Category Archives: People

Tornado? Waterspout? Scott Pecoriello Was There.

From a young age, Scott Pecoriello has been fascinated by weather.

At Staples, the Class of 2015 member was the school’s go-to meteorologist. Students, teachers and (especially) coaches relied on his spot-on forecasts.

When the tornado warning was issued for Connecticut’s coast yesterday, Scott headed to Compo Beach. At 1:40, he saw “a possible waterspout/tornado” come ashore.

He sent the photo (below) and video to the National Weather Service. They’re reviewing it, to confirm.

(Photo/Scott Pecoriello)

Scott says, “there have been no confirmed records of a tornado to ever pass through Westport since records began in the early 1900s. Connecticut averages about 1.3 tornadoes per year, and is ranked 43rd out of 50 for states with the most tornadoes.”

He notes, “The unusually high damage in Westport compared to surrounding towns — particularly at the coastline near Saugatuck Shores — could be in part due to this waterspout.”

Staples Grads CARE

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, many social media users observed “Blackout Tuesday” by changing their cover photos to black squares.

Max Herman was one. The 2019 Staples High School graduate was amazed at how many friends and people he followed did the same.

Max Herman

But he felt compelled to do more. The Vanderbilt University student — a double major in computer science, and the communication of science and technology, with minors in business and vocal performance — wondered what he could do.

An actor and singer at Staples, he realized fellow Players and musicians could help.

Max enlisted the help of Natasha Johnson, a 2020 Staples grad headed to Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania to concentrate in marketing or finance, and Anna Maria Fernandez, another recently graduated Player who will double major in theater and dance at Muhlenberg College.

They created  CARE. Its mission is to “educate, raise awareness, and expunge the inherent, deeply rooted issues surrounding racial inequity in voting and education in our community,” with a focus on “the next generation of young people.”

Natasha Johnson

The organizers created an online library that illustrates decades of injustices, unveil hidden biases, and challenge people to “ask themselves uncomfortable questions regarding their own relationship with race.”

Resources include books, articles, videos, podcasts, petitions and links.

“We decided to tackle racial inequity with a local lens,” Max, Natasha and Anna Maria say. “We feel it is critical to first acknowledge the issues that exist in our own community before undertaking the arduous task of stitching up our divided nation.”

So they’ve teamed up with 3 nearby organizations that target racial disparities in voting and education: Bridgeport-based Connect-Us and Faith Acts, and Project Morry.

They’re the beneficiaries of a virtual concert this Sunday (August 9, 7:30 p.m.)

Anna Maria Fernandez

Professional musicians and Fairfield County teens will perform selections by black artists, based on the theme of “change.”

The talent so far incluldes Kid Sistr, Niki Harris, Jacob Heimer, Riley Wells, Camille Foisie, Mia Kobylinski, Anna Maria Fernandez, Jake Greenwald, Avery Smith and Max Herman.

There will be brief remarks by leaders of CARE’s 3 partner organizations too.

Donors of any amount (click here) will be sent a link. The goal is $20,000.

What a great way to show they — and we — care.

Woman Makes Her Mark In a Man’s World

For many years, Amanda Mas was the only woman in her workplace.

Sexism was rampant. Even colleagues at the same level felt they could tell her what to do. There was no HR department to help.

Whenever she felt uncomfortable, she left. Eventually that grew tiresome.

Now she has struck out on her own. She’s opened her own private studio: Amanda Mas Tattoo.

Amanda Mas, at work

It’s just over the Norwalk border, near Whole Foods. Westport does not have any tattoo parlors, but Amanda has plenty of local clients. After 7 years in this area, she is in high demand. She is a huge Westport fan too; the town’s embrace of charitable organizations resonates with her.

Most tattooists are men. They don’t (let’s face it) have the best reputation. But as body art moves in to the mainstream — and more and more women get tattoos, including sleeves — someone like Amanda stands out.

“I want to empower women, make them feel comfortable,” she says.

Sleeves are gaining popularity with women. Amanda Mas models hers.

The route to her own studio has not been easy. Tattoo shops were closed early in the pandemic. When they reopened (with many restrictions), she went back to work. But she did not want to accept walk-in customers, and — for the first time in her life — she was fired.

Now in her private studio, Amanda realizes, “I should have gone out on my own much earlier.”

Even during COVID, people want tattoos. She is booked for the next 2 months.

Her clients cover a wide range. She recently gave a woman her first tattoo, at age 80.

Amanda work with a lot of Westport mothers, businessmen — and many nurses too. Tattoos are a way for them to express themselves, despite having to wear the same thing every day at work.

Flowers, on arm.

Youngsters come in too. Amanda has a long chat with the parent, before beginning. She realizes that body art is permanent.

“If a teenager wants to commemorate a family member, that’s okay,” she says. “If they want a band logo, maybe that’s not the best idea.”

A business owner who might talk a client out of a job? Go figure.

“People have a vision of a tattoo artist as a scary person,” Amanda admits. “But I’m a little woman. No one should judge other people.” Or judge what their body art looks like.

She inks “plenty of flowers. Lots of animals. Landscapes, too.” Favored spots include wrists, ankles and rib cages — places where tattoos can be both hidden and shown off.

Elephant and butterfly, on ankle.

“A lot of really successful people who are heavily tattooed, and hardly anyone else knows,” Amanda says.

A recent trend is for full arm sleeve work on younger women. “People have gotten a lot more accepting about sleeves,” she notes.

Has she ever refused to tattoo someone?

“Yes!” she says. “If someone is impaired with alcohol or whatever, we’re not supposed to work on them. I left one shop because I was forcefully asked to do someone who was drunk. I didn’t want them to wake up the next day and regret it.

“If I think something is not aesthetically pleasing, or people in the past haven’t liked it, I’ll talk to them.” However, she adds, “a lot of people in the industry don’t have those morals.”

Pineapple, on calf.

Amanda Mas is passionate about her work. “Tattooing is an art,” she says. “It’s an entire experience.

“I love how it’s just my client and me in the office. We can listen to music, but a lot of people want to talk. I’m almost like a therapist.”

And — like any therapist — she helps people look in the mirror, and like what they see.

For more information, email amandamastattoos@gmail.com. She’s on Facebook and Instagram too: @amandamastattoo (without the “s”).

Bee, on arm.

Aztec Two-Step’s New Words

The other day, WFUV’s “Mixed Bag” host/longtime Mets fans Don McGee celebrated the return of baseball by playing “Stay at Home for the Ballgame.”

It’s a new song by Aztec Two-Step’s Rex Fowler and his wife, Dodie Pettit.

Though married only 2 years, they have known each other for decades. Nearly 40 years ago, she played guitar and sang on Aztec’s 5th album. Dodie went on to a long Broadway career.

She and Rex now perform as “Aztec Two-Step 2.0.”

I loved the COVID-safe message, and asked Dodie for a link to post on “06880.” The song is so new though, that none is yet available.

But there is other Aztec Two-Step news. “Words” — released in April — dates back to 2017. Rex started writing it after his musical partner Neal Shulman’s wife died of cancer.

During the COVID lockdown, Rex and Dodie finished it. They recorded it at their Westport home, with bandmates coming in individually (wearing masks).

Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler perform together.

“We thought it would be a song of comfort,” Dodie says. She’s lived with her own tragedy: Her husband, Staples High School graduate and Broadway actor Kevin Gray, died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 55.

Dodie adds, “We wanted to do a real grown-up, thoughtful statement of how hard the aftermath is — without using any of the standard, patronizing fare.”

They’ve performed it on Facebook, for a traumatic brain injury group.

Their next song — a mash-up of Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” focused on Black Lives Matter — will be released soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy the “Words” video below.

And keep your ears open for “Stay at Home for the Ballgame.’

Khalif Rivers: The ABCs Of Photography

School came easy to Khalif Rivers. It was not especially challenging.

In 8th grade, a teacher recommended the A Better Chance program. Like many youngsters, Khalif had not thought much about his future. But he trusted her, and the opportunity to be one of the people of color chosen to attend a top school sounded alluring.

He did not want to leave his native Philadelphia. But when he visited the Westport affiliate he liked the scholars at Glendarcy House, and the local program.

He was accepted by A Better Chance of Westport. Arriving here in 2004 was scary, and a culture shock.

Khalif Rivers

“I was a young Black kid trying to figure out where I fit in,” Khalif recalls. “I was homesick. I had to learn how to really study. I felt like I was under a microscope. I struggled.”

Over the course of 4 years, he succeeded. With the help of his “brothers” in the house — and many others in the community — Khalif had an “overall great” experience.

He graduated in 2008. He had been looking for a larger college, not too far away, but somewhere he would have “autonomy.” When ABC’s Harold Kamins drove him to West Virginia University, he knew he’d found his next home.

Khalif majored in sports psychology. He planned on earning a master’s in counseling. But despite scholarships, he’d had to borrow a lot of money. Not wanting to go further in debt, he returned to Philadelphia.

He got a great job as a field service engineer, installing tempered glass. It was physically demanding work, in all kinds of weather. It paid well, and Khalif traveled far.

But he hated it. He had no time for friends, relationships — or photography.

That was a passion he’d discovered at Staples. Khalif had taken Digital Darkroom to fill an elective. But he loved it, and moved on to Photography with Janet Garstka, then Digital Photography.

He was an excellent photographer. Whenever he had free time — anywhere in Westport, at athletic events, wherever — he brought his camera.

Now, back home — and older — Khalif looked around. “Philadelphia is beautiful,” he says.”But so many buildings wee being torn down. I realized I had to photograph them.”

At first he used his cell phone. He would hop on a bus, get off somewhere, and start taking pictures. “I was doing it for myself,” he recalls. “I just wanted to capture the city in all its glory.”

“Ben Franklin” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

He saved up for a good Nikon. He taught himself to use it through YouTube videos. As he posted those photos — many of them sharp, strong, black and white — to his Instagram account, followers encouraged him to do more.

In the spring of 2017 Khalif started a side business, selling his images.

It was successful. Khalif began thinking of doing photography full time. But he was making good money at his day job. “It was a big unknown, to walk away,” he says.

“Respite” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

When COVID-19 struck, Khalif was laid off. He spent a month reflecting. He’d put so much time and energy into his service engineering work. He’d never get that back.

He could get a similar job. But, he says, the industry is filled with divorced, unhappy people.

“I realized I couldn’t do it. It’s over,” he says.

Khalif wondered: “What if I put the same effort into my photography? I could be more than a weekend warrior. I could take it so much further.”

“Shooting Star” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

He’s not sure if he would have quit his full time job. But he’s glad things worked out as they have. Since April, he has committed himself fully to his photography.

Right now he’s looking through the 15,000 images he shot during his travels. He’s moving into portrait photography too. He’s learning how to market himself — “just another challenge,” he calls it.

“This is still a work in progress,” Khalif says. “Every day I learn another aspect of running a business.

“But there’s no going back. I’m going to make this happen.”

(Click here for Khalif Rivers’ website. Hat tip: Katie Augustyn.)

Untitled (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

Staples Grad, Nationally Known Bridge Player, Murdered In Hartford

Victor King earned national renown as a bridge player. At Staples High School, the Class of 1973 graduate (and son of longtime physics teacher Dick King) was a member of the state and FCIAC champion soccer teams.

On Sunday, King was brutally murdered. Suspect Jerry David Thompson — now in custody — used a Samurai sword to cause “severe trauma” to King’s arms, chest, shoulder and neck. He had recent moved into a vacant room in King’s Asylum Avenue home.

Victor King (Photo courtesy of Hartford Courant, from Jim Banks)

The day before, King had called police after being threatened with the sword by Thompson over a rent dispute.

The next day, when friends could not contact King, they called police.

Thompson — who has previous convictions for assault and robbery — has refused to talk to his public defender. He claims he is a “sovereign citizen,” not subject to law.

King worked at Travelers Insurance for more than 20 years. He retired from his IT job in 2018. He was a Grant Life Master bridge player, with 15,298.55 master points, and won a national championship in 2016.

His cousin, Jim Banks, told the Hartford Courant: “He was one of the good guys. One that would never hurt a soul. One that would always reach out and help others. He was pleasant as can be. Always seemed to be happy. He was just a joy to be around.”

Roundup: BMS Masks; Heather Grahame Podcast; More


Everyone needs a mask — a good one. But just a few miles from here, plenty of kids can’t afford one.

In one of the most brilliant partnerships since the pandemic struck, the Bedford Middle School PTA and Westport Masks has teamed up to help the Read School in Bridgeport, which serves 800 youngsters in pre-K through 8.

The PTA is selling masks (and gaiters). For every one sold, two will be donated to Read. The program launched less than a week ago, yet enough orders have already been received to supply 250 masks to Read.

Westport Masks’ team volunteers hand-create each donation mask. The PTA sourced a 2-ply, 100% cotton style mask with a filter pocket. The design is a royal blue and white bandanna print, with 2 layers of 100% cotton and reinforced stitched nose for a comfortable fit. There are adjustable ear straps; another strap allows the mask to hang from the neck. There is no logo. Sizes are teen and adult.

As for gaiters: They are less likely than masks to be lost, can be easily pulled up and down as needed (for drinking water, eating lunch and outside during PE), and are comfortable. Designs include blue camo, blue and white shibori tie-dye, and micro-stripe/blue fade (the only one with the BMS bear logo). One size fits all.

Both styles are washable.

The cost is $20 for the gaiters (1 for your child or yourself, 2 others donated), $14 for the masks. The PTA notes that sales are not restricted to Bedford; everyone can (and should!) buy the face coverings.

To order, click here. To arrange pickup (a week before school begins) or for questions, email bms_pta@westportps.org. To help WestportMasks with sewing or fabric cutting, email westportmasks@yahoo.com.

Gaiters and masks


Heather Grahame has been an athlete all her life. In 1972 she captained Staples High School’s field hockey team. She played 2 more years at Mount Holyoke College, then transferred to Stanford University.

During college summers she leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut villages. The state of Alaska funded the program, to combat a high drowning rate.

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame headed to Anchorage to practice public utility law. In 2010 she moved to Montana.

She’s on the road a lot. But she finds time to train for triathlons. Though she began when she was 56, it’s a natural for her.

In the 1980s Grahame competed in bicycle racing on the US Women’s Circuit. She placed 6th at the 1988 Olympic team time trials.

She and her family then became competitive sled dog racers. Her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

As for triathlons — well, okay. Grahame actually did a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

The other day, she was a guest on the Purple Patch Fitness podcast. Host Matt Dixon is a top fitness and triathlon coach. She’s lived most of her life out west, but Grahame talked quite a bit about Westport and Staples sports. Click here for a very entertaining hour.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)


And finally … tonight the Remarkable Theater screens “Elf.” It’s “Christmas in July” — and drive-in moviegoers are encouraged to dress (and decorate their cars) appropriately.

And because we need a little Christmas (right this very minute), here’s “06880”s contribution. Starring, of course, our talented and beloved former neighbor, Eartha Kitt.

 

The ADA In Westport: 30 Years Of Progress

Thirty years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law.

It was a monumental achievement. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, transportation and more.

Its effects have been both intended (curb cuts make things easier for wheelchair users; closed captioning aids people with hearing loss) and unintended (those same curb cuts help anyone pushing a stroller or wheeling luggage; closed captions are great for TVs in noisy spots like restaurants and bars.

In Westport — as in the rest of the nation — the ADA has made building access easier. At Compo Beach, Mobi-Mats intended to ease the trek across sand to the Sound for people with mobility problems has been a boon to anyone hauling a cooler (or young kids).

Compo Beach Mobi-Mat. (Photo/Patti Brill)

The new bathrooms at South Beach are a welcome relief to many. So are the walkways that now lead from the pavilion all the way to the kayak launch.

Jim Ross — chair of Westport’s Commission on People With Disabilities — notes a few other important local initiatives.

The Remarkable Theater‘s drive-in movies have brought joy and life to Westport during this entertainment-starved COVID summer. But the theater has another, equally important mission: to create meaningful employment for the disability community. That visibility may be another legacy of the ADA.

The confidential Voluntary Registry — managed by Westport’s Department of Human Services, in conjunction with the Police Department — enables individuals with disabilities, and their families or caregivers, to register medical and living arrangements, so it can be known during a police or fire emergency.

Town officials and disability leaders are working to secure independent housing facilities on town-owned property.

An “Employment is for Everyone” initiative is in its early stages. Ross’ commission is working with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Downtown Merchants Association to help people with disabilities find employment here — and help Westport businesses better serve the disability community.

When a beach wheelchair was delivered more than 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 Americans have some sort of disability. Have you, a relative or friend been impacted by the ADA? How does Westport compare to other places, in terms of accessibility and accommodations? Are there areas where Westport can do better? Click “Comments” below.

(For more on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, click here. Hat tips: Diane Johnson and Elaine Daignault.)

B Corp Certification: Coming Soon To Your Company?

Quick: How many Westport-based businesses are B Corp certified?

The answer: one.

A better question: What exactly is B Corp certification?

Administered by the non-profit B Lab, it’s awarded after a comprehensive assessment — from supply chain to charitable giving and employee benefits — that evaluates a company’s operations and business model impact on its workers, community, environment, and customers. B Corp certification “recognizes a company’s social and environmental performance.”

Athleta, Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are all Westport businesses with B Corp certification. Ben & Jerry’s has it too, though they are no longer downtown.

But the only truly local company with the “B” on its door and website is Impact Growth Partners.

That’s not surprising. Founded by Jenifer Gorin, the woman-run consulting firm helps companies expand their social and environmental responsibility. As part of that work, they assist clients through the rigorous B Corp assessment process.

They do it globally. But they’d love local firms to be B Corp certified too.

Any company that is “purpose-driven, and socially and environmentally conscious” can apply, says IGP consultant Kerrie McDevitt. Those businesses can provide either services or products.

Kerrie McDevitt

“It would be great if Westport was a hub for B Corp certification,” McDevitt — who lives here with her husband and 2 children, and serves on the board of the local National Charity League — says. “It would show our commitment to environmental and social consciousness.”

B Corp certification sends an important signal to customers, potential clients and others, she says. “Many millennials and Gen Z-ers want to purchase from, and give business to, companies that care and are engaged.” Recent graduates want to work for those firms too.

A company does not need a consultant like IGP to go through the certification process, she notes. “But it is rigorous. It looks at everything from diversity and inclusion in hiring, to the representation of underserved groups in management and the supply chain, to domestic partner benefits, to the handling of environmental waste and water usage. We can help be a ‘project manager.'”

Not all companies earn certification. But just going through the process can help them learn about themselves, and assess best practices. At this fraught time in American history, many businesses are doing just that.

As for Westport, McDevitt says: “Wouldn’t it be so nice to walk through town, and see the B Corp logo on so many doors.”

(For more information on B Corp certification, click here and here, or email kerrie@impactgrowthpartners.com)

Maggie Brown: Catalyst For Change

The most impactful class Maggie Brown took at Staples High School was Advanced Placement Government. Instructor Suzanne Kammerman opened her eyes to the world around, sparked a goal to vote in every election, and led in part to Maggie’s current project: a weekly newsletter that provides subscribers with opportunities to become activists.

But Maggie also remembered her sophomore chemistry class, with Tony Coccoli. She learned that a catalyst precipitates change.

So she named the newsletter that she and 2 longtime friends from Camp Scatico started “The Catalyst.”

Maggie Brown

Maggie is a 4th generation Westporter. At Staples she served on the Student Assembly executive board. She majored in political science at Washington University, and made sure last fall to be back in Westport to vote in the election.

It did not matter that the candidates were for local races. “The Board of Education has a big effect on kids’ lives, and how the entire community lives,” Maggie points out. “People put a lot of time into serving. It’s important to vote.”

This spring, after George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor “and so many other people whose names we don’t know” were killed, Maggie texted and FaceTimed classmates and friends.

They discussed the privileges they share, realized they “could do more, and do better,” and wondered how they could learn and grow.

Her solution: to create a weekly list of actionable steps.

She and Catalyst co-founders Emma Bochner and Amanda Hartstein work entirely by Zoom. They meet 5 or 6 times a week, compiling topics they think are important for people — particularly their peers — to learn more about. They include voting, the environment, and LGBTQ issues.

In these rapidly changing times, the curators are flexible. A couple of weeks ago, they were all set to send out their newsletter. Suddenly, ICE threatened to deport international college students who do not attend in-person classes this fall.

Maggie and her Catalyst crew scrapped their original plans. They produced a newsletter that included an email to the House Committee on Immigration and Citizenship to overturn the ban; a Change.Org petition, plus links to college-specific petitions at dozens of institutions; links to 5 organizations working on ICE-related issues, and a trailer for “Living Undocumented,” the Netflix series on immigration.

The Catalyst launched earlier this month. They’ve already got nearly 1,000 subscribers.

“We worried about being just another newsletter,” Maggie says. “We try to keep it succinct. We send it out Monday morning, so people can start their week with action steps. People tell us they feel good about having concrete ways to help.”

The Catalyst is not, Maggie says, a vehicle for the founders’ personal opinions. Nor is it “an all-inclusive list of what you should be doing.”

Of course, a weekly newsletter does not pay the bills. Maggie just started a full-time job, as a paralegal. Her Catalyst work takes place before and after hours, during what little free time she has.

That suits her fine.

“Activism is never easy,” she notes. “It’s hard fought. Working for change is constant.”

There it is: a catalyst at work.

(For more information, and to subscribe, click here. To follow on Instagram, click here.)