This week’s Unsung Heroes selection is a no-brainer.
No matter what you thought of the election — and the months-that-seemed-like millennia run-up to it — you know one thing: We could not have voted without help.
I don’t mean help in choosing a candidate. If I never get another text saying “Daniel, this is Caroline from the xxxx campaign!” it will be too soon.
I mean the behind-the-scenes help. To the town clerk ‘s office; the League of Women Voters and other volunteers who compiled and disseminated information, and (of course!) the poll workers who braved COVID, closed-in indoor spaces and vague threats of disruption to ensure that democracy prevails: thank you. Many of those spending long hours are polling places were high school and college students. How great to get them involved — along with all the regulars, who have done it for decades. (Nice too how many people thanked them profusely.)
Staples High School senior Reed Caney volunteered as a poll worker yesterday, at Long Lots Elementary School.
And how about the registrars of voters? In a herculean effort this past Saturday, they opened approximately 8,000 returned absentee ballots. They rejected only 5 (!), because of issues like improper envelopes or missing signatures.
On Monday, they personally notified those 5 voters — and advised them to vote in person yesterday.
We’ve been through a lot this year. You helped bring a bit of normalcy into very uncertain times.
I know, I know. You don’t do it for the glory. (And certainly not for the pay.)
But that makes your work even more important, inspiring and incredible.
Alert — and very, very grateful — “06880” reader Heidi Curran writes:
The other day I lived a nightmare when my dog Milo went missing from Winslow Park.
After 20 minutes of searching with a couple of incredibly kind strangers, we learned that a dog fitting his description had been hit by a car on Compo Road North and Tamarac.
A dog walker named Sarah had seen him, stopped to try and catch him, then witnessed the accident when he ran across the road. She lost him, but had the foresight to alert Animal Control and post the details on Facebook’s Westport Front Porch page.
The power of social media! I immediately posted on Westport Front Porch too.
Amie Peck, a resident of that area, spread the word very quickly. Before we knew it, many of my good friends and many good strangers were mobilized to find Milo.
I literally heard Milo’s name called out all over town.
He somehow made his way up to the area of North Avenue and Terhune Drive. I got a call around 2 p.m. from Caroline Luke Ugolyn. She tried her best to catch him, but he was frightened and disoriented.
Again, friends and neighbors came to search the area. More people got involved, making posters, sending texts, offering to buy food, contacting other friends and neighbors to get the word out.
At dusk we were still searching. As darkness and fog descended, people were out calling his name.
At 8 p.m. I received a text from my friend Sarah Daw. She me in touch with Laura and Eily Tucker. I couldn’t believe it: They had him!
They were on North Avenue and Terhune. 9-year-old Eily was feeding him treats, while Laura had him contained. Thankfully my husband and son were near there. They got to him in seconds.
He has been checked by the vet. While he’s a little sore and exhausted, he has no injuries. We are beyond delighted to have him home safe and sound.
I cannot tell you how overwhelmed with love and gratitude I am for the communities of Westport, Weston, Wilton and beyond. The incredible outpouring of concern on social media, the advice, the ideas, the sharing of information and the people involved with his search was simply breathtaking.
Thanks to everyone for your messages, whether by text, phone calls or Facebook posts.
Without everyone’s help we would not have found him unharmed. I hope through “06880” I can reach every person involved — friends, families and strangers — to convey our thanks and gratitude for everything you have done for us.
The Winslow Park dog community.
It’s impossible to name every person, but here are a few:
Sarah, the lady who initially spotted him and got the word out
Marnee, the kind lady from the dog park
Ana the dog walker, and the Winslow dog walking community
Kristina Andrew and Malcolm Boyd
Anne, Eugene and Cameryn Brink
Linda and Verity Abel
Laura and Eily Tucker
Caroline Luke Ugolyn
Alex, Dave and Ryan Cirasuolo
Lisa Aldridge and family
Celia from the dog park
Silvia and Todd Coleman
So many kind strangers, neighbors and Facebook friends!
I am so sorry if I have not mentioned you. You know who you are, and we are forever grateful.
Randy Herbertson is president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. He writes:
Jacqui Bidgood has been an on-and-off resident of Westport for over 15 years, and WDMA events director for 4. Under her very capable management we have hosted many well-attended events, from the Fine Arts Festival to Westoberfest and Fashionably Westport. All have contributed to the relevance of our downtown district.
Additionally Jacqui has spearheaded the selection and management of our beautiful summer baskets, working with local growers, as well as our 2020 barrel program. Both further enhanced the public and private beautification of the area.
Jacqui Bidgood, with Fine Arts Festival volunteers.
When the pandemic struck and our big events could no longer happen, Jacqui rose to the challenge to show our community the DMA could mount safe events that would continue to attract local residents (and our many new transplants) to our stores and restaurants, in a much-needed time.
In barely 6 weeks, Jacqui will have made three diverse events happen: Fitness & Wellness Day, Fall Fashion Day (replacing the traditional sidewalk sale), and Family Pumpkinfest (replacing the Halloween parade).
All this took many hours of planning, close collaboration with town officials, and tireless effort to secure sponsors that enable these events to run well — and for free.
Her great attention to detail, tenacity and creative problem solving have turned all these ideas into welcome reality.
Randy is right. These events did not just happen. They happened in large part thanks to this week’s Unsung Hero, Jacqui Bidgood.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
Matthew Ferencz assembles starter kits at Earthplace.
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?
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.
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 email@example.com)
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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