3 Months After Maria, Westporters Remember Puerto Rico

With so much bad news swirling around, it’s easy to forget Hurricane Maria.

But Lillian Davis and Elida Gollomp can’t.

The Westport women are natives of the island that suffered enormous devastation in September.  Their family and friends still struggle — without water and electricity — 3 months later.

They and their daughters Alexa Davis and Bella Gollomp — both 2015 Staples High School graduates — organized an all-day sales event last Saturday. Scout & Molly’s hosted the shopping/food/auction/raffle fundraiser.

Lillian Davis (left) and Elida Gollomp, at last weekend’s Scout & Molly’s fundraiser.

Lillian and Elida have partnered with the Puerto Rico Relief Center in Bridgeport. The non-profit works with businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations in the area to welcome and assist the many people leaving the island, and settling here.

Last Saturday was a great day. But donations are still needed. Checks made out to “Career Resources, Inc.” — with “Puerto Rico Relief Center” on the memo line — can be sent to Elida Gollomp, 2 Smoky Lane, Westport, CT 06880.

Lillian and Elida will deliver them personally to Bridgeport — where they are volunteering with the much-needed relief efforts.

Connect-Us Links Youth With MLK’s Dream

It’s quite a bit early to think about Martin Luther King Day.

Unless you’re Connect-Us.

That’s the Bridgeport-based, Westport-supported organization offering after-school opportunities for youngsters in need.

Connect-Us programs have 3 prongs.

Youth Leadership Team members learn public speaking, community organizing, and related skills. Over 100 young people auditioned for the team’s first talent show, which drew an audience of more than 450 in October.

Connect-Us Youth Leadership Team members promote a recent talent show.

C-U Onstage is a place where young people meet, create, produce performances, and learn to work as an ensemble. For some, it’s the first chance to earn community praise.

Connect-Us Academy is a 14-week series of workshops at companies throughout Fairfield County. Professional mentors — including Westporters Charlie Adams, Arlene Doherty and Deb Sawch — help teenagers learn about finance, law, advertising, retail, health and education administration. Graduates of the program are placed in paid summer internships.

“There’s a state of emergency in Bridgeport,” says Connect-Us executive director Pam Lewis. “The average 9th grader reads at a 4th grade level.”

She is gratified that so many people here “understand that kids need support, in school and after school. This really is Westport and Bridgeport — caring adults and young people — coming together and harnessing our human capital to impact and support entire communities. ”

Board chair Frances Rowland, plus Doherty and Joyce Eldh — live in Westport. Business partners from Westport include Matthew Burris (CFO of Marc Fisher Footwear), Rich Eldh (managing director, Sirius Decisions) and Chris Sawch (partner, Shearwater Creek).

The Connect-Us board of directors.

So about Martin Luther King Day: Connect-Us is sponsoring a special (and free) Klein Auditorium performance. Over 150 children and teenagers — multiracial and economically diverse, from throughout Fairfield County — will sing, dance, and recite poetry and monologues and raps. They’ll also read from letters they write to Dr. King, sharing their own dreams — or (sadly) why they’ve stopped dreaming.

The Klein is an inspiring — and inspired — choice. Dr. King spoke to full houses there twice, in 1961 and ’64.

Four days after his murder, in 1968, an overflow crowd jammed the hall for a memorial service.

Lewis is excited about the upcoming event. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Westport youth — and anyone else — interested in performing should email plewis@connectusct.org.

This is one way to honor Dr. King. It’s also a great way to “connect” with talented youths from nearby neighborhoods, around a common dream.

FUN FACT: Connect-Us is a great name. Not only does it imply connecting “us” and the “US” — but the logo highlights “CT,” as in “connect Connecticut.”

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Harris Diamant’s intriguing folk art is on display at Michael Friedman’s pop-up Gallery in Bedford Square.

Westporters Can Keep Helping Cesar Batalla School

Westporters responded quickly — and generously — to Friday’s post about a toy drive at Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School.

But there is still an enormous need.

The school serves children in the highest poverty brackets. Some live in shelters. Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

Here’s something new: a link to a special Amazon page. With a couple of clicks, you can send real presents — ones kids only dream of — direct to the the school. (The address is 606 Howard Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06606.)

Westport’s Nicole Straight, surrounded by some of the students she volunteers with at the Cesar Batalla School.

Here’s another way to help: Through Christmas, Lisa Savone will personally deliver gifts to the school. Donations can be dropped off at her clothing store, Lucy’s (23 Jesup Road, next to Green & Tonic, across from Westport Library), Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 12 to 5 p.m. If parking is an issue, just pull into the driveway next to the store.

Need alternative arrangements? Email lisa@lucysanswers.com.

“We can make it happen!” Lisa says. “Let’s show these kids that Westport really cares!”

But wait! There’s more!

WestportMoms — the great online group — is organizing a real-live toy drive for Cesar Batalla School on Sunday, December 17. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they’ll fil a moving truck in Levitt Pavilion parking lot.

There are 20 days left before Christmas. That’s plenty of time to make it a memorable holiday for the wonderful boys and girls at this great — but needy — school.

Katharine Huber Has Designs On Kids’ Furniture

As an architect, Katharine Huber spent her career exploring how people interact with buildings. She knew exactly how to design a museum or cultural building for maximum productivity and comfort.

As a mother, she realized that people don’t interact well with children’s furniture. When she got on her knees, she realized that the ubiquitous red and blue plastic kids’ tables and chair were not very kid-friendly.

Huber’s children were 5 and 2 when the family moved to Westport. They’ve enjoyed the amenities — the water, the arts — and her kids were involved in music and sports.

Huber worked on big projects — airports, the Bill Clinton Library, Stanford Law School, WGBH in Boston. After leaving her New York firm, she’s been involved in residential work in this area.

Now her kids are grown. But she’s turning her attention back to the children’s furniture she thought about years ago.

This fall — working out of her (now child-free) home — Huber launched Wit Design. It’s a simple collection that harnesses young imaginations.

“When I became a mother, I noticed the wonderfully weird ways my kids interacted with furniture,” she recalls. “They wiggled, they sat on their feet, they never considered that chairs were only meant for sitting.”

It’s taken years, but she’s finally put her insights into action. Wit Design’s furniture is strong enough for kids’ rambunctious ways, but light enough for them to pick up and rearrange however they wish.

In this age of digital devices, Huber says, children need appropriate spaces and furniture to connect with their creative selves — and other kids. Her table and chairs allow youngsters to “make art and make messes.”

Kids play on Wit Design furniture.

Huber has done it using non-toxic materials too and finishes too. She wants the environment to last at least as long as her furniture does.

Her pieces are produced in the United States. Manufacturing in China would have been less expensive. But she could not monitor working conditions. Plus, Huber says, she wants to support the American furniture industry.

Wit Design has quickly found a following. Millennial parents and grandparents — also important kids’ furniture buyers — like providing an imaginative space to do puzzles and fill in coloring books.

Her furniture is designed for 2- to 6-year-olds. But she’s seen much older children enjoy it.

A recent photo shoot encouraged Huber that she’s on to something. Energetic children instinctively understood that they could move the furniture around, to their hearts’ content.

Who knew kids’ furniture design could be so simple?

Katharine Huber, apparently.

 

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A recent visitor on Tamarac Road. (Photo/Susan Marshall

5 Years After Sandy Hook: Candlelight Vigil Remembers — And Demands Action

Mark Barden lost his son Daniel in the Sandy Hook massacre. He will play guitar; his high school daughter Natalie will sing.

Speakers will include survivors of gun violence, from around the area. A gospel choir will sing.

Of course, candles will burn.

The event is a vigil next Sunday (December 10, 4:30 p.m., Westport Unitarian Church).

Sponsored by the church, Defendemocracy.com, Sandy Hook Promise and CT Against Gun Violence, it’s part of a nationwide effort to remember the 5th anniversary of that awful day — and enact meaningful change.

 

Westporter Darcy Hicks is one of the organizers. She says, “This vigil is one of hundreds across the country this week. We believe the best way to honor the half million people killed by guns since the Sandy Hook shooting is to insist on common sense gun legislation. The ongoing failure of Congress to take action is inexcusable.”

Hicks is organizing the vigil with the same women — Lisa Bowman, Nita Prasad and Lauren Soloff — who worked on Westport’s “Democracy on Display” march earlier this year.

They’ve gotten help from Defendemocracy’s Heidi Hammer, Sara Kempner and Cathy Rozynek.

It’s a community-wide effort, Hicks says, to address a national problem. For more information, click here.

 

Remembering Doug Caffery

Doug Caffery — a Staples High School Class of 2013 graduate, and outstanding decathlon competitor — died Saturday.

He was struck by a car in Greenville, South Carolina while crossing Academy Street around midnight the previous day.

Caffery was a member of the U.S. military. After Staples, he studied criminal justice at the University of Alabama.

Caffery was well known in the Connecticut track world. The “06880” community mourns his death.

Doug Caffrey

Sir Stanley Matthews: The Westport Connection

Stanley Matthews was one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. But because his sport was soccer, many Westporters have never heard of him.

That’s a shame. But now, everyone here can join the rest of the world in celebrating a man so revered for his skill, sportsmanship and stardom that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

And the reason Westporters will know about this amazing man — one who played in the brutal English First Division until age 50 — is because local residents made a full-length film about him.

The group includes Matthews’ son, Stanley. Yes — the same Stanley Matthews Jr. best known in this area as a tennis pro.

Since its video-on-demand release in the UK in October, “Matthews: The Original Number 7” has earned rave reviews. BBC and Sky Sports are negotiating for broadcast rights. American rights are under negotiation too.

Westport’s involvement with Matthews dates back 40 years. In 1977 Joe Pierce — a native of Scotland who became was an early FCIAC soccer star at Stamford’s Rippowam High School — was playing on a local amateur club.

One day, teammate John Gould — a Westporter best known as a drummer with the Average White Band — brought a friend: Stanley Matthews Jr. At 18 the younger Matthews had been a 3-time junior Wimbledon champion. He beat Ilie Nastase in the French Open, at the height of the Romanian’s career.

Matthews Jr. was a very good soccer player. But he was even better at tennis. He relocated to Weston, and bought the 4 Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton. He and Pierce became good friends.

For all his accomplishments, Sir Stanley’s story had never been fully told. But 3 years ago, Pierce decided it was time to give him the treatment he deserved.

There was a lot to tell. He was the first “modern” soccer player: He trained by running on sand and adhered to a strict vegetarian diet, while his teammates caroused and drank beer. And although he was the oldest player ever to represent England internationally, he lost 6 of his best years to World War II.

Stanley Matthews (left) was a wizard with the ball.

After retiring in 1965, he spent time in the townships of South Africa. Apartheid was in full force. But Sir Stanley taught black youngsters how to play — and formed a team in Soweto that, against all odds, headed to Brazil to compete.

“He was the first global sports superstar,” Pierce says. “He was the Babe Ruth of soccer, with the worldwide appeal of a later player like David Beckham.”

As a boy in Scotland, Pierce watched movie newsreels with the news of the day. They showed all the important people: Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Charles de Gaulle, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe. And Stanley Matthews.

“He was a mythical figure for me,” Pierce says.

Joe Pierce

With the help of Stanley Jr., Pierce unearthed vintage footage of Matthews playing with Stoke City and Blackpool, 2 of England’s best — and most blue-collar — mid-century clubs.

Pierce — whose film title is executive producer, and who for a time ran Intensity Tennis Club, a rival to Stanley Jr.’s 4 Seasons — wants every young soccer player in the US to see the film. They need to learn about the roots of their game.

But, Pierce insists, it’s aimed at non-fans too. Matthews’ humanitarianism is an integral part of his story.

Sir Stanley died in 2000, age 85. More than 100,000 people lined the streets of Stoke-on-Trent to pay tribute. His ashes were buried beneath the center circle of Stoke’s stadium.

Today — thanks in part to a Westport connection — Sir Stanley Matthews’ life and legacy live larger than ever.

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Crows at Compo (Photo/Amy Schneider)