Category Archives: Organizations

Tennis Grand Slam Comes To Westport

Tennis fans know that the Grand Slam of Tennis —  the Australian, French and US Opens, plus Wimbledon — are played on 4 different types of courts.

But you don’t have to fly to 3 continents to see them.

In fact, you don’t even have to leave Westport to play on 4 surfaces.

The town’s first Grand Slam Open is near. Singles, doubles and mixed doubles competition on private red clay, grass, hard and soft courts is set for August 16 to 18.

One court that will be used for Westport’s Grand Slam …

Each stop has a different theme, with Australian, French, English and American food and drinks. There are trophies and t-shirts at each court too.

The event also includes a ping pong tournament and pool party. Music is provided by the Dave Kardas Band — whose leader heads up the Longshore tennis program.

… a second …

The Grand Slam Open is a fundraiser for Joseph Oyebog’s tennis academy in Cameroon.

The former Davis Cup tennis player/Cameroon national champion/beloved local tennis coach has impacted thousands of youngsters in his home country. Twenty players have earned college scholarships, or obtained coaching positions in the US and Europe. Many more have gained confidence, hope and opportunity.

… a third …

Ben Sturner — who played tennis at Boston University, and runs the Leverage Agency sports marketing firm — met Joseph when he taught Ben’s children.

When Ben learned how far a little money can go in Africa, he created the Grand Slam concept. Also helping: Clair Mason (Intensity owner and Oyebog Tennis Academy board member), longtime player June Eichbaum, and Ben Stein and Evan Felcher, members of Staples High School’s state champion 2018 tennis team.

… and a fourth.

Ben and Evan are still teenagers. But Westport’s Grand Slam Open involves a centenarian too.

Lee Greenberg is 101 years old. A sign on her Saugatuck Shores home says, “Tennis bum lives here.” Sure enough, she has a grass turf court.

Ben Sturner and Joseph knocked on her door, to ask if they could use it. She invited them in. For an hour, Lee told stories about her life in tennis, and her passion for it. She’s been playing since she was 10 years old — more than 9 decades ago.

Lee was born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and moved to Westport 75 years ago. Each of her 4 homes here had a tennis court. She organized many games, with a variety of people.

Lee is also an avid sculptor. She organized the tennis art show at the opening of the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island — in 1954.

And, Lee said, years ago, Joseph taught Lee’s son Michael.

Lee Greenberg at her 100th birthday celebration with her children: Mike, Debbie and Gail.

Lee was happy to offer her court. The other 3 are in the Compo Beach neighborhood.

Players of all ages and abilities are eligible to sign up. If you prefer not to enter, no problem. Joseph will hold a clinic for non-competitors.

When it comes to helping kids, I can’t think of a better service than this.

(The suggested donation is $150 per entry. For more information, call 475-999-1335, or email BenjaminStein2000@gmail.com or carolinem@leverageagency.com.)

Joseph Oyebog

Unsung Heroes #110

A couple of weeks ago, “06880” put out a call. Earthplace had lost its longtime supplier of food. They needed $14,000 to feed their raptors.

Readers responded immediately. But 2 young people went waaaaay beyond the call of duty.

Sienna DeSantis organized a lemonade stand on the hottest Sunday of the year. She raised $250.

Sienna DeSantis, and her lemonade stand.

Rising Staples High School senior Emma Borys works in the Earthplace Animal Hall. She donated her salary from 2 holidays — July 4th, and this coming Labor Day — to the campaign.

Emma Borys at work.

The ravens, owls, hawks and eagles thank you!

(Hat tip: Sophie Pollmann. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Broad Horizons At Wakeman Town Farm

It always feels good to attend a fundraiser for a local organization. (And there are many fundraisers and groups in Westport.)

You eat and drink well. You’re entertained, and can win cool auction and raffle items. Plus, you’re contributing to a worthy cause.

However, you don’t always know exactly where your money goes.

If you attended last fall’s Harvest Fest at Wakeman Town Farm though, read on. (Keep reading if you didn’t go too, of course.)

Some of those funds went to support Horizons at Sacred Heart University. The tuition-free academic enrichment program serves low-income Bridgeport students in kindergarten through 8th grade. It’s one of 60 national chapters.

Thanks to Harvest Fest, more than 170 youngsters came to WTF last week. They learned about life on a farm, and got hands-on experiences with animals and plants.

Learning about life at Wakeman Town Farm.

On Friday, they had a huge pizza party. Volunteers fired up the new wood oven, donated by Robin Tauck (with stone from the Gault Family, and a gas grill by the Wormser family). Transportation was underwritten by Bankwell Westport.

But none of it would have been possible without help from Harvest Fest.

Remember that the next time you head to a fundraiser. The catered food and fancy wine is wonderful. Tickets to a Yankees Stadium suite, or a vacation at someone’s Caribbean home, is nice.

But the true joy comes when your money is put to good, real, important use.

Every kid loves pizza. Every counselor worries about the time. (Photos/Robert Osgood)

Sewage Spill: Monday Update

The Westport Fire Department has just issued this press release, regarding Saturday’s sewage spill in the Saugatuck River:

The town has continued to work closely with the Department of Public Health and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The Westport Weston Health District took multiple samples this morning from various beaches. They were sent to the state lab for testing. This test typically takes 24 hours, as it requires culturing the bacterial samples. Westport has requested that the state lab expedite the return of the results.

The WWHD made great efforts to ensure the safety of residents. They checked for private wells in the area of, and downstream from, the spill. They were unable to find any private wells in the area, and believe the properties to be on the public water supply.

Quick action on Saturday helped prevent a more dire situation.

As stated in yesterday’s update, there has been no further evidence of an additional leak since the evening of the break. It appears that the efforts by the Department of Public Works to mitigate and eliminate the spill were successful.

It is not possible to quantify the spill due to the number of variables that contribute to the dynamic flow volume. We believe that quick action by the DPW to shut down the pumps, isolate the area by closing valves, and immediately using vacuum trucks, followed by larger trailer-mounted pumps, was a contributing factor to minimizing the spill.

We will wait for results of the water test to come back. The town will confer with the state DPH and review the results. Residents and visitors should be assured that their health and well-being is paramount. The WWHD will not clear the water for swimming until it is deemed safe by them, as well as by state health officials. Officials remain optimistic that should the tests come back with a clean bill of health, the beaches could be reopened for swimming as soon as tomorrow afternoon.

Right now, this is as close as anyone should get to the water. (Photos/Mark Alex Maidique)

The new permanent pumps were on schedule to be completed in 2 weeks. Westport DPW is working to expedite this completion. In the meantime, the temporary solution is adequate, and will remain in place until the new pumps are operational.

Town officials certainly understand the impact that closing the waters has had on residents and businesses. We felt it necessary to do everything within our power to observe an abundance of caution to protect the health and well-being of everyone in the impacted area, and are doing everything possible to ensure that the waters are restored to their normal state.

We thank the residents and businesses for their understanding and cooperation through this process.

Meet The Montonis: Wakeman Town Farm’s New Stewards

Many Westporters know and love Wakeman Town Farm.

Many others are only vaguely aware.

They’ve heard of it — maybe driven past on Cross Highway — but have no clue what goes on at the sustainable living/education/event center that in 2010, after a century as a private family farm, went back to its roots under town ownership.

John and Jennifer Montoni were in that second category.

Now they’re Wakeman Town Farm’s new caretakers.

Nico, John, Jen and JC Montoni, on their front porch at Wakeman Town Farm.

The couple — Norwalk natives who moved to Westport nearly a decade ago, in large part for the schools — follow in the footsteps of Mike and Carrie Aitkenhead. WTF’s first stewards had 2 young children, and brought a family vibe to the farm and farmhouse that for 3 generations had been owned by the Wakemans.

After 7 years, the Aitkenheads were followed by Corey Thomas. His focus was on education offerings. When his 2-year contract ended this year, the WTF board decided to split the roles. John Montoni — who had his own construction firm — was the perfect choice for the property management role.

(Farah Masani, a local farmer and former food procurement specialist at the Barteca Group, will now lead the teen apprentice program. Chryse Terrill, a longtime educator, has been hired as the “Little Farmers” director.)

John has a big task. But until last winter, he and his wife — a former hair stylist who earned her nursing degree in 2014 — knew virtually nothing about the  2 1/2-acre place. It includes a farmhouse, working farm, gardens, and Community-Supported Agriculture shed.

Wakeman Town Farm: Westport’s sustainability center.

Last winter, they attended a Staples High School wrestling team fundraiser there. (Their oldest son, JC, was a co-captain.)

WTF — with the new Tim’s Kitchen inside, and a welcoming patio outdoors — has become a great party and event site, for non-profits, private organizations, even individuals. John and Jen were amazed at the facility, and excited to learn the back story.

Christy Colasurdo, WTF committee co-chair emeritus, told them the farm was always looking for volunteers. With JC ready to head off to Bentley College, and son Nico entering his sophomore year at Brunswick School, John and Jen were happy to find a way to stay involved in the community.

When the steward/caretaker role came open, the Montonis quickly stepped up.

With Jen and their sons’ help, John oversees and maintains the property, handles animal chores, manages employees and helps volunteers.

JC, Nico and John Montoni at work on Wakeman Town Farm.

Since moving in July 1, he’s worked on a new chicken coop (and will build a new run); helped with the new pizza oven; gotten sprinklers up and running; is installing an outdoor sink, and washer/dryer, and performed the maintenance chores any homeowner knows well.

But not many homeowners care for goats, alpacas and other animals. Or an enormous vegetable garden that takes up much of their land.

The Montonis love their new life. “Everyone is great,” Jen says of the ever-changing cast of volunteers, campers, counselors, committee members, chefs and CSA members. “And they’re all here because they want to be.”

“There’s always something going on,” JC notes. “This is a very cool old house. And it’s great to have a farm in the back yard.”

As with everyone at WTF, John and Jen are learning a lot. “I never thought I’d be taking care of alpacas!” he laughs.

The goats are his favorite animal. He calls them “mischievous, smart troublemakers, with a cool personality. They’ll walk right up to you, and chew on anything.”

John and Jen Montoni, with friends.

Each day, John says, Wakeman Town Farm is “full of life and activity.” At night it’s “quiet, and magical.” He and Jen sit on the porch, listening to the animals.

They look forward to whatever lies ahead — including new chores. They know each season will be different. They’ll continue learning, working, and keeping the farm fresh — and family friendly.

Sewage Leak Stemmed; Beaches Still Closed

According to the Westport Fire Department, the sewage leak in the Saugatuck River was completely stopped as of 8:30 last night.

Temporary pumps will remain in place until permanent pumps are installed next month.

According to the Fire Department, town officials have been in close communication with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Westport Weston Health District. 

Water quality testing will be performed tomorrow (Monday), in an effort to reopen beaches. Swimming at all Westport beaches — including Sherwood Island State Park — remains off limits today, “in an abundance of caution.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe thanked town and state departments for their prompt response.  He added, “We appreciate the cooperation of our residents and visitors not using the beaches for swimming until we receive the all-clear from the Health District and DEEP.”

The sewage leak yesterday, on the Saugatuck River.. (Photo/Michael Cammeyer)

Sewage Leak: What Happened; What Happens Next

This press release was just issued by the Westport Fire Department:

At approximately 1:30 p.m. today, the Westport Fire Department Marine Unit was preparing for training on the river. Fire department personnel were notified by a person in the area of a reported sewage leak in the Saugatuck River. This leak was in the area of the I-95 overpass.

Engine 4 responded and found what appeared to be sewage flowing up from under the river to the surface. The Public Works Department was immediately notified, and a representative responded. This set into motion other activities aimed at minimizing the impact of the spill and erring on the side of caution.

As is standard practice, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection was notified. Also notified was the U.S. Coast Guard.

Additional fire department personnel responded to the scene. A joint effort was made between the Westport Fire, Police, Sewer Department, Health Department, Conservation, Selectman’s Office as well as the State Health Department and DEEP to determine a plan of action.

The Sewer Department immediately ensured that the pumps were shut down, and called in multiple vacuum trucks to manually haul the sewage across the river to the treatment plant. Under consultation with the Health Department and Selectman’s Office, it was decided that the beaches would be closed for swimming.

A public advisory was broadcast via the town’s emergency notification system, and the state was advised of the precautions that Westport was taking. The State agreed with the proactive efforts and followed suit. Westport Police and Westport Parks and Recreation notified swimmers to exit the water and remain onshore. Westport Police also made the proper notifications to ensure that no shell fishing occurred. Sherwood Island was closed to swimmers by DEEP personnel.

As of approximately 6:30 p.m. there was still a controlled leak, with additional pumping vehicles on their way. It was determined that town and Sherwood Island beaches would remain closed for swimming until testing verifies the water is safe to swim in. The Health Department advised that testing will generally be performed approximately 24 hours after the spill. Testing is currently scheduled for Monday. Aquarion Water was contacted and they advised town officials that there was no cause for concern regarding contamination of the public wells.

Westport officials identified the need to replace the aging pipe, and took measures to address the issue before it became a problem. First Selectman James Marpe said, “We identified the need to replace the current sewer pipe 3 years ago and were very close to completion. My thanks go out to the town and state departments in their prompt and appropriate response to the incident.”

A new pipe has already been run under the riverbed and pumps were in the process of being installed to handle the increased capacity. According to the Public Works director, the new pipe was scheduled to be put into service within the next 2 weeks. This process will be expedited in light of today’s events. The Sewer Department will continue to work with DEEP as well as state and local health departments to ensure that the safety and health of residents and guests remain paramount.

Floating Wheelchairs Are A Sound Gift

First came the sand wheelchair.

Next was the Mobi-Mat.

Then Parks & Rec added picnic tables with cutouts for wheelchairs, and handicap-accessible barbecue grills.

On Tuesday (August 6, 12 noon, pavilion), Compo Beach adds another amenity: floating wheelchairs.

They’re donated by SMILE (Small Miracles In Life Exist) Mass. The organization has provided over 130 floating beach wheelchairs — but these are the first in Connecticut. Fairfield and Norwalk get them too.

A floating beach wheelchair.

The devices look like beach recliners. Yet in addition to maneuvering over sand — like the chair donated in 2012 by the Westport Rotary Club — these allow children in wheelchairs to float comfortably in the ocean.

They also allow therapeutic movement in water. Because salt water is more buoyant than fresh water, people who use beach wheelchairs in the ocean move more than in a pool.

On Tuesday, the saying “everyone into the water!” will really be true.

Bistro Du Soleil Serves Up Fine Food — And Art

There are 2 types of excellent restaurants in Westport:

The ones everyone talks about. You know what they are.

And the ones that don’t get much buzz at all. Like Bistro du Soleil.

Tucked away in a corner of the old Saugatuck post office — on Riverside Avenue just before the train station, next to now-departed Westport Auction — the Mediterranean-with-a-French-flair spot is beloved by everyone who knows it.

But not everyone does.

Bistro du Soleil is a family affair. Owner Maria Munoz del Castillo works alongside her parents, Soledad and Bernardo. They came to the US in the 1980s.

Soledad was trained as a French chef. Bernardo — a craftsman as well as a restaurateur — lovingly made every table, the outdoor seating and handsome wooden bar. He’s also a playwright and poet.

Bernardo Munoz del Castillo (right) hand-crafted this handsome wooden bar.

Bistro du Soleil is more than a great restaurant. Since it opened 2 years ago, over 200 local and international artists have had their work highlighted on the sunflower gold walls.

Next up: Peter Saverine. A public reception to meet him, see his art, and enjoy wine and treats is set for this Sunday (August 4, 4 to 7 p.m.).

Like Bistro du Soleil, Saverine is a strong believer in giving back. He wants his art to be affordable, so he’s priced it at $20 to $450.

One of Peter Saverine’s works …

When he offered to donate a portion of his sales to a local non-profit, Soledad asked him to choose one supporting women and girls. Saverine selected Project Return, the Homes with Hope facility on North Compo Road that helps homeless young women rebuild their lives.

Like Bistro du Soleil’s owner, Saverine has an intriguing background. Professionally he’s director of philanthropy at STAR, the non-profit serving area residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But he’s also a self-taught artist. His seascapes capture familiar scenes along Long Island Sound, Cape Cod and Nantucket. Compo Beach is a frequent inspiration.

… and another.

Saverine also authored a children’s book about a mermaid: “Jenny’s Pennies — A Nantucket Tradition.”

Great food and wine; fine (and affordable) art; a wonderful cause — it’s all there Sunday.

Whether you’re a Bistro du Soleil fan or never heard of the place, this is a wonderful reason to stop by.

Calling All Young Shoots

The Westport Farmers’ Market celebrates creativity.

Every Thursday, the Imperial Avenue parking lot teems with vendors offering creative ways to prepare fresh food (and not just produce — there’s meat, baked goods and more). Musicians perform. It’s fun, funky and alive.

There’s a lot to do, and see. It’s a photographer’s paradise too.

Which is why I’m happy to promote one of the the Farmers’ Market’s more creative opportunities.

An annual contest highlights images taken all summer long. And it’s got an especially creative name: The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition.

Get it?

“Towhead Tomatoes” — 2016 Fan Favorite winner, and 2nd place in 15-18 age group. (Photo/Margaret Kraus)

There are 3 age groups: 8-10 years old, 11-14 and 15-18. All photos must be taken somewhere on the Farmers’ Market premises. Submissions are due by September 6.

This is no rinky-dink affair. Jurors include noted photographers Eileen Sawyer and Bonnie Edelman, graphic artist Miggs Burroughs, and Westport Arts Center executive director Amanda Innes.

First-place winners in each category receive a $100 cash prize, and the chance to lead a food photo shoot with Bill Taibe (chef/owner of The Whelk, Ka Wa Ni and Jesup Hall). Second-place winners get $50.

Winners will also have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor).

Anastasia Davis won 1st place in 2016 in the 11-14 age group for this shot.

The public can also vote online for their favorite images. “People’s Choice” winners in each category get a 1-year membership to the Westport Arts Center (soon to be called MoCA), and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt. All photos will be on display this fall at the Arts Center’s new home at 19 Newtown Turnpike. There’s a fun awards reception October 4 at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk.

Click here for photo guidelines and submission info. Click here to see past submissions.

Then fire away!