Tag Archives: A Better Chance of Westport

Roundup: Veterans Day, Share The Warmth, ABC & Millie Rae’s …

All around town today, flags fly proudly to honor our veterans.

Matt Murray captured this inspiring view this morning, on Compo Cove:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

A reminder: Today’s Town Hall ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m, The Community Band will play; speakers include 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Staples High School senior Tyler Clark; the Westport Police Honor Guard, American Legion Post 63 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 399 wilk participate too.

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Firefighters work in hot spaces.

Now, the Westport Fire Department is trying to keep other people warm.

The “Share the Warmth” coat drive will provide winter apparel for hundreds of nearby residents in need.

Donations of new or gently used winter coats can be made at Fire Headquarters (515 Post Road East) and Town Hall through December 9.

Westport firefighters will sorting and transport the items to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission.

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Good news for supporters of A Better Chance of Westport, and fans of Millie Rae’s.

On November 17, 20% of all sales will be donated to ABC — the great program that provides educational opportunities here to academically-gifted and highly motivated young men of color.

It’s a great way to buy holiday gifts and decorations, jewelry and more. Plus: wine and nibbles will be served from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

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This first-ever MoCA Film Salon features 2 highly acclaimed documentaries about the art world.

Jay Myself” is a behind-the-scenes documentary about photographer/ artist Jay Maisel — directed by renowned photographer and Westporter Stephen Wilkes). It’s set for December 10 (3 p.m.) A conversation with Wilkes follows the screening.

The Art of Making It” (December 11, 3 p.m.) examines the lives of 17 young artists navigating emerging careers in the contemporary art world. It screens

Tickets ($20 for one show, $30 for both) include complimentary light bites. Drinks and cocktails will be available for purchase. Click here for tickets, and more information.

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Yesterday’s story about Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw shone a spotlight on a Westport resident using his business acumen to help communities.

It did not mention — because I did not know, until Dennis Jackson told me — that Warshaw has just been named chair of the Radio Advertising Bureau.

He’s a longtime advocate for the importance of radio. In his new position, he’ll have an even stronger voice.

Jeff Warshaw, in his Connoisseur Media office in downtown Westport.  (PHoto/Dan Woog)

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Clocks have changed, but there’s still plenty of fall foliage left in the area.

Wendy Levy captured this classic “Westport … Naturally” scene at Devil’s Den:

(Photo/Wendy Levy)

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And Finally … Joe Tarsia died last week in Pennsylvania. He was 88.

You may not know his name, but you’re heard his work. A recording engineer, he was a key developer of what the New York Times calls “the lush, fervent blend of soul, disco and funk known as the Sound of Philadelphia.” Click here for a full obituary.

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Roundup: Hamlet & P&Z, Lamont & Stefanowski; A Better Chance ….

The Hamlet at Saugatuck — a retail/residential/hotel/marina plan that would reimagine the neighborhood between the train station and I-95 bridge — got its first Planning & Zoning Commission hearing last night.

Representatives from ROAN Ventures — the local developers — and their architectural, environmental, traffic and legal partners began their application for text and map amendments. Both are needed to begin remediation efforts of the contaminated land, followed by construction.

The hour-long presentation included a video, maps, and conceptual artists’ renderings. The actual design process has not yet begun.

Applicants addressed issues like traffic, with solutions that include underground parking, and working with the state to synchronize lights. They also noted that 50% of the land will be open space.

Commission members and residents had mixed reactions. There praised the thoughtfulness of the planning and the depth of the presentation, and questioned density and traffic.

No action was taken. The P&Z will continue its discussion on October 3.

A conceptual view of the Hamlet at Saugatuck project, from the river.

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In less than 2 months, Connecticut will elect a governor.

If you don’t know anything about the candidates — or do, and want to ask a question — you don’t have to go far.

The Y’s Men of Westport and Weston has partnered with the Westport Library to host 2 forums. Both are in the Trefz Forum.

This Thursday (September 15, 10 a.m.), Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski speaks, and takes questions. Incumbent Democratic Governor Ned Lamont does the same next Monday (September 19, 1 p.m.). Both visits will also be livestreamed.

Click here to register for either or both session, in-person or via livestream. Attendees should arrive 15 minutes prior to the start.

(Graphic courtesy of Connecticut Education Association)

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A Better Chance of Westport’s 21st year is off to a rousing start.

New resident directors, 7 multi-talented scholars, and a chance to really be part of (and give back to) the community after 2 COVID years has energized Glendarcy House, the program’s North Avenue home.

The scholars — in grades 9 through 12 — are engaged in a range of activities, at Staples High School and beyond. Because they are not allowed to drive, they need rides after school and in early evenings.

Community volunteers have always come through. To help transport — and get to know — these great young men, and for more information, email abcwestportrides@gmail.com.

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On Sunday, Jeff Manchester took his kids to the 9/11 Memorial.

Not the one at Sherwood Island State Park, though. Jeff is drawn to the one at Oak Lawn Cemetery & Arboretum, off Bronson Road. It’s a 100-acre site where people have remembered loved ones for more than 150 years.

The memorial is a pair of 9-foot granite towers atop a pentagon-shaped granite base. A rock engraved with “Let’s Roll” honors the heroes of Flight 93.

Dedicated last September, it was designed by Dean Powers, a native Westporter and Oak Lawn’s longtime groundskeeper.

He never saw it completed. He died of cancer in 2020.

Click here for the back story on the monument, and Dean’s remarkable contributions to it.

Rock and trees at Oak Lawn Cemetery.

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Do you want some money?

If you’re involved with a non-profit organization, read on.

The Westport Woman’s Club is accepting grant proposals for 2022-2023. Click here for more information, and the form.

Requests for projects that will make a difference in the community may be in the form of funds, or a one-time use of the Westport Woman’s Clubhouse for an event. Grants go each year to organizations in education, health and safety-related programs, and the arts.

Community groups should submit their proposals by October 31 to Westport Woman’s Club, Attention: Community Service Grants, 44 Imperial Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information, call 203-227-4240.

Organizations can apply for a one-time use of Bedford Hall at the Westport Woman’s Club.

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Like many Staples High School reunions, the Class of 1971’s fell victim to COVID.

Organizers Bonnie Housner Erickson, Tucker Sweitzer and Joanne Romano-Csonka felt the 50th was too big to let pass. So — a year later — the reunion is on (September 30-October 2).

Bonnie and her crew want to make sure “all classmates feel like they matter,” even though some may not have felt that back then. The organizers sought to “remind them they were an integral part of a life-changing period in history.”

In keeping with the late ’60s/early ’70s zeitgeist, they wanted to create an environment of peace and harmony, with “no hierarchy, no difference in status.”

The theme is “Welcome Home” — and the website (hey, this is 2022, not 1971) may be the best for any reunion class, ever. Click here to see.

Bonnie spent hours designing it. Much of it is class-specific of course. But the 1971 flashbacks and photos will interest many people, whether or not they (or their parents) were even alive then.

The reunion itself will feature peace signs, and memories of hangouts like the Ice Cream Parlor and beach. Music is supplied by the Reunion Band — featuring ’71 alums Brian Keane, Michael Mugrage, Bill Sims, Rob and Julie Aldworth McClenathan, Dave Barton and Bonnie Erickson — who rocked the Levitt Pavilion in 2019, the Class of ’70 reunion several weeks ago, and the Class of ’72 reunion last weekend.

Screenshot, Staples High school Class of 1971 reunion website home page.

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Today’s gorgeous “Westport … Naturally” comes from Saugatuck Shores, via Ken Yormark:

(Photo/Ken Yormark)

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And finally … Ramsey Lewis — a towering jazz figure for over 50 years — died yesterday in Chicago. He was 87.

His trio hit the pop charts a few times in the 1960s. In 2007 the National Endowment for the Arts named him a Jazz Master, the nation’s highest honor for a jazz musician.

(“06880” is your hyper-local blog. To support our efforts, please click here.) 

Roundup: Livestrong, Walk, Dream …

The Westport Weston YMCA is for everyone. Including — especially — cancer survivors.

On May 9, they introduce the Y’s Livestrong program. The free, 12-week program of physical, educational and social activities is for adults living with, through and beyond cancer

Small group sessions meet twice a week. Goals include rebuilding muscle mass and strength, increasing flexibility and endurance, reducing fatigue, and improving confidence and self-esteem.

The Y staff is trained to customize the program to individual needs. Participants may use the Y for free throughout the program.

For information, click here or contact Judy Klein: jklein@westporty.org; 203-571-6035.

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After a 2-year COVID hiatus, Walk & Roll for STAR — a family “FUNdraiser” with face painting, kids’ crafts, DJ, dancing, t-shirts, games, food and more — returns to Sherwood Island State Park this Sunday (May 1, 9 a.m. to noon).

It’s a benefit for STAR Lighting the Way, the great local organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families.

Click here for more information, including how to register and start a team.

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Of many great nonprofit evenings, A Better Chance of Westport’s Dream Event is one of the best.

Each year, graduating seniors from ABC — the program that brings wonderful young men to Westport, to attend Staples and give back to the community — are honored. Their speeches — and those of alumni — are inspirational.

The energy in the room is contagious. It’s a feel good time for everyone.

A few tickets remain for this year’s event (Friday, May 13, 6:30 p.m., Shorehaven Golf Club). The price includes entertainment, live and silent auctions, dinner and cocktails.

Click here for tickets, and donation and sponsorship information.

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Westport women roar.

And no one helps them find their voice more than JoyRide.

On May 13 (5 p.m., 1200 Post Road East), the popular spinning and fitness center hosts “Westport Women Roar: Local Leaders Share Their Female Professional Paths.”

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Granola Bar founders Dana Noorily and Julie Mountain, Party City chief marketing and experience officer Julie Roehm, Rebel & Rose Tattoo owner/artist Amanda Mas, and Westport Police officer Lt. Jillian Cabana will inspire women, with stories of blazing professional paths in male-dominated areas.

Tickets are $20. Venmo @joyridecycling, or click here.

Just a few days later (May 21, 11:30 a.m.), JoyRide sponsors an Out of the Darkness fundraiser, for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Donations are $25 and up. Click here to register.

And on June 4 (9:30 a.m.), JoyRide’s Mackenzie Pretty leads a HIIT + Strength class outdoors, at the Compo Beach Pavilion. It’s free, bur registration is needed: info@westportmoms.com,

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Parking in Brooks Corner is always tight.

With the Baldwin Parking lot closed for renovations — as it was yesterday — things got even tighter.

There’s still plenty of parking downtown. You may have to walk a few yards more than usual — and it may not be in Brooks Corner — but it’s there.

Don’t be this guy. There’s only enough room to squeeze by on the best days. Park your truck, and walk.

(Photo/JM Nevin Jr.)

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MyTeamTriumph — the wonderful program pairing children, teens and adults with disabilities (“captains”) with volunteers (“angels”) who help them participate in triathlons and road races — has a busy schedule.

On Saturday, they participate in the Westport Young Woman’s League’s Minute Man 10K and 5K Runs, and 5K Walk.

On May 15 it’s the 25K (about 15 miles) Bloomin’ Metric bike ride at Sherwood Island State Park. Click here to sign up. For more information, email KZiebell@myTeamTriumph-CT.org, or call 203-216-1146.

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Noted Westport landscape designer Jay Petrow leads Aspetuck Land Trust’s next “Lunch & Learn” session.

“Transforming Your Lawn Into a Meadow” (Friday, April 29, noon to 1:15 p.m., Zoom) will show you how to replace part of your lawn by planting or seeding a native meadow garden. You can introduce plants that are beneficial for pollinators and birds, are mostly deer-resistant, are more drought-tolerant than your lawn — and look beautiful.

Click here to register.

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JL Rocks is expanding its cult following of fine jewelry lovers to the younger set. Its new line of 14K gold and enamel earrings, bracelets and necklaces, called Rock Candy — get it? — offers a colorful range of options for kids ages 7 to 13.

Owner/founder Jamie Camche made the move after seeing so many new clients, with young children. They were particularly interested in earrings, so the gold and enamel studs take the form of emojis, ice cream cones and empowering statements like “Yes.” Necklaces and bracelets come in rainbow hues.

Click here to purchase and for more information, or check out Jamie’s 292 Post Road East or Greenwich stores.

Kids’ bracelets and earrings at JL Rocks.

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Hot on the heels of another trip to Guatemala, Builders Beyond Borders hosts an open house for students and parents interested in learning more about the travel-and-work program.

It’s this Sunday (May 1, 3 to 4:30 p.m., 66 Fort Point Street, Norwalk), Click here to RSVP, or email b3news@buildersbeyondborders.org.

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Mila Grieb — well known locally for her 45 years as a realtor — died April 17.

Born in El Dorado, Arkansas, she considered herself to be from Shreveport, Louisiana where she spent most of her youth. She then lived in Weston and Westport for more than 65 years.

Mila worked at Helen Benson Associates for 15 years, before founding Mila Grieb Village Realty in 1984. The boutique agency succeeded due in part to her creative promotions and advertising. She sold it to Coldwell Banker after more than 15 years. “We were proud to have her on our team,” Coldwell said.

Her friends and associates in real estate industry called her “a class act … She was an amazing woman who achieved great success in a challenging business while still maintaining her grace, charm, kindness, humor, and integrity.”

Mila graduated from Northwestern University. She was a former Conover model and a stage actress. She and her husband Warren were co-presidents of the Weston PTO. They founded the Weston Memorial Day Fair, which continues today.

During the 1970s, she and Warren also owned and operated the Arnold Palmer Driving Range and Miniature Golf Course in Westport. Mila was a member of the First Church of Christ Scientist, Westport, CT.

Mila’s family calls her “a good friend, a fabulous mom, and a wonderful and supportive wife. She made a tremendous difference in the lives of those who knew her. She will be remembered for her outgoing personality, creativity, kindness, humor, wit, and deep love of family.”

Mila is survived by her daughters Nancy Joy (Evan) Wilsnack of Boynton Beach, Florida, Janet Adams-O’Keefe of Westport, and Wendy Grieb (Robert) Moore of Coronado, California; grandchildren Justin Hopfer of Los Angeles, Jarrod Hopfer of Bozeman, Montana, Christopher Wilsnack of Bentonville, Arkansas, Alisha Holden of Boynton Beach, Weston Moore of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Sarah Moore of Coronado, and 7 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The First Church of Christ Scientist Westport, 55 Compo Road South, Westport, CT 06880 or the Humane Society of Connecticut, 455 Post Road E, Westport, CT 06880. Mila will be remembered and celebrated privately by her family.

Mila Grieb

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Today’s graceful, peaceful “Westport … Naturally” image comes from Wendy Levy, at choppy Compo Beach:

(Photo/Wendy Levy)

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And finally … today is the birthday of Sergei Prokofiev. The Russian pianist, composer and conductor was born in 1891. He died in 1953. Among his most famous works:

Daniel Burgin’s Cinema Pancakes

For nearly 20 years, A Better Chance of Westport has provided educational opportunities to academically gifted, highly motivated young men of color.

Dozens of scholars from across the country have thrived at Staples — in the classroom, and outside.

Take Daniel Burgin.

Daniel Burgin

Though not part of Glendarcy House this year due to COVID, the Brooklyn native jumped into Staples life starting early in his freshman year. He managed the football and boys lacrosse teams, and was a production assistant with Staples Players.

As a sophomore he took photos for football, girls basketball and indoor track. He played volleyball, and followed his interests in film and martial arts.

A Narrative Film course changed his career plans. Daniel had always dreamed of being an FBI agent, or working in law enforcement. But that Staples class opened a whole new world: movie-making.

He shot a music video in Westport. Then he made a short film. “It was not great,” he admits. “But it was definitely a learning  experience.”

He expanded his sports photography into videography: football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, softball and water polo.

A photo of the Staples High School rugby team, by Daniel Burgin.

Then COVID struck. The ABC scholars went home. For months, school was online.

Daniel used the time to bring another interest — fashion — to a new level. He’s started a clothing line.

Cinema Pancakes launched Monday. It’s another way to expand his creative reach — and raise money for his film projects.

Daniel is selling pullovers, sweatshirts, hoodies, bucket hats, beanies, stickers and more.

In the works: customizable sports jerseys and pants.

Daniel designed all the clothing. Many ideas came while walking around  Westport. “It looks good, feels good, and it’s what people enjoy,” he says.

He found a manufacturer, created mockups, and is marketing the site himself. The initial response has been great, he says.

Screenshot of some of Daniel Burgin’s Creative Pancakes offerings.

Though Daniel is not at Staples this year, he remains very connected to this town.

“Westport has become home for me,” he says. “I’ve created a life there. It’s hard to understand what it’s like being an ABC student, having an experience away from home.

“The community is so generous, providing ABC the chance for a great education, and making beautiful memories, at Staples and around town.

“I am grateful to Westport. I wouldn’t have started what I’ve done if I hadn’t been there.”

(Click here to see Daniel Burgin’s clothing line. Click here for his photography site.)

A Better Chance Host Families: A Life Changing Experience For All

The pandemic posed many challenges for A Better Chance of Westport.

The non-profit — which for nearly 20 years has provided educational opportunities at Staples High School to academically gifted, highly motived young men of color — adapted many of its operations, including housing, tutoring and driving, to fit the new normal.

This fall, ABC welcomes 2 new scholars to Glendarcy House on North Avenue. They’ll start their 4-year journey in Westport.

But to do it, they need host families. They’re the Westporters who provide “homes away from home” on weekends for the youngsters. It’s an important role — and a hugely gratifying one.

In 2018, I profiled one host family: the Propps. The story is worth reposting– and not just because ABC is looking for volunteers. This summer Manny Ogutu, the Propps’ former scholar, returns to Westport, for an internship. His bonds with our town — and his great host family — remain strong.

Suzanne Sherman Propp grew up in Westport with 3 siblings, in a close-knit family. She and her husband Peter have 2 children, Rose and Bennett. As a music teacher at Greens Farms Elementary School, her life is filled with kids.

So when a friend suggested she and her husband would make a great A Better Chance host family, they considered it. But the timing was not right.

Then 9 years ago, Eric Seidman became president of ABC’s Westport board. He and Suzanne had been classmates at Colgate University. The Propps got to know the organization well.

One day, Suzanne saw Rose at a Staples High School football game. She was hanging out with Khaliq Sanda, an ABC scholar. “He was like a magnet,” she says of his outgoing personality.

She and Peter thought again about being a host parent. Rose and Bennett were all in.

The application process included questions about how the family spends typical weekends. Hiking, concerts, movies, hanging out, occasional trips to New York, they wrote. They were approved, and looked excitedly toward meeting Manny Ogutu.

“It was love at first sight,” Suzanne recalls of that first day at Glendarcy House. “He gave us the warmest, nicest hug!”

He spent his first weekend — Labor Day — at their house. That’s when she discovered he loves apples. A lot. Little things like stocking the kitchen counter with apples went a long way.

Manny Ogutu, with an apple.

For 4 years, Manny spent 3 Sundays a month — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — with the Propps. One weekend a month, they shared the entire weekend. (A second family hosted Manny whenever the Propps could not.)

Manny and the Propps developed comfortable routines. Peter and Manny bonded over a shared love of superhero films. They also plowed through the original “Star Trek” series.

Manny is “a good kid with a great heart,” Suzanne says. Time together included “eating, crashing, homework, hanging out.” Peter taught Manny how to ride a bike, and make a bacon egg and cheese sandwich. They took him to Six Flags, and “Kinky Boots.” When Manny went to the prom, they took photos.

But Manny was more than a member of the Propp family. He joined the extended Sherman clan too. Suzanne’s siblings, nieces, nephews and parents get together often. Manny was embraced by all. He returned the love.

Manny Ogutu (rear), with the extended Propp and Sherman families.

Manny called Suzanne’s parents by their nicknames: Papa and Savta. He wrestled with the cousins, and did a Final Four bracket with everyone. “He’s like a mensch!” Suzanne marvels.

Manny developed a special relationship with Suzanne’s father, Larry (“Savta”).

In the same way, she and Peter became part of Manny’s family. They spoke every week with Manny’s father Nash, and his mother Stephanie. Suzanne sent photos galore.

During the college process, the Propps took Manny to schools like Colgate and (with Nash) Union. Nash came from Bayonne, New Jersey to join Manny and the Propps for special events like Passover, Shabbat dinner and bat mitzvahs.

Over their 4 years together, the relationship evolved. In the beginning, Peter says, “we didn’t know if we were there for support and kindness, or if we should insert ourselves more in his life.”

They struck a balance. When Manny mentioned difficulty seeing a clock, the Propps worked with ABC to make sure he saw an eye doctor, and got new glasses.

Manny enjoys Halloween with the Propps.

Sometimes they followed his lead. When Manny was interested in doing the AIDS Walk in New York, they joined him.

“Manny is naturally happy and content,” Suzanne says. “I’m not sure how much we really did for him. I think he knows a lot of people in our family care for him, and he felt very comfortable with us. And he got a lot of support from many other people in Westport too.”

As for the hosts, Suzanne says, “I got another kid to love like crazy.”

Suzanne Sherman Propp, and Manny Ogutu.

“We love this area. But there’s not a lot of diversity,” Peter notes. “We believe it’s important to get to know a ton of people. You have to get involved personally to affect change. Getting to know Manny helped us. He inspired me to do more entrepreneurial work in Norwalk. And Manny showed me the importance of embracing opportunities and relationships.”

Being a host family is satisfying. But it takes work.

“You can’t be passive,” Peter explains. “You have to be willing to get involved. When your kid is around, he should be a priority — just like with your own child. You have to make sure he gets discipline, quiet, sleep, transportation and food.”

“You can’t project your own image onto him,” Suzanne explains. “You have to find out what makes him happy. And then support him as much as you can, no matter what the challenges.”

Peter Propp helped Manny learn to ride a bike.

Manny is now a student at Carleton College in Minnesota. He and the Propps text and call often.

Suzanne says, “Manny was a gift. He was the perfect addition to our family. I cry every time I think about it.

And, she adds, “There’s always a bed for him here.”

(To learn more about becoming a host family, email abchostfamily@gmail.com)

Remembering Khaliq Sanda

The A Better Chance program has brought some remarkable teenagers to Westport. They, in turn, have enriched our town beyond measure.

None is more remarkable than Khaliq Sanda.

Arriving here in the fall of 2010, he immediately made his mark on Staples High School, and the entire community.

Khaliq Sanda

With a magnetic personality, an insightful mind, a welcoming spirit and a heart of gold, he made friends everywhere. Staples students, younger siblings, teachers — all were drawn to Khaliq.

Lori and David Sochol met him when the ABC home on North Avenue was being renovated. They and their neighbors, Laurie and Dave Gendell, each hosted 3 scholars.

The Sochols’ friendship with Khaliq grew stronger as he grew older. They were proud of his successes in the classroom, and the passion with which he got involved in Westport life.

Khaliq took 10 AP classes. He tutored. He worked at Internal Medicine Associates. He volunteered with Key Club, and served on Student Assembly.  

He touched everyone he met.

After graduation he headed to Duke University. He took pre-med courses. He wanted to be a psychiatrist.

In May of 2016, Khaliq was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Quickly, it metastasized to his brain.

The Sochols, and many other Westporters, stepped up to help. They made him comfortable, and ensured he had access to the best treatment at Sloan Kettering,

Following a trip to London and Barcelona with friends hee returned to Duke as a junior, and continued treatments there.

After graduating in 2018, Khaliq got a job and apartment in New York. When COVID hit, he moved in with the Sochols.

Khaliq Sanda at a formal dance, with great friends Roscoe Brown, Emily Korn and Elizabeth Camche.

In November, he lost the use of his legs. David found him an apartment in New York. School friends raised funds for the 2-bedroom place. Aides came during the day. At night, Westport and Duke friends helped.

Some were 3 years older; others, 2 years younger. “Everyone at Duke knew him,” Lori says. “They all said he changed their lives. Some said he saved their lives.”

Khaliq was hospitalized on Thursday. Over 100 friends came through over the weekend, to say goodbye.

This morning, with his family by his side, Khaliq Sanda died.

He leaves a remarkable legacy.

“He saw the best in us — even when we didn’t — and made us want to be better, and do better,” says David Sochol.

“His loving friendship quietly motivated us — again often without us even realizing it — to live up to our ideals and achieve our promise.

“Khaliq defined courage, character and grace. He faced unimaginable adversity with extraordinary humor, patience and strength. He will be missed, but his memory will endure in the actions of all who knew him and loved him.”

A college scholarship fund for Sloan Kettering patients will be set up soon to celebrate his many achievements. Details will be announced on “06880.”

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In 2014, Khaliq spoke at the A Better Chance Gala. 

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Hundreds of Westporters mingled with ABC House graduates, and were gratified to hear updates on their highly accomplished lives. There were silent and live auctions. The food was excellent.

The highlight of the evening was speeches by graduating seniors. Khaliq Sanda and Ruben Guardado talked about their difficult journeys to, and through, Westport. They graciously thanked all who had helped them so far, and promised to help others who follow them.

Here is part of what Khaliq said:

Almost exactly a decade before I was born, President Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” He was speaking literally about the barrier that separated East and West Berlin. I want to talk about metaphorical walls.

When my parents were in their 20s, they emigrated from Cameroon to the United States. Their motivation was the same as most immigrants: they wanted their children to get the kind of education that is unavailable in the country they come from. Their move to a strange and unfamiliar country — through checkpoints and gates and then up and over an invisible wall — was a sacrifice that I think about every day. My parents’ American lives and the fact that I am standing here in front of you today are proof that these walls can be scaled. But climbing over them requires more than just the usual factors, like perseverance, determination, adaptability, hard work, and good luck. It requires, above all, a human ladder to help you vault over the barricade.

Graduating seniors Khaliq Sanda (left) and Ruben Guardado (right) pose with Anthony Soto at the 2014 A Better Chance gala. Anthony — the MC — was the 1st Westport ABC alum to earn a graduate degree.

It was not easy for Khaliq to enter Staples as a freshman. He did not know a single person, but every classmate seemed to know everyone else. “I was on one side of the wall,” he said. “Everyone else was on the other.” He wondered if the next 4 years of his life would be like that.

He found refuge in — “of all places” — Karen Thomas’ geometry class. Her dedication to teaching — and to him — was profound. Khaliq found other “amazing” educators at Staples — Heather Colletti-Houde, Will Jones, Christina Richardson, Suzanne Kammerman, and more — and he flourished.

Other strong arms lifted him up.

My host family, the Mathiases, was indispensable. Kim and Mark, your compassion, care, and willingness to make me a part of your family are the greatest gifts you could have given me. Nick and Nicole, you are the younger brother and sister I always wanted but would have treated really badly if you actually were my younger brother and sister. This way is better: I love you and I like you. If you ever need me, know I’m only a phone call away.

Khaliq Sanda with his host family: Nick, Kim, Mark and Nicole Mathias.

Khaliq Sanda with his A Better Chance host family: Nick, Kim, Mark and Nicole Mathias.

Khaliq also thanked the resident directors at ABC House; his fellow residents; ABC board members and volunteers, who provided a home away from home, rides and much else.

He spoke of his bonds with Michael Newman and the Peer Advisors group. In fact, he said, Michael is the reason he wants to study neuroscience. He thanked Kim Freudigman, for helping him reach his dream of studying at a university he once would never have dreamed of applying to.

Then, the once friendless Khaliq — now one of the most popular students at Staples — said:

If you’re going to climb a really massive, imposing wall, you’re going to need to stand on the shoulders of giants — young giants. There is absolutely no way I would have been able to make it through this program without my best friends and their families. Roscoe Brown, Grant Heller, Cooper Shippee, Jeremy Langham, Austin Nicklas, Joey Schulman, Charlie Leonard, Henri Rizack, Eliza Yass, Annie and Lauren Raifaisen, Elizabeth Colwell, Emily Korn, Elizabeth Camche and Caroline O’Brien — thank you. You have been there for me through thick and thin. When I have needed someone to talk to or share a laugh with, you were my first choice, my early decision. You have been crucial in my life beyond what any of you will ever understand or I could put into words. Without revealing anything that could get us all in trouble, let me just say… I don’t think there’s been a single dull moment.

Without sounding boastful, Khaliq described his life in Westport: 10 AP classes, a job at Internal Medicine of Westport, volunteer work with the Key Club, “advocating for students on Student Assembly, and trying to maintain the façade of a well-rested, happy-go-lucky, not-a-care-in-the-world, totally color-coordinated teenager.”

He concluded by reaching back to his original reference to walls.

When President Reagan asked President Gorbachev to tear down the wall, East Germans and West Germans had been separated for nearly 30 years. You can imagine — I can imagine — what they were thinking: the people on the other side of the wall are not like me. Their lives are not like my life. Their problems are not like my problems.

A Better ChanceThat’s what I thought when I first moved here. From my side of the wall, Westport seemed like a picture-book town. The reality is much more complex. I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived here for 4 years, but I also feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in Queens and Lawrenceville, Georgia, and to have been born into my amazing family. We don’t have a Range Rover in the driveway, but there is always a home-cooked meal on the kitchen table. And our house isn’t 11,000 square feet, but it’s filled with the people I love most in the world, filled with laughter and joy.

My journey these last 4 years is similar to the one my parents took when they were only a little older than I am now: moving to a place unlike your home, starting over with no family or friends to support you, and having to stay strong even when things were rocky. I think my parents would say that every moment of their journey was worth it, and every day, I am amazed by how strong, courageous, caring, and wise my parents are. Mom and Dad, you mean the world to me, I thank you again for having the confidence in me, and I hope I’ve made you proud. I love you guys.

Thank you all for helping me climb over the wall.

======================================================

And now, to bring a smile to your face: Here’s a video from 2013. With his usual spirit and zest, Khaliq and good friend Roscoe Brown asked 2 girls to the junior prom:

Roundup: Mental Illness, ABC, WAS, More

 


Luisa Francoeur — a longtime Westporter, and a sister and parent of people with mental illness — reminds “06880” readers that this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Local resources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Connecticut chapter, and Positive Directions.


A Better Chance of Westport’s “Dream Event” is one of the highlights of our fundraising year. It’s a chance to honor the students, graduating seniors and alumni of the program, which brings youngsters from underserved schools to Staples to study, and Westport to live.

COVID pushed the gala back from June to November 13. However, with restrictions still in place, organizers must cancel altogether.

ABC welcome scholars back last month. Resident directors and tutors returned too. They’re all adjusting to the “new normal,” including hybrid learning at Staples High School.

Cancellation of the Dream Event is a big blow to the organization, which relies heavily on community support. Click here to learn more.


Talenthood is a new app that connects families with children (K through 7th grade) and Staples students with talent in different areas. The focus is on sports, music, technology, creative hobbies and academics. There are also babysitting and lifeguard services.

A portion of the profits goes to charities. Amanda Rowan — a Staples student directing the service, who loves working with youngsters — has chosen the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Pink Aid.

Click here for more information.


Dr. Bob Dempsey — flight director for the International Space Station — Zooms into Westport on October 20 (8 p.m.) for an online talk.

The Westport Astronomical Society-sponsored event is open to the public. Click here for details. It’s also available on the WAS’ YouTube channel.

The online talk is open to the public: we are one of the few things you cando in Westport that is free and greatly expand your knowledge.


After 57 years of broadcasting from the University of Bridgeport, WPKN (89.5) has moved. The new studio — recently renovated Bijou Square, in downtown Bridgeport — will be the new home for Westporters like programmer Ina Chadwick, fundraiser and development director Richard Epstein; Staples graduates like communications guru Jim Motavalli, and the station’s enormous stable of Westport fans.


And finally … we won’t have ABC’s Dream Event this year. But we can have:

 

Khalif Rivers: The ABCs Of Photography

School came easy to Khalif Rivers. It was not especially challenging.

In 8th grade, a teacher recommended the A Better Chance program. Like many youngsters, Khalif had not thought much about his future. But he trusted her, and the opportunity to be one of the people of color chosen to attend a top school sounded alluring.

He did not want to leave his native Philadelphia. But when he visited the Westport affiliate he liked the scholars at Glendarcy House, and the local program.

He was accepted by A Better Chance of Westport. Arriving here in 2004 was scary, and a culture shock.

Khalif Rivers

“I was a young Black kid trying to figure out where I fit in,” Khalif recalls. “I was homesick. I had to learn how to really study. I felt like I was under a microscope. I struggled.”

Over the course of 4 years, he succeeded. With the help of his “brothers” in the house — and many others in the community — Khalif had an “overall great” experience.

He graduated in 2008. He had been looking for a larger college, not too far away, but somewhere he would have “autonomy.” When ABC’s Harold Kamins drove him to West Virginia University, he knew he’d found his next home.

Khalif majored in sports psychology. He planned on earning a master’s in counseling. But despite scholarships, he’d had to borrow a lot of money. Not wanting to go further in debt, he returned to Philadelphia.

He got a great job as a field service engineer, installing tempered glass. It was physically demanding work, in all kinds of weather. It paid well, and Khalif traveled far.

But he hated it. He had no time for friends, relationships — or photography.

That was a passion he’d discovered at Staples. Khalif had taken Digital Darkroom to fill an elective. But he loved it, and moved on to Photography with Janet Garstka, then Digital Photography.

He was an excellent photographer. Whenever he had free time — anywhere in Westport, at athletic events, wherever — he brought his camera.

Now, back home — and older — Khalif looked around. “Philadelphia is beautiful,” he says.”But so many buildings wee being torn down. I realized I had to photograph them.”

At first he used his cell phone. He would hop on a bus, get off somewhere, and start taking pictures. “I was doing it for myself,” he recalls. “I just wanted to capture the city in all its glory.”

“Ben Franklin” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

He saved up for a good Nikon. He taught himself to use it through YouTube videos. As he posted those photos — many of them sharp, strong, black and white — to his Instagram account, followers encouraged him to do more.

In the spring of 2017 Khalif started a side business, selling his images.

It was successful. Khalif began thinking of doing photography full time. But he was making good money at his day job. “It was a big unknown, to walk away,” he says.

“Respite” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

When COVID-19 struck, Khalif was laid off. He spent a month reflecting. He’d put so much time and energy into his service engineering work. He’d never get that back.

He could get a similar job. But, he says, the industry is filled with divorced, unhappy people.

“I realized I couldn’t do it. It’s over,” he says.

Khalif wondered: “What if I put the same effort into my photography? I could be more than a weekend warrior. I could take it so much further.”

“Shooting Star” (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

He’s not sure if he would have quit his full time job. But he’s glad things worked out as they have. Since April, he has committed himself fully to his photography.

Right now he’s looking through the 15,000 images he shot during his travels. He’s moving into portrait photography too. He’s learning how to market himself — “just another challenge,” he calls it.

“This is still a work in progress,” Khalif says. “Every day I learn another aspect of running a business.

“But there’s no going back. I’m going to make this happen.”

(Click here for Khalif Rivers’ website. Hat tip: Katie Augustyn.)

Untitled (Photo/Khalif Rivers)

SLOBs Set A New Standard Of Service

For over a decade, SLOBs shined on the last Sunday in April.

The acronym stands for the Service League Of Boys. With over 300 students — plus hundreds of parents — it’s one of Staples High School’s largest, most active clubs.

SLOBs commit to a minimum of 10 hours of service a year (many do much more). And Service Sunday is their Super Bowl.

One scene from a previous SLOBs Service Sunday …

This year, they’d lined up volunteer efforts — landscaping, outdoor projects and the like — at sites all around Westport, Norwalk and Bridgeport. Work sites included A Better Chance’s Glendarcy House, the Audubon Society’s Smith Richardson Tree Farms, Homes with Hopes’ multiple locations, Aspetuck Land Trust, Green Village Initiative, Earthplace, Sherwood Island State Park, Wakeman Town Farm, Evergreen and Open Door.

There were school-related projects for Staples, the Maker Faire and the Read and Curiale Schools in Bridgeport, plus food and donation drives for Person to Person and Quest for Peace.

Yet with current COVID-19 restrictions in place, none of those places will benefit from SLOBs’ generosity.

… and another.

So the group figured out Plan B. They’ll take funds that would have gone to purchase materials for the Day of Service, and redirect them to charities with immediate needs.

None are strangers to SLOBs. They’ve already worked with all.

These organizations will receive $1,100 each: A Better Chance of Westport, Homes with Hope’s food pantry; the Open Door Shelter, Westport’s Department of Human Services COVID-19 Fund, and Person to Person.

SLOBs is keeping a bit of money in reserve, in case some of the planned events can be rescheduled for fall.

In addition, snack bags the students had expected to fill at their March meeting were instead filled by 2 executive board members, and dropped off at the Curiale School for its food pick-up program.

SLOBs’ 2019-20 executive board.

And the SLOBs Blast — a monthly email sent to all 300 members and parents — was reworked into a list of new coronavirus-related service opportunities, for the boys to work on on their own.

There’s no Service Sunday this year. It’s been weeks since the club has met. But — with the need greater than ever — they’ve found new ways to help.

SLOBs is pretty neat! (Hat tip: Beth Massoud)

A Better Chance Selection Process: Not As Easy As A-B-C

“Westport parents freak out when our kids go to college. These are boys 4 years younger, coming to a completely different environment. Homesickness is natural. But the kids — and their parents — handle it well.”

I don’t know if Daphne Lewis freaked out when her own 3 kids graduated from Staples High School. But now — as head of A Better Chance of Westport‘s scholar selection committee — she has an up-front, personal view of the amazing process by which academically gifted and highly motivated young men of color leave their homes and hometowns, live in Westport, and enter a new and very different high school as freshmen.

Then she watches with pride as — despite many obstacles and challenges — they thrive, graduate, and head confidently to college.

Lewis has spent 25 years in Westport. ABC has been an integral part of our town since 2002. But she did not know much about the organization until a few years ago when her youngest son James — now a senior at Yale — became good friends with a Staples track teammate, ABC scholar Luis Cruz. (He’s about to graduate from Boston College.)

Luis Cruz as a Staples High School senior, flanked by his track teammate and great friend Oliver Hickson, and his coach Laddie Lawrence.

As an empty nester, Lewis became ABC’s coordinator of volunteer drivers — men and women who take the scholars to various activities, doctors’ appointments, friends’ houses, or wherever they need to go.

In her new role she’s in the midst of finding the next 2 young men who will join ABC’s long list of smart, talented, creative scholars.

Getting chosen for the national ABC program is an arduous task for 8th graders. Yet it’s not easy for ABC of Westport to get the cream of the crop either.

There are 300 ABC programs in the US. But the vast majority are in boarding or private day schools.

Only 20 or so are in public high schools, like Staples.

That makes us attractive to ABC candidates and their families. With no tuition, they don’t have to worry about financial aid.

The living arrangements — 8 young men share Glendarcy House just down the road from Staples, with resident directors — and the opportunity to spend weekends with host families may be more personal than dormitory living.

A community of volunteers helps Glendarcy Hosue function like a true family. (Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

But the names and cachets of private schools can be powerful drawing cards. In addition, the idea of “public school” may be anathema to boys and their parents whose own experiences with them may be less than positive.

Which is why the selection process — bringing the strongest candidates, and their families — to see our school and town for themselves is so crucial.

Some youngsters first find out about the national ABC program from guidance counselors. Sometimes their parents are searching for a better educational opportunity for their kids. Either way, the process begins more than a year before 9th grade.

The national staff reviews applications. This year, they sent 31 to Westport.

Lewis and her committee examined each closely. Which of these boys, they wondered, had the potential to survive the rigors of our academically challenging high school? Which were involved in activities that Staples also offered? Which seemed to be the types who could meet strangers easily, advocate for themselves, and adapt to the new, very suburban and white environment of Westport?

In his 4 years as an ABC scholar, Manny Ogutu became part of the Propp and Sherman extended family.

Of course, Westport was not the only ABC program that received those applications. Our top candidates are also being courted by private schools.

Lewis’ committee narrowed the list. Then they invited 12 applicants — and their families — to Westport. Ten accepted.

ABC of Westport pays for the visits: transportation, meals, and an overnight stay at the Westport Inn.

In January, the first group arrived. They began with lunch at the Senior Center. There was an introduction to Westport’s ABC program, and informal meetings with board members and host parents.

A tour of the town followed (students and parents were taken separately). Then everyone gathered at Glendarcy House, to meet the current scholars and resident directors. The boys stayed for dinner; parents were taken to a restaurant.

The current scholars’ impressions are an important part of the selection process, Lewis notes.

The 2019-20 A Better Chances scholars.

On Monday, the students went to Staples. They spent the day visiting classes with the school’s Ambassadors (fellow teenagers).

“They feel very welcomed at Staples,” Lewis says. “They talk to a lot of people. They are very positive about that experience.”

Afterward, there were interviews in private homes with committee members. Meanwhile, their parents were given a tour of the school. (Full disclosure: I led the tour last month, and will give the next 2. If the applicants are half as amazing as their parents, in terms of motivation, insightful questions and energy, we’ve got a great group to choose from.)

It’s a whirlwind 28 hours. Then the ABC board really gets to work.

They need to make sure their offers are to boys who will fit in well — with the house, the school and the town. But they also need to make them soon enough, so they’re competitive with the private schools.

The process is sometimes completed by early April. Sometimes it’s not finalized until late May.

“It’s a lot of work,” Lewis says. “A lot of thought goes into it. We don’t take these decisions lightly.

“But it’s so much fun meeting the boys and their families. And it’s so difficult to choose.”

For nearly 2 decades, A Better Chance of Westport has chosen well. And the young men they’ve chosen, who then choose to come here, have gotten a great deal out of their decision.

But even more, they enrich our school and community beyond measure.

(Funds to bring potential scholars and their families here — and to run Glendarcy House, and the rest of the A Better Chance of Westport program — come almost entirely through donations. This year’s Dream Event annual major fundraiser is set for Saturday, March 14, 6:30 pm at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. Click here for tickets. Among the highlights of the dinner: speeches by graduates and alumni. Click below to hear then-senior Emerson Lovell’s talk.)