Category Archives: Organizations

A Brain Tumor Survivor, Wealth Manager And Comedian Walk Into A Church…

Plenty of Westporters have plenty of remarkable stories.

Nathalie Jacob’s is more remarkable than most.

Raised in Colombia and schooled in France, she spent 10 years in high-level marketing jobs with Fortune 500 companies, in 5 countries. She and her husband were ready to begin a family when she was stricken with a brain tumor.

Surgery left her partially blind. She could not read or write. The only number she recognized was 8.

Recovery was brutal. Nathalie experienced life like a small child, all over again. Her path was long and arduous. It still continues.

Nathalie Jacob, with her daughter and her book.

Yet Nathalie — married to Simon Gilbert, with a 2-year-old daughter Nicole — has persevered. She re-learned simple tasks, then moved on to more complex ones.

She’s now the creator and admin of popular Facebook groups like Westport Stay-at-Home Moms, Westport Women and Tumores Cerebrales.

She’s also the author of a new book. “8: Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor” celebrates courage, resilience, and the importance of a fighting spirit.

Nathalie is always giving back. She’s donating all profits to the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance.

She launches her book this Friday (February 8, 7 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church). But “Health, Wealth & Fun” is not a solo event. Nathalie will share the stage at the evening of food, drinks and networking with 2 other talented Westporters. Both are introducing their own intriguing projects.

Kiana Danial is the Iranian-born, Jewish-raised CEO of, an award-winning personal investing and wealth management expert, and author of the new book “Cryptocurrency Investing for Dummies.”

Bari Alyse Rudin is an accomplished comedian, writer and producer. She launches her podcast, “Community News.”

President Kennedy once called a Nobel Prize dinner “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Friday’s Saugatuck Church event is not quite that. But it sure is a great night to celebrate health, wealth and the human spirit.

(For more information and to RSVP, click here. For more information on Nathalie Jacob’s book, click here. For Kiana Danial’s website, click here. For Bari Alyse Rubin’s podcast, click here. Hat tip: Christy Colasurdo.)

Cedar Point Sails To National Honors

What do 8 regattas, a bagpiper, live bands, a lip-sync competition, cornhole tournament, blender party and lobster clambake have in common?

They were all part of last year’s Cedar Point Yacht Club festivities.

And all helped earn the Saugatuck Shores organization the 2018 National One-Design Award from US Sailing. The sport’s national governing body honored CPYC in Jacksonville, Florida last month for advancing sailing in this area — thanks in part to efforts like those.

Bob Karpel — commodore of the 132-year-old club — accepted the award.

Cedar Point Yacht Club sunset. (Photo/William Adler)

US Sailing cited specifically Cedar Point’s success in growing its fleet, and  hosting regattas that draw sailors from around the nation. Last year those included a multi-class one-design race with 560 sailors, the 66-boat Thistle Nationals, and Connecticut Olympics.

The club also supports youth sailing, with events like the 142-boat JSA of Long Island Sound Race  Week, and a 78-boat Opti area championship.

This summer, CPYC will host the Atlantic National Championships. In 2020: the Flying Scot Nationals.

Congrats to all. May the wind be always at your back!

Action from last year’s Cedar Point Yacht Club races.


State Of The Town

Presidents have their State of the Union address.*

Governors have their State of the State.

This Sunday (February 10), Jim Marpe tells us all the State of the Town.

The first selectman will be joined by Board of Education chair Mark Mathias. After they deliver their thoughts on the town and schools, RTM deputy moderator Jeffrey Wieser will lead a question-and-answer session.

The event — a joint initiative of Westport Sunrise Rotary and the Westport Rotary Club — is set for 4 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.

Judging by one criterion, the state of the town is very good: There are refreshments afterward, in the lobby.


Town Hall is the site of Sunday’s State of the Town event.

Staples Offers New Pathways To Success

Every educator knows there are many pathways to students’ success.

At Staples High School, that now includes Pathways Academy.

Opened this fall, it’s a “school within a school.” Pathways provides alternative educational opportunities for students experiencing academic, behavioral and/or life challenges in the traditional school setting.

That’s the long description.

Here’s the short one: For some students, Pathways is a life-saver.

They may have school anxiety or avoidance issues. Perhaps they made mistakes, and fell behind in credits for graduation. Regular classrooms and standard schedules didn’t work for them.

Pathways — created by a team of Staples administrators, counselors, social workers and others — occupies a suite of rooms near the cafeteria.

Warm and welcoming, with a lounge area, computer room and small instructional spaces, it’s where students and 4 teachers spend every morning, from 7:30 to 10:45.

Freed from traditional bells — with more flexibility to move from idea to idea, and room to room — Ann Neary (English), Daniel Heaphey (social studies), Tony Coccoli (science) and Anthony Forgette (math) — work together in a warm, welcoming setting.

Each day begins with a community meeting. On Wednesdays, school outreach counselor Ed Milton offers insights. Every Friday, there’s college and career counseling.

Academic expectations are the same as for traditional core classes. The differences include individualized instruction, peer coaching, experiential learning and interdisciplinary projects.

When the Pathways day ends, students head to electives, world language and phys. ed. classes, community service, work study or internships.

At first, students were referred to Pathways by teachers and administrators. Eight began in September. Now — thanks to word of mouth — that number has doubled, to 16.

The application process includes written answers to questions like “What is your biggest challenge in the traditional  high school setting?”, “Describe a situation that did not go well for you (interaction with a teacher, administrator, friend, etc.). Thinking back, how would you have handled it differently?” and “”Describe something you did, made or completed in school that made you proud.”

Acceptance is not automatic. Each student must embrace the idea of the Pathways community.

The main classroom at Pathways. Other rooms — and the lounge — branch off from here.

Pathways is overseen by Meghan Ward. The assistant principal had experience in other schools with alternative education. “‘Other’ is okay,” she says, echoing the academy’s mission. “Students learn the same things, even if the setting or delivery looks different.”

Ward calls the Pathways teachers “incredible. They work really hard — and that’s only half of their course load. They also teach other classes. It’s really a challenge.”

In just half a year, Pathways has already made its mark. Students with attendance issues are coming to school — “and smiling,” Ward notes. Those who previously felt disconnected from Staples now have a “home base.”

There are tangible results too. The other day, Neary’s students completed a play-writing project. They read their works in the Black Box Theater, for members of Westport Senior Center’s writing class.

It was a huge success. The audience loved hearing the powerful, honest voices of teenagers. They provided great feedback — and plenty of support.

Just as Pathways does every day, in its own way: a school within a school.

Pic Of The Day #658

Last night’s sunset, at the Fairfield County Hunt Club (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Photo Challenge #214

Last week’s Photo Challenge was so challenging, it first fooled even the reader who eventually got the right answer.

And he works there.

Amy Schneider’s image showed a weathervane — a trail direction post — at Earthplace. Jaime Bairaktaris helps with the youth program there. He loves the place. (Click here for the photo.)

But he first pegged the vane at Christie’s Country Store. Other folks guessed Wakeman Town Farm, Greens Farms Congregational Church, the Senior Center, fire stations, Police headquarters, and Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center.

Jaime is one of the most observant Westporters I know. The photos he shares on “06880” are wonderful. It’s clear he’s got a great eye, and he loves this town.

He was a bit embarrassed at not identifying the Earthplace photo immediately. He shouldn’t be. That just means he’s spending all his time looking out for the kids in his care.

This week’s Photo Challenge comes courtesy of John Pollak. If you know where in Westport you’d see it, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/John Pollak)

All Invited To Senior Center Super Bowl Party

As anyone who has been to the Westport Senior Center knows, it’s not a place where zombies sit around all day, watching TV. (In fact, there are no TVs at all.)

Our Senior Center hums with activity and life. There are talks and discussions about every topic imaginable. There are classes in art, computers, cooking and dozens of other subjects. There’s yoga, Zumba, a fitness center and 8 TRX stations.

Trouble is, not enough non-seniors get to the Senior Center.

Tomorrow, you get your chance.

Westporters of all ages are invited to a Super Bowl party. From 1 to 4 p.m. you can eat and drink; play games and win prizes; enter a guess-the-final-score contest, and meet the Staples High School state champion field hockey team, plus Staples and PAL cheerleaders.

Tomorrow is a day for football — and meeting the state champion Staples High School field hockey team.

There will be tours of the new addition to the facility. Lynn Goldberg — who helped lead the project — will be honored too.

It’s an inter-generational event. Seniors — especially those with grandchildren far away — love seeing young Westporters. Kids without local grandparents can enjoy a family gathering.

And who doesn’t like free hot dogs, chips, dips and cake?

No one knows who will win tomorrow’s Super Bowl. But it’s clear: Westport’s Senior Center attracts champions of all ages.

Weather Or Not: Be Ready!

It’s not Chicago. Or Wisconsin. Or International Falls.

But the weather this week could be pretty nasty. (Right now, snow is squalling and winds are howling).

Westport’s Department of Human Services reminds residents that there are resources available to those who need assistance during weather emergencies.

Don’t be that guy (or girl).

DHS works closely with police, fire, EMS and the health district to help seniors and people with disabilities. Residents are encouraged to plan ahead by registering with DHS before a storm or emergency hits. Call 203-341-1050, or click here to search for information on these programs:

  • Westport Emergency Evacuation Assistance
  • File of Life
  • Assistance with home heating expenses
  • Voluntary Registry for People with Disabilities
  • One-on-one assistance

The best way to stay informed about weather related advisories, alerts and community messages is to pre-register for the assistance programs, and utilize local news and information resources including the town’s website ( and/or the town Facebook page (

Additional updates may be posted on the Westport Fire Department Facebook page:

Unsung Heroes #85

An Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group meets the second Thursday of every month at the Westport Senior Center. A volunteer writes:

Today as I left our meeting, I was struck with a profound sense of admiration for the strength and courage that each of the caregivers around the table exhibit time and time again.

These men and women give of themselves constantly, with no expectation of anything in return. They go above and beyond to make sure their loved ones are cared for physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

It is a thankless job. Burnout is common.

Every day we are surrounded by these unsung heroes. They tackle the responsibilities of their own lives, careers and families, while patiently and lovingly coordinating an array of services, appointments and support for their loved ones.

These caregivers show so much love and commitment to others. They too deserve a little love from the rest of us.

So true! If you are a caregiver — for Alzheimer’s, a family member or loved one suffering from cancer or any other illness, or a child who needs constant, consistent help — take a second, and take a bow. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

Amy Van Arsdale De-Clutters My Life

“06880” — my blog — has a clean, uncluttered look. I’m proud of that, and work hard to maintain it.

My office is another story entirely.

It’s cluttered. It’s messy, disorganized, and filled with stuff I think I need, but really don’t.

In other words, it’s like nearly every other home office in America.

Every home office that has not yet been professionally cleared, de-cluttered and reclaimed by Amy van Arsdale, that is.

Amy van Arsdale

Amy is a Westporter. In 2008 she, her husband and 4 kids lived near Old Mill Beach. In preparation for renting their house for the summer, she moved everyone’s personal items to the attic.

When she returned in late August, she retrieved only what her family needed, loved and used.

It was a lot less than what she’d moved upstairs.

The next 2 summers, Amy did the same thing. Each time, there was less to bring back downstairs.

And each time, she got more and more efficient.

After Amy put her new skills to use helping downsize her mother, and move her aunts into assisted living facilities, she realized she was on to something. Not only could she de-clutter people’s homes — she could do the same for their minds.

The result was Cleared Spaces: a lifestyle service helping people live better, with far less.

Marie Kondo’s recent fame has shined a light on the process of de-cluttering. But Amy has been doing it for a decade too.

Plus — unlike Marie — she doesn’t leave, then come back weeks later to see the results. Amy is there with her clients, every step of the way.

In fact, she does all the dirty work for you.

I know first hand. The other day, Amy came over to de-clutter my office.

Well, part of it. Even a miracle worker like she could not do everything in one afternoon.

Amy began with a closet. It’s where I’d stuffed everything — old newspaper articles, scrapbooks, report cards from Burr Farms Elementary School, tax returns dating back to the Reagan administration — in the belief that it was important and useful.

That closet was where I needed to move all the crap from my desk and the rest of my office. But first it had to be reclaimed.

Ta da! Thanks to Amy, I’ve reclaimed the closet in my office.

“Eighty percent of what I do is purge,” Amy says. “People have too much stuff, and it’s not sorted well.”

No shit.

So Amy spends a lot of time helping clients figure out what should go, and what must stay. “People pay me to stand over them, and do what they can’t do,” she says. “It’s not brain surgery,”

Her mantra is simple, but key: “If you don’t need it, love it or use it — get rid of it.”

The space Amy creates is not only in the home. It’s in the mind too. She is a certified Kripalu yoga teacher. When she de-clutters, she doesn’t dwell on that part of her life — though she does start with “take a deep breath. People are nervous that I’ll get rid of everything.”

But Amy firmly believes “you really don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy.” Clearing out physical space is centering and relaxing.

My desk still needs a ton of work.

It sure is. As we worked together — she handing me boxes; me realizing I didn’t really need to keep all the correspondence about every book I’ve written, but that I loved every photo I found; she sorting everything I was tossing into bins marked “recycle,” “incinerate” and “donate” (to Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations) — I felt awe.

And relief.

Amy was right. I felt better. Lighter. Freer. I was ready — eager! — to attack the piles of who-knows-what cluttering my desk and chairs, filling up my floor (physically) and my head (mentally).

Amy is a pro. She’s non-judgmental. She’s confidential. And — this may be most remarkable of all — she hauls most of the stuff away, fitting whatever she can into her SUV for distribution to Goodwill or the dump.

Amy van Arsdale gets set to make a dump-and-Goodwill run for me.

She even brings bins. This woman is the real deal.

Amy’s services go beyond de-cluttering. She does estate dissolutions, and helps senior citizens downsize. (“Your kids don’t want it!” is another favorite mantra.)

She’s available too for “virtual organization”: telephone consultations, or video chats via Skype and FaceTime.

I’m glad we got together in real time though. Amy was fast, efficient — and fun.

I’m enjoying my un-cluttered closet. I’m ready for the next round.

And I don’t miss all those old Christmas cards, my notebooks from college, or that VHS cassette telling me how to use my Kaypro computer at all.

(For more information on Amy van Arsdale’s Cleared Spaces, click here.)