Category Archives: Westport life

Amy Feder: Eldercare Concierge

Amy Feder has always found seniors fascinating. At weddings, she says, “I talk to the grandmother no one else pays attention to.”

Helping people is in her DNA. Her father was a child psychiatrist; her mother taught special ed.

Amy found her calling in social work. She earned a master’s from New York University, and is certified as a dementia practitioner and geriatric care manager.

She moved to Westport 20 years ago, and raised her children here. “This town has been so good to me,” she says. “I’ve never felt alone.”

Amy Feder

After working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NYU Medical Center, Norwalk’s Family & Children’s Agency and, for the past 8 years, Jewish Senior Services as a care coordinator helping people stay in their own homes, Amy is now a private practitioner.

Her niche is eldercare and aging. She’s in the right place at the right time.

“I was getting calls from friends for help with elderly parents or spouses,” she says. “They needed knowledge, advocacy and support. I became a concierge for eldercare.”

Their questions were real, and crucial: How do I find an assisted living community? How do I talk to my parents about driving? How do I figure out the Medicare maze? I’m burned out from being a caregiver — can you help?

COVID has amplified senior issues. Isolation is bad enough; add the need for conversations about end-of-life care, and Amy has been busy since spring.

She has been pleased — but not surprised — by how well many senior have coped with the coronavirus. “They’re less restless than younger people,” Amy says. “They’re resilient.” Of course, isolation is tough for everyone, at any age.

Sometimes she consults for an hour. Other times she provides ongoing counseling.

Over the past several months, Amy has helped families set up technology for loved ones, to keep connected. She’s found communities where they can engage with others. She’s offered strategies to combat loneliness.

Y’s Men meetings are now held by Zoom. Amy Feder helps seniors and families set up technology, to stay connected.

Always, she listens. Often, Amy notes, “people just need someone to talk to.”

A while ago, she had to have end-of-life discussions with her own mother. They were painful, she admits. But Amy found solace that her mother died with “all of her wishes known.”

The pandemic hastened trends that Amy had already noticed, like telemedicine. She finds the future exciting — for seniors and their families.

She believes Westport is a “great town” for seniors. “The Senior Center is fabulous — it’s closed now, but they still run great programs. And there are plenty of resources all over town.”

Still, she adds, “we could use more senior housing. We’re an aging population, and this is an expensive town and state to age in.”

The Residence at Westport is our town’s first assisted living facility. Amy Feder says we need more senior housing options.

Having had a vaccine, Amy is available for home visits.

“It’s important to engage now and plan ahead,” she says. “No one wants to get into an emergency situation.”

(For more information click here, email amyfeder@optonline.net, or call 917-826-6660.)

Happy New Year

Westport Values Transform A New York Co-op

Earlier this month, the New York Times Real Estate section examined the challenges that coop buildings face during the pandemic.

The lead focused on Lori Levine van Arsdale. She’s the board president of a 5 -unit cooperative near Gramercy Park. Owners there have not always played nice.

Lori is also an 8-year resident of Westport. Her experience here — with great neighbors who look out for each other — has inspired her to make her city residence a more friendly place too.

That was not mentioned in the Times story. But the other day, she talked about it for “06880.”

Lori grew up in New York. She’s owned her co-op for 15 years, and loves the neighborhood.

When she she married her husband Jan 8 years ago, he’d lived in Westport for nearly a decade. They blended their families — she had 2 dogs; he had 2 dogs and 4 kids — and bought a new home. It’s off Park Lane, behind Trader Joe’s.

The van Arsdales (from left): Jansen with Kipper, Stedman, Carolynn with Casey, Jane, Jan with Suki, and Lori.

Many of their neighbors are older than the van Arsdales. Yet right from the start — when a woman brought herbs from her garden — Lori felt welcomed.

Everyone socialized, celebrated birthdays, lent leaf blowers. A neighbor called Lori once in New York, when she spotted an intruder in Lori’s back yard. The Van Arsdales’ stepsons shoveled neighbors’ driveways.

When COVID struck, Lori and Jan spent most of her time in New York. Westport neighbors checked in by phone. One told Lori that her stepchildren — 24, 22, 20 and 18 years old — were doing great. One had offered to go food shopping for homebound neighbors.

“That’s the way living should be,” Lori says. “I wondered why it wasn’t happening in my 5-unit brownstone.”

Owners in the self-managed 1851 building did not get along. When 3 units came on the market, Lori decided things could change. She ran for president, and won.

Lori Levine van Arsdale on the steps of her Gramercy Park co-op. (Photo/Katherine Marks for the New York Times)

She had a long conversation with the remaining owners about working cooperatively, and showing each other kindness and appreciation for all the extra work and effort needed to make their units a home.

She brought her Westport sensibility to the new owners too. Neighborliness became the norm. Her husband shoveled the sidewalk and steps; another owner did the patio.

The co-op bought 2 outdoor heaters for the back yard. They added a table and pop-up gazebo, so people could eat together outside.

“It’s lovely now,” Lori says. “It’s like house living in a communal environment.”

Adapting suburban values to urban living has changed the dynamics of her building. “I’ll never again come home to contentious people,” she says.

She’s changed her views on city life in general too. “This is what everyone should do for someone else. I’ve lived in high rises, where the only interaction you have is with the doorman — not even the people on your floor. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Meanwhile, Lori remains connected to Westport. This is where the family celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years (it’s the van Arsdales’ anniversary).

“When we blended our family, we wanted everyone to really feel at home,” she says. “We’ve created a home there. Westport has really rubbed off on us.”

Lori laughs. “From the outside, it must have looked like I was living a ‘Sex in the City’ life. Suburbia to me meant Westchester. I always thought Connecticut would be stuffy. But Westport isn’t. It’s charming.”

COVID has caused many city residents to move here, she notes. She hopes they find this to be a great community too.

But — unless they keep their co-op — they can’t bring Westport life back to New York the way she did.

A Holiday Pause

After a slow start, for the past few days this COVID holiday shopping season seemed as crowded as any other.

Today, with Christmas at home and dreary weather, the streets were deserted.

We haven’t seen the Post Road this empty this since the first days of the pandemic.

(Photo/Carolanne Curry)

Tomorrow, it’s back to the new normal.

And The Holiday House Decorating Contest Winner Is …

The lights are all strung. The decorations are all hung.

And the votes are all in. The little drummer boy gives us a drum roll for the winners of Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department Holiday Home Decorating Contest. They are …

1st Place: 1 Quintard Place – The Mirabelli Family

2nd Place: 25 Hillandale Road – The Lozyniak Family

3rd Place: 4 Fairport Road – The Carusone Family

1 Quintard Place — the winner!

Here are other entrants. Stop by and visit (though tonight might not be the best night, weather-wise!).

  • 2 Wilcox Lane
  • 8 Evergreen Parkway
  • 14 Brooklawn Drive
  • 1 Lyndale Park
  • 359 Wilton Road
  • 11 Sachem Trail
  • 57 Bermuda Road
  • 20 Bridge Street
  • 6 Vani Court
  • 1 Yankee Hill Road
  • 2 Hidden Hill Road
  • 17 Buena Vista Drive
  • 61 Bulkley Avenue North

Marpe: Celebrate Holidays Quietly — At Home

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

2020 has obviously been a unique and challenging year in Westport, the nation, and the world. We remember those among us who have been negatively impacted by this horrible pandemic, and we send them our healing thoughts and prayers.

In their honor, I respectfully request that you enjoy Christmas and New Year’s with only those in your immediate household, foregoing travel and large gatherings. Instead, I encourage you to stay safe and stay at home. By doing so, I’m confident that by this time next year, we’ll again be able to gather together in person to recall, rejoice and reaffirm our holiday traditions.

This Christmas season, I wish you the calm and peace that is at the heart of good will and generous spirits.

(Card created by Bonnie Marcus)

And this year in particular, I hope that you have the chance to slow down and thoughtfully reflect on the true meaning of this time in our collective human experience. To quietly celebrate, and to rest. Perhaps take the opportunity to initiate new traditions in your family.

And to reach out – virtually or physical distanced – to a neighbor, relative or friend who may be alone, in need, or less fortunate. Remember, small acts of kindness can have a huge impact.

However you choose to celebrate and worship this year, on behalf of the town of Westport, I wish you a happy and joyful holiday season with your immediate family.

Please continue to be healthy and safe. The proactive behaviors that you take today will insure that our families, friends and neighbors will be here to happily celebrate what I know will be a renewed and uplifting 2021.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Residence: Westport’s Newest “Oldest” Gem

In 1973, the Planning & Zoning Commission offered a regulation to allow a senior living facility in town. It would have enabled older Westporters to stay close to friends, in the community they loved, after their children grew up and they wanted to downsize.

The RTM turned it down.

“We don’t need those old folks,” one member said. Nearly half a century, Julie Belaga — who chaired the P&Z back then — has not forgotten those words.

Julie Belaga

Belaga went on to serve in the Connecticut Legislature, run for governor, become New England director of the EPA, and earn an appointment by President Clinton to the Export-Import Bank.

She’s now 90 years old. A few months ago, she sold her Westport home. Her new residence is The Residence at Westport.

That’s our town’s only assisted living community. Located on the Post Road, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School and behind a new apartment building, it offers independent living, assisted living and memory care options.

It’s spacious, bright, warm and welcoming. Residents enjoy anytime dining (including a bistro and pub), salon, entertainment spaces, a fitness center, concierge service, even parking for electric vehicles.

It’s exactly what Belaga envisioned, as a 43-year-old in 1973. It only took 47 years to build.

Much has changed since the Nixon administration. Most “06880” readers have never heard of The Residence at Westport. It was presented, passed and built without a peep from anyone.

And when people learn about it — no matter how old or young — they love it.

Belaga — who is up on all the national and local news — nonetheless was one of many Westporters who did not know an assisted living community had come to her home town. After her husband Mike died, a realtor suggested she look at The Residence.

“My god!” Belaga thought when she walked in. “This is exactly what Westport needs.”

The Residence at Westport.

She and Mike moved from England to Berndale Road in 1965. They loved their house and neighborhood, but as they aged they needed a 1-level home. They found one on Newtown Turnpike. It had a waterfall and beautiful garden; they loved it too.

Yet as a widow, Belaga thought she would have to move to “someplace like Ridgefield.” Then she discovered The Residence.

She moved in 4 months ago, just after it opened. She’s been thrilled by the amenities, the great chefs, the “very accessible and kind staff” (they even hung all her pictures for her) — and unexpected delights, like being “where all the action is,” on the Post Road.

Friends live in nearby condo complexes. She still drives (“locally and not at night!” she says), and visits them easily.

Dining at The Residence.

Another joy: One of her neighbors is Ellie Dinitz. Her late husband Arthur served on the P&Z with Belaga.

One more surprise: “How did this happen without me knowing about it?” she asks.

“I was going to call (First Selectman) Jim Marpe and ask. That’s the last thing he needs. But I’m fascinated: How could this have been built without a brouhaha like in the ’70s?

“I love Westport, with all its quirks,” Belaga says. Speaking of both her town and her new home, she adds, “It is so satisfying to be part of a community that cares.”

Westport, she notes, is “enriched that people can make choices based on their needs, not on what others in town think they need.”

Meanwhile, Belaga continues to enrich all of us. The other day, she was asked to help on a project for the League of Conservation Voters. That’s fitting: Years ago, she helped start the organization.

“I live in a town I love. I have a great apartment. And my kids are grateful, because they don’t have to worry about me morning, noon and night,” Belaga says.

“How lucky can I be?”

(The Residence at Westport is at 1140 Post Road East. Click here for more details.)

 

Ben Sturner Works From Home. Now It’s His Brand.

If you’re like many Westporters, you once read “06880” on the train. What else would you do with those 15 hours a week?

Since March, you may not have gone back to the office at all. What — besides reading “06880” in even greater depth — have you been doing with your time?

Ben Sturner. The city background is probably outdated.

Ben Sturner did not waste any of it. From the moment last March he realized he much preferred wearing sweatpants to suits — and suddenly had time to walk on Compo Beach, hang out with his family and actually appreciate the town he paid good money to live in — Sturner has thought about the joys of working from home.

And — because he is an experienced, creative marketing executive — he wondered how he could leverage his new lifestyle into something, um, marketable.

Last week, Sturner launched WFH. The trademark — it stands for Work From Home — is currently a brand of men’s and women’s hoodies, crewneck and t-shirts, joggers, loungewear, robes and hats.

In 2021 it will grow to include other “W”s: Wellness From Home. Workout and Workspace too. (Workspace has already started, with an assortment of coffee mugs, water bottles, wrist rests — and a stress relief ball.)

The goal, Sturner says, is to create a destination for working people around the world, offering solutions needed to live “your best Work From Home life.”

A portion of the proceeds from every purchase go to Mental Health America.

WFH t–shirts …

Sturner’s partner in this venture is DJ Irie. The official DJ of the Miami Heat, he was on the road up to 6 days a week When COVID grounded him, he found the comfortable, casual  answer to a pressing question — “what should I wear for Zoom meetings?” — at WFH.

… and loungewear …

Sturner – who admits “I don’t know clothing, but I do know marketing” — has hired experts from companies like Gap, Reebok and American Eagle.

WFH grew quickly. Much of the work, of course, has been done by Sturner, at home. He has been to New York only once since March. He does not miss his commute at all.

In fact, looking back, he realizes how much he loved — in his pre-COVID life — the occasional Friday he would work from home. He vows not to take his new lifestyle — the extra summer hour at Longshore, the chance to watch his kids at soccer practice — for granted.

… and a coffee mug.

Once upon a time, Sturner spent 4 years on the railroad station parking wait list. Now he drives by, and sees it almost completely empty.

He’s not the only person working from home.

But he may be the only one making a brand out of it.

(Click here for the WFH “Work From Home” website.)

Marpe Offers Holiday Message

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Westport is a place where we live by, and teach our children, the values that we cherish — values that embrace equality, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and mutual respect.

This Thanksgiving, we reflect upon these qualities in light of a tumultuous year that has, quite frankly, brought heartache, anxiety, and turmoil. There are many among us who are isolated and alone. Emotions and situations brought about by an unseen virus and other national events have caused all of us to re-think how we behave and how we react as a society. No doubt, it has taken its toll and has caused significant adjustments in how we live our lives.

However, recent news and guidance from scientists and health officials is very promising. If we continue to stay aware and respectful, actively follow the protocols in place such as wearing a mask, keeping distance and avoiding gatherings, we can see a path to where we can once again enjoy a way of life without fear of harming our neighbors, friends and family.

Masked up, at the Westport Y’s child care program.

And I would like to echo Governor Lamont’s request to please keep your in-home Thanksgiving celebrations to immediate family and to 10 persons or fewer.

Besides COVID, there were other events that caused upheaval, unrest and concern in this country and on the local level. Westporters have historically been leaders in social movements, and this year was no different. We will continue to have the difficult dialogues about social injustice while encouraging and setting an example of mutual respect for all humankind. We remain grateful and thankful for those in our community who have led the way in standing firmly against hate and intolerance, and for those who protect our health and safety.

Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for our freedoms and our good fortune while recognizing that there are others who are less fortunate. I am personally thankful for our extraordinary teachers, civic leaders, clergy and volunteers of all kinds. They, along with many other residents, work tirelessly and diligently to care for and help meet the needs of those who require additional emotional, family and economic support.

Religious, civic, educational and other institutions are more important than ever. (Photo/Anthony Evans)

COVID has caused us to adjust the manner in which their work is accomplished, but they remain steadfast in their commitment to helping. I want to acknowledge their contributions – they are valued and appreciated.

I wish all the residents of Westport a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing contributions to making Westport an inclusive place where all feel welcome. We are proud to call it “home.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

We Gather Together …

… or, this year, apart.

But no matter where we are — and no matter how tough this year has been — it’s time to give thanks.

I am thankful to be surrounded by wonderful friends and a fantastic family. In trying times, there is nothing more important.

I am thankful to live in a beautiful, supportive town. I am thankful our resources are so bountiful, and our residents so generous and kind.

I am thankful that 2020 is nearly over. No one knows what 2021 will bring. But the “06880” community — in-person in Westport, and online all over the world — is strong. We will lift each other up. We will carry each other along. We will get through whatever the world throws at us.

And next Thanksgiving, we will gather, once again, all together.

Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos’ “Saturday Evening Post” cover, 1941. Two weeks later, the US entered World War II.