Category Archives: Organizations

Step Up To Help Volunteers

It started small.

Staples High School junior Parker Cuthbertson and sophomore Eddie Kiev organized a club: Step Up Volunteering. The goal was to match students with local organizations that needed help.

Parker Cuthbertson and Eddie Kiev.

Be careful what you wish for.

Almost 120 Staples students stepped up to volunteer. Homes With Hope, the Westport Library, Malta House, the Senior Center, Earthplace and the Westport Weston Family Y Special Olympics programs all asked for help.

But there are more willing volunteers than those organizations can handle.

So Parker and Eddie have put out a call. If you know of a local group that could benefit from ready, willing and able high school volunteers: please ask.

The Westport Police Department has offered to serve as the community go-between. Please contact administrative assistant Janet Suchsland (jsuchsland@westportct.gov) if you’d like Step Up Volunteering to consider helping your organization.

Selectmen Candidates’ Debate On Thursday

If you were underwhelmed by the presidential debates of 2016, your long national nightmare is over.

On Thursday (October 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1:3o p.m., Westport Library), the 4 candidates for 1st selectmen face off. It should be informative — and substantive.

Republican Jim Marpe, Democrat Melissa Kane and independents John Suggs and Timothy J. Elgin will discuss business-related issues. There’s a good reason: The debate is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

Moderator Jay Sandak will lead the discussion in areas like the town’s business environment, jobs and taxes.

The event begins with a chance to meet the candidates. At that time, attendees can submit written questions for the debate.

“06880 + 50”: Mike Greenberg’s Vision

The Westport Historical Society‘s new “06880 + 50” exhibit — visions of Westport in 2067 — is fun. It’s thought-provoking. It’s clever.

Over a dozen local architects contributed ideas. From a reimagined river to out-of-the-way parking for driverless cars, it’s more focused on what’s really possible than an idealistic Jetsons world.

Many of the concepts deal with downtown. One firm took a different approach.

Michael Greenberg & Associates built on their founder’s lifelong association with Westport. The Staples High School graduate grew up in a town filled with artists and other creative people. He believes Westport remains a community that embraces “progressive change,” committed to taking care of the planet both environmentally and socially.

A map of Westport — circa 2067 — shows only arterial roads (white) remaining. The rest of the town is broken up into relatively self-sufficient “quadrants.” Click on or hover over to enlarge.

He’s seen builders embrace the “bigger is better” model, but believes it will end. Single family homes on 1- and 2-acre lots, with driveways, pools and manicured lawns, are environmentally wasteful, Greenberg says.

That lifestyle has created isolation, and a disconnect not only to nature but to each other, he adds.

So Greenberg — who reveres barn and antique materials — envisions a Westport that goes back to its roots. He imagines smaller homes, surrounded by open space, community farms, and places to care for the elderly and young.

These “new villages” will develop, he thinks, as millennials (and the generations that follow) realize the importance of downsizing and living responsibly.

A rough sketch of one quadrant. It is bounded by Roseville Road, Long Lots Road, North Avenue and Cross Highway. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

In the WHS exhibit, Greenberg explains, “the smart and concerned folks of Westport” will establish a new “Farm Zone.” New homes — on the edges of main roads — will surround working farms.

Everyone will pitch in to help traditional farmers. Produce would be available at indoor/outdoor markets. Greenhouses would further support independent sustainability.

Some historic homes will be repurposed to house farm workers and town employees. Others will be retrofitted for day care, crafts and lecture halls.

Main roads will be kept, but “infill” roads — all our lanes and cul-de-sacs — will be eliminated. Pedestrian and bike trails will take their place.

Housing will be clustered in new “quadrants.” Higher density of units and elimination of secondary roads will dramatically increase open space, used for recreation, biking and hiking trails and sculpture gardens. Kids could play — and get dirty.

New homes — modular, for ease of construction and minimization of waste — will emphasize efficiency and quality, not size.

Mike Greenberg’s houses, as shown in the Westport Historical Society’s “06880 + 50” exhibit.

Power comes from solar, wind, geothermal “and sources not yet invented.”

Greenberg created a sample “quadrant,” now mounted on the WHS exhibit wall. It’s bounded by the post Road, Long Lots, North Avenue, Roseville Road and Cross Highway.

“As a citizen of the planet, I am excited that the way we live now will not be the way we live in the future,” says Greenberg.

“The people of Westport will be leaders in making this concept into a reality.

“Now is the time to meld the past with our future. We have to move away from this wasteful, unhealthy present. We have to move as if our lives depend on it — because they do.”

A more detailed view of the Roseville/Long Lots/North Avenue/Cross Highway quadrant (above). Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Selectman Candidates Truly Serve The Public

Political candidates often talk about “serving the public.”

This Friday (October 13, 6 p.m., Design Within Reach), all 4 first selectman candidates — and the 2 who are running for 2nd selectman — will absolutely do that.

They’re celebrity bartenders at the Westport Historical Society‘s “Tomorrow’s History Gala.”

The event — which coincides with the current “06880 + 50: Visions of Westport in Fifty Years” exhibit — includes our current and (possibly) future leaders serving past, present and future-style cocktails.

The old-time drink: an Old Fashioned (naturally).

The present drink: draft beer from Veracious Brewing Company.

The future drink: the Miggs. It’s blue and it glows — and is named for one of the WHS’ favorite volunteers, Miggs Burroughs.

Also on tap: a Prosecco bar (including the very rare 130th anniversary Cuvee), live music, an auction and (of course) fortune telling.

In addition to the political celebrities, other famous names will be at the gala: Melissa Joan Hart and Cynthia Gibbs, for example. Photographer Larry Silver is the guest of honor. Retiring executive director Sue Gold will be feted too.

But they won’t be serving drinks.

Only the candidates will “mix” politics, history and fun.

(For ticket information, click here.)

Voter Fraud In Westport

Connecticut was one of 21 states targeted by Russian hackers during last year’s presidential campaign.

The Secretary of the State’s “perimeter defense” prevented interference. But recent testimony on Capitol Hill raises serious concerns about what will happen during the 2018 vote.

On Wednesday, October 11 (Unitarian Church, 7 p.m.), Westporters worried about voter fraud — and the future of our election system — can hear directly from the Secretary of the State.

And question her directly.

Denise Merrill will address a meeting of Indivisible Connecticut District 4. (Click here to register for the meeting, and to submit questions in advance.)

She’ll talk about Russia’s attempts to hack into Connecticut’s online voter registration system, the Trump administration’s Koback Commission on voter fraud, and efforts to bring early voting options to Connecticut. Admission is free.

Trick Or Treat With Teal Pumpkin Project

You can tell Halloween is coming.  CVS, Walgreens, Party Harty and pop-ups are chock full of ghosts and skeletons — plus Kit Kats, Hershey bars and other fine foods, most of them the size of small planets.

It’s a great time to be a kid.

Unless you’re allergic.

When Blake Hofmeister was 3 1/2, he ate an M&M. In a delayed reaction he broke out in hives, and could barely breathe. Tests showed he was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

His mom, Lisa, learned to scrutinize food labels. Now a 1st grader at Kings Highway Elementary School, his life — and his family’s — has never been the same.

The Hofmeister family.

A year ago Lisa heard about FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). The non-profit works to improve the quality of life of people with food allergies.

Last month, she helped organize a charity walk/fun day at Sherwood Island. The event drew hundreds, and raised over $150,000.

Now — as Halloween nears — Lisa is focused on her next effort: the Teal Pumpkin Project.

The national initiative promotes the inclusion of all trick-or-treaters in a holiday that excludes some.

Participation is simple. Parents are encouraged to buy inexpensive toys, rather than candy. They place a teal pumpkin or sign from FARE outside the home, indicating there are non-food treats inside.

“Parents are surprised how easy this is,” Lisa says.

Blake (Chewy) and Paisley (Minnie Mouse) Hofmeister enjoy Halloween last year.

Kings Highway has gotten on board. A “Pumpkin Palooza” fundraiser the Friday before Halloween includes magicians, music and other non-candy fun.

“Halloween used to be my favorite holiday,” says Lisa. “I loved the costumes, the candy, everything about it. Now I’m so nervous.”

She loves welcoming trick-or-treaters to her Old Hill neighborhood home. Last year, participating for the first time in the Teal Pumpkin Project, she was excited that many children — even those without food allergies — chose toys over candy.

“I want Blake to enjoy Halloween, like other kids,” she says. “I don’t want him to feel like an outsider.”

FARE makes it easy to take part. The website provides links to resources, including flyers, yard signs, ideas for non-food treats, and a trick-or-treat bag.

The Teal Pumpkin Project is not the food police. Giving candy is still okay.

But for kids with food allergies — as well as celiac disease and other issues — it can be a life-saver.

Literally.

Nick Massoud’s Spizzwinks Circle The Globe — And Find Westport

There are nearly 20 a cappella groups at Yale University.

With his strong musical background at Staples High School, Nick Massoud could have auditioned for any. But he was drawn to the Spizzwinks.

The group offered something unique: During each member’s 3 years, they tour all 6 inhabited continents. And they perform in each member’s hometown.

Nick Massoud

Music was always part of Massoud’s life. He played in Betsy Tucker’s Long Lots steel band. He sang in musicals at Bedford Middle School, and with Staples Players.

Orphenians — the high school’s elite singing group — became his family.

Two years ago, director Luke Rosenberg’s group was invited to San Francisco. They sang at Chanticleer’s National Choral Festival. As they drove around the city and out to the redwood forest, they kept singing.

Massoud — who was also involved in Wreckers InTune, the debate team and JSA, and served as president of Top Hat Tutors — realized he could not give up music in college.

Spizzwinks are no part-time commitment. Last year they performed 97 concerts, at schools, nursing homes, churches and clubs. The non-profit choir is entirely student run. Members plan international tours, raise money, and handle logistics.

The Spizzwinks sing for Joe Biden and John Kerry. Nick Massoud is in the center — wearing a blue Yale tie.

“I saw an opportunity to use a lot of the skills I picked up running Top Hat, in a musical setting to facilitate 2 things I love: traveling, and singing with friends,” Massoud says.

Now, as a junior majoring in global affairs — with a concentration in international development — he is the group’s business manager.

He’s performed with them in China, Europe, New Zealand, Indonesia, Iowa, Hawaii and Alaska. They’ve sung for Joe Biden, John Kerry, the Italian prime minister, China’s vice premier, Lady Gaga and Melania Trump.

The Spizzwinks and Lady Gaga snap a selfie.

This year they’re scheduled for Morocco, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

This month, he brings the Spizzwinks to Westport.

Sure, every member hosts the group at some point. But Massoud thinks the concerts in his home town are special.

“Having met so many people in college, I realize that growing up in a place that supports the arts so significantly is rare,” he says.

“Thinking back on it, it’s crazy that we could sell out the Staples auditorium 7 or 8 times for shows. It says a lot about our community. I’m excited to show my closest college friends the support Westport gives to the arts.”

The Westport schedule is packed. There’s an evening concert at Assumption Church (details in the poster above), a performance and master class at Bedford, and a session with the Staples choir.

That does not allow much time for Massoud to show off Westport. However, he will make sure to take the Spizzwinks to Sherwood Diner.

That’s where he and his fellow Players headed after every show — often in full makeup.

Massoud has traveled the globe with his group. However, he says, “bringing the Spizzwinks to my home, and showing them my community, feels like the most important thing I’ve done with them.

“I can’t wait to introduce them to some of my friends, and to the amazing, inspiring arts teachers in our schools.”

(Click here for the Spizzwinks’ new album, “Hometown.” Click below for their version of “Cry Me a River” — featuring Nick Massoud.)

 

Unsung Hero #18

In 2004, Susan Gold joined the Westport Historical Society as education director. She became executive director in 2007.

After 10 years, she’s leaving that post. Her legacy is an organization that does great work, has made an important mark in town — and is filled with her friends and admirers.

History and non-profits are just 2 of Gold’s passions.

The Ithaca College grad (with master’s from Cornell University) is an avid swimmer, hiker and kayaker. (She’s probably the reason the WHS sponsored a kayak tour out to Cockenoe Island.)

Gold has run 14 marathons — including a personal best of 3:09 in the prestigious New York event. She’s won numerous age group races, at a variety of distances.

WHS board member Leigh Gage calls Gold “a bundle of energy. She gets up at 5 a.m.  to run and do qigong. Many evenings after work, she teaches yoga or qigong.” Many of her classes are free — she asks only for donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Susan Gold, in a typical pose.

A Rotarian, Sue volunteers often at events like Lobsterfest. (That figures: She’s a pescatarian — and an avid Westport Farmers’ Market greens shopper. She usually returns to the office with gifts for the staff.)

Historical Society directors will miss the annual January luncheon. Gold cooked a vegan meal for the entire board. It was one more way to give back.

Past president Joan Andrews calls Gold “dedicated, resourceful, and a tireless promoter of all things related to WHS — especially children’s programs, fundraising events and exhibits. She has served us as our gracious and smiling face to the community, and will be sorely missed by us all.”

Former president Ed Gerber adds, “Very effectively, Susan told me of the work of the WHS, and how she thought I could help based on my enthusiasm for history and historic preservation. She reeled me in, and I thank her for it!”

Gold’s daughter Rachel has 2 children. They live in Washington. She looks forward in retirement to visiting them often.

She has another daughter, Hannah — and her son David lives in Central America. She’ll visit both too.

Susan Gold may soon be WHS “history.” But — like the most important parts of who we are — she will be well remembered.

Mercy!

Twenty years ago, when Tammy Barry moved from New Jersey to Westport, her neighbor — a nun — suggested she get involved with Mercy Learning Center.

The Bridgeport organization — providing literacy and life skills training to low-income women — was run by nuns.

Today it’s a secular non-profit. It serves — and changes the lives — of hundreds of women a year.

Tammy Barry

Barry has been intimately involved since she moved here. She now runs Mercy’s mother/child reading program. After each session — which includes singing and parent education — everyone goes home with a new copy of the book they’ve read.

With her 3 children grown and graduated from Staples High School, Berry also tutors English and life skills.

Barry calls her group — 5 native Spanish and Portuguese speakers, in their 30s through 50s — “incredible. I love them. They have such energy, and are so eager to learn. They ask great questions, and help each other out so well.”

A 53-year-old gets up at 5:30 every morning, to get her kids ready for school. She works 5 days a week — then goes to Mercy, working on her GED.

“I’d be exhausted,” Barry says. “But she’s so happy to be there. She’s a role model for all of us.”

All of the women, Barry says, are “driven, grateful, and always smiling.”

Tammy Barry (center), and her hard-working but always-smiling students.

Mercy Learning Center is wonderful. It fills a gaping need, just a few miles from Westport.

But with over 100 women on the waiting list, it needs more volunteers.

“You don’t need to be a teacher,” Barry explains. “The curriculum tells you exactly what to do. You don’t have to speak a 2nd language, either.”

Tutors come from all over Fairfield County. They’re all ages — from retirees to young people who leave work early, or go in late.

They teach English, math, science, civics, technology and computer skills. They help prepare their students for high school equivalency and US citizenship exams, and for college and careers.

Tutor coordinators and a curriculum manager help volunteers who have questions or concerns.

Twenty years after she started volunteering at Mercy Learning Center, Tammy Barry is more committed than ever.

Now she wants you to commit to Mercy too.

(For more information or to volunteer, contact Lynn Gabriel or Erica Hoffman: 203-334-6699; lynn.gabriel@mercylearningcenter.org; erica.hoffman@mercylearningcenter.org)

Green Marine

Falls seems like it’s finally here.

Last week though, temperatures soared into the 90s. And Staples High School students Abi Genser and Michael Lederer dropped in on downtown businesses whose wide-open doors spewed air conditioning onto the (large empty) sidewalks.

Excuses ranged from “the head office says it increases business” to “I’m not the owner. I don’t make those decisions.”

Abi and Michael were not impressed. They’re members of Westport’s new Earth Guardians group. Along with the Westport Green Task Force, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association, they encourage businesses to keep doors closed when the air conditioning — or heat — is on.

Of all the stores they visited — accompanied by Earth Guardians founder Carla Paiva and Green Task Force member Pippa Bell Ader — only one had its door closed.

Kudos to Marine Layer!

To be honest, I’d never heard of this store before Pippa emailed me.

But their closed door will make me more — not less — interested in checking it out.