Tag Archives: Allyson Maida

Allyson Maida’s Valentine To Westport

As Westport celebrates Valentine’s Day, “06880” reader Allyson Maida writes:

On that recent 6-degree day, 3 of us met to discuss business over an iced tea. After a while, our talk turned to living in Westport.

One person has lived here for over 30 years. She reflected on her post-corporate home-based entrepreneurial efforts. It led to meeting wonderful people, many of whom became friends. She spoke about community-based activities. We smiled, nodding as we thought of all the good that has been done within this 22.4-square mile town.

A defining moment to move our young family to Westport happened one summer night. In Westport visiting my cousin, we decided to drive to Main Street. As we turned from the Post Road, we saw a teenager on his skateboard zigzagging down the center of the straightaway.

Music filled the air, as a band played on Onion Alley’s roof. The skateboarder stopped to speak with a man who stood by his parked car. This was a Rockwell moment.

Main Street at night (Photo by Katherine Bruan)

The newer resident spoke of moving here a few years ago, to join her daughter’s family and continue her healthcare practice. She talked about her transition into town, how her career has continued to thrive as she interacts with community members who are considerate and kind. She smiled, sharing stories of the good people she has encountered and her volunteerism within her house of worship, of which she is extremely proud.

Our discussion was not unique. However, I realized that these types of talks often lead to the same place. Speaking about experiences in Westport often includes a sense of connectedness.

This is not to suggest that Westport is perfect, or the lone holder of this characteristic. But these thoughtful conversations frequently veer toward sharing information about people helping people, people doing good for others, community-minded businesses, nonprofit efforts, local business with engaging owners/employees, community changes over time, and how Westport’s history is the underpinning of that which makes this little town profoundly great.

Allyson Maida — author of this Valentine’s piece — and friend.

The root of amorous, chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day is actually the commemoration of those who had done good works.

It is no different than any other commemorative holiday, except that in the evolution of this annual celebration, we may have missed the point. According to historians, up to 3 priests named Valentine (Valentinus) offended nobility and Roman penal codes as they acted on behalf of others who were vulnerable. All were in ministry (also referred to as community service). In helping others, they were executed, in different years — but all on February 14, now known as Valentine’s Day.

Overall, this town has maintained its sense of goodwill and community concern. There are diverse interests, and activities that reach out to every social issue. We have a bridge that hosts world peace and international understanding efforts. Civil rights chants are heard there, while nearby knitted scarf-bombed trees extend anonymous gifts of warmth to those who are cold.

We have concerts and dancing, dog parades, art shows, rubber ducky races and individual initiatives designed to make someone else feel good. We raise awareness and funds to help support those at home and abroad. We sew and donate heart-shaped pillows for patients who suffer. We pack resident-donated trailers with supplies when another state falls victim to a storm, and we celebrate one child who insists on giving the contents of their piggy bank to another who needs school supplies.

Every year, many hands help create Westport’s Community Thanksgiving Feast.

All of this barely scrapes Westport’s surface.

Take a moment to think about all that happens within our small community. Opportunity is not arbitrary. It is deliberate. There is an expectation that this town will bring the best to its residents and visitors.

That comes from somewhere. From those who settled here in the 1600s to those who live and work here now, each person has added to this community in a way that has affected someone else.

So, to each of you, near and far, who are a part of the heart of Westport: Happy Valentine’s Day!

(This post is adapted from a story Allyson originally wrote for her blog. Click here for that version.)

Chill Out, Grill Out — And Give!

Last summer, Allyson Maida took a shot in the dark.

The longtime Westport psychotherapist — in her role as president of Business Networking International — organized a “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” event at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Attendees brought their own balls, frisbees, food and drinks (grills were provided). A per person entry fee helped raise over $7,200.

Allyson Maida

Every penny went to children living in transitional housing, served through Homes with Hope. Funds covered day-to-day expenses like birthday parties and transportation not covered by traditional sources.

There was more too. Businesses like Calise’s Deli, Aux Delices and Garelick & Herbs gave gift cards, so families in need could enjoy great food. Folks offered tutoring services and clothes.

It was a wonderful day, filled with surprises.

Weston Police commissioner Susan Moch spontaneously and pridefully sang the national anthem. Everyone stopped, and joined in.

Nick Santasiero and Jimi Italiano pulled out guitars and jammed. Others banged bongos.

Kids and adults played softball together. Strangers tossed frisbees.

Ernie Addario, Bill Hall and Amy Guyette Hall cooked vegan, vegetarian and meat meals. Fleisher’s Craft Butchery brought a large tent (and lots of sausage). Spotted Horse sent steak tips and salad, while Garelick & Herbs provided desserts. (The few leftovers went straight to the Gillespie Center.)

Bill Hall takes care of business at last year’s “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” party.

Everything came together, Allyson says.

Now she’s organized an encore.

The 2nd annual “Chill Out, Grill Out & Give” is set for this Sunday (July 15), at Greens Farms El. It starts at 2 p.m., and continues until the last person leaves.

This year, some of the children benefiting from the event will be there too. You won’t know who they are.

They’ll be just like everyone else: Westporters having fun in their town.

(The entry is $20 per person, payable at the event; children under 12 go free. Food and drinks are provided, though you can bring your own. For more information, email allyson@allysonmaida.com. Tax-deductible donations can be made payable to “Westport BNI,” and sent to Allyson Maida, 840 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880; write “Homes with Hope” on the memo line.)

Westport Needs Allyson Maida

Years ago — when her daughter was in middle school — Allyson Maida heard about a girl who spotted a classmate wearing a sweater the first girl owned.

Her mother had donated it to a charity, which then gave it to needy families.

When she learned that the needy girl lived in Westport, the mother told her daughter not to hang out with her. The girl told classmates too that they shouldn’t be friends with a poor girl.

That story was a defining moment in Maida’s life.

Allyson Maida

Another one came when Maida — a longtime Westport psychotherapist — heard of a mother here who faced an agonizing decision: If she invited a few of her daughter’s friends over for a small birthday celebration, the family would have to skimp on food all week.

“Stories like that rocked my world,” Maida says.

When she became president of the local chapter of Business Networking International, she asked the organization to help.

“There are homeless kids in Westport,” she told the members. “They deserve your best.”

“People were astounded,” she says, recalling the reaction. “The perception is that there’s little to no need. But there are parents here work really hard to make ends meet. They just can’t.”

Maida knew that federal, state and town programs help. She was familiar with foundations, grants, and organizations like Homes With Hope. All do great work.

But they can’t cover everything. Maida’s goal was to provide discretionary funds for things no one else did. Like a cake for a birthday party. A fidget toy. Lessons or tutors, the same as wealthy kids get.

“All we want is for every kid to feel part of the community. They should enjoy childhood,” Maida says. “And hopefully we can lessen their parents’ stress too.”

Tomorrow (Saturday, July 15, 2 p.m.), BNI hosts a “Chill Out, Grill Out and Give” event at Greens Farms Elementary School. Everyone brings their own balls, frisbees, food and drinks (grills are provided). The $10 per person entry fee will help fund Maida’s project, aiding children served through Homes With Hope.

Response from organizations like the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Clubs and Westport Woman’s Club has been excellent.

“This is about more than asking for money,” Maida says. “We want people to show up. We need to raise awareness.”

But Maida has asked for money too. She went door to door, seeking funds from local businesses.

The reaction stunned her.

The first place — Earth Animal — opened the cash register, and gave her $20.

So did UPS next door.

Party Harty and Colonial Druggists did the same, without batting an eye.

Then she tried Fresh Market. That’s a national store — not a mom-and-pop, or locally owned franchise.

The manager heard her pitch. He handed her a water. Then he gave her $20 too.

“That’s Westport,” Maida says gratefully.

So — unfortunately — is real need. Most of us never see it.

Allyson Maida does. And she’s doing what she can to help.

(Tickets are available on site for tomorrow’s event. Children under 12 are free. For more information, email allyson@allysonmaida.com. The organizing committee includes Ernie Addario of Phillip Bruce Salon; Bill Hall of Kaiser-Battistone/Wind River Environmental; David Katz of Acsia Partners; Brian Gmelin of Paychex; Mark Moeller of The Recipe of Success, and John Clapps of Brand24.)