Category Archives: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes #102

When Carmine Cenatiempo was a teenager, he worked in the John’s Best kitchen. Sandra Calise — about the same age — was a waitress.

As a young kid, he came to the US from Ischia. That’s where her grandparents are from.

No longer teenagers, they got married at Cobb’s Mill.

Carmine and Sandra then …

Thirty years ago this July 1, they bought Calise’s Market.

It was a longtime family business. The previous owners — Sandra’s grandparents — ran it as a grocery and butcher shop.

Carmine and Sandra made it more of a deli. Always a popular spot on the Post Road — just east of Sakura and Cumberland Farms — they ensured it’s a consistently good, always friendly place to eat (and linger).

Sandra does not work there. After graduating from Sacred Heart University, she’s at Settlers & Traders, her father’s real estate company.

But Carmine is always there (except when he’s making a delivery — to a Staples sports team, or any of his many other catering clients).

Carmine and Sandra never say no. Their generosity supports everything, from youth sports and the Weston Fire Department to Pink Aid.

… and now.

Carmine loves his deli, his customers and his family. He and his wife have 3 kids: Francesca (a student at St. Catherine’s in Bridgeport), CJ (who was born at home, before the Weston EMS could arrive) and Charlotte (a soccer player at Gettysburg College).

Carmine works 7 days a week. He never takes a vacation. But he visited Charlotte this spring, when she studied abroad in Rome. With CJ, they visited Ischia — Carmine’s first time back in 40 years.

If you’ve ever been to Calise’s, you know Carmine’s kindness, grace and smile. He and Sandra are humble and loving. They would never ask for anything for themselves.

So a grateful friend — Jean Lepore — is asking instead: Can “06880” give a shoutout to Carmine, Sandra and Calise’s Deli, on their 30th anniversary as owners?

We’re more than honored to do that. In fact — for 3 decades of service, generosity and kindness to our community — Carmine and Sandra are our Unsung Heroes of the week!

Unsung Heroes #101

This Unsung Heroes post started with a request to honor one Bedford Middle School music teacher: Lou Kitchner.

A parent praised him for his “innate passion for music, and the power music can have on an individual child.” She mentioned his special ability to make each student feel special; his utter devotion to his craft, and the youngsters he works with; his ability to reach each at their own level, and help them reach far beyond whatever they thought was possible.

Lou Kitchner

Mr. Kitchner certainly deserves those kudos. But Westport is fortunate to have many other superb music educators too. Each one — from elementary school teachers like Greens Farms’ Suzanne Sherman Propp, to Staples’ Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda (who retires this year, after more than 40 years as band leader) — earns well-deserved praise and love from students and parents.

So — 2 days before the Westport music department’s 4th annual Pops Concert (a sellout, as always) — “06880” hails the entire town’s band, orchestra and vocal teachers as Unsung Heroes.

Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro and Nick Mariconda at the 2018 Candlelight Concert.

But I kept thinking about Lou Kitchner and his Bedford band. This has been a very tough year for his school — and of course Coleytown Middle too. Teachers from 2 schools were suddenly thrown together, in 1 building. Overnight, they had to adapt to an entirely new situation.

With incredible hard work, they got it done. Administrators and staff members — teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, you name it — did whatever they had to to serve their students. (The same thing happened at Staples High, with Coleytown’s 8th graders.)

Spaces and resources were shared. Schedules were worked out. Everyone compromised. The school year went on.

That teamwork was never more evident than on Memorial Day. The Bedford and Coleytown bands marched together. Their numbers were huge. Their sound was impressive. Walking proudly — in front of, behind, and among them — were music teachers from both schools.

The Bedford and Coleytown Middle School bands combined this year. Hundreds of young musicians sounded great — and very together! (Photo/Sarah Tamm)

So everyone who had any part in making the Coleytown/Bedford/Staples transition work this year is an Unsung Hero too.

That’s a lot of heroes. But it takes a village to educate a child.

We bang the drum for all of you.

Unsung Heroes #100

Little things mean a lot.

A you-go-first wave from another driver at the intersection. The guy in the supermarket parking lot who offers to take your cart back to the store. The out-of-the-blue call from a teacher to say how proud she is of your kid.

Those are the random human encounters that make us smile, and lighten our step. They make our day.

Then there are the little things that make every day.

Like the front desk folks at the Westport Weston Family Y. They’re there at 5:30 a.m., when the first commuters race past. They’re there at 10 p.m., when the last laggards leave.

A constant parade passes by. Women rush in, late for their spin class. Kids forget their passes. Men call from the locker room, needing help opening their locker because the idiotic lock jammed again.

They answer phones. They remind people — gently — that their membership has lapsed. And over and over and over again, they check people in.

A typical scene at the Westport Weston Family YMCA front desk.

They do it all with smiles, courtesy, and uncommon grace. Often, they go the extra mile.

They dig into their own pockets to refund money if the vending machine failed. They lend umbrellas to folks who forgot theirs. They call people at home, telling them their credit card was found, and turned in.

They greet us when we arrive. They thank us when we leave. They seem genuinely pleased to see us.

I’m not always in a good mood when I walk into the Y. I may have had a bad day. Someone may have shot into the parking space I was waiting for. I may not look forward to swimming for 45 minutes, back and forth in the pool.

But I’m certainly in a better mood after checking in at their desk. And I’m in a great mood when I leave.

So thanks, all you front desk folks at the Westport Y. I won’t list names, because I’d miss someone.

But you know all our names. That’s one more reason you’re our Unsung Heroes this week.

Unsung Hero #99

In January, Emil Albanese saw an old friend.

The man was “never very svelte,” Emil — a longtime Westporter — says diplomatically. Now, though, he’d lost a lot of weight — and during the holidays, no less.

“How did you do it?” Emil asked.

Not a good way, the man said. He had kidney disease.

He needed a transplant. Unfortunately his wife was not a match. His son was diabetic. And his daughter was pregnant.

Emil asked his blood type. “O negative,” his friend said.

“So am I!” Emil replied.

He quickly added: “I’ll give you mine.”

Emil Albanese

Emil is 62 years old. But he’d just had a physical. His doctor pronounced him “incredibly healthy.”

Tests revealed that Emil was an excellent match for his friend. “We were like brothers!” Emil says with amazement.

Then came more testing: blood, urine and tissue samples; an MRI, to see if Emil could function with just one kidney, plus a session with a psychiatrist.

“Why do you want to do this?” the doctor asked.

“My 87-year-old father has such joy with his grandson,” Emil said. “I want my friend to have that chance too.”

In mid-April, Emil got the word: “We’re good to go.” His friend’s wife wept with joy.

Surgery was scheduled for early May.

Emil Albanese with his doctor. His name is not, as you may think, John Travolta.

The procedure took 6 hours. Small incisions were made in Emil’s navel; a long one went up his side.

His stomach was pumped with gas. The surgeon removed his kidney, tied it off, and made sure his other kidney took over.

The toughest part of post-surgery came from all that gas. Emil hurt everywhere. That’s normal, his doctor said.

This is not Emil Albanese’s actual kidney.

The pain has now subsided. Emil still has to be careful how he moves — he’s at risk for a hernia — but he considers that a small price to pay for giving his friend a kidney.

“I’ve always tried to do the right thing in my life,” Emil says. “I don’t understand how you can not do this, given the chance.”

Other friends and family members call Emil a hero. He does not think he is.

Of course, that’s one of the hallmarks of a hero. Which is why “06880” honors him today.

(For information on organ donation, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Kathleen Galley)

Unsung Heroes #98

Unsung Heroes come from every corner of Westport. They’re in every walk of life — and of every age.

Today, “06880” honors 3 Westport students.

Brett Malizia is a 4th grader at Long Lots Elementary School. His friend and classmate Eden Kopreski was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

As soon as Brett heard, he told his mother — Westport native Ursula Richards Malizia — he wanted to help.

He says:

Before I learned Eden had leukemia, I cared about cancer, but not as much as now. When you learn a friend has cancer, it changes everything. I want to do this because I want every child to be healthy, especially Eden.

Eden has always always been very nice, kind, and funny. She’s such a good friend.

I also know how awful it is to experience being hospitalized and having needles because this happened to me when I was younger with stomach problems. This made me feel so bad for her, so I wanted to figure out how to help.

The 2 families met. Brett decided to run in the Faxon Law 5K Road Race at Jennings Beach on Saturday, June 1. Eden will join him. So will Eden’s twin brother Gavin, her older brother Lucas, and Brett’s mom.

The next day, Brett and his mother will be back — for the Faxon Law half marathon.

Brett Malizia trained for the Faxon races by running in last month’s Minute Man Race. He was joined at the Compo Beach finish line by Eden Kopreski.

They would love having fans cheer them on — or, even better, joining them as they run and walk. (Click here for more information.)

Eden’s family started a GoFundMe page. Part of the money raised will go toward her medical care. Some will also be donated to a leukemia survivor organization.  (Click here to help.)

“I want Eden to be healthy and have a great life,” Brett says. I hope a lot of people contribute to this fight against leukemia and mostly to help Eden.

Brett Malizia and Eden Kopreski: You are true heroes!

Eden’s supporters will wear t-shirts with this on the front, at the Faxon road races next month.

So is Julia Davis.

Though the Staples High School sophomore is busy with dance, Best Buddies, homework, family obligations and friends, she always finds time for AWARE.

That’s the great local organization (the acronym stands for Assisting Women Through Action, Resources and Education) that each year partners with a different non-profit, for a variety of events.

Julia joined AWARE KIDS — the youth arm — as a Kings Highway 5th grader. Her volunteer efforts included preparing diaper bags for new mothers at Malta House, and cooking international recipes with women at Caroline House.

Julia Davis

Julia also works at the annual AWARE fundraiser, and recruits friends to help. She began as a greeter. This year (June 1, Burr Mansion in Fairfield) she has a key role.

The event will help the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants. For over 100 years, CIRI has served newcomers to America, and helped them thrive.

Julia has played an active role in Staples’ CIRI Girls’ Club. Each month, CIRI girls ages 10 to 20 join high schoolers to practice English, and enjoy activities like yoga and arts and crafts. The Staples girls also provide homework help and dinner.

Strong bonds have formed. Julia texts her new friends between meetings. She sends them inspiring message. They in turn inspire her.

Combining two of her passions — dance and volunteering — Julia recently led a Girls’ Club dance session. She got even the shyest girls to participate — and 25 AWARE women, who had planned only to watch. Julia created a specially choreographed number just for them.

Right now, Julia is focused on making AWARE’s “Hope Starts Here” June 1 fundraiser a success. She tells everyone she knows about the food, dancing, raffle — and hearing the immigrant and refugee girls talk about their experiences.

Julia is a true Unsung Hero too. To support her efforts and help the AWARE fundraiser, click here.

(Hat tips: Lindsay Shurman and Amy Saperstein)

Unsung Hero #97

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Robin Hellmann nominates her “fairy godboss” for this week’s Unsung Hero award:

If you live in or around Westport, and you work with young children or have a child with special needs, Barbara Greenspan puts a smile on your face. You feel gratitude for what she has taught you, how she cared for your family, how she loved your child and made you a better parent, caregiver or teacher.

For the past 7 years I have had the honor of working with Barbara at her Kidswork occupational therapy practice here. Everyone who knows her attests to her professional skills, and her overall “amazingness” as a human being.

Whenever people learn I am a pediatric occupational therapist, they ask if I know Barbara Greenspan. I am proud to say I do.

I am also humbled that when Barbara retires in June, she is turning her practice over to me. It will be called Spark Pediatric OT.

Barbara Greenspan

With the planning and coordinating nearly complete, I have had time to reflect on our journey together, and the lessons I have learned working with such a special woman.

One of the best lessons Barbara taught me is the importance of being a mentor and leader.

Barbara turned every question I asked, whether existential or mundane, into an opportunity for me to feel respected as a thinker. She left me with the confidence to keep asking questions and be heard.

Rather than answering my questions with her opinions, she urged me to listen to my gut and let that feeling guide me.

Barbara did not micromanage me. She led by having the confidence to allow me to manage myself.

She trusted my judgment to grow at my own pace with a subtle, encouraging push here and there. She never felt her toes were being stepped on, as I took on more responsibility or shared knowledge with her.

In passing her torch, she leads by example. She leads by choosing, at this stage in her life, to “play a little more and work a little less.”

Barbara, thank you for the gift of working by your side for all these years. I will follow my gut, lead by example, continue to ask questions, and care for our community the best that I can.

Unsung Hero #96

Two years ago, Kammy Maxfeldt was diagnosed with leukemia.

She put her job — head golf professional at Birchwood Country Club — on hold.

But treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering went well. And the other day Kammy won a playoff at a US Senior  Women’s Open qualifier at Union League Golf Club in Cape May County, New Jersey.

Kammy Maxfeldt

Her sudden-death victory earned her the only qualifying position available for the Senior Women’s Open, later this month in North Carolina.

Kammy is 58 years old. She’s been at Birchwood for 17 years. This will be her 4th appearance in a USGA championship.

The South Jersey course was not the closest qualifying event for her. But she skipped one nearby because it conflicted with Ladies’ Opening Day at Birchwood.

“I can’t miss that!” Kammy says.

Good luck, Kammy. For all you do at and for Birchwood — and for your great comeback on the links — you are this week’s Unsung Hero!

(Hat tip: Curtis Angell. For a full story on Kammy’s qualifying victory, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Unsung Hero #95

The Westport school district is filled with fantastic administrators. To a man (and woman), they go far beyond their job descriptions to give personal, authentic, honest and loving devotion to everyone in their buildings.

Particularly kids.

“06880” hates to single out any one principal or vice principal for special mention. So, while we honor Kevin Cazzetta — because the Greens Farms School head has been named Elementary School Principal of the Year (and will be honored at a dinner on May 2) — he symbolizes so much that is good about our district. Today’s Unsung Hero award goes to Mr. Cazzetta, and all his fellow school building administrators.

Kevin Cazzetta

The GFS lauds him for his “even-handed approach to addressing difficult situations, and his balanced perspective in considering everyone’s near- and long-term needs, while always maintaining a focus on what is best for the students and his staff.”

He is accessible and responsive. He meets with parents on any topic. He knows each child’s needs, and works hard to figure out how best to support them.

One specific example of his hands-on approach: When a tree was planted as a memorial at GFS, the principal watered it, and tended diligently to it.

He’s also the elementary school representative on the Community Advisory Committee, representing all 5 schools in analyzing options for the coming year.

This has been a tough year for students, staff, parents and administrators. Congratulations to Kevin Cazzetta, and all his colleagues, for all they’ve done to keep all our schools on top of their game.

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

Unsung Heroes #94

Earlier this month, the Learning Community celebrated the national Week of the Young Child.

On “Friendship Friday,” children at the Hillspoint Road preschool and kindergarten participated in activities with buddy classes. They also helped youngsters at Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport.

Many children there depend on the school as their primary source of food. School breaks — like this one — mark a week of food insecurity.

So throughout the Week of the Young Child, Learning Community families donated healthy snacks and drinks. The children made signs, and helped organize the food into categories.

At the end, every boy and girl helped fill 131 huge bags with granola bars, applesauce, pretzels, crackers, milk and juice.

The bags were delivered to Cesar Batalla before the end of the school day. It was a true group activity.

Thanks to the Learning Community kids, for helping their less fortunate peers.

Congratulations too to the Learning Community staff and parents — led by kindergarten teacher Valerie Greenberg — for instilling the values of care and compassion, and emphasizing the importance of volunteerism, in Westport’s youngest citizens.

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

Unsung Hero #93

Alert “06880” reader Tracy Porosoff nominates this week’s Unsung Hero. She writes:

Nina MacMillan stands at the front door of Greens Farms Elementary School every day. Rain or shine, snow or sleet, she greets every child with a smile and a friendly hello.

Nina MacMillan

Nina has suffered through bouts of bronchitis without complaining.

She is there for early morning orchestra, chorus, band and gym. She never scolds kids when they’re late.

She starts their school day with kindness, friendship, and a sense that they are welcome and eagerly awaited.

To have our kids receive such warmth each and every day is truly a gift for which we are grateful.

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