Category Archives: YMCA

Y’s Men: Memorial Day Floats Their Boat

No, the fix is not in.

The Y’s Men are just that good.

Every year since Edward T. Bedford built the Westport YMCA*, the gung-ho group of nearly 400 retired and semi-retired men has won the Memorial Day Best Float competition.

The tradition continued this year.

The 2019 parade theme was “Thank a Veteran.” The Y’s Men took it one step further, thanking Merchant Marines — the “unsung heroes” of World War II — for their service.

If you were at the parade, you know how great the float was.

If you weren’t, you missed another great tribute, from men who are members of — or close to — the Greatest Generation.

Whether you were there or not, enjoy this video, created by Y’s Man Sal Mollica. It’s a quick look at the float’s creators, its construction, and the proud part it played in Westport’s Memorial Day parade.

*Or maybe it just seems that way.

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.

We Remember: Memorial Day 2019, Part 1

Today’s Memorial Day parade was the first in several years with beautiful weather.

Nearly everyone marched: police, firefighters, non-profit organizations, youth teams, Scouts, Suzuki violinists, a random pediatric dentist.

As usual — and as always deserved — the Y’s Men won the Best Float competition.

Here are a few scenes from today’s parade. More — plus images from the post-parade ceremony on Veterans Green  — will be posted later today.

The start of the route, on Riverside Avenue, was swimming with Westport YMCA Water Rats. (Photo/Jodi Harris)

It doesn’t get more classic than this. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Alex Merton — almost 3 — is captivated by a fife and drum corps. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The theme of the parade was “Thank a Veteran.” This vet received many thanks … (Photo/Beth Devoll)

… as did this veteran … (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

… and this. (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Page Englehart gives the thumb’s up to a float honoring servicemenbers. Her son Williiam — a Staples High School 2014 graduate — is in the Marine Corps. (Photo/Anne Hardy)

Suzuki violinists played “Turkey in the Straw.” (Photo/Burton Stuttman)

A Myrtle Avenue home honors the holiday. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Police Chief Foti Koskinas greets a young fan on the parade route. (Photo/Marshall Kiev)

Patriot and noted artist Miggs Burroughs marches with the Westport flag — designed, for Westport’s 150th birthday in 1986, by himself. (Photo/Beth Devoll)

The red, white and blue was evident in flags … (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

… and everywhere else. This is RTM member Andrew Colabella.

Quite An Experience!

Experience Camp — the life-changing summer program for youngsters who have lost a parent or sibling, based in Westport and directed by our neighbor Sara Deren — held its 2nd annual Day of Champions yesterday, at Camp Mahackeno.

Over 450 kids and volunteers had an amazing time. And, amazingly, they raised over $183,000 for this great cause.

Here’s how they did it.

(Photos/Stephen Dodd)

Have Faith: Church And Temple Teens In B-Ball Battle

Last week, Easter and Passover coincided. Across the globe, Christians and Jews celebrated important holidays at the same time.

Tomorrow (Sunday, April 28), 2 religions converge again. This time the setting is local. At 6:30 p.m., teenagers from Assumption Church, St. Luke, Temple Israel and the Conservative Synagogue meet on the Westport YMCA basketball court.

They’ll compete in the 4th annual Full Court for Kindness tournament. The round robin event is for bragging rights in the Staples High School cafeteria and on social media, sure.

But it’s also a fundraiser. Proceeds from the player and spectator entry fee of $5 (or more!) go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation (in honor of Christopher Lanni, a St. Luke parishioner who died while at Staples) and the Catch a Lift Fund, which provides physical and mental recovery therapy to wounded veterans.

Captains of the 4 faith youth groups, and organizers,meet before last year’s tournament.

Last year’s event drew a packed house. Staples Orphenian Brody Braunstein sang the national anthem. A priest and rabbi delivered blessings. A moment of silence followed, in memory of Christopher.

Then the 4 teams took the court. They battled hard. This was not Sunday school.

Still, there were tons of smiles. Everyone understood the tournament values: friendship, kindness and tolerance.

Temple Israel won last year’s tournament. Another highlight was St. Luke’s come-from-behind victory over rival Assumption.

Who will win tomorrow?

God only knows.

Defending champs: Temple Israel.

(Hat tip: Michele Harding)

Friday Flashback #139

The Westport Weston Family Y moved from downtown a few years ago.

Actually, it’s been gone so long it’s ready for an expansion at its “new” Mahackeno digs.

The iconic original building (at the corner of Post Road and Main Street) and the gruesome 1970s addition (on Church Lane) have been transformed into handsome Bedford Square.

We’ve all adjusted to the changes. But every year around this time, longtime Westporters remember the very best part of having the Y downtown:

Pics Of The Day #706

Hundreds of people had a close shave today at the Westport Weston Family Y.

Boys and girls, men and women — they all lost a lot of hair.

And gained the great feeling of doing something for a fantastic cause.

The 15th annual St. Baldrick’s Event raised over $100,000 to fight childhood cancer. The money came from pledges made to all those folks who willingly donated their locks. They sat in solidarity with those who lose their own hair to chemotherapy.

The volunteer barbers were professional stylists. They took their work seriously.

Other funds came from a bake sale, and a chess challenge by Brent McCreesh. He was the impetus for the fundraiser a decade and a half ago, when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Now 17, he’s been cancer-free for over 13 years.

Since that first event, “Team Brent” has raised over $4.2 million through St. Baldrick’s. That’s a lot of work, a lot of commitment — and a lot of hair.

(Photos/Madi McCreesh)

Anne Farkas’ Very Close Shave

For years, Anne Farkas was a warm, welcoming sight at Restoration Hardware. Her huge smile was familiar to every customer.

Her green hair — that’s new.

Anne Farkas

It all started with Brent McCreesh.

The Westporter was 3 years old. He’d spent over a year in the hospital, battling neuroblastoma cancer — only to be put in isolation at home for 6 months. He missed the nurses, staff and volunteers who played with him nonstop.

He pleaded with his parents to go back to the “fun” hospital. Then he met a few fantastic volunteer caregivers.

One was Anne. By then she was working at the Fairfield Public Library. She helping bring joy into Brent’s life.

She also became a face of St. Baldrick’s, the pediatric cancer fundraising organization that sponsors — among other things — head-shaving events. (The idea is to show solidarity with youngsters undergoing chemo treatments.)

Every year, Anne puts on an enormous bow tie and green leprechaun cap. She greets everyone at the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s St. Baldrick’s.

She’s also a prodigious fundraiser. She said when she reached $3,000, she’d add green highlights to her hair. At $5,000, she’d dye her hair green — and at $7,000, purple.

Now she’s set a new goal: $10,000. When Anne reaches that amount, she’ll shave her head at St. Baldrick’s. The event is set for next Sunday (March 24, Westport Y, 12 noon).

This year’s St. Baldrick’s is the last one for Anne and “Team Brent.” After 15 years, they’ve decided to focus on helping new groups grow. They know what they’re doing: So far, they’ve raised over $4 million.

Taking it all off for St. Baldrick’s, in 2015.

As always, this will be a great day. Head-shaving is done by volunteer stylists; there’s head painting too (and photos!), all while a DJ spins tunes.

There are inspirational speakers (hosted by sportscaster Deb Placey). Anthony Capalbo — whose son Charlie, a former Fairfield Ludlowe High School hockey player, has battled 2 cancers — will talk too.

Brent McCreesh will be there. He’s now 16 — and has been cancer-free for over 13 years.

He’ll take on comers in a challenge chess match. All funds will go to St. Baldrick’s.

See you there, mate!

(For more information on Anne Farkas and the March 24 St. Baldrick’s event — and to donate and register —click here, or email DanaMcCreesh@gmail.com) 

Who doesn’t love a bald guy?

Special Resources, For Special Kids

For many Westport parents, kids’ activities — sports, arts, organizations, lessons, you name it — are easy to access. And there are gazillions of them.

For parents with special needs children, it’s not as easy. There are many excellent programs, but they can be hard to find.

And even though the PTAs’ SpED (Special Education) committee spreads the word through an info-filled weekly email — including options outside of school, and resources for parents too — plenty of Westporters don’t even know they can join that list.

Some of the programs — here and in nearby towns — are inclusive. Others are adapted, making them attainable to those who did not think they could participate.

So how can parents learn what’s out there?

Westporter Johanna Kiev has compiled a massive database of material. She’s shared it with “06880” — which is honored to offer it to our readers.

(Johanna has also developed a Facebook resource page — click here to see it).

Thanks, Johanna. And everyone: Feel free to forward this far and wide!

About the Westport SpED Committee

Westport SpED PTA committee representatives work closely with each school’s administration, and the district’s assistant superintendent of pupil services. They meet monthly. Co-chairs are Julie McMahon and Kate Grijns.

Members are parents of children who receive special education services. The committee hosts social events and shares information, such as:

  • Sip ’N Chat – informal parent coffees held monthly at Panera Bread
  • Community Fun Day each November
  • Teen Nights at the Westport Weston Family Y
  • Parent education seminars on topics like “Navigating Your IEP” and “Assistive Technology”
  • Weekly emails with information about local events and activities, plus summer opportunities and post-high school transition options

The committee also works with local agencies like the Parks & Recreation Department and Westport Library, for advocacy and programming.

To be added to the PTA SpED mailing list — or if you would like to add information about a program not listed below, or are a business that can help — email westportspedpta@gmail.com.

Programming Options for Children with Special Needs:

The Westport Weston Family Y sponsors:

Swim Team: The program includes participation in Connecticut Special Olympics summer games. Fee: $100 (September-June)

Basketball: Junior Team (8 -12 years): Saturdays 8:45 to 9:30 p.m.
Senior Team (13+ years): Saturdays 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
This program includes participation in the CT Unified Sports tournament. Fee: $65 (September-February)

Track & Field: This program includes participation in the Connecticut Special Olympics summer games. Fee: $45 (March-June)

Floor Hockey: This began for the first time last month. Fee: $45 (December-March)

Smiles all around on the Y’s Special Olympics swim team.

Special Needs Swim Lessons: The Y offers private and semi-private swim lessons at a greatly reduced rate for children with special needs. Lessons can be booked at any time, but because the pool can get noisy and distracting, instructors are also available during quieter hours (evenings, Fridays, early Saturday and Sunday morning). Rates: Private 30-minute lesson, $25; 2-person 30-minute lesson, $15 each.

Long Distance Running: This program is for children who are interested in completing a 5k (combination of walking and running). Practice times: Tuesdays, 4-4:45 p.m.; Saturdays, 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.

SPED Teen Fun Nights: Offered on various dates.

For more information or to register for any Westport Weston YMCA special needs activity, click here or call 203-226-8981

Earthplace

Earthplace provides necessary resources to allow children to access and enjoy all programming. For more information or to register, click here or call 203-557-4400.

MusicWorks! Individual Music Therapy Sessions for Children with Special Needs

MusicWorks! (Westport School of Music, 18 Woods Grove Road) sessions employ structured and improvised musical activities including singing, instrument playing, rhythm and movement, songwriting, listening, imaging and relaxation to meet individual needs. Activities are specifically designed for cognitive, emotional, psychological, physical and social concerns. They are facilitated by board-certified music therapist Patricia Ashford, who encourages children and adults to express themselves without judgment and to grow in creativity and self-confidence.

For more information or to register, call director Sarah Miller: 203-227-4931.

Music Works! is specially designed for children with special needs.

“Break an Egg – The Social Kitchen”: 

Break an Egg – The Social Kitchen” builds the communication skills of people with special needs through the motivating element of food. Each participant in the cooking class prepares a new recipe each week. The fall/winter program includes pumpkin muffins, apple berry salsa with cinnamon chips, garlic and lemon butternut squash noodles, and apple stir fry with whipped cream. Dietary needs can be accommodated.

Classes are taught by licensed speech and language pathologist Shari Goldstein, and Penney Parkes, a food technologist and mom of a special needs young adult.

Classes are held in Fairfield on Tuesdays and Saturdays. They can be held at home kitchens if parents form a group of youngsters to cook together. There are classes for elementary, middle and high school students. A preschool class could be organized too.

For more information or to sign up, email Shari@breakaneggsocialkitchen.com or Penney@breakaneggsocialkitchen.com

The Drew Friedman Foundation: New Arts Program for Kids

The Foundation introduces a pilot youth arts program for children with special needs this month in Westport. The hands-on program, conducted by local artists, includes 10 to 15 children around ages 8 to 16 to work on a mosaic-type project.

For more information, email michellevitulich@gmail.com or call 203-349-0455.

Inclusive Ice Skating : Ages 5 – 13

Saturdays, 11am to 11:45am (through February 9) at the Westport PAL Rink at Longshore.

Individual and group instruction in basic skills is offered at the Westport PAL Rink at Longshore. Parents are encouraged to skate with their children. The program runs Saturdays through February 9 (11 to 11:45 a.m.). To register, click here.

Little League Baseball – Challenger Program

This program pairs young volunteers with children with special needs. Details on the spring season will be available soon; click here.

Hillary Lipper shares a laugh with Coach Scott, during the 2013 Challenger season.

Circle of Friends

Norwalk-based Circle of Friends includes many Westporters. The organization matches special needs children with teenage volunteers for play dates. The group also organizes monthly gatherings for youngsters with special needs. For more information, click here.

The Jewish Community Center of Stamford

The JCC  offers winter programs designed to improve children’s social skills and build positive peer interactions:

  • Music, Movement & Yoga – fun and interactive for all ability levels.
  • Music Mania – provides opportunities for children to explore their creativity, using music to improve skills.
  • Zumba Kids Jr – kid-friendly routines based on original Zumba choreography.
  • Ready, Set, Move – enables children to engage their muscles by moving through an obstacle course and yoga positions.

(Have we missed any programs? Click “Comments” below!)

Slush Puppy

Westport was spared the snow, ice and wind that’s buffeting much of the rest of the country.

All we’ve gotten is light rain, and slush. This was the scene at otherwise empty Winslow Park this morning:

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

And here’s Camp Mahackeno, seen from the Westport Weston Family Y:

(Photo/Dan Woog)

But we did not escape today’s weather unscathed.

As happens more and more often, there’s flooding all around town. Some are places that flood often; some are spots we seldom worry about.

Grove Point — off Hillspoint — saw waters high enough from Sherwood Mill Pond to close the road. Here’s the view:

(Photo/John Kantor)

Standing water is everywhere. Be careful out there!