alongside surgeons and nurses, in the hospital. 

“It was an incredible experience,” Flora says. She writes:

I got involved with this medical/surgical mission through the wife of a friend/ and colleague.

I wanted to go for years, but COVID happened. This was the first opportunity to go since 2019.

I worked at a hospital run by nuns in Patzun, about 2 hours outside Guatemala City. It is truly a 3rd world place, where you feel that you are going back 2 centuries.

Dr. Flora Levin’s daughter, with a young Guatemalan patient.

There are no modern amenities. People cook on open fires, sleep 5 in one bed, and work in the fields after completing primary education. There is no preventative medicine, or what we consider routine care. Most families have 7-10 children.

When we first arrived, the most incredible sight was children and adults waiting in long lines outside the hospital, from 6 in the morning, to be seen. They waited patiently for hours, appreciative when their turn came, even if it was 8 hours later.

I was there with 3 other oculoplastic surgeons, one from Dallas and one from Paraguay. There were also 2 fellows (in training to be oculoplastic surgeons). There were 2 general surgeons, 1 pediatric surgeon and 1 pediatric ophthalmologist, in addition to an anesthesiologist, nurses and volunteers. My 14-year-old daughter Miri came as a volunteer.

Dr. Flora Levin (4th from left), and her team.

We worked for 5 days. On the first day we evaluated patients and scheduled them for surgery. The rest of the days we operated.

The conditions were not optimal: fewer operating rooms than surgeons, leaving procedures that did not require general anesthesia to be done in a regular room without ideal surgical lighting or air conditioning, limited supplies, and old equipment. Despite those challenges we did 55 oculoplastic procedures in both kids and adults and, with other specialties, operated on 123 patients.

Most people who came on this mission had never met before. It was incredible to see how everyone came together, putting personal needs (and egos) aside for a common goal. We shared all meals, late hours at the hospital, and left Guatemala as close friends. Without that camaraderie, kindness and humor, the challenging situation would have been impossible.

My daughter Miri worked tirelessly alongside the adults. She helped in the pre-operative area, playing with the kids waiting for surgery. She helped the nurses, got to watch hernia and gallbladder surgeries, and got to scrub in with me on a case and watch me operate. That was incredibly special.

Dr. Flora Levin and her daughter, at work.

It was an incredible week, Being able to help so many people and touch so many lives is a feeling that cannot be put into words. I plan to return next year, hopefully with supplies that I know will be valuable to provide even better care to those that need it.

I also have a new appreciation for all the modern-day amenities we take for granted!

(For more information on The International Esperanza Project, click here.)

(“06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.” To support stories like this, please click here.)


Club 203 Fills Needed Social Niche

When an 18-year-old boy asks his mother to please help find a girlfriend, she’s  honored by his trust.

For the parent of someone with a disability, the request is especially poignant — and difficult.

“The journey for young adults is challenging,” notes Stacie Curran. “It presents a painful lack of opportunity in our community.”

Curran — a longtime advocate for people with disabilities — ticks off questions:

  • Where and how do adults with disabilities meet like-minded people, as friends, potential housemates, partners or lovers?
  • Where can these adults find safe, fun, social opportunities for enjoyment of life?
  • What about social media sites and apps? Can they be trusted?

Vulnerability and risk of exploitation often outweigh the dignity of risk enjoyed by typical adults, Curran says. Roadblocks fuel further isolation and loneliness.

She, Sharuna Mahesh and Kathryn Turley-Sonne realized there was a need to fill. Working with Westport’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and the Department of Human Services, they created Club 203: the town’s newest social opportunity.

Club 203 founders (from left): Sharuna Mahesh, Stacie Curran, Kathryn Turley-Sonne at Town Hall. Westport officials enthusiastically back Club 203.

“Neurodiverse adults need quality social interactions as they transition from structured education to more independent living,” Turley-Sonne explains.

She was taking her daughter to a vibrant social program in Manhattan. Turley-Sonne is excited to have a local, volunteer organization that offers “critical tools for interaction, relationship-building, arts, culture, healthy living, personal growth and community connections.”

A variety of organizations quickly embraced the concept. Club 203’s kickoff event is a dance party — complete with refreshments, gifts, giveaways and more — at MoCA Westport (September 7, 7:30 to 9 p.m.).

The monthly calendar is already filled, through June. Events, dates and sites include:

  • Halloween party (October 19, Remarkable Theater)
  • Gaming and pizza night (November 19, Toquet Hall)
  • Holiday celebration (December 13, Wakeman Town Farm)
  • Open gym (January 7, Westport Weston Family YMCA)
  • Valentine’s gathering (February 2, Westport Country Playhouse)
  • St. Patrick’s Day (March 16, The Porch @ Christie’s)
  • Spring ahead with fitness (April 20, TAP Strength)
  • Outing (May 18, Westport Parks & Recreation)
  • Year-end event (June 15, Westport Library)

“Thank you, Westport, for being a town that responds to the needs of all residents,” Curran says.

All adults with disabilities are invited to “join the club.” Click here for more information on Club 203.

(“06880” is a non-profit, reader-supported blog. To make a donation, please click here.)

Lobsterfest Funds Go Far: Rotarians Visit Africa Projects

You know all those great, fun events that Westport Rotary Club sponsors, like  Lobsterfest?

You know how Rotarians say they’re fundraisers for worthwhile projects?

Well, they are.

Eight Westport Rotarians joined 17 others — including Rotarians from around the US — on an East African trip last month.

The purpose was to visit remote sites of development and humanitarian Rotary grant projects, and meet Rotarians in Kenya and Uganda. Ratrians also pitched in with hands-on work.

Rick and Totney Benson, with Rotary officials in Kampala, Uganda.

Projects included 3 rural schools – two for water and sanitation projects, one for a new community resource center — plus a Masai village medical clinic, and a hospital and nursing school on the Uganda/ Congo border with 4 new ICU units.

They also stopped at national parks to enjoy wildlife in savanna and riverine environments, trekked with habituated gorillas, and enjoyed fellowship with 5 Rotary clubs.

The Africa trip was planned by Rick Benson, a 33-year Westport Rotarian. He has led or participated in many international humanitarian expeditions to Africa, India and Central America, and enjoys connections with Rotarians and clubs worldwide.

The trip combined passion for humanitarian service, intricate logistics and enormous energy. Some Rotarians called it life-changing.

During 3 weeks, the group covered more than 2,500 miles of the Rift Valley by small plane, and off-road heavy duty safari vehicles. Traveling from capital cities to remote areas of barren highlands, lush fertile valleys along the Nile and lakes like Victoria, and in sight of Mount Kenya, they stayed in mountaintop lodges, safari hotels and local guest houses.

An evening walk near Lake Naivasha, Kenya.

They assessed progress made, and future needs. For example, the pump associated with a deep bore hole well and storage tank that had been installed to serve over 2,500 people in 5 rural villages and schools recently broke. A new pump was needed. A quick response got water flowing again.

Another example was the Nambale Magnet School. It was founded by a Kenyan pastor who graduated from Yale Divinity School, to serve children orphaned during the AIDS epidemic.

Modeled on a magnet school in New Haven, it has developed since 2009 into an outstanding campus offering a home, safety and high-quality education for 400 students ages 3 to 13.

Schoolchildren in Kenya. (Photo/Gillian Anderson)

Rotary sponsorship has provided a deep water well, pump, water storage and distribution facilities, a gray water recycling system, a bio digestor to process animal and human waste into fertilizer, and a greenhouse and irrigation system. Still needed: whiteboards, computers, and an expanded network for classrooms.

In the remote forested area of southwest Uganda that is home to endangered mountain gorillas, the Bwindi Community Hospital was established in 2003 by American Rotarian doctor and missionary and his wife. They saw a need to help indigenous people who were displaced when the Impenetrable Forest Gorilla Reserve was established.

Westport Rotarians have led a project through which dozens of benefactors purchase and ship nearly $1 million worth of ICU and radiology equipment. Two shipping containers will be delivered and installed in coming months.

Rotarians wore COVID masks — to protect gorillas. 

Westport Rotary last year distributed more than $185,000 to 36 local and regional programs. 25% was invested in international humanitarian projects, like those recently visited.

They’re always looking to raise more funds, for more help. Westport Rotary is gearing up now to beat last year’s fundraising record at LobsterFest. It’s September 17, at Compo Beach. Click here for tickets, and details on the lobster, steak, live music and children’s activities.

(“06880” is fully funded by readers. Please click here to help.)

One more natural wonder in Africa. (Photo/Lyla Steenbergen)

Wheel It Forward!

I can’t remember what my sisters and I did with my mother’s wheelchair, after she died. Or any of the other medical gear, like the walker, cane and bathtub seat she used in the final months of her life.

I do know we did not donate it to Wheel It Forward. We did not know about that fantastic non-profit then.

Too many people still don’t.

That’s a shame. The average piece of “durable medical equipment” — those items mentioned above, along with hospital beds, knee scooters, toilet rests, crutches and more — is used for only 4 months.

Sometimes it’s donated to an organization, along with everything else in a cleaned-out home.

Sometimes it’s stuffed in a closet. Sometimes it’s discarded.

Someone else could always use it.

Elliot Sloyer is on a mission to connect that equipment with people who need it. Retired now after co-founding and managing 2 hedge funds and an internet start-up — plus writing 2 children’s books, and biking across the US with son, he’s one of Wheel It Forward’s 100 volunteers.

The Stamford-based group had its genesis when Sloyer chaperoned an 8th grade trip to Israel, and visited Yad Sarah. Run by 6,000 people, it’s a “lending library” of durable medical equipment for all Israelis: rich and poor, young and old, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

When someone needs something, they get it by the end of the day. When they’re done, they return it. What could be simpler?

Elliot Sloyer

Sloyer loved the idea. But back in the US, he found nothing similar here. Some groups were trying to collect and lend “DME,” but it was haphazard at best. Others — like the Westport Woman’s Club — had to curtail their programs, due to insurance and liability concerns.

He used his entrepreneurial background to start Wheel It Forward. It’s become one of the most important — yet still little-known — organizations in Fairfield County.

“This changes lives immediately,” Sloyer says. With a wheelchair or walker, people become mobile. Their quality of life improves instantly.

That’s not the only benefit. Sloyer notes the relief felt by people who desperately need, but can’t afford, medical equipment. (Medicare does not pay for shower safety items, for example. But a $50 seat can prevent someone from falling — and incurring costs for an ambulance ride, surgery, rehab and everything else.)

“The return on investment is huge,” he notes.

And Wheel It Forward is green. Durable medical equipment stays out of landfill. Not to mention saving all the mining, packaging and shipping that goes along with manufacturing more items.

The group’s “lending library” of DME is open to everyone. But unlike a library of books — where 30% of the inventory is often out — 70% of Wheel It Forward’s 2,500-item inventory is usually in use.

Some of that use comes thanks to the Westport Senior Center. Director Sue Pfister and her staff make frequent referrals.

She’s made just as many calls to them for people with items they (or their relatives) no longer need. Wheel It Forward does pickup and delivery, on request.

Wheel It Forward thrives because it’s needed, because people volunteer, and through financial contributions. To learn more — including how to borrow or donate equipment, volunteer or give funds — click here.

Positive Directions: 50 Years Of Substance Abuse Service

In 1971, a new organization — the Alcoholism Council of Mid-Fairfield County — was created to address an old yet persistent problem. It served as an important information and referral center.

Over the years, the Council broadened its scope to include other substances, and added services like counseling and recovery.

Its name changed too: first to the Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Council, then Positive Directions: The Center for Prevention and Recovery. Today it’s Positive Directions: The Center for Prevention and Counseling.

Though it has impacted countless lives during its half century in Westport, Positive Directions is still one of the most overlooked health services in town.

“People don’t know about us. Or they have misconceptions,” says executive director Vanessa Wilson.

“We’re not just about treating substance abuse. Preventing substance misuse and promoting mental well-being among youth is a large focus of our work.”

The non-profit partners with groups like Westport’s Department of Human Services, the Westport Prevention Coalition and Norwalk Partnership to gather data, coordinate meetings and provide training.

Positive Directions runs a psychiatric and substance abuse outpatient clinic for adults and adolescents. led by 9 clinicians and 2 medication prescribers, as well as one-to-one peer support groups.

Positive Directions staff.

The pandemic aggravated what was already a community-wide problem.  A treatment fund was created during COVID for clients with financial hardship, In addition, free virtual recovery group meetings run weekly. A free support group for teachers struggling with anxiety due to COVID was added last year.

As Positive Directions has evolved, so has its outreach. A social media campaign spreads awareness of its mission and message in ways unfathomable in 1971 — or even 2001.

For example, is an online mental health and substance abuse resource, created by and for area young people. It’s a forum for connection and support, via social media.

Positive Directions continues to evolve. A recent focus is on problem gambling.

Much has changed since Positive Directions began, half a century ago. But much has not.

Westporters and our neighbors continue to struggle with alcohol and substance abuse. More than ever, we need resources to help with addiction and recovery.

We need a positive direction. And — by whatever name it’s called — Positive Directions continues to lead the way.

(For more information about Positive Directions, click here.)