Category Archives: YMCA

Despite Shutdown, Y’s Unified Sports Program Thrives

The COVID-induced closure of the Westport Weston Family YMCA is tough on many members who miss their regular gym and swim workouts, spin and yoga classes, and much more.

It’s especially hard on the few dozen young people engaged in the Y’s Unified Program, which pairs special needs athletes with partners. Led by Danette Meigel and staff, they join in weekly basketball, swimming and track practices, and compete in tournaments and meets throughout the year.

The Unified Program brings competition, structure, friendship and joy to all involved. For many special needs youngsters — and their dedicated volunteers — it’s a highlight of their lives.

In late March, as schools, sports and almost everything else — including the Y –shut down, head youth volunteer Oliver Clachko contacted Danette. He wanted to bring the Unified athletes together through Zoom meetings.

Danette loved the idea. Quickly, her staff devised a plan.

Every Saturday since early April, Danette, coaches Marta Taddeo, Christophe Esposito and Shannon Connors, and teen volunteers including Oliver, Max Udell, Ryan Weil, Layne Yacenda, Julian Frucht and Hugh Hutchinson, have led virtual Unified basketball practices for their special needs friends.

Oliver Clachko leading a virtual basketball practice, from home.

They begin by socializing — much needed by all, in these times of isolation. Next come warm-ups and simple basketball drills. None require a hoop; most don’t even use a basketball.

They finish by asking the young athletes what drill or exercise they want to do next week.

From only one attendee the first week, the number has grown steadily. It’s a steady presence — but that’s not all. This Sunday (May 17), the Y Unified Program begins a dry land swim session.

Also in the works: a Unified Sports game night (with pizza!), and “virtual Special Olympics” (a 5K run/walk in your neighborhood or on a treadmill) in June.

The Westport Y Unified Program is very special, for sure.

For more information or to volunteer, email dmeigel@westporty.org.

Screen shot of a Unified Sports Zoom session.

Positive Employment News: Westport Y Pays During Shutdown

The order came quickly on March 12: The Westport Weston Family YMCA must shut down, effective that night.

Just as quickly, the executive committee met. They voted to continue paying all employees, for the next 2 weeks.

The Y employs 210 people: program directors, lifeguards, personal trainers, mebership services, administrators, maintenance staff and more.

Ninetey are full-time; the rest work anywhere from 2 to 3 hours a week, to 30.

Patty Kondub is one of the Westport Y’s many part-time employees. Her AquaFit classes are very popular.

The decision was important — and easy, says CEO Pat Riemersma. “We feel privileged to have this staff. They make this place what it is.”

The original 2-week shutdown was quickly extended, by Governor Lamont. The executive committee extended all employees’ pay too: through the end of April.

“If you saw someone here before we closed, they’re still being paid,” Riemersma notes.

If — as is probable — the closure continues into May, the committee will meet again.

The staff is exhilarated. One man had just bought a house. He told Riemersma he no longer fears losing it.

She thanks her board for being “so open-minded.” They recognize, as she does, that Y employees “are family. We want them to all to be here, and ready, when we reopen our doors.”

Pat Riemersma

Another Y decision involves member dues. In the first days of the pandemic, the board asked everyone to consider continuing their regular payments despite the closure. In return — because the organization is a non-profit, and members are not receiving any benefits or services — any payments after April 10 will be treated as a tax-deductible donation.

Of course, Riemersma says, “we recognize that’s a financial hardship for some people.” They have the option to put their memberships on hold. About 25% of the 10,000-plus members are doing that.

The CEO looks forward to welcoming all members — and employees — back. Meanwhile, she says, the expansion remains on schedule.

Which means perhaps even more employment, when life returns to normal.

COVID-19 Roundup: Property Tax Info; Ringing Bells; Harrowing Survival Story; Online Fitness And Yoga; Free Resumes; More

Several readers have wondered about Westport real estate and personal property tax abatement or deferral (they’re due today — April 1. No fooling). I asked 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He says:

For several weeks, our town (and others) have been exploring deferment alternatives for property owners who can demonstrate genuine hardship. This is still a work in process.

Among other things, the governor must take executive order steps to allow a local community the option to modify property tax payment penalties and deadlines. I have been in direct touch with Governor Lamont on this issue. In the meantime the April 1 quarterly tax payment date still remains, but as always, allows 30 days (until May 1) to pay without penalty.

I have not heard if utility companies plan to offer any special dispensation for hardship cases. Our Human Services Department regularly works with residents on utility payment plans if true need can be demonstrated.

In related news, Governor Lamont announced yesterday a 90-day grace period on mortgage payments, and a 60-day delay on foreclosures. Homeowners should contact their banks and/or mortgage companies for details.


Across the country, communities are coming together to ring bells in support of medical personnel and other frontline workers.

From 5:00 to 5:02 p.m. tonight, Westport families are asked to “joyously sound a bell, chime, bang pans, etc. as a reminder that while we may be physically separated, we remain united. Let’s make this a gesture of gratitude to all the people helping us overcome this present situation: the police department, fire department, first responders, town officials, teachers and healthcare workers, including the many Westport parents who leave their families to care for those in need at hospitals and medical offices.”

Greens Farms and Assumption Churches — and perhaps others — will join in. Ring them bells! (Hat tips: Jaclyn Lindsey-Noble and Staples High School PTA)

In addition, reader Mary Beth Stirling urges Westporters to fly the American flag. That — and donations to any organization that helps those in need — are both a show of support, and a way to teach children that whatever they can do (including staying home to protect lives) is a patriotic act.

Green’s Farms Congregational Church has a great bell to ring.


“06880” readers know Heather Bauer for her tips on eating healthy in restaurants.

Now the rest of America knows her as a COVID-19 survivor. The 42-year-old nutritionist/mother of 3/ runner of 15 marathons was in great health — until she attended a party, and got infected.

Two days ago — just a week after leaving Yale New Haven Hospital, where she spent 9 harrowing days — Heather told her story on CNN.

It’s a scary tale of fever, migraine headaches, a full body rash, even possible meningitis. It’s also a tale of great care, by a wonderful medical staff. Click below to watch. (Hat tip: Ben Sturner)


Patty Kondub’s great water aerobics classes have been beached by the coronavirus. So have dozens of other Westport Weston Family YMCA offerings, in strength training, yoga — you name it.

But members can still get exercise — on land, at home. There are offerings for all ages, in every imaginable category. Click here for info.

PS: Yesterday, I (coincidentally) got a call from the Y. They were just checking in on all members — seeing how we are, and what we need.

I really need to swim. But failing that, I’d like to say this: THANKS, Y! What a nice, friendly, community touch!

A motivational message from Patty Kondub.


Speaking of exercise, Kaia Yoga’s classes are now all online. Many are inexpensive. There are also free kids’ classes and meditations — great for parents looking for productive activities.

Kaia Yoga — which has long provided classes for Bridgeport school children –has been hit hard by the coronavirus. They employ over 70 teachers.

Click here for a list of classes.


Speaking (again) of exercise, does anyone have an unused stationary bike they’re willing to sell? Asking for (ahem) a friend.


Every Westporter has a talent. Many are figuring out how to use their expertise to help others.

As a career coach, Jaki Suter helps clients write or refresh resumes. With so many people suddenly facing job losses, she’s doing her part: offering a “free resume refresh” to 30 Westport and Weston residents.

She’ll work with you to highlight skills and accomplishments; include new positions and details, and eliminate irrelevant details.

All you need is an existing resume no more than 5 years old. You’ll work by phone. Jaki will produce an updated resume, including a round of revisions and a final document.

To be one of the first 30 local residents, email jaki@sutergroup.com (subject line: “Free Resume Refresh”).


Jennifer Hrbek reports that she and Westport psychiatrist Dr. Mohamed Elsamra are helping raise $50,000 to buy 4 ventilators, to be donated to local hospitals. Click here to contribute.


Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich notes that transfer station personnel cannot assist with bulky waste. Do not bring those items to the station.

In addition, with the increase in cardboard due to online ordering, all boxes should be flattened, stacked and tied.

Tissues and gloves are being placed in recycling bins. They are not recyclable, and must be placed in the regular trash bin.

Due to the increased amount of glass containers, recycling bins are too heavy for workers to lift. For the time being, residents should separate glass into a smaller container, or put all recycling in smaller containers so workers can lift them.

Transfer station


Greens Farms Academy head of school Bob Whelan has gained fame — and respect — for his great snow day videos.

It’s a little tougher to pull off a clever coronavirus video. But the popular, people-first educator did.

This morning he channeled Fred Rogers, for the school’s youngest learners. Bob —  whose career before education was fronting the band Angry Salad — sang for his students.

He reminded them he (and the school) were still there for them. Then, in true Mr. Rogers fashion he asked them to keep him apprised of big events, like birthdays and lost teeth.

You don’t have to be a kid — or go to GFA — to love this one.


Miriam Young writes, “As one of many COVID positive people in Westport, I hope you can tell other positive readers about efforts to collect plasma from recovered patients.”

She sent a link to a story on how plasma might help people still fighting off infection (or, preemptively, those at high risk of infection).


When Westporter John Rizzi read that a TV remote can be 20 times dirtier than your toilet, he got worried. You can’t clean it well, without taking it all apart.

But he devised a solution: cover it in plastic wrap. It takes 2 seconds; it protects the device — and you can replace the wrap over and over again.


And finally, you don’t have to be a Kopite to love this song (and video!):

COVID-19 Roundup: Restaurant Closures; Free Tax Service; Easter Bunny; Rebate $$ Answers; Staples Hoops; Much Much More!

As of 4:30 p.m. yesterday (Monday, March 30), Westport had 115 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up 1 from the previous day. Weston had 24, up 3.

Of Connecticut’s 2,571 confirmed cases, the largest number continues to be in the 50-59 age group. The over-80 group has the highest rate of hospitalizations and deaths. Click here for a detailed look at the statewide spread of the disease.

Connecticut’s hospitals, nursing homes and medical facilities are in desperate need of medical volunteers. The state has embarked on a campaign to urge people with healthcare or medical backgrounds. Click here to register.


Rizzuto’s, Amis and Terrain restaurants have closed, until further notice. All had provided curbside and takeout dining during the coronavirus crisis.


As healthcare workers and first responders work tirelessly to keep us healthy, we should do the same for them.

“Mission Nutrition” helps. As described by Westporter Lisa Adelmann (whose husband and 2 brothers are local physicians), the goal is to deliver healthy care packages to hospitals, nursing homes, and police and fire departments around the country.

Packages contain protein shake mix, protein bars, energy and hydration drinks, and herbal tea. Some have hand cream.

To minimize human contact, each care package is assembled in a warehouse, and shipped directly to a hospital or first responder site.

Funds are needed. No donation is too small (or too big). To donate, Venmo @missionnutrition. Questions? Email donatetohelp.lisa@gmail.com.


The town of Westport now offers online tax preparation, with no in-person contact.

Volunteers — led by Westporter Mark Spivack — are the same IRS-certified tax preparers who have offered these services for years. The site is safely encrypted.

Users need a smartphone or computer, WiFi access, a working phone number and email address.

Though the US tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15, many Westporters have time on their hands now to “be prepared.”

For more information and to access the service, click here.


Bill Vornkahl reports that although the Greens Farms Fire Company’s 69th annual Easter Egg Hunt has been canceled, the Easter Bunny will make rounds throughout town starting early afternoon on Sunday, April 12.

Be on the lookout for him! (Although, Bill says confidentially, Westport’s Bunny is really a her.)

Not the Greens Farms Volunteer Fire Company’s Easter Bunny. (Photo/Hannah Hall)


Need info on the federal government plan to distribute direct payments to individuals and families? Congressman Jim Himes sends along this link to frequently asked questions. To learn more, call his office: 203-333-6600.


Linda Hall offers a special shout-out to Sue Pfister: “My parents never expected the Senior Center director to be their Meals on Wheels delivery person. But last week, there Sue was — by herself, in a downpour.” Thank you, Sue!

Sue Pfister (seated, right), at her beloved Senior Center.


Staples High School Class of 2011 graduate Nicki Brill now works as a middle school math teacher.

She says she is “lucky to be healthy and quarantined with my family.” She wants to recruit volunteers to help neighbors in need.

Click here for her form for healthy volunteers. Click here if you should not leave home (immunocompromised, older, other pre-existing conditions, quarantined). and need help with groceries or errands.

Looking to help in other ways? Click here for a link to many great ideas.

Nicky Brill


Village Pediatrics posted this, on social media. Their “kids” do grow up!

(Dr. Nikki Gorman adds, “We really need these, to use as reusable masks over our N95s that we can wash daily with the new washer dryer we are installing in our office — and for patients’ parents and some patients who could be asymptomatic carriers of COVID.”)


COVID-19 put a brutal end to the Staples High School girls basketball team’s magical season, just hours before the state semifinal game tipped off.

Senior co-captain Marisa Shorrock wrote about that emotional end for The Ruden Report. I reposted her insightful story on “06880.”

ESPN got into the act. Her essay was featured on the sports network.

Then last night, the entire team got a shout-out on ESPN’s Senior Moments feature. Scott Van Pelt did the honors — and quoted from Marisa’s story.

It’s not the state championship they probably would have won. But it’s nice to get a bit of well-deserved national recognition! Click below (skip to 1:44, if all you care about are our Wreckers).

(Hat tip: Russell and Don Kubie)

 


A bogus website claims that the Greens Farms post office is closed. (Here it is — but don’t click on any links inside it. You can never be too safe!)

The cute little post office by the train station is not closed. They’re still open, still serving customers in their homey, neighborhood way. Officials are aware of the fake site, but have been unable to shut it down.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)


Though the awards ceremony for TEAM Westport’s annual teen diversity essay contest is postponed, the group — town’s multicultural committee — has announced the 3 finalists.

Staples High School seniors Sahiba Dhindsa and Zachary Terrillion, and sophomore Victoria Holoubek-Sebok, are in the running for prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500.

This year’s prompt asked teens to describe experiences involving stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, and consider steps that organizations, schools or individuals could take to counteract those stereotypes.


Westport musician Jon Saxon has performed for the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce at Supper & Soul and the Levitt Pavilion.

Tonight at 8 p.m. he livestreams a 30-minute concert. Click here for the Zoom link. The meeting ID is 901 431 6011.

It”s free — but he encourages donations during the show (or any time!) to benefit Yale New Haven Hospital. Click here to contribute.


Many supermarkets take strong measures to guard against COVID’s spread. Stew Leonard’s goes extra far. They’ve put Plexiglas shields on all registers and express lines, and at the customer service and coffee departments. Their hot and cold bar food is all pre-packaged now, and employees serve hot food and soup.


And finally, I love the song “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. This isn’t it. (It’s a lot less Scottish, for one thing.) But it’s almost as good.

Closings, Cancellations, Postponements: A Partial List

COVID-19 has knocked out everything from the NBA to Broadway.

Westport is not immune. Here’s a list of what’s happening, alphabetically. Feel free to add your organization or event in the “Comments” section below.

A Better Chance of Westport: The Dream Event gala is postponed to May 1 (6 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club, Wilton).

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Closed for 2 weeks. No meetings, church events or classes will be held on the property.

Closing a religious institution is very rare.

EarthplaceClosed until further notice. Trails are open.

Maker Faire: The April event is postponed. A new date will be announced.

MoCA WestportThe gallery and all classes are temporarily closed. The April 25 gala is postponed to a later date.

Positive DirectionsOffering teletherapy options for safe, convenient counseling. Call 203-227-7644.

Wakeman Town Farm: Closed for public events until further notice.

WTF? Everything is closed!

Westport Country PlayhouseCanceled: “the Pout-Pout Fish” (March 15); Connecticut Dance School benefit (March 20); Broadway Method Academy gala (March 21). No decision yet to cancel or postpone events after March 21.  

Westport Library: The library is closed. It will reopen at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 16.

Westport Museum for History & Culture: The museum is closed, and all programming has been suspended through March. Exhibitions are available for viewing online.

Westport Weston Family Y: The Y will close at 10 p.m. today, until further notice.

Westport Public Schools, including Staples Players’ “Seussical”:  All public school buildings and activities are closed, until further notice.

“Day Of Champions” Will Be Quite An Experience

Westport is awash in organizations that benefit young people — here, in the rest of Fairfield County, the country and the world. It’s one of the strengths of our community.

Many throw fundraisers. Westporters support them generously, with time as well as money.

But most of these kid-focused groups’ events don’t actually involve young people themselves.

That’s why Experience Camp’s Day of Champions is so wonderful.

Not to mention unique, cool, and tons of fun.

Experience Camp is the Westport-based network of summer camps for youngsters who have lost a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The program builds confidence, encourages laughter, and allows them to navigate grief through friendship, teamwork, sports and the common bond of loss.

This year, Experience Camps will serve 1,000 boys and girls, at 5 locations from Maine to California.

Of course, running such a life-changing program costs money: $1,000 for a week at camp.

For much of its first decade, Experience Camps — founded by Westporter Sara Deren — relied on gala fundraisers in big cities, and foundation grants.

In 2017 Deren asked fellow Westport resident Gery Grove to help raise funds here. She teamed with Melissa Post, who like Grove loved the idea of the camp.

They thought about the usual events, like cocktail parties. But they realized the best way to raise money for kids was to involve kids themselves.

Together with a hard-working committee, they launched the first Day of Champions in 2018.

Fun at Experience Camps’ Day of Champions …

Camp Mahackeno was the perfect venue for the camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) competed in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities. Many wore costumes.

Points were awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It was a joyful day — and it brought in over $150,000.

… and funny hair …

To participate, teams had to raise at least $1,000. Some were well over $25,000.

Organizers feared the first year might have been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

Last year’s Day of Champions brought in more than $225,000. Over the past 2 years, Westport’s Michelle Yanover — who lost her mom at 7 — has raised over $45,000. Working with his New York Life firm, Grove’s husband Matt added another $40,000-plus.

… and a tug-of-war …

This year’s 3rd annual event is Sunday, May 17 (8 to 11:30 a.m.). Due to construction at Mahackeno, it’s moved to another great location: Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Yet as fun and financially important as the Day of Champions is, there’s another element that makes it special.

… and more fun. (Photos/Stephen Dodd)

“It teaches kids a lot,” Grove says. “They learn there are other kids who need their support — kids who don’t have their entire family here anymore.

“Kids get a chance to raise money for a resonant cause. And they have the best time doing it. Our lives are busy, but families come and do this together. Kids, teachers, parents, town officials — everyone puts concerns and differences aside for the day. It’s a great time!”

(Click here to register a team. Spectators are welcome too.)

Another Dam Story

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith is an astute observer of the many wonders of Westport. Today he writes about the dams that “block the migration of fish and otherwise stymie the natural ecology of the 57,264-acre Saugatuck River Watershed — a rich network of 242 miles of waterways that discharge into the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound.”

The topic came to mind after reading a New York Times story, “It’s Fish vs. Dams, and the Dams Are Winning.” The article noted efforts underway in Connecticut to eliminate obsolete dams from rivers that connect with Long Island Sound,

“Connecticut has about 4,000 dams,” said Stephen Gephard, a supervising fisheries biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, “and the vast majority are obsolete.” The state owns about 100 dams and is reviewing the list to determine which should be removed. Gephard’s team has also identified 20 to 30 privately owned dams it would like to remove to allow fish passage.

That made me wonder if one of those dams under consideration of removal is the one on the Saugatuck that forms Lees Pond. It’s owned by the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

Lees Pond was long an integral part of Camp Mahackeno’s summer activities: swimming, rope swings, canoeing, even a floating pontoon.

In recent years, due to a confluence of factors – insurance, safety, the mythical fear of campers coming home covered by leeches – activities on the pond have greatly diminished.

Judging from the map of current renovations to the property, it doesn’t appear that Lees Pond factors much in that plan.

I wonder if Y leaders’ views of the pond have evolved over the years, and if as stewards of this vital stretch of the Saugatuck, they’d be interested in exploring options to unblock this key local natural resource (whose name literally means “river flowing out”).

I emailed Gephard, writing as a longtime resident of Westport who would like to see our local river rehabilitated as habitat for migratory fish. Of all our town’s jewels, especially natural ones, the Saugatuck seems the most underappreciated.

The river was once renowned for legendary runs of sea lamprey, alewife, blueback herring and American shad. In 1828 the Saugatuck Journal described as “the river of little fishes” because of the many smelt. Over time though, it’s been used and abused.

The Saugatuck River — shown here behind the Willows medical complex, near the Lees Pond dam — has been “used and abused,” says Scott Smith. (Photo/Danny Cohen)

Gephard’s response was impressively detailed, describing the status of dams on the Saugatuck from the head of the tide, just north of downtown, to the natural barrier at Devil’s Den.

He called the Saugatuck “a challenge….Dam 1 (at the head of tide) is the Wood Dam, owned by Aquarion. There is a steep-pass fishway, and we believe it is passing river herring.

“Dam 2 is Lees Pond. Removing this would be challenging. It is owned by the YMCA. Traditionally the Y has used the pond for recreational opportunities, though that may no longer be the case. Twice in the last 20 years, the Y has spent large amounts of money to repair the dam. Additional repairs may be needed. It is expensive to maintain such a tall dam in a heavily developed area.

One view of the Lees Pond dam …

“We own a fishway at the dam—or more accurately—in the dam.  In fact, it is the oldest fishway in Connecticut.  Back in the 1960s, the owner of the pond and dam drained the pond, created a large opening in the middle of the dam and began to mine gravel from the pond bed — without any permits.

“The state and town went after him. He divested himself of the dam, and the YMCA ended up as the owner. But the state got the right to build a fishway in the hole in the dam to close the dam, restore the pond and provide fish passage.

“The fishway is accessed by us via a catwalk through private property, and is not accessible to the public. As originally designed and built circa 1963, the fishway never worked and fell into disrepair.

“In the 1990s, I inherited the care of the facility. I used a grant to gut it and install a newer style fishway (steep-pass). It is still a little steeper than we would prefer (we had to use the space provided in 1963), but we feel it works for river herring and probably sea lamprey.

… and another.

“Dam 3 is Dorr’s Mill Pond at Glendenning. There are 2 fishways there, one at the spillway and one on a stream branch that weaves through Bridgewater’s office complex.

“The DEEP and Nature Conservancy built both, and they appear to be effective.  Dam 4 is privately owned just upstream of Route 57. The owner did not allow us to build a fishway at the dam, but a natural channel bypasses the eastern side of the dam through someone else’s property. Many fish find it and circumvent the dam.

“Dam 5 is River Road Dam, immediately upstream of the River Road Bridge. It has a pool-and-weir fishway on private property, but it can be seen from the bridge.

“Dam 6 is the former Bradley Axe mill dam halfway up to Devil’s Glen and Trout Brook Valley. We had an agreement with the dam owner and spent considerable money designing a cool fishway for that dam. But the owner sold the house before it could be built, and the new owner did not want the fishway.

“The plans remain if the ownership ever changes. If fish get past that dam, they can reach Devil’s Glen, a natural chasm that historically stopped all fish.

Devil’s Glen, in Weston.

“Also, we worked with the Aspetuck Land Trust to have a fishway built on Trout Brook, on the Trout Brook Preserve.  It does not pass anadromous fish, but helps brook trout move around and reach spawning habitat.” (NOTE: This is the only fishway accessible to the public.)

“Furthermore, the Aspetuck River joins the Saugatuck River just upstream of Dorr’s Mill Dam and Route 57. The North Avenue Dam, the first on it, has a simple pool and weir fishway. on private property.

“The second one, the Newman Dam, has a pool-and-weir fishway. It too, is on private property.

“The third dam, the Frankel Dam, was removed by a joint work team of DEEP crew and The Nature Conservancy. That allows anadromous fish to ascend as far as the next dam, a bit upstream of Bayberry.

“After that, there is a dam almost every 300 feet. We would entertain dam removals, but there are so many dams that the cost/benefit is low. We have not made it a priority.

“Farther upstream, we have worked with Aquarion to install a new gate at the Aspetuck Reservoir Dam in Easton. It allows mature silver-phase American eels to pass downstream, avoiding the entrance to the Hemlock Reservoir, which is a dead end for migrating eels. They all die in the treatment plant. These are the females heading out to sea to spawn, so diverting them down the Aspetuck where there are only small dams and no intakes is important.

Aspetuck Reservoir Dam.

“We have done a lot in this watershed, all in partnership with the Nature Conservancy. Fishways are not as good as a dam removal. With a good fishway, you get fish passage of the targeted species. With a dam removal, you get passage of all species plus many other ecological benefits that were outlined in the article, including lower water temperatures, natural stream habitat, natural sediment transport, etc.

“But in Connecticut, many dams are valued, often as aesthetic features in people’s backyards. We cannot force them to remove their dams. All of the work described above was voluntary (except for the Wood Dam, where the fishway was a condition of a permit that Aquarion needed from the DEEP to repair the dam).

“Our first choice is always dam removal. If owners don’t go for that, we fall back on fishways. Often, that works (we get grants and the fishways don’t cost dam owners anything) and sometimes it doesn’t (like in the case of dam 4).

“We do the best we can. When we first began on the Saugatuck, sea-run brown trout were a main targeted species, along with alewife and blueback herring. Since then we have added sea lamprey and American eel (separate passes). Sadly, the reports of sea-run brown trout are on the decline, likely a victim of climate change and the warming of Long Island Sound, and the Saugatuck River no longer hosts a significant run of brown trout.”

Pic Of The Day #1015

Working out at the Y (Photo/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Pic Of The Day #1011

Removing snow from the YMCA addition (Photo/Ed Simek)

Westport Y Puts Special Focus On Special Needs

Every day — at all hours — the Westport Weston Family YMCA pulses with activity.

The gym, pool, spin center, yoga and fitness rooms — all are filled with boys and girls, men and women, all active to whatever degree of intensity works for them.

It’s a friendly, vibrant place. Many members come regularly. They greet fellow basketball players, swimmers, runners and Zumbaists with smiles and waves.

Some of the heartiest greetings go to members with special needs. They may be in wheelchairs, or come in groups with aides. They may talk loudly, or not at all. All are welcome at the Y.

Enjoying the gym at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Their swims, workouts, classes and social interactions are among the highlights of their days. The folks who share the pool, fitness center and classrooms are happy to see them too.

The Westport Y offers group membership programs to 5 group homes in Fairfield County. Over 100 clients take advantage of the facility off Wilton Road.

Membership director Brian Marazzi says that STAR has the longest association with the Y: more than a decade. Clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities take part in a wide array of activities. Some arrive independently, to exercise.

STAR clients, outside the Westport Y.

St. Catherine Academy — a Fairfield-based private school — uses the warm pool for recreational swim and aqua-therapy for severely disabled clients. The group then socializes with a large group lunch in the lobby.

St. Catherine’s appreciates the family and dependent care locker room, which includes a private special needs shower and changing room. Staff also store equipment at the Y.

Ability Beyond and Keystone House clients focus on the Wellness Center. Members of Abilis — the newest group home to join the Y — primarily walk on the treadmill, and use the gym.

Some of the more independent clients come on their own. A few have become volunteers themselves, meeting and greeting guests.

But that’s only part of the way the Westport Y serves the special needs population.

Sixty kids and young adults ages 8 to 21 play basketball and floor hockey, swim and do track and field, under the guidance of paid and volunteer coaches. Many are involved in Special Olympics, but that is not a prerequisite for Y participation.

A special needs swimmer, and an equally enthusiastic volunteer.

The Sunday morning swim program is particularly popular. A 1:1 ratio of volunteers — many of them members of the Westport Water Rats team — to athletes ensures education, safety and fun. The special needs swimmers are also called Water Rats, and proudly wear the team’s logowear.

Strong bonds are clear. Over Christmas break, as volunteers returned from college, there were joyful reunions and hugs. Parents of special needs swimmers develop their own community too, as they watch from the deck or gym.

Oliver Clachko has made a special impact. He was last year’s near-unanimous choice as Westport Weston Family Y Volunteer of the Year. He enjoys working with the special needs program so much, he’s recruiting friends and classmates to help too.

This spring, the Y hosts its first-ever special needs swim meet.

The Westport Y Water Rat Special Olympics swim team.

Up in the gym, basketball players hone their skills. They compete too, in a “Hoopla” against other area Ys.

Special Needs Teen Nights are another popular event.

Marazzi says the Y has gotten very positive feedback — from clients, group home workers, parents of special needs youngsters, and other Y members too.

Occasionally, he says, members complain about noise or behavior. Marazzi quickly counters, “We love having them here. We’re very inclusive.”

It’s the Westport Weston Family YMCA, remember.

And don’t forget: There are many ways to define family.

(The Westport Y’s Special Olympics and other special needs programs rely in part on fundraising. Starting on her 10th birthday, Chloe Kiev asked that instead of gifts, friends and family donate to the effort. Click here for more information.)