Tag Archives: Al DiGuido

Unsung Hero #116

Jeff Seaver runs Seaver Interactive, a web design and digital marketing firm in Saugatuck. He’s been friends, and worked with, Pete Romano — a Saugatuck native — for 7 years. Jeff writes:

Walking around town with Pete Romano is like going for a stroll with the mayor: folks say hello everywhere he goes. Pete’s well known not just for his expertise in running Landtech — an engineering and environmental firm on Riverside Avenue — but also for his community service. His reputation spans generations.

His father, PJ Romano, grew up in Westport. He was a PAL volunteer for almost 50 years. The athletic field behind Saugatuck Elementary School is named for him, honoring his role in developing PAL’s football, baseball, wrestling and other programs, including the ice rink at Longshore.

Pete’s mom, Joan Romano, still volunteers with PAL. That spirit continues, as Pete maintains a strong family tradition of service.

Pete played baseball and football at Staples High School. His mom recalls that Pete “would knock a player down, but then afterward, stop to help pick them up.”

Working with his longtime friend and partner at Saugatuck Sweets, Al DiGuido, Pete is one of the forces behind DiGuido’s legendary Al’s Angels charity. Last year, Pete helped organize and oversee over 2,500 holiday meals to help those in need.

Pete Romano (left) with his mother Joan, and Al DiGuido, at Saugatuck Sweets.

Al DiGuido said, “I have never thought of Pete Romano as a hero. I doubt he regards himself that way. He just has a tireless passion for doing the heavy lifting for those in need, which inspires me and so many others.

“Pete doesn’t seem to need or want the spotlight. He’s not looking for trophies, awards or accolades. I think he does this because its in his DNA. His family has always been committed to doing all they could to help the community. Some are content to sit on the sidelines, but Pete gets his hands dirty doing the hard work that is truly needed.”

But Pete has a superhero alter ego. Every Christmas he plays Santa Claus. He arrives on a Westport Police patrol boat at Saugatuck Center, lighting the tree and entertaining kids.

Here comes Pete — er, Santa Claus!

His good works could fill a book. They include being a major contributor to the renovation of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, and helping sponsor events for the American Cancer Society, Project Return, ElderHouse, Operation Hope,  Westport Rotary, Little League Softball, plus many other local causes.

Bill Mitchell has been a pal of Pete’s for many years. They support many of the same causes, including Operation Hope and Project Runway. Bill notes, “Pete and his family have been a gift to our community.”

Steve Smith, Westport’s building inspector, said, “Pete Romano is a successful community leader who is generous and always willing to help out a community cause. He has given his time to our town unselfishly — and always with his characteristically great sense of humor.”

Phil Cerrone, an architect who has partnered in a number of efforts with Pete’s firm, said, “Pete is one of the most caring and considerate people I know. He can always be relied on to help a friend in need. Just as important, he can also be counted on to supply top quality food and drink!”

One of Pete’s most treasured causes is Wakeman Town Farm. Pete often joins with his friend, architect Peter Wormser, scooping ice cream at the Farm’s special events. 

Pete Romano and Peter Wormser, at Wakeman Town Farm.

Pete always has time for Westport schools. He and his firm helped create the night lights at the Staples High School football field, the fields at Bedford Middle School, and the Loeffler Field terrace (granite seating on the soccer field hill).

He is a generous supporter of Staples sports teams, Staples Players and middle school theater productions, the Staples robotics team, and more.

Pete’s firm collaborates with Gault Energy on many projects. Gault family members are effusive in their praise. Ginger Gault and Jimmy Donaher say, “He has keen insight to go along with a big heart, and on top of everything else, he’s hysterically funny. Pete is the complete package.”

He is especially proud of his 2 daughters. They went through the Westport School System, and are now smart, vibrant, strong women. Pete said, “They got the best public education one could dream of. How do you ever repay that debt?”

Pete Romano

Pete celebrated a birthday recently. As with many hard-working and generous folks, one of the hardest challenge is figuring out what to give them.

What do you give a man like Pete Romano who does not have everything, but gives everything?

The only answer is: love and genuine appreciation for all that he does.

 

Unsung Heroes #81

Another holiday season has come and gone. Now we get ready to slog through January.

Fortunately, holiday lights still shine all over Westport. And none are brighter — or more beloved than the William F. Cribari Bridge.

We don’t know what its future holds. But this year — as it has for the past decade or so — the Saugatuck River span sparkles each night. It’s beautiful, peaceful and heart-warming.

The William F. Cribari Bridge, in all its holiday glory. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

It doesn’t just happen. The Cribari Bridge lights are a gift of Al’s Angels. And that organization is a true gift to the town.

Created and nurtured by Al DiGuido, his wife Chris and friends, Al’s Angels helps children who battle cancer and rare blood diseases. As their families face severe financial hardship, the Angels help.

They do it quietly and efficiently — and big time. This year alone, they provided over 3,200 holiday meals, and 15,000 toys.

It’s a labor of love for Al and his angels. Many Westporters pitch in, with money and time. They pack meal bins and wrap toys.

And they string those lights.

The twinkling Cribari bridge brings joy to all who cross it. But, Al says, it’s also a symbol that we all are called to be a “light” in the world of others.

This week, Al’s Angels are our Unsung Heroes. They truly light up our lives.

(To learn more about Al’s Angels, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Can You Take The Scoops Challenge?

The other day I posted a story about Mike Greenberg’s new book, “MVP: Most Valuable Puppy.” The children’s tale honors the memory of Heidi Armitage, a beloved Westporter. She died in 2009, after battling breast cancer.

Heidi Armitage and Walker Green

Heidi’s son Walker Green was a young boy when his mom died. Now — a couple of weeks before graduating from Staples High School — he’s working with Staples Pink Aid and the Cancer Couch Foundation on a fundraiser for metastatic breast cancer.

And — in keeping with his mother’s personality — the “fun” part of “fundraiser” is important.

The Scoops Challenge is really an old-fashioned ice cream-eating contest. Teams of 4 eat as many scoops as they can, in 3 minutes. Winners earn trophies.

Teams can also win by raising the most money. Each team must raise at least $100 to enter.

Action from last year’s Fairfield contest.

Westport’s first-ever Scoops Challenge is set for the Staples courtyard on Thursday, June 14 at 5 p.m., for high school students. Middle and elementary school students have their own challenge on Friday, June 15 (4 p.m., at Saugatuck Sweets).

Saugatuck Sweets is donating all the ice cream. Owner Al DiGuido started the event in Fairfield, and has raised $20,000. Staples is the first high school to do it.

To register, click here for the high school challenge; click here for the middle and elementary school challenge. Then share your team page via social media with everyone you know.

The Scoops Challenge is a great idea, for an excellent cause.

PS: Don’t forget to practice!

(From left) Organizers Alex Laudico, Walker Green, Rohan Goswami (MC of the event) and Pink Aid head Bianca Bicalho prepare for the Scoops Challenge, at Saugatuck Sweets.

Sweet Sounds Of Summer Return

Last July, the “Sweet Sounds of Summer” on the plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and the Whelk was stilled. A few noise complaints doomed the popular band concert series.

The music soon moved around the corner, to the daily parking lot next to Luciano Park. But the vibe wasn’t the same.

All is now right by the river. Saugatuck Sweets co-owner Al DiGuido just received the okay for 6 acoustic concerts on the plaza. They’ll be held in June, July and August.

While they won’t be as loud as last year’s, they’ll be just as much fun.

Adult Swim rocked along the river last year -- before the "Summer Sounds" concert series was shut down.

Adult Swim rocked along the river last year — before the “Summer Sounds” concert series was shut down.

Meanwhile, over in Fairfield — where Saugatuck Sweets just opened their 2nd store — they’ve been approved for 11 concerts at the gazebo on the Town Green, just across Reef Road from their shop.

DiGuido is already booking all his acts.

Al’s Angels’ Special “Ades”

Just over a decade ago — a few days after his 10th birthday — Aaron Gaberman was diagnosed with 2 rare and aggressive brain tumors.

His life suddenly became a blur of doctor visits, spinal taps, blood tranfusions, surgeries and long stays in the ICU.

But he never gave up. Thanks to indefatigable courage, a strong will to succeed, and the loving support of family, friends and community members, Aaron forged on. He played baseball, golf and the violin, while becoming an excellent student, good friend, leader and inspiration.

Aaron was the 3rd patient in the US to participate in a new clinical trial. The results were good — but 3 years later a routine MRI revealed a growth behind his right eye. It was removed in a lengthy procedure, and Aaron persevered with his quiet resolve and unflagging determination.

Cancer survivor Aaron Gaberman leads a very active life.

Cancer survivor Aaron Gaberman leads a very active life.

In December 2013, after his 1st semester at Marist College, another regular MRI detected a spinal nerve tumor. Once again, Aaron endured lengthy surgery. Despite pain and loss of mobility, he made the dean’s list.

But the tumor grew back aggressively. Another operation was successful. Through lengthy physical therapy sessions and conditioning workouts, Aaron grows stronger every day.

To pay forward the many kindnesses he’s received, Aaron and his family joined Al’s Angels. The Westport-based non-profit provides assistance to children and families suffering hardship due to life-threatening illnesses or poverty.

In founder Al DiGuido, they saw a true “angel” whose organization provides hope to many. They were particularly impressed that after an exhausting trip home from the hospital, Al’s Angels surprised them with a Thanksgiving dinner. Now, they help prepare holiday food baskets for others.

Al’s Angels depends on the generosity of local residents. This month, we’ve all got some clever — and fun — ways to help.

On Saturday, June 6 (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), over 100 lemonade stands will pop up in front of stores, and in residential neighborhoods, throughout Fairfield County.

The “Angel-ade” stands will include lemonade products donated by Newman’s own, and cookies from ShopRite and Westport-based Nothin’ But.

Al's AngelsIn addition, dozens of national retailers and local merchants — including
Bartaco, Castle Wine, Coffee An’, Downunder, Edge Fitness, Fetzer Tire, Freshii, Garelick & Herbs, JoyRide, Saugatuck Rowing Club, Saugatuck Sweets, SoNo Baking Company, SoulCycle, Splatterbox, Stiles Market, Vespa, Viva Zapata, Westport Hardware, Westport Wash & Wax and the Westport Family YMCA — are donating products or retail space for each stand.

Throughout June too, more than 25 Connecticut bars and restaurants will offer “Angel-ade cocktails.” They’ll donate $2 per cocktail to Al’s Angels. Local sites include Blue Lemon, Bobby Q’s and Spotted Horse.

Kids have done the toughest things: persevering through horrible illnesses. Al’s Angels have done the next hardest:  helping them.

Now all you have to do is buy some lemonade, or a cocktail.

Life is really not that rough.

Lights! Christmas! Action!

Those beautiful lights that make the Bridge Street Bridge sparkle don’t screw themselves in.

At midnight Friday, Al DiGuido, Vinny Penna and a crew of helpers were out, ensuring another bright holiday season.

(Photo/Pete Romano)

(Photo/Pete Romano)

Al’s Angels — the Westport-based charity helping children and families battle cancer and severe hardships (among many other good works) — ensures that the well-traveled bridge looks its best every holiday season.

You can see the lights for yourself on Wednesday, December 4. That’s when Santa arrives (6 p.m.), and a Christmas tree will be lit in Saugatuck Center, on the plaza between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets.

From 5:30 to 8 p.m. there’s refreshments,  fun, and old-fashioned community spirit.

And — in that holiday spirit — the sponsoring Gault family asks everyone to bring an unwrapped toy, for a child under 10.

Al’s Angels will take care of the rest.

As — very quietly, but lovingly, all year long — they always do.

Sandy Meets Santa

As thousands of families fled Hurricane Sandy, the last thing they thought about was toys.

But along with the rest of their possessions, countless children lost toys.

Now, with the holiday season near, the last thing displaced parents can do is think about — or pay for — toys.

It’s a stressful time for so many people in the tri-state area. Christmas and Hanukkah are sure to add one more level of anxiety.

As it does so often, Al’s Angels rides to the rescue.

The Westport organization — which in “good” times provides over 3000 families and 5000 children battling cancer, rare blood diseases and financial hardship with holiday meals and gifts — is expanding its mission.

Founder Al DiGuido and his hard-working, ever-smiling band of volunteers is organizing a toy drive to collect new, unwrapped gifts. They’ll bring a sliver of joy to thousands of kids who would otherwise have no toys this holiday season.

Banners are being made. They’ll be placed in Westport stores, whose owners have agreed to accept donated toys. (A full list will be published soon.) Starting November 24, you can also drop off toys at the rear entrance of 1175 Post Road East (opposite Crate & Barrel).

Cash donations are of course welcome. Click here, then find “Hurricane Sandy” in the clickdown “Donation Option Categories” menu.

Al’s Angels is always looking for man (and woman) (and kid) power too. If you’d like to help, email adiguido@yahoo.com.

There are many ways to be an angel this Christmas (or Hanukkah). Thanks to Al’s Angels for providing this special one.

Mourning An “Angel”

Westporter Fred Lexow — who started in the back office, and ended up running the equities trading desk at JP Morgan’s asset management unit — died last weekend. He was 49.

He had a heart attack related to complications from a 2-year battle with recurring staph infections.

Fred Lexow

According to Bloomberg News, doctors never determined how he contracted the initial infection that attacked his internal organs. He underwent dialysis treatments 3 days a week.

Despite his work responsibilities and health problems, Fred always made time for Westport. Al DiGuido — the founder of Al’s Angels — wrote this tribute to one of his most steadfast volunteers.

Fred and his wife Nan have been members and incredible supporters of Al’s Angels for many years. Fred was always warm to all that he met. He fought courageously for many years through each medical challenge he faced.

For those of us how have had the honor of knowing him, he was a person of great character and tremendous enthusiasm for life. Even during his toughest days, he wanted to do more for our organization. Several weeks ago, he chided me for not asking him to help more with Al’s Angels.

Fred loved the NY Yankees and Giants. He was a talented chef and an avid golfer. He loved boating, and spending time with his family and friends. Beyond his extensive work with Al’s Angels, Fred was also a member of the Noroton Fire Department.

Fred was a true Angel — always willing to help whenever we called on him. He was one of the hundreds of people who would arrive early and work until late during all of our holiday meal assembly events. He worked hard despite his own physical challenges. He believed in our mission deeply.

I know that today he is surrounded by a legion of Angels in heaven.

(Memorial contributions may be directed to the Sylvie Sutton Lexow Education Fund; care of James Saraceni, Esq.; 5 Mott Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06850.)

Al’s Angels “Strike” Gold

Like any philanthropic organization, Al’s Angels spends as much time raising funds as it does dispensing them.  There’s a constant struggle to come up with new, creative ways to ask people for money.

The Westport group — well-known for providing holiday meals and gifts to children and families suffering with cancer and rare blood diseases — hits the mark with its upcoming effort.

Their “24 Hours of Strikes” is a bowl-a-thon at Lucky Strike Lanes in midtown Manhattan.  Anyone can sign up to bowl a half-hour slot on the weekend of April 2-3.  They then ask friends, relatives and colleagues for pledges:  $1, $5, $10 or more for each pin knocked down during that time “frame.”

Strikes are triple — knocking down 10 pins counts as 30.

Lucky Strike Lanes -- a bowling alley for the 21st century.

Lucky Strike is nothing like the old Westport Lanes; this is a party venue.  There’s a great club/lounge, with music, food and beverage (and a bar).  There are 10 billiards tables.  Spectators are welcome (tickets are $100).

Al’s Angels’ goal is to raise over $75,000.  It’s ambitious — but founder  Al DiGuido is up to the challenge.

He’s signed up for a slot (April 2, 12-12:30 p.m.), and vows to “crush” 300 pins.

Knowing Al, he’ll solicit hundreds of pledges.  He’ll reach his goal.

He’ll bring joy to hundreds of families that desperately need it.

And he and his Al’s Angels family will have a great time, doing very good things.

(To sign up to bowl — or sponsor a bowler — click here.  For a video of their good works, see below.)

Our Next Great Holiday Tradition

Christmas is 364 days away.  But — perhaps inspired by today’s “blizzard” — Al DiGuido and Steve Rubin are already looking ahead.

Al noticed that Westport doesn’t have an “official” Christmas tree — nor any “official” ceremony marking the beginning of the holiday season.

The Saugatuck River Bridge, all lit up this holiday season.

But, in a letter to the Westport News, Al — founder and driving force behind Al’s Angels — proposed that his organization work with the town to make the Saugatuck Bridge lighting the “official” holiday season lighting for Westport.

Al said:

It would be incredible if we could close the bridge down for several hours on one magical night.  Local restaurants could provide hot chocolate, donuts and other holiday treats — actually on the bridge, when we throw the switch.  Area vocal groups could provide holiday music.

I know Santa and Frosty would definitely make an appearance too.

While other towns may have “trees,” no one has a bridge like ours.  As Westporters, we love the differences in our town.

Let’s celebrate them!

He urged interested Westporters to contact him: adiguido@yahoo.com.

RTM member Steve Rubin seconds the motion.  He says:

What a grand idea!  What a better honor for the Cribari family!  What a true fun tradition for Westport!

The official name of the span is the William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge.  Born in1918, he directed countless numbers of cars as a police traffic official.  Few people loved Westport and its history more than “Crowbar” did.

To continue to light the bridge from Thanksgiving to New Year’s would be an exciting Westport happening.  It would encompass the entire holiday season for all.

Illuminating the bridge and nearby donated trees has become a Westport institution.  Al DiGuido and friends started this tradition about a decade ago with other proud Westport residents, including myself.

Taxpayers’ funds have never been used.  I think anybody driving by or across this bridge when it glows with lights would be happy to kick in a few dollars if requested to continue this tradition.

There you have it:  The next great new town tradition.

And — this being Westport — the time to start working on it is yesterday.