Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #161

Alert — and ecologically conscious — “06880” reader Pippa Bell Ader writes:

The Sustainable Westport Zero Food Waste Challenge — with a goal of decreasing residential food waste by 25% or more — is off to a good start.

Each week the transfer station collects half a ton of food waste. It’s brought to an industrial composting facility, and made into compost.

Every Saturday since the initiative began in July, a group of committed volunteers has handed out food scrap recycling flyers and answered questions at the transfer station.

They were there at 7 a.m. in the heat of the summer. They did not leave until well after noon, after the gates closed. They did it all with smiles (behind their masks).

Greens Farms Elementary School 5th grade teacher Stacey Fowle hands out a flyer.

Now, in the fall, the volunteers keep giving up part of their weekend, because they know they make a difference. And they know it, because residents thank them for the work they do to make Westport a sustainable community.

Since many transfer station regulars have received the flyer, Zero Food Waste Challenge volunteer hours have been decreased. They now start at 8 a.m.

The lines — which sometimes stretched to the Post Road this summer — are rare, now that all transfer station parking spots are open.

Stacey Williams teams up with a transfer station employee.

So the Zero Food Waste educational focus will move to other locations and events, as opportunities become available. The team was scheduled to attend over 30 events and meetings this summer. COVID canceled them all.

Congratulations to all Zero Food Waste Challenge volunteers: Pippa Bell Ader, Emma Alcyone, Aileen Brill, John Ferencz, Matt Ferencz, Stacey Fowle, Laurie Goldberg, Matthew Longhitano, Julie McDonald, Dylan Michaels, Ashley Moran, Leslie Paparo, Henry Potter, Jessie Schwartz, Dawn Sullivan, Stacey Williams and Trevor Williams. You are our very helpful (and green) Unsung Heroes of the Week!

(For more information about the Zero Food Waste Challenge, click here. For a starter kit ($25; free if income-eligible) go to Earthplace (10 Woodside Lane) weekdays between noon and 4 p.m. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Matthew Ferencz assembles starter kits at Earthplace.

Unsung Heroes #160

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink is its symbol — and the color of roses. What better way, Diana Kuen thought, to commemorate all of the warriors, past and present, who have been impacted by breast cancer than to turn the Saugatuck River pink?

And at the same time, raise money for charity.

That was not an idle notion. Diana is the director and head coach of the Survive-OARS — Saugatuck Rowing Club’s breast cancer survivor rowing program.

So last year, right before sunset, anyone who purchased rose petals was invited to scatter them. High tide carried them — biodegradable and freeze-dried — out to the Sound.

Proceeds benefited the Saugatuck Survive-OARS program, in partnership with the Smilow Family Breast Health Center at Norwalk Hospital.

Diana wanted an encore this year. The COVID pandemic made planning a tad tougher.

But — as breast cancer survivors know — perseverance pays off.

So this Saturday (October 3, 1 to 4 p.m.), the 2nd annual River of Roses will rock the town.

There’s live music. Chef Paul’s famous clam chowder, lobster bisque and butternut squash soup, charcuterie, hummus and apple strudel.

And more. Read on.

Around 2:30 p.m. — as rowers read names of breast cancer warriors past and present — they’ll scatter rose petals again.

Strewing rose petals, last year.

The event will be livestreamed on the Saugatuck Rowing Club website.

There are plenty of opportunities to help. Tickets are $75 each (with assigned seating). Rose petals are $25.

Saugatuck Survive-OARS has teamed up with a fierce group of young female entrepreneurs — the #SewSisters in Norwalk — to create and sell pink face masks.

Click here for tickets, rose petals and/or masks.

Pink face masks

All of that would make Diana Kuen and the Survive-OARS our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

But there are more.

In addition to the food and drink mentioned above, Donut Crazy — which did the same thing last year — said they’d donate a couple of hundred pink frosted donuts.

This has been a very tough year for the shop at the eastbound side of the train station.

They closed for a few months during the heart of the pandemic. Now rail traffic — their bread and butter — is non-existent. Donut Crazy is absolutely an Unsung Hero.

So is Copps Island. They’re contributing 300 oysters, with joy.

When Diane realized she needed a shucker, she asked Rachel Precious — the deliciously named owner of Precious Oysters — if she was available for hire.

Rachel replied quickly — volunteering her services. She’s a Staples High School graduate, a rower — and her cousin was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Rachel is an Unsung Hero too.

And how about a shout-out to Moët Hennessy USA. They’re sponsoring the River of Roses, and providing complimentary Chandon Rosé (of course).

Our list of Unsung Heroes would not be complete without including all the women everywhere, who fight their own battles with breast cancer, while reaching out to help others.

This month is for you. And Saturday is your special day.

Diana Kuen

Unsung Hero #159

Back-to-school 2020 was nothing like years past.

This COVID-filled fall there was a lot less focus on new clothes, backpacks and binders. Parents and kids paid much more attention to masks, hand sanitizers and the amount of space between desks.

It’s a new world. And students, teachers and administrators are smack in the middle of it.

Back to School Night is virtual. Staples Players does choreography outside, on the tennis courts. There is no lunch in the elementary schools.

Behind those changes are human beings. Getting to where we are today was a gargantuan task. It’s not perfect — as superintendent of schools Tom Scarice notes often, it’s a fluid work in progress — but it is a tribute to the Westport Public Schools staff that our public schools are open, with adaptations made for both in-person and distance learning.

Think about it. Teachers have to learn new technology, balance the demands of students sitting a few (at least 6!) feet from them with those a few miles away, create new lessons, take on new tasks — all while figuring out (and worrying about) their own kids in their own schools, not to mention worrying about being back in an environment with many other people, after 6 months away.

Administrators spent the entire summer devising new schedules, monitoring class sizes, measuring classrooms and hallways, creating protocols for lunchrooms and playgrounds and gyms, answering a squintillion questions (many of which had no answer), all while assuaging the fears of some staff, parents and children who did not want to return to school, and others who did not want to stay home.

Then they did it all over again — and again and again — because, like clockwork, the rules and regulations changed.

This is not Westport. But it could be.

Think too about all the school personnel we seldom think about (but always should): Custodians. Cafeteria workers. Secretaries. Nurses. Bus drivers. Substitute teachers. Crossing guards. Security guards.

All are crucial to the functioning of a school. All are doing things differently this year too. All have their own personal concerns, but all care deeply for the buildings they serve, and (more importantly) the boys and girls in them.

No education decision pleases everyone. And every decision about COVID-19 is more controversial than even start times and budgets.

There have been glitches. There will be more. The internet will go down. The number of positive cases will go up. The future is uncertain. But everyone connected with the Westport Public Schools has planned — as best as possible — for today, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.

That’s why all of them are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

If you see anyone involved with any of our schools, thank them for all they do.

From a safe, masked distance, of course.

A message of support, from a grateful Westporter.

Unsung Hero #158

Alice Ely writes:

As gardens chair at Wakeman Town Farm, I’ve had the privilege of knowing Staples High School senior Teagan Smith since she first volunteered in 2017.

She has stepped up to help the planet in ways large and small for her entire high school career. As a freshman she began with the fall harvest, and kept coming. Year after year, she has been on hand and willing to do any job – which at the farm are mostly dirty ones.

Teagan Smith, scrambling to help.

It quickly became apparent that Teagan’s passion is sustainability. Eager to learn more, she has been a quick study of the farm’s sustainable practices, such as composting, winter sowing and non-chemical pest controls.

She has educated visitors about what does (and does not) go in recycling. She reached out to officials at the town Department of Public Works, and created her own flyer of creative recycling projects.

As an upperclassman with many interests and responsibilities, Teagan has continued to make time for the farm. This summer she worked as a Save the Sound intern taking water samples, but still managed a significant commitment to WTF.

She set up the farm stand every Saturday morning, showcasing veggies and flowers in beautiful displays that attracted record numbers of customers. She even shows up for 7 a.m. stints on weekdays!

Teagan Smith, at the WTF farm stand.

Her quiet competence and leadership make it easy for a new crop of volunteers to follow her example.

This year she the helm of Staples’ Club Green. We look forward to hearing what the club tackles next.

For the rest of this challenging year — and, we suspect, the rest of her life — the world will look a little greener because of Teagan Smith.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Teagan Smith, down at Wakeman Town Farm.

 

Unsung Heroes #157

Zulma Heidelberg writes:

My husband Ernie and I have been very active members of the Westport Community Emergency Response Team. He was CERT president for 13 years, and I helped him for a long time.

[NOTE: The Community Emergency Response Team is one of Westport’s most important — and unheralded — volunteer organizations. CERT provides aid during and after hurricanes, blizzards, power and communication failures — you name it. If Westport needs help, CERT is there.

They’re there for non-emergencies too. CERT assists at big public events, like the Compo Beach fireworks and Maker Faire. And they offer education programs in personal preparedness, active shooter awareness and response, and situations involving domestic and international terrorism.]

Westport CERT volunteers, at a training session.

In July, I got very sick and needed emergency surgery. I spent a week at Norwalk Hospital.

When I returned home my family was overwhelmed taking care of me around the clock, cooking and overseeing the household.

Mike Vincelli

We reached out to current CERT president Mike Vincelli and senior member Andrée Brooks. They immediately came to our rescue. They formed a “Food Train,” and for the following 4 weeks members cooked and delivered food to our door.

Friends and neighbors helped too.

We are infinitely grateful for the help we received.

CERT helps every Westporter — friends and strangers, old-timers and newcomers, and everyone in between. They “CERTainly” deserve kudos as Unsung Heroes of the Week! For more information on the organization, click here or email certwestport@gmail.com.

Zulma and Ernie Heidelberg. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

Unsung Hero #156

Like many 6-year-olds, Tess Hinojos loves to dress up and play pretend.

One of her favorite costumes is a police officer. The other day, as she and her mom Hilary were on a walk, an actual Westport Police Department cop drove by.

Tess waved. He waved back, and kept driving.

A few minutes later, he pulled up next to the pair. Officer Shawn Booth stepped out of his car, and handed Tess and her brother Julian “official Junior Westport Officer” badges.

Junior Westport Police Officer Tess Hinojos.

“Tess couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Hillary says.

“We are so fortunate to live in a town with such an exceptional and kind police force. Thanks for making her day, Officer Booth!”

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Unsung Heroes #155

This one’s a no-brainer.

It’s been 8 days since tropical storm Isaias hammered our homes.

Power is still out in some spots. WiFi, cable and phone service may take longer.

But as we look back on the past week, our town is filled with heroes. If you are …

  • A first responder (police, fire, EMT…) who fielded hundreds of calls
  • A second responder, like the Community Emergency Response Team
  • An Eversource worker — or one that the utility outsourced, who drove for hours to get here — and worked tirelessly, in dangerous conditions, sometimes bearing the brunt of residents’ frustrations with Eversource’s highly paid higher-ups
  • A Department of Public Works worker, who made seemingly impassable roads passable
  • A landscaper or tree guy, who had more work than you ever dreamed of from regular customers, but still found time to help homeowners in dire straits who desperately flagged you down

To the rescue! (Photo/C. Swan)

  • A Human Services Department employee, who did way-beyond-the-job-description things like delivering food and water (and toilet paper!) to stranded seniors
  • Nate Gibbons, the fire inspector who provided sane, soothing and life-saving advice on a continuous WWPT-FM loop
  • The staff of the Westport Library, who made sure the generator stayed on so that (literally) thousands of residents could access WiFi, (literally) 24/7

A small part of the large WiFi crowd. (Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

  • A Westporter who helped a neighbor (or stranger) in any way: offering charging or a hot shower; clearing brush; providing food or shelter or a shoulder to cry or vent on — or anything else
  • A restaurant, deli or market owner, who somehow saved or scavenged food, kept it cold or heated it up, and somehow found a way to serve or sell it
  • A Parks & Recreation Department staffer, who got our parks and recreation facilities cleaned up quickly — a take-your-mind-off-your-woes lifesaver for many, especially over the weekend
  • A town official who fielded countless urgent calls, pleas and requests, along with tons of demands and questions; dealt with impossible-to-deal with utility representatives; got the ear of the governor, senators, our congressman and state legislators; kept everyone as safe as possible — and did it all during a pandemic, while also planning for (hey, why not?!) a primary election

… then you are our Heroes of the Day.

I know I’ve missed plenty of categories. Apologies in advance. Feel free to add your own Heroes; click “Comments” below.

Unsung Hero #154

In late March — right after COVID-19 struck — there was a shortage of masks and personal protective gear for first responders.

The Westport Library collaborated with partner MakerSpaces in the region — Fairfield County Makers Guild in Norwalk; Make Haven in New Haven; Danbury Hacker Space — to develop face shields for medical workers in hospitals.

Westport’s effort was led by Mike Altis. He’s worked part-time in the MakerSpace since its inception 8 years ago.

Michael Altis

Each Maker Space printed separate pieces of the face shields. Mike was responsible for printing the headband pieces on the library’s 2 best 3D printers, along with other critical connective pieces.

So far, the team of MakerSpaces has distributed 310 face shields and masks. The primary beneficiary is medical personnel at Norwalk Hospital.

“Mike really is an unsung hero,” says Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer.

“He’s never once bragged about his role in this effort, or called attention to himself. He’s a role model for others. He is dependable, professional, and puts service above self. He makes things happen. I’m proud to have him on my staff.”

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

Unsung Hero #153

Laura Curley Pendergast writes:

David Waldman has been so kind to our Theater Camp 4 Kids Broadway Academy.

We were in a tough spot, because my studio — where we always do my summer camps — is closed because of COVID. There was no place to take the young actors who depend on these camps all summer.

David Waldman and friend.

David offered his beautiful Bedford Square courtyard. He was so kind and generous, and made all the young actors feel at home. (He even brought his new puppy, for the kids to see.)

One day, when rain was predicted, he even put up 2 tents. He wanted us to be outdoors, where it is much safer for children. (When thunder and lightning came, he let us all inside!)

I can’t thank him enough for giving our young actors an opportunity to thrive under our “new normal.” It has not been easy for anyone in the theater industry.

I know downtown is hurting economically. But David never asked for any money. He did this out of the kindness of his heart, and made us feel so welcome.

He saved the day. And he did it with such grace, gentlemanliness, humor and love for the next generation. He really deserves our praise!

This is why I love Westport. David is the kind of person who makes this such a great place!

Broadway Academy, at Bedford Square.

Unsung Hero #152

Alert — and overwhelmed with gratitude — “06880” reader Melissa Balmer writes:

The other day my 10-year-old daughter had a tooth extracted. She could only eat soft foods, so on the way home from the dentist — and the first time in over 3 months — I stopped at Trader Joe’s.

I bought mashed potatoes, soft pasta, yogurt and 2 large watermelons. At checkout my credit card was declined once, then twice.

I brought out a second card. It too was declined. Confusion turned to panic as I brought out a third card. Declined!

At that point Jared – I think he’s a manager – swooped in and said, “Maybe it’s the machine. Let’s try over here.” He tried once more, but it still did not work.

I checked my cash. I was $4 short.

Calmly and amazingly he said, “No problem. I’ll cover the $4.”

I protested that I was good for it. I could put a watermelon back or come back with more cash. But he had already cashed it out and smiled, handing me my receipt. He wished me a good day.

I was stunned. As we walked to the car my daughter said, ” What a nice man.” What a nice man indeed!

At home I fixed the credit card mix-up, and sent my husband over with a thank- you note and return of the loan to Jared.

Maybe this isn’t blog-worthy, given the protests and turmoil in our country. But it might be nice to celebrate such a wonderful neighbor in our community.

Jared saw a frazzled mom trying to buy her kid watermelon. He helped without a second thought, in the kindest manner I had ever seen. We’re lucky to have him in our community.