Tag Archives: Al’s Angels

Flowers For The Front Lines

For most people, Valentine’s Day means buying a rose — a dozen, if you’re a big spender (or have a lot of making up to do) — for a loved one.

Michele Sinacore arranges and delivers those with ease.

But this week she’s in a crazy rush to deliver 1,500 roses, ordered by people for loved ones they’ve never met.

They’ll brighten the days of front line workers all around Fairfield County.

Michele — a Westport mom and former New York event producer — started Blossom + Stem Floral Design just over a year ago, at home. She’s succeeded during the pandemic with creativity, talent and persistence.

Yet even in the toughest times, she gives back to the community.

In June, Michele donated hundreds of boxed lunches (with flowers) to Yale New Haven Hospital. A former competitive triathlete and current avid runner who was diagnosed in 2019 with a very rare tumor, she’d been touched by the care she received their after intensive surgery.

Michele Sinacore (Photo/Tamira Wilcox)

That experience — and the grateful thanks for her gift — sparked an idea.

A longtime admirer of (and volunteer with) Al’s Angels, she approached founder Al DiGuido with an idea: asking residents to donate roses to local front liners.

Al went right to work. Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford Hospitals jumped at the idea of showing love to their staff.

Al’s network of donors came through too. In the first 10 minutes, 250 roses were promised. Within 72 hours, 600 flowers had been been donated.

Michele and Al added The Residence at Westport and Montefiore to their list of recipients. Soon, they’d sold 1,500 roses. People donated on behalf of their children, friends, even pets.

Local businesses like Performance Physical Therapy became supporters too.

On Monday, East Coast Whole Flowers delivered those 1,500 flowers to Michele’s garage. Teams of (masked and socially distanced) volunteers began pruning, water tubing and wrapping them in a temperature-friendly (cold) setting. They added messages of support, written by donors, to each rose.

A few of the 1,500 roses in Michele’s garage.

The next day, Michele made her first delivery: 65 flowers to The Residence. Employees were getting vaccinated — and, as an extra treat, given a rose.

Yesterday, Bridgeport and Montefiore Hospitals got 250 to 400 roses. They’ll hand them to staffs in their ICU, COVID, ER and children’s units.

Still ahead: Norwalk and Stamford Hospitals.

Michele Sinacore, surrounded by roses in her garage.

It’s Michele and Al’s way of spreading love and thanks.

Now all you need to do is order your own rose (or dozen) for your loved one, from Blossom + Stem. They deliver to our front liners — and to you.

Sammi Henske’s “Rocky” Idea Takes Off

You might hear Westport middle schooler Samantha Henske’s latest idea — sending rocks to friends — and think she has rocks in her head.

Then you hear the concept behind it:

  • You buy a rock for $10, to let a friend know you’re thinking of them.
  • The friend loves the rock (inscribed “Inspire kindness,” “See good in all things,” with a smiley face, or a custom design), and sends one of her own to another friend.

  • You both enter a special code (unique to those rocks) into Sammi’s website, and track that chain as it spreads all over the country.
  • You smile as you learn that the rocks are called “Huggs” — so Sammi is helping send hugs everywhere.

Then you hear that most of the proceeds go to charity — the first one Sammi’s chosen is Westport’s own Al’s Angels — and you realize she does not have rocks in her head at all.

Just a brain that has come up with a simple, fun idea that brings smiles to friends, and sunlight to strangers.

At a time we desperately need all the joy we can get.

(For Sammi Henske’s Huggs website, click here. For her Instagram, click here. For a WTNH Channel 8 story on Sammi, click here.)

Samantha Henske

 

Cribari Bridge Is Lit. Let The Holidays Begin!

The crowd was far smaller than usual.

But even the coronavirus can’t dampen the joy of one of Westport’s favorite traditions: lighting the William F. Cribari Bridge.

The bulbs are new. The colors are beautiful. And now more than ever, we need this annual Al’s Angels gift.

(Drone photos/Patrick Sikes)

Roundup: Bathrooms, Cribari Bridge, Suzuki, More


The other day, Mary-Lou Weisman emailed the Parks & Recreation Department.

She and her husband had been upset to find the Compo Beach bathrooms locked. They were replaced by porta potties “filled nearly to the brim” (and lacking toilet paper).

Mary-Lou noted that medical experts have warned against using such small, secured enclosures during COVID.

A Parks & Rec employee replied. She noted that bathrooms are seasonal facilities only, and the water has been shut off for the winter. (Year-round bathrooms are available at the Ned Dimes Marina.) The department is following up with the service company that maintains the porta-johns.

Mary-Lou responded: “Are the 2 proper restrooms at Compo closed because of financial concerns. or because the water pipes would burst in cold weather? If the concerns are financial, I would hope the town would provide the necessary funds to keep them open. I would further suggest that if frozen pipes are a concern, that problem might be mitigated by being wrapped, and probably by other means.

“If Westport can afford to build pickleball courts and skateboard ramps, the town should be able to keep the bathrooms open all year.”

Bathroom facilities at Compo Beach are closed. (Photo/Matt Murray)


On Friday, the William F. Cribari Bridge will glow again. It’s a holiday tradition that makes Saugatuck special.

Yesterday, “06880” reported that a crew of Al’s Angels and friends worked for hours, restringing lights and replacing broken bulbs.

They don’t want a lot of publicity. But here’s the gang to thank. They bring a bit of joy, at a time we all desperately need it.

(Photo/Al DiGuido)


COVID has canceled some of Suzuki Music Schools’ traditional  performances.

So the Westport students are going online. Among the highlights: a mid-month “Ode to Joy.” The virtual orchestra project features students and faculty from the Westport and Orange campuses and KEYS Bridgeport, celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

Suzuki adds: “As a non-profit music school, we keep the community culturally connected by providing free concerts, scholarships, and international events to the public directly due to the generosity of others, so it is inherent that we help those around us grow as well. In that spirit, we encourage the public to not only donate to Suzuki Schools at www.suzukischools.org this Giving Tuesday, but also to the organizations they appreciate and that affect them most.


And finally … whenever I think of Suzuki musicians, I think of “M*A*S*H.” In the unforgettable final episode, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III is aggravated that a group of Chinese North Korean POWs are musicians. He tries to teach them his beloved Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A, with moderate success.

With the war’s end imminent, the prisoners ship out from the 4077th. Gamely, they play the piece in the back of the truck.

Casualties continue to arrive — including one of the just-released POWs. The entire group had been killed, minutes after leaving camp.

“He wasn’t even a soldier,” the distraught doctor says. “He was a musician.”

Winchester returns to his tent. He puts on a record of the Clarinet Quintet, then smashes it in rage.

 

Roundup: Sweet Photos, Trash, Pumpkins, More


Westporters love Tom Kretsch’s photos. They love Saugatuck Sweets. And they love Al’s Angels.

So plan to stop by the ice cream shop patio on the river tomorrow (Saturday, October 10, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.). Kretsch will display his evocative images — many of his home town.

A percentage of all sales benefits Al’s Angels, the nonprofit started by Saugatuck Sweets owner Al DiGuido to help families with children battling cancer, and families with food needs.

(Photo/Tom Kretsch)


Last weekend, 35 mothers and daughters from Westport’s National Charity League spent a cleaning Compo Beach. The effort supported NCL’s philanthropy partner, Save the Sound.

Volunteers removed over 45 pounds of garbage from the beach. They found PPE, plastic bags, straws and food wrappers, along with 235 cigarette butts, 160 bottle caps and 33 balloons. Data collected will help Save the Sound stop debris at its source. 

A small bit of all the trash.


What’s new at the Senior Center?

Its first-ever pumpkin decorating contest. It’s October 30 (11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.).

Submissions will be judged on originality and scariness. Members can vote for their favorite pumpkins while picking up a drive-through lunch (chicken pot pie, salad, roll, cookie and Halloween treats) from staff members (in costumes).

Seniors can enjoy their meal while socially distancing in the parking lot. Prizes include a Halloween goodie bucket, and a gift card for a Senior Center luncheon.

Lunch is $8. The cost to enter the contest: free (and priceless).


ADL Connecticut’s 10th annual Walk Against Hate will look from the first 9. Though participants can’t join together physically, they’ll still send a powerful message.

Individuals, families, friends, colleagues and teammates are invited to get creative. They can walk wherever they want, from October 12-18. Registration is free, though fundraising is encouraged to help ADL fight anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of hate.

Fundraisers who give or get more than $50 get an ADL bandanna. The first 1,000 people to raise over $150 receive t-shirts.

ADL Connecticut has a strong Westport presence. Director Steve Ginsburg lives here; so does Walk Against Hate chair Claudia Cohen.

Jill Nadel chairs the outreach committee). Terry Bernard, Shelly Herst, Margie Jacobson, Ken Backman, Sara Weiner (co-chair of the education committee), Bret Weiner, Chuck Harris, Liz Kaner, Lynne Goldstein and John Kaufman are all on ADL’s state board. Many other Westporters serve in other capacities.

To register for or donate to the Walk Against Hate, click here.


Instead of a traditional luncheon, the American Cancer Society’s annual “Women Leading the Way to Wellness” event (Wednesday, November 18), is on Facebook Live.

There’s an option to buy a $125 “Wellness Box” to enhance the viewing experience. The boxes are valued at over $175, and include products from The Granola Bar, Performance Physical Therapy and West.

Click here for more information.


And finally … this is the birthday of John Lennon. He would have been — are you ready? — 80 years old today.

 

Great New Festival Shines A Light On Cribari Bridge

Westport is filled with holiday treats. But the lights on the Cribari Bridge outshine nearly every other winter wonder.

Ever since Al DiGuido and a crew of volunteers first hung hundreds of bulbs all over the historic span nearly 20 years ago, however, the actual lighting has been a low-key affair.

This year, there will be a very impressive ceremony.

No, it won’t rival the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.

Ours will be better.

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

This Friday (November 29, 6:30 p.m.), Westporters are invited to the Saugatuck Rowing Club. There on the patio — with a perfect view of the Cribari Bridge — there’s hot cocoa, spiked cocoa, Saugatuck Sweets sundaes, Donut Crazy donuts, cookies, popcorn, a hot dog cart, live music, a cash bar and more.

The actual lighting takes place at 8 p.m. But the party lasts till 9:30.

Kids go free. It’s $20 for adults — but 100% of the proceeds benefit Al’s Angels. That’s the organization founded by bridge lighter (and Saugatuck Sweets owner) Al DiGuido. All funds help children and families battling cancer, rare blood diseases, natural disasters and severe financial hardships.

The Cribari Bridge lights were created as a symbol of hope for all in town.

Let’s hope there’s a huge turnout of angels on Friday, when Al turns on the lights.

(For tickets and more information on Saugatuck Rowing Club’s Bridge Lighting Festival, click here.)

Another view. (Photo/Joel Treisman)

 

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.

 

A Guy In A Black Porsche Sees A Lemonade Stand…

If you wanted lemonade yesterday, you were in luck.

Over 30 stands popped up throughout county. They were part of the 6th annual Angel-Ade, a fundraiser for the great Al’s Angels children’s charity.

Then there was the stand on the corner of Stoneboat and Red Coat Roads.

It’s not the most well-traveled spot in town. But 4 neighborhood kids — 9-year-olds Sophie Chan and Jessica Selzer, and 6-year-olds Torey Chan and Jacob Selzer — decided to raise money for St. Jude’s.

They sold fruit cups for $2, cookies (2 for $2), and lemonade ($1).

The young lemonade stand proprietors. (Photo/Frank Rosen)

A guy in a black Porsche 911 drove past. He slowed down, circled back, got out and talked with the kids.

He bought a lemonade, and handed them $100.

Jessica said she could not break the bill.

He told her: “Keep the change.”

The Selzers’ mom Jodi said, “We never met this man before. We were shocked by his generosity.”

The kids raised $215. Chances are, for the rest of their lives they’ll never forget that great $100 gift, from a man they did not even kn0w.

(Hat tip: Frank Rosen)

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)

 

And Here Is Our 2nd Holiday Gift!

Early this  morning, “06880” gave readers a special gift: a link to Staples High School’s magical Candlelight Concert.

(Okay, I know: The performance is the music department’s annual gift to the town. So technically, I’m re-gifting it.)

But you deserve more than one present. Here’s another.

Rhea Ruggiero moved from New York to Westport 15 years ago. She quickly fell in love with the town.

One of the best parts is the Cribari Bridge at Christmas.

When she comes home late at night and the lights are up, she is sometimes so overwhelmed she turns around and drives through a 2nd time.

The bridge is “an example of Westport is: a spirited community that celebrates life,” Rhea says.

To thank the volunteers from Al’s Angels — who put up and maintain the lights — as well as share the joy she gets from the Saugatuck River span, Rhea made a video.

It’s Westport at its best. And its her — and “06880”‘s — mid-morning gift to all.