Valerie Smith Malin’s Collective Wellness Community

As a consumer products marketer specializing in healthy skincare, Valerie Smith Malin knew the importance of holistic wellness. Exercise, nutrition, life choices — all were as crucial as the product one used.

Valerie Smith Malin

As a Westport resident since 1993, Malin knew that many residents here are interested in wellness. But as she roamed the internet looking for information, she realized lots of it was siloed.

She wanted a 1-stop shop —  a place where people could go to find out about healthy, beauty, diet, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, the whole shebang.

Malin created CollectiveWellness. The site aggregates all kinds of wellness resources. It’s a work in progress, but you can get an early peek here.

Because Malin is community-minded — online and off — she’s bringing the cyber version to her home town.

Next Friday (September 20, 11 a.m., Wakeman Town Farm), Westporter (and fellow Westport Young Woman’s League member) Beth Atlas will speak about “Natural Remedies for Anxiety.”

“There’s so much anxiety today — the political climate, job insecurity, healthcare,” Malin says.

“I’m in the sandwich generation. Our parents are getting older, and we’re also caring for our kids. Beth talks about anxiety, from a wellness perspective.”

It’s all well and good.

(For tickets to Beth Atlas’ presentation, click here.)

Staples Class Of ’69 Rocks On

No reunions!

That’s my usual response when organizers ask me to publicize their upcoming or recent event. If I do one, I say, I’ll have to do them all. And — sorry, guys! — your reunion just isn’t that interesting to 99.99% of “06880”‘s daily readers.

But rules are made to be broken. And if any class has experience breaking rules, it’s the rockin’, rollin’ Staples High School class of 1969.

So here goes:

Last weekend, 131 no-longer-teenage-but-still-young-at-heart former Wreckers gathered for their 50th (!) reunion.

There were no cell phones — or selfies — back in 1969. In 2019, these reunion-goers make the most of theirs.

They were rebels, back in the day. But in 2019, they got a ton of help from all corners of the town they grew up in. Former — and still — class president Peter Krieg reports:

Assistant principal Rich Franzis was a tremendous help. He helped prep Krieg for his tour of the “new” school, worked with Geno Heiter to post 1969 visuals on the lobby TV screen, and enlisted head custodian Horace Lewis and one of Lewis’ staff to guide the group around.

Not far from a banner welcoming the Class of 2023 to the “new” Staples, the Class of 1969 gathered for a group photo.

The tour culminated in the library, where librarian Jen Cirino helped screen the “High School That Rocked” movie. The film depicts the amazing (Doors, Yardbirds, Cream, Sly & the Family Stone, Rascals, Animals, Beau Brummels) concerts that so many of those former Stapleites attended.

Producer Fred Cantor — the young (Class of ’71) producer — was there.

So was former social studies teacher and administrator Gordon Hall. Now in his 90s — and living in the same Westport home as then — he spoke to the returning alums.

“He was inspiring, knowledgeable and very funny,” Krieg reports. “His comments about retirement were not just appropriate; they were a teaching moment for us.”

Krieg is giving gifts to everyone who helped. Hall, for example, will receive a framed photo of his talk.

New Staples principal Stafford Thomas gets one too. (“He was keenly interested in ‘The High School That Rocked,'” Krieg says — even though he had not yet been born when those bands were hot.)

The way we were … or at least, the way we think we were, today.

Krieg gives a shout-out to Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department as well. They provided great help for the Saturday night Compo Beach party: tent permits, use of the Ned Dimes Marina, and passes for vehicles.

The marina building was decorated with professionally produced ’69 posters and memorabilia. Organizers raffled off 3 unique pieces of art. They’ll donate (appropriately) $1,969 of the proceeds to Staples Tuition Grants.

Of course, no reunion is complete with a party at the Black Duck. Pete Aitkin hosted a boisterous crew on Friday night.

“The support we got from the school, from one of our teachers, and the town was really special,” says Krieg.

“This was Westport at its best. It felt like the Westport of old. In some ways, Westport hasn’t changed at all.”

Neither have the members of Staples High School’s Class of 1969.

Even if they did graduate half a century ago.

It’s been 50 years. But some friendships never fade.

Pic Of The Day #879

Low tide at Deadman Brook (Photo/Johanna Rossi)

Woman’s Club Gives Grants, Forges Forward

The Westport Woman’s Club is 112 years old.

But members of the Imperial Avenue organization — founded in the early years of the 20th century — are continuing their long tradition of working to improve our town, far into the future.

Recently, the WWC gave a $10,000 Ruegg Grant to Aspetuck Land Trust. Funds will help educate and motivate homeowners to take care of their yards in more sustainable ways, including planting native plants, switching to organic lawn care and reducing pesticides. Model landscape demonstration sites are set for Earthplace and the Haskins Preserve.

Westport Woman’s Club, 44 Imperial Avenue.

The Woman’s Club also provided community service grants to 34 Fairfield County non-profits. Ranging from arts, counseling, education and housing to seniors, special needs and women’s enrichment, awardees include Norwalk Youth Symphony, the Westport Country Playhouse, Mercy Learning Center, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Connecticut Food Bank, Breast Cancer Emergency Aid Foundation, Domestic Violence Crisis Center, Homes with Hope, Elderhouse and CLASP Homes.

Applications are available for 2020 grants. The deadline is October 31; click here for details.

Of course, none of that happens without active members. No one in the Westport Woman’s Club was alive at its 1907 founding — but all are looking forward to the next 112 years.

And they can always use more help.

A wine-and-cheese reception on Wednesday, September 25 (5:30 to 7:30 p.m., 44 Imperial Avenue) will introduce prospective members to community service, fundraising, special interest and monthly meeting opportunities. Non-Westporters are welcome to join. For more information, email, or call 203-227-4240.

(Click here for the Westport Woman’s Club website.)

Friday Flashback #159

Alert “06880” reader — and native Westporter — sent this photo:

The Stage Door Restaurant — on the Post Road in Greens Farms — was before my time.

I never heard of it. I’m intrigued by the 60-cent dinners (that 75-cent turkey dinner must have been extra special).

And I wonder where the name came from. What “stage” could have been close by?

If you remember the Stage Door Restaurant — or know anything about it — click “Comments” below.

Elle Vail: Young Westport Author Inspired By — And Inspires — Others

Elle Vail is a writer and blogger. So are many Westporters (including yours truly). 

What makes Elle special is that she is only 13 years old. Here — in her own words — is her story.

Ever since I was in 1st grade, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an author from the first time I found joy in writing at Saugatuck Elementary School where my teacher, Ms. Bader, made us write about our weekend every Monday.

As the years went by my passion grew greater. Once I reached 4th grade I practically rewrote “Dork Diaries” in 53 pages. Not the best first story, but it motivated me to write more.

Once seventh grade approached I was ready to write another long story. Luckily I had another life-changing teacher, Mrs. Hallama, to help me out. I told her I wanted to finish a book by the time I was 13 (which was the next year).

She helped me get to work by contacting her literary agent with questions, FaceTiming with her author friends and helping me bring out what I had into my writing.

Elle Vail is now a Staples High School freshman.

I was surprised she wasn’t already published. Soon after I left her classroom she emailed me that she got a book offer for 2 of her books to come out on Halloween of 2020 (knowing Mrs. Hallama, they will not disappoint).

By December in her classroom, I gained the confidence to commit to my first published novel, “adVerse Wishes.”

Through this journey, I had so much support from my friends and family especially author Howard Greenwald (the dad of a good friend of my dad’s), who influenced me to finish the book.

With so much help I completed the book by August 2018. I had written 75 pages but I was ready to write more.

November was National Novel Writing Month (I have to thank Ms. Rao for informing me about it at Bedford Middle School).

By the end of November, I had written 49 pages. With my 2 novellas done I was ready to self-publish.

I wish I could say I created the 2 beautiful covers for my books but really my amazing friends, P. Pretty and H. Fiarman, did it all.

By March 29 and 30 my books were out to the world. Although it took a while I eventually got them onto Kindle, Amazon, the Barnes &Noble website, the Bedford Middle School library and the Bookcycle.

Elle’s books, at Compo Beach’s Remarkable Bookcycle.

I am working on getting my books into the Barnes & Noble store, Westport Library and the Staples High School Library.

During this process I began to publicize that I was working on publishing 2 books, through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I post at least once a day on my social media accounts.

Local bestseller Emily Liebert inspired me to get on social media for writing and to blog. I met her when she did a speech at a National Charity League event as an author. I was intrigued by her story.

Soon after I reached out to her. We had coffee at Aux Delices. She talked with me about my books and how to go to the next level.

As I am starting 9th grade at Staples High School, I am sadly more short on time for writing, so writing another novella or writing a novel can be hard. Because of this, I started my blog. I now post at least once a week on I enjoy blogging so much and I hope to continue it for as long as possible.

After having coffee with Emily she released another incredible novel called “Pretty Revenge.” I was lucky enough to go to one of her book signings to meet her very kind friends and fellow authors Jane Green, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.

Elle Vail at a book signing with authors Liz Fenton (left) and Lisa Steinke.

From the experiences with Emily Liebert, I learned the significance of reaching out to those you look up to in the profession you would like to pursue. This can help you plan for the future, and get some wise words from those who are more experienced than you.

I 100 percent recommend more kids go for it and advance their dreams at a young age. For all of the young aspiring authors, find someone who can motivate you and just write! Anyone can self-publish like I did with a couple of guidelines; all you have to do keep writing.

Pic Of The Day #878

Framed at the Compo Beach Pavilion (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Honoring Rachel Doran

In August 2018, Rachel Doran — a rising senior at Cornell University, former National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Staples Players costume designer, and founder of “Rachel’s Rags,” a company that makes intricate cotton and fleece pajama tops and bottoms — died.

She was diagnosed a month earlier with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications. She then developed Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome — another rare syndrome.

Rachel was mourned by many. Her presence continues to be felt by those who knew and loved her.

Among them is State Senator Will Haskell — a classmate of Rachel’s at Staples High School. Recently, he petitioned the state to name a road after her.

A sign recently went up on the Sherwood Island Connector. Now her name will be known by many.

(Hat tip: Elaine Daignault)

Emergency Responders Needed! CERT Offers Free Course.

Over the past few years, Westport has weathered some severe storms.  The recent anniversary of 9/11 reminds us: We never know when disaster will strike.

As a coastal community not far from New York, we have to be ready for anything.

Thanks to CERT, we are.

The organization — known formally as the Community Emergency Response Team — is a group of specially trained volunteer emergency responders. They provide aid during and after hurricanes, blizzards, power and communication failures, you name it. If Westport needs help, CERT is there.

Westport CERT volunteers, at a recent training session.

They’re there for non-emergencies too. CERT assists at big public events, like the Compo Beach fireworks and Maker Faire.

Now they’re expanding their services.

Over the next few months, CERT will offer education programs in personal preparedness, active shooter awareness and response, and situations involving domestic and international terrorism.

A free class — open to the public — will be held starting the evening of Friday, October 18, and continuing that weekend. It covers disaster psychology, fire control, rescue, shelter management, first aid, CPR and more.

Local residents who want to become CERT volunteers are encouraged to attend.

To sign up, click here. For more information, email  Mike Vincelli:


Westport is no stranger to hurricanes. Neither is CERT.

Westport Paddle Club Surfaces On The Saugatuck

When Downunder closed earlier this month, kayakers and paddleboarders mourned the loss of a rental and launch facility on the Saugatuck River.

Karen Jewell mourned the loss of her job.

For 9 years she ran the Riverside Avenue shop, and worked as an instructor. The day before it closed, Robbie Guimond — owner of Bridgebrook Marina, just a few hundred yards away — and his wife Taryn Bolotin saw Karen at Garelick & Herbs. He asked what she’d do next.

“I’m not sure,” she said.

On the spur of the moment — justlikethat — Taryn suggested she run something similar out of Bridgebrook.

Karen Jewell gets ready to paddle.

That was the day before Labor Day. Last Saturday — at the Slice of Saugatuck — Karen’s Westport Paddle Club opened for business.

Quicker than you can paddle, she had created a website, made an Instagram account and printed business cards.

She provides many of the same services as Downunder: kayak and paddleboard rentals, lessons and tours. Next year, she’ll add kids’ camps.

Westport Paddle Club is not a retail outlet. But Karen will help people buy kayaks and paddleboards — making suggestions, and offering resources.

With a 30-foot dock, Bridgebrook is a perfect spot. And the location is even better than Downunder. There’s a beautiful view of the Saugatuck Rowing Club next door; it’s further from I-95 than the store was, and the entrance is away from the busy street.

Westport Paddle Club is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 10 to 5, and weekdays by reservation. Click here for the website, email, or call 203-998-1519.

Life on the Saugatuck River is good!