Category Archives: Teenagers

Next Attraction: A Drive-In Theater!

Today’s teenagers have out on a lot of things:

Dial phones. Dial-up modems. Drive-in movies.

Stephen Rowland is a very involved Staples High School senior. Among other activities he’s a varsity soccer player, serves meals at the Gillespie Center, and is a Homes With Hope youth board member.

A year ago, his father casually mentioned drive-in movies. Intrigued by the concept, Stephen searched online for more.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Kids: This was how America used to roll.

Not long after, the Homes With Hope youth board was casting about for a new, exciting fundraiser.

Bingo!

Producing a pop-up drive-in movie in Westport is not easy. But Stephen and the rest of the youth board found a company with a 40-foot screen, projector and sound system.

Compo Beach — near the kayak launch — seemed like the perfect spot.

Permits were needed, from town commissions. But Stephen and his peers pushed hard.

“The idea of driving up to a movie, not getting out of your car, being comfortable and having fun, is pretty cool,” Stephen says.

So this Saturday (October 1, 7 p.m.), “Ghostbusters” — a 1984 classic chosen for its broad appeal to kids, teenagers and parents — will be shown on what is believed to be Westport’s 1st-ever drive-in movie screen.

The only other better choice would be “Back to the Future.”

(The Westport Cinema Initiative is a partner with this project. The cost is $30 per car — cheap enough so that no one has to hide in the trunk. Besides, proceeds benefit Homes With Hope. Beach stickers are not required. Joey’s by the Shore will be open for food. For more information, click here.)

New York Sports Club Lives On

When the Westport branch of New York Sports Club closed in July, they left behind a number of disappointed clients.

They also did something wonderful for a 16-year-old boy.

new-york-sports-clubMorgaine Pauker was one of those customers. Her husband Mark works with a man from Easton whose son Zach had just been paralyzed from the waist down, in a car accident.

Mark and Morgaine wondered if NYSC would donate some upper body strength equipment.

The club usually distributes excess machines to other NYSC locations. But they considered the request, and said they were happy to help

Then they went the extra mile. The other day, a machine was delivered to Zach’s house — and installed.

New York Sports Club is gone from Westport. But in one nearby home, it will never be forgotten.

(Click here to contribute to Zach’s medical fund.) 

Delivering the strength machine to Zach's home.

Delivering the strength machine to Zach’s home.

One Small Step For Mental Health Awareness

A few days after the Sandy Hook massacre, Max Eigen was in Florida with his family.

Walking the beach on vacation, he and his brothers thought of a small way to help. They collected shells, threaded them with string and beads, then brought them home to sell.

That tiny gesture raised more than $5,000 for Sandy Hook families.

A few months ago, Max was in Florida again. This time, it was the aftermath of 3 suicides: a Staples High School student, Staples teacher and Westport police officer.

Once again, Max wanted to make a difference.

He collected more shells. Once again, he raised $5,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

From left: Max, Sam and Jack Eigen.

“It’s hard to sit in Westport and watch all of this,” the Staples sophomore, lacrosse and basketball player, and Service League of Boys (SLOBs) member, says.

“At first I thought there was nothing I could do. But there is.”

He’s talking to the school’s outreach counselor Ed Milton, and Department of Human Services’ Elaine Daignault. He wants them to help organize a club, to keep the issues of mental health and suicide in the forefront of students’ minds.

It’s still in the planning stages. But twice already, Max Eigen has proven he gets to work.

And gets things done.

“Lost Film” Resurfaces

In the 3 days since it was posted on YouTube, a “Lost Film” has rocketed around the internet.

Well, at least on Facebook groups filled with folks who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s.

The 4:30 color video — grainy and jerky, with scenes of teenagers, Weston center, downtown (including the old YMCA and Mobil station, now Vineyard Vines), a 1-light cop car and the 9-building, 1-story Staples High School — is made much more compelling by dream-like music. For those who lived here then, it’s almost like stepping into a time warp.

A scene from "Lost Film." The Main Street building on the left -- now the Gap -- was then a furniture store.

A scene from “Lost Film.” The Main Street building on the left — now the Gap — was then a furniture store.

It’s safe to assume that “Lost Film” — the YouTube title — means that whoever shot it finally found it, decades later.

The story is stranger than that.

It turns out that in 1970 or so, Staples Class of ’72 member John S. Johnson and 2 friends — Wayne Vosburgh and John Fisher — found the 16mm film on campus.

Because home projectors then were 8mm, they asked the librarian for help. She set them up in a room. They did not think much of what they saw.

For the past 46 years, the spool remained in Johnson’s dresser drawer. He sometimes thought about transferring the film to video.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Last week — before leaving on a trip to Westport — he dropped it off at a local shop to get it done.

After viewing the digitized version, his perspective changed. Johnson realized each scene went by too quickly to dissect and reminisce.

He slowed it down about 50%. Then he added the ethereal music.

The video says “circa 1967.” Johnson now believes it was made around 1969.

It shows teenagers in Westport in a very specific point in time.

But it’s also timeless.

(Hat tips: Bill Scheffler and Mary Gai)


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Birth, Life And Death: Westport’s 9/11 Babies

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001.

Another 13,328 Americans were born that day.

Hillary O’Neill was one of them.

Her parents — Coleytown Middle School teacher Glenn, and Heather, a landscape designer — spent that awful morning at Norwalk Hospital. They watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell, the Pentagon burned, and the world wondered what would happen next.

Hillary arrived at 2:55 p.m. Outside the delivery room hospital staff rushed around, preparing for an overflow onslaught of victims from Manhattan who never came.

Hillary O'Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Hillary O’Neill (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Today, Hillary turns 15. Her birthday feels like none of the other 364 days of the year. This month, Esquire.com published her insights.

Hillary says that her parents never tried to hide her unique birthday from her. They showed her videos and news stories about 9/11. She heard “the panic in people’s voices.”

When she was 9 days old, President Bush declared a war on terror. It’s been going on ever since. “It’s the norm for me,” she told Esquire.  “And I feel like it’s only going to get worse.”

Like her friends, the Staples High School sophomore thinks — and worries about — the high cost of education. Conflicts in the Middle East. Terror attacks.

But in the tales she’s heard about the day she was born, Hillary also finds hope. She says:

When I heard the stories about how 9/11 was in the days afterwards, I heard how everyone came together, and everyone was nicer to each other. To me, it’s important to be able to be that sense of hope. I know some of our family friends lost their spouses or parents, and on my birthday, they always make sure to send me a card or text. I think it’s such a hard day for them that thinking about it as my birthday is a lot easier—something happy on a day that would otherwise have no joy.

For me, my birthday is big because it’s happy and marks me getting older, but for the rest of the world, my birthday means one of the worst days they can remember. On my birthday—I don’t know how to put it into words. Conflicting, is what I’m trying to say.

It’s conflicting emotions, because I feel like it’s really important to have a day to remember the victims of 9/11, but I also want to celebrate. I’ve come to the point now where I can find a way to do both. Now, honoring victims has become the celebration of my birthday—like volunteering, which I did last year. That’s just as good as any celebration to me.

Heather and Hillary O'Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

Heather and Hillary O’Neill. (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

I’m proud to be an American. I’m glad I live in a country where change can happen, even though it might be difficult. My dad for example, he’s from Ireland, and when he moved here, his whole family wanted to be in America because it represented this hope and future you could have. It’s represented hope for so many people from other countries. I feel like we need to get that feeling back.

Being born on 9/11 is a part of who I am. It’s a responsibility to bring hope to the world that I try to carry with me every day.

(Click here to read the full Esquire interview with Hillary O’Neill.)


Another Staples High School student — Gabriel Dick — was born 6 days after Hillary.

His birth was tinged with even more sorrow: His father was killed when the North Tower collapsed.

He never knew his dad, Ariel Jacobs. But Gabi imagines him on the top floor, he told People.com.

“I think he knows he’s gonna die, but he’s at peace and he’s just hoping my mom and I are gonna be okay.”

Gabi believes his father is “out there — somewhere, guiding me along my path in life.” He and his mother release red balloons on 9/11, with notes to Ari.

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Gabriel Dick (Photo/Abbie Townsend Venture Photography Greenwich)

Fifteen years later, Gabi says, “I know that I missed out, but I don’t need people to feel sorry for me because there’s nothing for me to remember. I just need them to understand that I lost something.”

(Click here to read the full People magazine interview with Gabriel Dick.)

(Hat tip: Kerry Long)


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Charlotte Rossi Cycles Through America

Most Staples High School athletes prepared for this fall season by running, working out and attending camps.

Charlotte Rossi biked 3,250 miles — and over 3 mountain ranges — from Charleston, South Carolina to Santa Monica, California.

It was the 3rd bike trip she took with Overland Summers. But compared to this, her others — a 250-mile, 2-week journey Vermont journey and a 1,000-mile, 4-week trek from Seattle to San Francisco — were strolls in the park.

Charlotte Rossi: Staples High School soccer star.

Charlotte Rossi: Staples High School soccer star.

Charlotte — a Staples soccer captain who attributes her love of biking to her parents, Paul and Marguerite (and who also serves as Staples Players senior manager for the front of the house, plays French horn in the band and volunteers with the National Charity League) — wanted to do the cross-country “American Challenge” last year. She spent it instead going to soccer recruitment camps for college.

Last February — the day after she committed to Fordham University — she called Overland Summers.

The organization sends out training regimens. But at the end of April Charlotte sprained her ankle — playing soccer, of course — and for the next 5 weeks wore a boot.

It came off a week before the trip. Charlotte did only 5 20-mile rides. “I thought the South was flat, and I’d be fine,” she laughs.

The biking on this trip was far more intense than her previous 2. To beat the heat, the group rose every morning at 4 a.m. They covered 70 to 120 miles a day. There was no support van, so each person carried 50 pounds of gear.

The dozen teenagers and 2 leaders camped out often. Other times they slept in churches, rec centers and private homes.

With no cell phones, everyone spent time actually talking as they rode. Charlotte discovered “the importance of conversation. We didn’t check each other out on Facebook. We actually got to learn who each person was.”

The American Challenge riders, en route.

The American Challenge riders, en route.

She also learned how to talk to strangers — the many folks they met who took time to ask the riders what they were doing, and why.

But some parts of the trip were unexplainable. As one leader said, “This is the only group of people who will ever really understand what you’ve been through.”

Charlotte adds, “I could not have gotten through the trip without this group. Whenever someone didn’t want to get on their bike, someone else said, ‘You can do it!'”

That encouragement meant everything. Riding across America, Charlotte saw places she’d never otherwise see — like the tourist town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas and the very friendly stopover in Scott City, Kansas.

The hardest days were the ones crossing the Ozarks, Rockies and San Gabriel Mountains. But the views — particularly from Durango, Colorado — were “unreal,” Charlotte says.

Only 2 states to go!

Only 2 states to go!

The California range was especially memorable. The group spent their last night at a campground, reflecting on the previous 6 weeks.

The next morning, they still had 20 miles to climb. After all they’d been through, it was a snap.

Then came a long 10-mile descent. Suddenly they saw Los Angeles: civilization!

When they reached Ocean Boulevard, most sobbed with emotion. There were banners and flags — and, waiting at the bottom, the Overland support team and the bikers’ parents.

A large crowd had no idea what they were cheering for, but they urged the group on.

At the beach they threw their bikes down, took off their front wheels, and sprinted to dip them in the Pacific.

Charlotte Rossi, taking a rare rest.

Charlotte Rossi, taking a rare rest.

Back in Westport, Charlotte found herself in great physical condition for the new soccer season.

She was in even better mental shape.

“Whenever I had to do something hard in training, I told myself I’ve just done something much harder,” she says.

As a captain, she’s learned the importance of supporting teammates. “Just a little high 5 or word of encouragement means so much,” she explains. “I know how much it meant to me this summer.”

So — as she looks forward to a great season, and then Fordham — does she plan any more bike trips?

“I hope so,” Charlotte says. “I really want to be a leader for a bike company. The ride is a real challenge for them — plus they’re responsible for 12 kids.”

Saugatuck Rowers Represent

International rowing is no day at the beach.

As soon as Staples High School ended in June, 3 Saugatuck Rowing Club racers left for junior national team training camps.

After intense workouts, they were selected to represent the US at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The next competition began immediately: for seats in the boat. That continued almost until the starting gun, for what was billed as the largest world rowing championship ever.

Their hard work paid off. Harrison Burke and Kelsey McGinley took bronzes in the men’s and women’s junior 4+ and 4-, respectively. Grace McGinley placed 5th in the grand final of the women’s 8+ event. All are Staples students.

Kelsey McGinley (center) hugs her teammates after earning the women's junior 4+ bronze medal.

Kelsey McGinley (center) hugs her teammates after earning the women’s junior 4- bronze medal.

Then the fun began.

As soon as they secured their boats, rowers from the many competing countries converged in a “mosh pit” near the finish line grandstand, to trade gear.

The Westporters returned home with uniforms and more from Holland, Britain, Germany, Chile, South Africa and more.

Rowers who had just battled head to head — at the highest level — smiled at each other, happily negotiating trades. Fortunately for our kids, US gear was hot.

Harrison Burke (left) snapped selfies with other national rowing teams.

Harrison Burke (left) snapped selfies with other national rowing teams.

Saugatuck rowers rise before dawn and train on the icy river — then go back to hit the gym after school — for many reasons.

Earning a place on the national team is one.

Becoming friends with competitors from all over the world — earning respect, and sharing their uniforms — is another.

Congratulations, Harrison, Kelsey and Grace. You’ve done us — and yourselves — proud!

Westport Arts Center Offers A Bully Pulpit

Whether you’ve got a school-age kid or not, these days it’s tough to avoid hearing about bullying. Its causes, its effects, how to change it (or whether we’re overreacting) — bullying everywhere, from our schools and the media to the presidential campaign.

Soon, even the Westport Arts Center will tackle the topic.

WAC - More than WordsAn exhibition called “MORE Than Words” opens September 9. Utilizing artists, speakers, panels and films, it examines bullying within a broad cultural context. The exhibit focuses on courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying, and considers how imbalances of social, physical and political power can marginalize others.

The WAC show includes artistic expressions of gender, racial, religious, geopolitical and age inequality, and includes cyber-bullying. The goal is to inspire dialogue and change.

Recognizing that the best responses to bullying are community-wide, the WAC has enlisted the help of important local organizations. They include the Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Library, SKATE/K2BK, Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport, Anti-Defamation League and Norwalk’s LGBT Triangle Community Center.

Also involved: Athlete Ally and the National Charity League.

WAC exhibition - Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer’s piece in the “MORE Than Words” exhibition.

The exhibit was conceived by board member — and father of 2 young girls — Derek Goodman.

“We’ve all dealt with bullies,” he says. “At the same time, a number of well-known, influential artists have used their work to address it. We hope we’ve put together a platform to open dialogue, so that people in Westport feel comfortable discussing it.”

As the WAC partners with a variety of local organizations, he says, the town has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the battle against bullying.

“We’re not the experts,” he notes of the Westport Arts Center. “But we’re honored to put together a show for experts to help lead the conversation.”

(An opening reception is set for September 9, from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit runs through October 29. For more information on “MORE Than Words,” click here.)

Maizy Boosin’s Got Chops

“Chopped” is a popular cooking show, combining the ingredients of skill, speed and ingenuity.

Each week, 4 chefs turn a mystery basket into a 3-course meal. Along the way they’re “chopped” by a panel of expert judges, until 1 winner remains.

Oh yeah: The chefs have only seconds to plan, and 30 minutes to cook, with items they don’t know about beforehand.

This Tuesday (August 9, 8 p.m., Food Network), Westport’s own Maizy Boosin puts herself on the chopping block.

What’s especially impressive is that she’s only 13 years old.

Maizy Boosin waits to open her basket on "Chopped."

Maizy Boosin waits to open her basket on “Chopped.”

The rising 8th grader at New Canaan Country School appears on the junior version of Chopped. But it’s no less intense than the show with the big boys (and girls).

Her episode — taped last May — features chefs Maneel Chauhan and Andrew Gruel, plus actress Meghan Markle.

The show begins with a 3 1/2-pound peanut butter cup, and a too-hot griddle. The basket also includes pork and strong-flavored candy.

I can’t tell you how Maizy does. (Because I don’t know.) Tune in Tuesday to find out.

Maybe with a nice big bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

(Maizy’s Chopped Junior episode will also air on Wednesday, August 10 at 3 a.m.; Saturday, August 13 at 4 p.m., and Sunday, August 21 at 5 p.m. For more information, click here.)


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Westport Falling Short As ABC Hosts

For well over a decade, A Better Chance of Westport has enriched the lives of youngsters from underserved communities. They in turn have given much back to Staples High School, and our entire town.

It’s not easy for young teenagers to leave homes far away — and very different lives — for Glendarcy House on North Avenue. The resident directors there — where the 8 ABC scholars live during the week — provide vital support and encouragement.

The 2016 A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

The 2016 A Better Chance of Westport scholars.

But they need some breaks. And the teens need to get out, become part of Westport and forge individual identities.

A special part of the ABC program pairs each scholar with a host family. They share every Sunday (except during school breaks), and one full weekend a month.

It’s a win-win. The ABC youngsters enjoy the benefits of a family life away from their real families; they in turn give their host families (including kids) a new perspective on what’s important in life, a window into another culture — and tons of fun.

Last March, at ABC’s annual fundraiser, Deirdre Teed described how excited her children were when they learned their family had been selected to host Thomas Jones. “We won! We won!” they shouted.

Over 4 years, the relationship had its ups and downs. But it grew steadily deeper, Deirdre said — and will last for years.

With Thomas on the brink of graduation, Deirdre repeated — emphatically and tearfully — “We won!”

When ABC scholars speak at the annual fundraiser, they describe with love and awe their relationshp with host families. In 2014, Ruben Guardado spoke with confidence and poise.

When ABC scholars address the annual fundraiser, they describe with love and awe their relationshp with host families. In 2014, Ruben Guardado spoke with confidence and poise.

With so many benefits flowing in both directions, you’d think there would be a long list of Westport families eager to host.

You would be wrong.

Over the years, it’s become increasingly difficult for ABC volunteers to recruit new families. Surprisingly, it’s especially tough to find those with a student or 2 of their own at Staples — the best scenario for a “new kid” trying to fit in there.

In just a few weeks, 3 new scholars arrive. The program is still 1 family short.

That means ABC can’t provide a wonderful 13-year-old coming all the way from California with the support and continuity that are the hallmarks of a host-family relationship.

He’s an honors student who plays alto sax, runs cross country and is an altar server at his church.

He values “communication, cooperation and trust,” and hopes ABC can help him fulfill his potential.

The Westport family lucky to share their lives with him will, in turn, be supported by the ABC organization.

ABC logoEach host family has an alternate family that can step in when life is just too complicated. There’s also a network of volunteers and staff, ready to consult and counsel.

ABC officials are surprised at how tough it’s been to find host families. That’s not the Westport they know. And it’s not the Westport that scholars grow to know, during their wonderful — if not always smooth — years here.

Becoming a host family is not always as easy as 1-2-3. But learning more is as simple as ABC.

For information on becoming a host family, contact Nancy Yates (nyates@post.harvard.edu) or Michael Wolfe (wolfeml@optonline.net).


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