Tag Archives: Al’s Angels

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.

 

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After an all-night work session by Al’s Angels volunteers beginning just before midnight Sunday, the William F. Cribari Bridge once again lights up the holidays. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

Light Up The Bridge!

Westporters may be in the dark about the future of the William F. Cribari Bridge.

But during the holiday season, the historic span glows with festive lights. Driving across the Saugatuck River — surrounded by colors — is one of our town’s magical moments.

It doesn’t just happen, though. The lights need maintenance. In the past year, they suffered severe damage.

Thankfully, Al’s Angels — the volunteer organization that does so much for needy kids and families — is on the case.

The Cribari Bridge at Christmastime. (Photo/Joel Treisman)

This Saturday night (December 1), they’ll replace the lights. Work begins at 11 p.m.

They need 24 volunteers. They ask helpers to bring their own 10-foot ladder or bucket truck. And cutting pliers.

It’s a big job. The trees and walkway side of the bridge will be decorated first. At 2 a.m. Sunday they’ll work overhead, then finish on the other side.

Al’s Angels supplies all the lights and snap ties. They just need folks who want to keep Westport’s bridge tradition alive — and are willing to work.

If you’re in, email adiguido@yahoo.com.

And dress warmly!

Name That Tree!

I guess we shouldn’t call it a “Christmas” tree.

A press release from the Selectman’s Office notes only that the town’s “annual tree lighting” ceremony will take place at Town Hall this Thursday (November 29, 5 p.m.).

Of course, the tree to be lit is a fir tree. You connect the dots.

It’s a fun, festive, kid-friendly event. The Staples High School Orphenians sing “seasonal” songs.

First Selectman Jim Marpe — and a bunch of little kids — lit the tree in front of Town Hall last year. Then came photo opps.

Speaking of Town Hall trees, this year the “Heritage Tree” — a longtime fixture in the building’s lobby — moves across Myrtle Avenue to the Westport Historical Society.

Each year, local artists add ornaments (yes, it’s that kind of tree). Past contributors include Mel Casson, Randy Enos, Stevan Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Leonard Everett Fisher, Jean Woodham and Hilda Kraus.

This year’s ornament comes courtesy of Victoria Kann. The author/illustrator of the popular “Pinkalicious” book series is a longtime Westporter.

Kids can help decorate the Heritage Tree this Saturday (December 1, 1 p.m.). Kann will read from one of her holiday-themed books (and sign them). Snacks will be served too.

The Heritage Tree — shown last year in the Town Hall lobby — moves across the street to the Westport Historical Society.

The next day — Sunday, December 2 — another tree lighting takes place. It’s at the Saugatuck Center plaza, between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk. Everyone is asked to bring unwrapped toys for children 10 and under. Al’s Angels wrap and deliver them to needy kids.

It’s set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Santa arrives at 5:15 — so I’m on safe ground calling this an actual “Christmas” tree lighting.

And the 28th annual Tree of Light ceremony will be held Thursday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. It honors the memories of family members and friends who have died.

The site is Saugatuck Congregational Church. So, yeah: That’s a Christmas tree lighting too.

Remembering Carol Mata

Longtime Westporter Carol Mata died last week, at 73.

She was an entrepreneur, starting a doll-making business in Peru, and an Ecuadorean handcraft store in Westport called El Rondador. Carol also managed many rental properties. 

She was a host mother to many foreign exchange students throughout the years, and an adopted mother and grandmother by countless people around the world. 

She was an accomplished entertainer, party organizer and self-taught chef. She welcomed hundreds of people into her home with warmth, elegance and epicurean treats. 

Carol was also deeply involved in Westport activities. Her daughter — Staples High School art teacher Angela Simpson — sends along this remembrance:

Last week, Westport and the greater community lost a humble and generous servant. Carol Mata, a resident of Westport for approximately 50 of her 73 years, passed away peacefully but unexpectedly in her sleep.

Carol Mata

Carol’s generosity extended beyond her kindness to her family. She dedicated her time and talents to the Westport Woman’s Club (in particular the Yankee Doodle Fair), ran Fairfield Prep annual auctions, fundraised for Staples marching band uniforms, and always opened her pocketbook to support charities, especially Al’s Angels and Caroline House.

She was a fixture at St. Matthew’s Church in Norwalk, where she served as a eucharistic minister, delivered home-cooked meals to those in need, and assisted with accounting and event planning.

She also served for years as a CCD instructor at Assumption Church in Westport. She took her lesson planning very seriously, and was delighted to have one of her own grandchildren in her class.

Carol’s philanthropy extended outside Fairfield County, and even outside the country, but her greatest gift was her genuine care for all people. She did so much for so many, and never expected recognition.

Carol was a breast cancer survivor, and understood the importance of cherishing family and friends. From Carol you could count on original, personalized Christmas cards, along with her signature “Christmas Coffee Can Cake,” heartfelt and handwritten thank-you notes, and multi-course gourmet meals served from chafing dishes, always accompanied by beautiful floral arrangement.

Carol will be missed by many. But the many organizations and individuals that she touched are the better for her efforts.

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The Cribari Bridge at Christmas. (Photo/Joel Treisman)

Santa Comes To Bridgeport — And Westport

Last year, “06880” posted an urgent plea for help. The Cesar Batalla School in Bridgeport was running a toy drive for their elementary school students. But they were falling far short.

Their kids were in desperate situations: the highest poverty brackets, shelters, you name it. 100% are fed breakfast and lunch at school. Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

Westporters came through — big time.

Some of the presents that poured in to the Cesar Batalla Elementary School last year. (Photos/Jimeale Hede)

This year, alert — and generous — “06880” reader Alexis Donnerstag remembered the drive. She asked how she could contribute again. I hadn’t heard anything from the school. But I sent her a link to their website.

Within a couple of hours, Benji Labrador called. He’s the school security officer. He said the woman who handled the drive last year is gone. He’s in charge, but did not know about the “06880” connection.

Now he does. And so do you.

Anyone can order gifts online — at Amazon, for example — and have them shipped to Benji at the school: 606 Howard Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06606. Click here for a direct link to Amazon’s Cesar Batalla page. You can drop gifts off at Vincent Palumbo Salon (616 Post Road East) — or directly at the school too.

For more information, email blabrador@bridgeportedu.net, or homerun5@optimum.net.


Meanwhile, closer to home, there’s a tree lighting — plus hot chocolate, s’mores and sliders — at the Riverside Avenue plaza (between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk) this Sunday (December 3, 4:30 to 7 p.m.) Santa arrives at 5:15 p.m.

The Gault family invites everyone to come. But they hope you’ll bring an unwrapped toy for a child age 10 or under. All gifts will be donated to Al’s Angels.

Who are they? Well — in addition to providing holiday joy for countless kids in the area — they’re the volunteers who light the William Cribari Bridge, just a couple of yards away from the plaza.

A little gift goes a long way.