Category Archives: Organizations

Bus Shelters Get Boost

Maybe you’ve seen them, and thought about them.

Maybe you’ve seen them, but never given them another thought.

“They” are the men and women who work in Westport, live elsewhere, and rely on Coastal Link buses to travel back and forth.

They wait, after hours of work, by the side of the road.

They stand in the heat of summer, in rain and sleet. They stand as cars race past, sometimes spraying water from puddles. When snows piles on the sidewalk, they stand in the road.

Our lack of concern, care and protection for bus riders is a townwide embarrassment.

Waiting for the bus. (Photos courtesy of Planning & Zoning Commission Bus Shelter Working Group

In May of 2009 — 2 months after launching “06880” — I wrote about this topic. Twelve years later, nothing has changed.

Finally, it might.

Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission’s Economic Growth Subcommittee heard a presentation about the need for covered bus shelters.

3rd Selectman Melissa Kane — representing the Bus Shelter Working Group — addressed the need. They’ve worked for months with TEAM Westport, town officials and other stakeholders.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey says:

Bus shelter support is a portal into the issue of who belongs in Westport. That is an issue upon which TEAM Westport is squarely focused. Citizens, workers and visitors use bus transportation, and  deserve protection from the elements when waiting for a bus.

Addressing this issue not only enhances the experiences of those who live, work and visit Westport, but sends a clear signal that all three truly “belong” here.

The working group has drafted language for a P&Z text amendment. They’ve reached out to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which controls US 1 (the Post Road). State legislators Will Haskell, Jonathan Steinberg, Tony Hwang and Stephanie Thomas are all on board.

So are Westport officials, including 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Public Works director Pete Ratkiewich.

Funds would come primarily from the state, and private groups. Some town money has already been earmarked.

Covered bus shelters would provide safety and shelter. They’d include information on routes and schedules.

They’d also be visible. That, in turn, would make bus riders — the men and women who work to make Westport work — more visible too.

There are not many ideas for improvements that should get 100% support, from 100% of the town.

This is one of them.

Special Needs Housing Planned For Riverside Avenue

One of the Westport’s greatest needs — supportive housing for people with special needs — is moving through the regulatory pipeline.

136 Riverside Avenue is a 12-room 1880 Colonial Victorian just north of Saugatuck Elementary School. Owned by the town, it’s used now by the Board of Education.

A few years ago it was considered for special needs housing. That opportunity has come around again.

Rick Redniss — principal at Redniss & Mead, a surveying, civil engineering and planning firm — has been exploring possibilities for “off-site affordable housing” for developments like 41 Richmondville Avenue and The Residence at Westport for several years.

That’s the process by which approval is granted for new market-rate housing at one location. In exchange, builders create affordable housing units elsewhere in town.

136 Riverside Avenue.

Redniss has met with parents of special needs individuals and Westport’s Commission on People with Disabilities to determine the best design. Based in part on a Darien model, he realized that if individual units include a private bath, kitchenette (to help with independent living) and deed-restricted lease, they count toward the town’s moratorium points (granted for showing that a municipality is actively building affordable housing).

The current plan would convert 136 Riverside to 5 apartments. Four would be for people with special needs; one would be rented to a staff member, who also would qualify under regulations for affordable housing.

Abilis — the 70-year-old nonprofit serving over 800 people with special needs — sees this as an excellent opportunity. They’ve been collaborating with the 41 Richmondville Avenue developers to make this a reality. Redniss has met with neighbors, and continues to address concerns.

The proposal — which includes remodeling that respects the original architecture, and enhanced landscaping — is going through the 8-24 (municipal improvement) and special permitting process. It’s on the agenda for the Architectural Review Board’s March 23 meeting.

If approved, 136 Riverside heads to the Planning & Zoning Commission, Board of Finance and RTM, for lease oversight.

Roundup: Medicine, March Madness …

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Amy Crane posted on a local Facebook group:

“I am the mother of a seventh grader at Coleytown Middle School. Unfortunately I have developed a secondary cancer as a result of my original treatment, and will need a bone marrow transplant. If you are willing and able please register as a donor (click here). Most of the time it’s just like donating blood and not painful at all. Bonus if you are 18-44!”

The more matches, the more chances someone like Amy can be helped. (Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

You can celebrate with Charlie Heath. The Staples High School Class of 1987 graduate  was in the 1994 horror classic “Leprechaun 2.” It runs all day — with the other “Leprechaun” films — on the Syfy network. (Hat tip: Rich Stein)

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March Madness begins soon. And what better way to dive in than with FastBreak.

The digital show — which covers the NCAA basketball tournament in a variety of platforms, with wall-to-wall, fast-paced coverage — is hosted by Westporter Dave Briggs.

It’s a perfect role for the former NBC Sports, Fox News and CNN star.

He’s joined by Kentucky basketball legends Rex Chapman and Tony Delk for every game in the first 2 rounds this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

You can watch on the NCAA website, or the March Madness Live app.

Dave Briggs (left) and friends.

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Registration for Westport Parks & Recreation spring and summer programs begins online on March 22 (9 a.m.). Click here for all offerings, including sports, Camp Compo and RECing Crew. Click here to register.

The Parks & Rec office remains closed to the public. Staff is available via email (recreation@westportct.gov), phone (203-341-5152 weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and mail (260 Compo Road South, Westport, CT 06880).

For registration, check your online account tnow. Log in, then click “Manage Family Members” on the bottom right. To view more details, click the name of a specific family member. Make any changes, then hit “save.” For address changes, email recreation@westportct.gov.

If you cannot log into your online account, do not create another profile. Email recreation@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-5152.

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And finally … “06880” (or should I say 0’6880) wishes all readers — Irish or (unfortunately) not — a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Remembering Jeri Skinner

Jeri Skinner — who in various careers in the arts, hospitality and as a founder of Builders Beyond Borders impacted and influenced countless Westporters — died peacefully on March 6, of congestive heart failure.  She was 82 years old.

She was born in 1938 in Sioux City, Iowa. After high school her family moved to California, where Jeri worked as a secretary for Lockheed. She met her future husband, John Skinner, at the Officers’ Club at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale.

They were married in 1959. Their son Christian was born on February 9, 1960. Craig followed exactly two years later, on February 9, 1962.

Jeri and her family moved to Westport in 1969. She lived there for over 45 years. Jeri found great joy as a public relations specialist for the Levitt Pavilion, then as public relations director for the Darien Dinner Theater.

She made lifelong friends through her career in the theater, and often invited actors to stay at her home during their run.

Jeri loved playing hostess and planning gatherings. She started her own event business, Fête Accompli, in 1988. She planned upscale events for Fendi, the Isle of Man, Harvard, and many more.

Jeri Skinner

As the wife of a naval officer and international commercial pilot, Jeri loved traveling the world. She enjoyed experiencing different cultures, and sought out unique gifts for family and friends.

Following their retirement, Jeri and John became leaders for Kingdom Builders at Greens Farms Congregational Church. This laid the foundation for not-for-profit Builders Beyond Borders, to build and repair homes, clinics, daycare centers and more for the less fortunate.

Jeri and her family assembled groups of teens. They traveled to Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Honduras, instilling values of generosity, service, and goodwill.

Jeri was also proud to serve as historian for the Southport Congregational Church. She and John traveled to Boston to have the pulpit Bible restored. She also commissioned the restoration of the 115-year-old stained glass windows in the church. She found the studio in New Jersey that made the original windows to complete the work.

Jeri and John loved Charleston, South Carolina, and often spoke about moving there. Jeri moved to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina last September. She quickly made friends. She loved sitting on her balcony, and often boasted she had the best apartment there.

Jeri was often described as candid and spunky, attributes she wore as a badge of honor. She often claimed she had a filter, but said she never saw fit to use it.

She died at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Her son Chris and his wife Tammy were with her. Though COVID restrictions made it difficult for visitors to gather, the caring and attentive staff ensured that Jeri’s loved ones could speak to her, share memories, and play her favorite music during her final hours.

Jeri was preceded in death by her husband of 57 years, John. She is survived by her sons Christian (Tammy) and Craig (Elizabeth); granddaughters Jennifer Skinner, Amanda Dempsey and Emily Skinner; great-grandson Killian, and great-granddaughter Maeve; step-grandson Howard Dias; sister-in-law Patricia Peck various nephews and nieces; “daughter-in-heart” Marianne Challis-Root, and her French bulldog Winston.

In addition, Jeri leaves behind dear friends who are like her extended family: her “son-in-law” Frank Root; “grandson” Alanson Root, his wife Ashley, their son Atlas and daughter Arden; “granddaughter” Abigail Root Mulgrew and husband Ben; “grandson” Phillip Bettencourt; “Uncle” Bob Logan; “Uncle” Rick Donner,  and many others who held Jeri in their hearts.

Like her husband John, who donated his body to Yale University, Jeri donated her body to Anatomy Gifts in the hopes of furthering scientific research.

As a tribute to her husband and his battle with Parkinson’s disease, donations can be made in her and John’s name to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

A celebration of Jeri’s life will be arranged at a later date. (Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)

Got The Vaccine? Tell The World!

COVID canceled the 2020 Maker Faire Connecticut. It may do the same this year.

But Makers are creative, resourceful and nimble.

And not just with their annual showcase of all things scientific, environmental, magical and cool.

As Makers picked up on all the vaccine buzz — and noticed how eager folks are to let others know they’ve gotten the shot — they had their own Archimedes “Eureka!” moment.

Quickly, they created 9 pins in 2 sizes for people to buy, wear, and show their commitment to eliminating the virus.

But wait! There’s more! All proceeds help fund Remarkable STEAM — Maker Faire’s parent organization.

In true Westport Maker fashion, the pins were all designed — and made by hand — here.

Remarkable STEAM offers “06880” readers a 25% discount on all pins. Just click this link.

COVID vaccine pins “make” great gifts for friends, relatives, employees, customers — anyone who is vaccinated, in fact. For quantity pricing and other questions, contact Mark Mathias by phone (203-226-1791) or email: mark@remarkablesteam.org.

Remarkable, indeed!

Benjamin’s Gift Eases Grief

Despite the new COVID world, spring and early summer of 2020 were exciting times for Emily Clare and Jon Cafasso.

The Westport couple were expecting their first child.

Emily Clare Cafasso, last spring.

Emily Clare had an uneventful pregnancy. They worked at home, in sweatpants. She’s in wealth management; he’s in finance for a global supply chain firm.

She was fit. At Staples High School (Class of 2000), Emily Fenn had been an All-American swimmer and Olympic trial qualifier. She went on to the University of Michigan, where she was a 2-time Division I All-American, and held 2 school records.

The baby’s heartbeat was good. There was plenty of movement.

But on July 1, Benjamin was stillborn.

Emily Clare and Jon tell their tale in gut-wrenching detail: The moment when she no longer felt a heartbeat. The drive to the hospital. Praying that the ultrasound will show life. Induced labor. Holding. then saying goodbye to their precious son. The knowledge that their lives had changed forever.

Talking about the loss of a child is one of society’s last taboos. Few people know what to say. Medical professionals don’t prepare parents for that possibility — even though, as Emily Clare notes, “8 million things” can go wrong from conception to delivery.

Jon and Emily Clare Cafasso hold Benjamin for the first — and last — time.

A devastating event like this can strain a marriage. It did that to the Cafassos, and tested their faith and strength.

But they had the support of “phenomenal” family and friends. That — and therapy, and virtual support groups — got them through those darkest days.

They mourned. They tried to moved forward.

And then one day, Emily Clare got the hospital bill.

“It was the height of my grief journey,” she recalls. “I had been fully prepared to pay for the delivery. But I hadn’t thought of this bill coming. It felt like a slap in the face — another reminder of everything that was supposed to be, and now wasn’t.”

A couple who lose a child lose every future milestone: first words, first toddling steps, first day of school. The hospital bill was one more devastating reminder of all the things the Cafassos would never experience.

Jon and Emily Clare will carry Benjamin’s name — tattooed on their arms — always.

Suddenly, Emily Clare wondered: What if we could take that moment away from another family in the future? It would not be a huge thing. But it would be important.

Her mother thought it was a great idea. When she told Jon, he embraced it too.

In the months since, Benjamin’s Gift has become a reality. The Cafassos earned 501 (c) 3 status as a non-profit public benefit corporation.

They created a comprehensive website, highlighting their story and information about stillbirth.

And they fundraised, starting with very generous friends and colleagues.

Now, Benjamin’s Gift will pay the hospital bill for stillbirths. It will still arrive. But parents can send it off to without even opening it. They’ll be spared one more reminder of their painful loss.

Three area hospitals — Stamford, Bridgeport and Yale New Haven — are including a letter from Emily Clare and Jon in the packet of materials they give to parents after losing a child. Emily Clare and Jon are contacting doctors and therapists too, to let them know of the service.

In a post-COVID world, they hope to organize an annual fundraiser. In the meantime, they spread the word however they can.

“There are a lot of great organizations out there,” Emily Clare notes. “This one is super-personal to us. And we think anyone with kids or grandchildren can relate to it.”

Nothing will ease her and Jon’s pain. But — one small step at a time — they are sparing others of one more reminder of how large a loss one tiny life can be.

(Click here for more information on Benjamin’s Gift. Click here for Emily Clare and Jon’s story about the day that changed their lives. For more information, email info@benjaminsgift.org, or follow on Instagram: @benjaminsgift. Checks can be sent to PO Box 368, Westport, CT 06881.)

Remembering Nancy Coley

Nancy Coley — an active Westporter and (among other things) the first female president of the Westport Horticultural Society — died on February 26 in Branford. She was 89 years old, and had battled pneumonia and other complications.

Born in Norwalk to James E. Coley II and Kathleen Coley, she graduated from Staples High School, then earned a BS degree from the New York School of Fine Arts.

Nancy had a fulfilling career as a technical illustrator with Sikorsky Aircraft and Norden Systems, where she served as director of technical art.

Nancy was a longtime member of Westport VFW Post 399 Auxiliary, including senior vice president from 2001 to 2016. She created memorable Memorial Day parade floats.

Besides her love of gardening and Horticultural Society activities, she was involved in Sportsmen of Westport and was a member of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Nancy loved sailing, cruising and fishing on Long Island Sound with friends and family, and is remembered as an excellent artist, social activity coordinator, boater and homemaker.

She is survived by her brother James; nephews Andrew, Thomas (Bonnie), Michael (Heather) and Christopher, and their children.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Nancy’s name  can be made to Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 75 Church Lane, Westport, CT 06880, or Connecticut Hospice, 100 Double Beach Road, Branford, CT 06413,

Unsung Heroes #181

Peggy Leyden Holda writes from South Easton, Massachusetts:

My mother (Rita Leyden) and I read with great interest your recent Roundup. You reported that the Westport Young Women’s League has distributed more than $4 million in grants since 1956.

Just a few days prior, I had unearthed a gem while going through the boxes (and boxes and boxes) of memorabilia recently relocated from Westport to Massachusetts, after Mom sold her Bradley Street home of 40 years.

Rita Leyden

Mom typed a draft of her President’s Report on onion skin (which remarkably withstood the test of time) for publication in the League’s 1976-1977 Annual Report. It chronicles the contributions of an extraordinary group of leaders who measurably enriched the lives of their neighbors. Their names read like a Who’s Who of Westport’s great families.

Mom and her WYWL friends were role models for the 14-year-old I was at the time. Through them I learned that women can do just about anything they set their minds to … and have fun while doing it.

As then, so now: The Westport Young Women’s League is proof positive that “in the big things of life we are as one.”

Peggy is right. Her mother’s report lists phenomenal accomplishments of a group of women. There’s Geri Lawrence, Katie Chase, Ellie Hoyt, Ginny Koscomb, Pat Shea, Cathy Ryan and many more.

Some are still around Westport. Mimi Greenlee — who “printed over 47,000 pieces on our Gestetner mimeo machine” — nonetheless always kept smiling. She still does, now as one of the movers behind the new Westport Book Shop.

One page of Rita Leyden’s president’s report mentions Mimi Greenlee — and many other women.

Sue Kane and Joyce Barnhart are still involved too, after a lifetime of volunteerism. Marianne Harrison is retired in North Carolina, where she leads a very active life.

All of which reminds us of the work that the Westport Young Woman’s League — and many similar organizations do — is both important, ongoing, and builds on the shoulders of many who came before.

Today we honor all those civic volunteers who give their time. And we also recognize that they would not be here, doing what they do, without the Unsung Heroes of yesterday.

(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email dwoog@optonline.net)

Justices Of The Peace: The Legacy Continues

Saul Haffner died in 2017. He was 87.

He served on the RTM, was a member of the Y’s Men, and taught photography and writing at the Senior Center and Norwalk Community College.

Saul was a US Army veteran. He was an engineer who worked on NASA’s Gemini program, and a professor of business and marketing at Sacred Heart University.

But he is best known as a justice of the peace. In fact, he may have been the nation’s foremost authority on the subject. In 2009, I profiled him for “06880.”

Barbara Jay and Saul Haffner

Saul and his wife Barbara Jay founded the Justice of the Peace Association (JPUS) in 2001. At the dawn of the internet age, they wanted to connect couples and officiants in a personalized fashion.

An early advocate of marriage equality, he and Barbara created professional conferences on all aspects of a JP’s role.

Saul and Barbara’s daughter Loretta Jay carries on their tradition.

The 1984 Staples High School graduate — now a Fairfield resident — wants her parents’ vision and network to continue. She’s still connecting officiants and couples. But she’s expanded her services to incorporate her own interests and professional work: underserved populations, and problems affecting young people.

Loretta Jay

JPUS became a founding member of the national Coalition to End Child Marriage. Last year, the organization helped run the first and only training about child and forced marriage and human trafficking for American marriage officiants.

Previous conferences have featured keynote speakers like Senator Richard Blumenthal and current Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz.

This year, the Justice of the Peace Association hosts a virtual conference. Set for March 13 (9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), it’s a creative environment where civil officiants can reimagine weddings, learn new skills, and nurture relationships.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill will recognize Saul and Barbara, and JPUS’s 20 years.

Always wanted to be a justice of the peace? Interested in marriage-related issues like equality and human trafficking?

Click here for more information, email lorettajay@JPus, or call 203-255-7703.

Roundup: COVID Tests, Scott Bryce & Jodi Stevens, Animals …

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A hearty “06880” thank you to all who donated to this year’s “pledge drive.” Your support of our online community — and of me, personally — is greatly appreciated. (And yes, there’s still time — click here!)

To the reader who sent an anonymous note saying “calling us moochers won’t get us to contribute” — sorry. Sounds like you were just looking for a reason to not help out.

But hey — at least you paid for a stamp.

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In related COVID news, former Food & Drug Administration commissioner — and Westport neighbor — Scott Gottlieb told “Face the Nation” yesterday that 70% of Americans 75 and older, 60% of those 65-plus, and nearly 20% of all American adults will be vaccinated “probably by the end of this week.”

He also noted growing evidence that all vaccines prevent transmission of the coronavirus — not just symptoms.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

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St. Vincent’s on Long Lots Road has closed. But there’s a new COVID testing center nearby.

Sameday Testing has opened at 1260 Post Road East (near Fortuna’s, Greens Farms Spirit Shop and Vivid-Tek).

Founded just a few months ago, the startup of doctors, scientists and engineers has ramped up to test thousands of people every day, across the country. They offer employer-sponsored programs too.

Click here for an appointment. To learn more, email evan@sameday-testing.com
or call 203-520-7734.

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With a name like “Celebrity Parents,” I expected fluff.

But the current issue features an in-depth, insightful interview with Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens.

The Westport stage and screen actors talk about how they met (several times); their relationship; raising an athletic son; Staples Players; Scott’s work with the New Paradigm Theater, and Jodi’s pivot to teaching in her home studio during COVID.

Click here for the very entertaining story. (Hat tip: Bobbie Herman)

Scott Bryce and Jodi Stevens (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Parents)

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MoCA Westport’s Winter Lights Festival lit up the town on Saturday.

Highlights included a walk-through light path (in collaboration with the Up | Next Teens organization; a maker space for families to create decorations together, and the high school student art exhibition “Hindsight is 2020.”

MoCA’s Winter Festival light path (Photo/Joel Triesman)

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Horses are back at Sherwood Island State Park. A group regularly trailers in their animals, for walks along the beach and through the beautiful paths. This shot was taken in the grove on the Sherwood Mill Pond side, near the fire gate to Compo Cove.

(Photo/Chris Swan)

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Another animal: This guy was happy to pose yesterday, for a Weston photo op:

(Photo/Steve Rothenberg)

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And yet more animals: Yesterday’s story about dog photographer Jim Boisvert reminded Matthew Mandell of a video he produced in 2013.

Part of the “What’s Up Westport” series, it’s title is “Dogs on the Beach.” Fifi, Fido, Fluffy: Here’s your 4 minutes of fame.

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And finally … Happy International Women’s Day!