Tag Archives: AWARE CT

Powerful Photos Raise Breast Cancer AWAREness

Through the efforts of many people and organizations, breast cancer awareness is high. It affects 1 in 8 women, and kills more than 40,000 Americans each year.

But there’s less awareness that less than 10% of all money raised for breast cancer goes to research. And just pennies of that goes to Stage IV.

AWARE is raising awareness of the lack of funding allocated to metastatic breast cancer research. There is no better local organization to take on the task.

The acronym stands for Assisting Women with Actions, Resources and Education. Each year, members partner with a local non-profit. They volunteer with that group, organize an educational event and host a fundraiser.

In past years, AWARE CT has aided the International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education), Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans) and Malta House (pregnant and new mothers).

Their current partner is the Cancer Couch Foundation. Since 2016, the group has raised over $3 million for Stage 4 breast cancer research.

AWARE’s commitment is total, and strong. The centerpiece is a series of portraits of Westporters, by talented photographer Jerri Graham. Each image includes text, with the subject describing how she or he has been affected by the disease.

The original idea was for each subject to also make a donation to the Cancer Couch, through AWARE. The portraits would be posted on social media, then shown at a fundraiser; afterward, each subject could take her or his photo home.

But AWARE did not stop there. For greater visibility — and awareness — they’ve gone door to door. Over 80 stores, restaurants, salons and medical offices agreed, quickly and enthusiastically, to show one or two portraits inside, or in their windows.

AWARE co-directors Amy Saperstein and Nicole Gerber, with a photo at Aux Delices’ Post Road East location.

AWARE then took photos of the merchants, chefs and doctors, and posted those online. It’s one more special way to raise awareness, of both Cancer Couch and the lack of metastatic breast cancer funding.

Winged Monkey — the first store to join the project, even before there was an image to display — offered to host a fundraiser there.

Joyride joined quickly too. Owners Amy Hochhauser and Rhodie Lorenz are all in. Instructor Mackenzie Pretty led a “Spinraiser” at the studio. She wove breast cancer statistics and information about Cancer Couch between songs — and gave shout-outs to AWARE members who were in the room, on bikes.

All 4 women posed for photos. Pretty’s mother — herself a breast cancer survivor — had her portrait taken too.

Mackenzie Pretty

Other avid supporters: 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker, and Westport Farmers’ Market director Lori Cochran-Dougall.

2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker

When they began, AWARE co-directors Amy Saperstein and Nicole Gerber hoped 25 people would want their portraits taken. Well over 80 responded.

The photos are stunning. Jerri Graham — a very talented Westport portrait artist — captures subjects’ faces and feelings beautifully.

Coupled with each person’s words — about breast cancer’s impact on themselves, loved ones and/or friends — the effect is powerful and immediate.

It’s also, Gerber says, “a call to action.”

Just before Christmas, AWARE’s project took on a life — and death — of its own.

Four years ago, Rebecca Timlin-Scalera of Fairfield was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. It was re-diagnosed later to Stage IIIc, but she did not want to leave Stage IV women behind.

Timlin-Scalera started Cancer Couch, dedicated to Stage IV research. She was looking forward to having her photo taken, for AWARE.

It never happened. Just before Christmas, she died.

The Cancer Couch founder’s death stunned AWARE. In her honor, they’ve set a fundraising goal of $50,000. An anonymous donor pledged to match it.

Timlin-Scalera was not the only person unable to be photographed. A woman planned to pose with her husband. Cancer treatment interfered. Her 8- and 6-year-old daughters will take her place.

That’s one of many inspiring stories. Wilson Herrera — the Staples High School custodian/ college student who was profiled on “06880” last fall — and his brother William, a Bedford Middle School custodian — wanted to be photographed. Their mother battled breast cancer twice (and now has ovarian cancer).

Wilson and William Herrera

The sons gave her their photo in December, as a Christmas gift.

But the photo displays in stores, restaurants and medical offices are not the end of AWARE’s involvement with Cancer Couch. They’ll be displayed in another important venue: a fundraiser on Saturday, March 7 (6 to 8 p.m., POPT’ART Gallery, 1 Main Street).

As with everything AWARE does, this is a team effort. Lori Winthrop Dockser — who lost her mother to breast cancer at a young age, and has also been diagnosed with the disease — is donating all the catering staff.

Jesup Hall owner Bill Taibe — another portrait subject — offers free cocktails on the day of the fundraiser, at his restaurant.

Bill Taibe

The fundraiser will include light bites and wine.

And — most importantly — an AWAREness that the fight against Stage IV breast cancer needs all of us.

(For tickets and more information, click here.)  

I am proud to help support this cause.

Unsung Heroes #98

Unsung Heroes come from every corner of Westport. They’re in every walk of life — and of every age.

Today, “06880” honors 3 Westport students.

Brett Malizia is a 4th grader at Long Lots Elementary School. His friend and classmate Eden Kopreski was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

As soon as Brett heard, he told his mother — Westport native Ursula Richards Malizia — he wanted to help.

He says:

Before I learned Eden had leukemia, I cared about cancer, but not as much as now. When you learn a friend has cancer, it changes everything. I want to do this because I want every child to be healthy, especially Eden.

Eden has always always been very nice, kind, and funny. She’s such a good friend.

I also know how awful it is to experience being hospitalized and having needles because this happened to me when I was younger with stomach problems. This made me feel so bad for her, so I wanted to figure out how to help.

The 2 families met. Brett decided to run in the Faxon Law 5K Road Race at Jennings Beach on Saturday, June 1. Eden will join him. So will Eden’s twin brother Gavin, her older brother Lucas, and Brett’s mom.

The next day, Brett and his mother will be back — for the Faxon Law half marathon.

Brett Malizia trained for the Faxon races by running in last month’s Minute Man Race. He was joined at the Compo Beach finish line by Eden Kopreski.

They would love having fans cheer them on — or, even better, joining them as they run and walk. (Click here for more information.)

Eden’s family started a GoFundMe page. Part of the money raised will go toward her medical care. Some will also be donated to a leukemia survivor organization.  (Click here to help.)

“I want Eden to be healthy and have a great life,” Brett says. I hope a lot of people contribute to this fight against leukemia and mostly to help Eden.

Brett Malizia and Eden Kopreski: You are true heroes!

Eden’s supporters will wear t-shirts with this on the front, at the Faxon road races next month.

So is Julia Davis.

Though the Staples High School sophomore is busy with dance, Best Buddies, homework, family obligations and friends, she always finds time for AWARE.

That’s the great local organization (the acronym stands for Assisting Women Through Action, Resources and Education) that each year partners with a different non-profit, for a variety of events.

Julia joined AWARE KIDS — the youth arm — as a Kings Highway 5th grader. Her volunteer efforts included preparing diaper bags for new mothers at Malta House, and cooking international recipes with women at Caroline House.

Julia Davis

Julia also works at the annual AWARE fundraiser, and recruits friends to help. She began as a greeter. This year (June 1, Burr Mansion in Fairfield) she has a key role.

The event will help the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants. For over 100 years, CIRI has served newcomers to America, and helped them thrive.

Julia has played an active role in Staples’ CIRI Girls’ Club. Each month, CIRI girls ages 10 to 20 join high schoolers to practice English, and enjoy activities like yoga and arts and crafts. The Staples girls also provide homework help and dinner.

Strong bonds have formed. Julia texts her new friends between meetings. She sends them inspiring message. They in turn inspire her.

Combining two of her passions — dance and volunteering — Julia recently led a Girls’ Club dance session. She got even the shyest girls to participate — and 25 AWARE women, who had planned only to watch. Julia created a specially choreographed number just for them.

Right now, Julia is focused on making AWARE’s “Hope Starts Here” June 1 fundraiser a success. She tells everyone she knows about the food, dancing, raffle — and hearing the immigrant and refugee girls talk about their experiences.

Julia is a true Unsung Hero too. To support her efforts and help the AWARE fundraiser, click here.

(Hat tips: Lindsay Shurman and Amy Saperstein)

Be AWARE: Unique Photographer Honors Special Women

International Day of the Woman was last Friday.

But you can celebrate it this coming Friday.

And you’ll not only honor some outstanding women — you’ll help young refugee girls.

Rebecca Rose is a photographer. She specializes in “classical painterly portraits” — photographs that look almost like paintings. In fact, she provides dresses, gowns, hair and makeup for her subjects.

On Friday (March 15) she’ll open an exhibit at Suzuki Music School. She’ll show some of our state’s most remarkable women: senior journalists, presidents of non-profits, Mrs. Connecticut — you name it, Rebecca has photographed her.

Two Westporters are among those honored.

Amy Saperstein and her daughter. (Photo/Rebecca Rose)

Amy Saperstein is a founder and co-director of AWARE, both in New York and Fairfield County. The acronym stands for Assisting Women with Actions, Resources and Education. Each year, members partner with a local non-profit. They volunteer with that group, organize an educational event and host a fundraiser.

AWARE CT has already aided the International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education), Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans) and Malta House (pregnant and new mothers).

Previously, Amy — who earned an MBA at Columbia — was executive director of Project Sunshine. She grew the nonprofit, which serves children in hospitals, from a small community group to an international organization, with programs in the US, Mexico, Israel, Africa and China.

Nicole Gerber (Photo/Rebecca Rose)

Nicole Gerber will also have her Rebecca Ross portrait hung at Suzuki. With over 20 years experience in project management and event planning, she’s currently director of operations for AWARE CT.

Nicole also sits on the board of advisors for Unite the World with Africa, a foundation that provides opportunities for marginalized women and youth in Tanzania. She has raised over $25,000 a year for Unite, for the past 3 years.

Amy and Nicole’s connections with AWARE are not coincidences.

Soon, Rebecca will take photos of immigrant girls. They come from Eritrea, Congo, Tanzania and Sudan, and live in Fairfield and New Haven Counties. They’re sponsored by the Connecticut institute for Refugees and Immigrants — the organization that AWARE is partnering with this year.

Portraits are something tangible, Rebecca says, that they are their families and cherish for generations.

Portraits are dear to Rebecca’s heart. Her great-grandfather lived in Czechoslovakia, when World War II broke out. He prepared his family as best he could — including having a family portrait taken just before Germany seized the country.

That family portrait is all Rebecca’s mother knew of her grandparents. They were killed by the Nazis.

Rebecca’s mission is to ensure that all generations can admire their families, remembering them through portraits that bring out their true beauty and personalities.

(The portrait show opening is this Friday, March 15, 6 to 7 p.m. at Suzuki Music School, 246 Post Road East — the lower level of Colonial Green.)

Unsung Hero #47

Everyone in Westport should be “aware” of Nicole Gerber.

A resident since 2009 and mother of 2, Nicole got involved with AWARE CT at its inception 5 years ago. In 2015, she became director of operations.

AWARE stands for Assisting Women with Action, Resources and Education. Every year, they partner with a local women’s-oriented non-profit by organizing an educational event and hosting a fundraiser.

Nicole brings creativity and passion to her volunteer efforts. Last year, she single-handedly developed a video project, to raise awareness of AWARE. She runs AWARE’s day-to-day operations, while providing vision and drive.

Nicole Gerber

She’s taking this year’s partnership with Caroline House — the  Bridgeport organization that provides English lessons and life skills to immigrant women — to a new level.

Nicole is making a cookbook, featuring family recipes contributed by Caroline House students from around the world, and AWARE members from across Fairfield County.

She’s gotten many Westporters involved. International best-selling author Jane Green is writing the foreward. Noted photographer Jerri Graham is taking pictures. The Westport Library’s MakerSpace team is doing the layout.

Nicole also plays a huge role on the board of advisors of Unite the World with Africa. She traveled to Tanzania last year, and will return next year. She hosts events in her home to raise awareness about the issues facing families in that nation.

Nicole Gerber, at a Tanzanian orphanage.

Nicole is passionate about everything she does. She is tremendously organized. And extremely thorough.

How thorough?

She’s personally testing every recipe in the cookbook she’s assembling, to make sure they are 100% accurate.

Well-run organizations and great fundraisers don’t just happen.

They need the help of people who are very aware.

People like this week’s Unsung Hero, Nicole Gerber.

(AWARE’s fundraiser on behalf of Caroline House is Saturday, June 9 in Westport. For tickets and more information, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Amy Saperstein)

Westport Women AWARE Of Malta House

Westporters pride ourselves on being aware. We’re aware of world events and local issues. We’re aware we need to reach out to others in need, whether far away or right in our own little bubble.

Some Westport women, though, are really AWARE.

That’s the acronym of a group started in New York, to support women’s causes. Each year they partner with a local non-profit, by volunteering, organizing an educational event and hosting a fundraiser.

AWARE — the acronym stands for Assisting Women with Action, Resources and Education — came to Fairfield  County in 2013 via transplants from the city. Amy Saperstein, a founding member in New York, was instrumental in opening a local chapter in her new home here.

AWARE CT has already aided the International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education) and Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans).

AWARE members at a recent event.

This year’s partnership is particularly powerful.

Malta House is a Norwalk-based organization offering a nurturing home environment, support services and independent living skills to pregnant and new mothers. It’s low-key — and life-changing.

AWARE members are all in. Nicole Gerber — a mother of 2 young children, who last year became AWARE CT’s chief operating officer, then returned to school for a degree in non-profit fundraising — is also a professional caterer. She’ll teach healthy cooking techniques at Malta House next month.

Galia Gichon Clements — another mother of 2, with a background in finance — volunteers in the nursery, and teaches the young moms about money management.

Dr. Nikki Gorman is a mother of 3, and a pediatrician. She attended AWARE dinners at Malta House in the fall, and quickly took on several newborns as patients.

Other AWARE members host events, including small monthly dinners and larger panel discussions on topics like homelessness in Fairfield County (with representatives from Project Return and Homes With Hope).

AWARE members also serve monthly dinners at Malta House. They include get-to-know-each other activities, great dishes, and activities like decorating t-shirts for the residents’ children.

One of the AWARE activities was helping Malta House residents make dreamcatchers for their rooms.

It’s important for AWARE to be aware of what their partner organizations truly need. Malta’s program director Claudia Nixon says that many residents never experienced female friendships. So AWARE members model support for each other.

They also involve their own children, through a special AWARE KIDS program. Youngsters have organized bake and book sales, and made blankets for the Malta House moms.

Next up: a fundraiser.

Next Saturday (June 3, 6 p.m., Wells Hill Farm, Weston), there’s a “Party in the Pasture.” The sustainable farm is the home of AWARE member Michelle Fracasso.

A DJ is donating his time; local chefs are contributing food, and vendors are offering prizes.

Proceeds help women like Autumn Corley. Five months ago the 20-year-old and her ill mother were evicted from their Stamford apartment. She had never heard of Malta House. But it was a godsend.

Autumn Corley and Ameerah.

Autumn ticks off what she’s learned: “Self-respect. Budgeting — I’m saving money now! And how to be a better woman, for myself and my daughter.”

She appreciates Malta House’s many resources, like speakers on child development, cooking and gardening.

And, she says, “the AWARE ladies are awesome. They all have different backgrounds, but they all motivate me. They love talking with us. There’s never a dull moment.”

“Dr. Nikki” is her infant Ameerah’s pediatrician. But she’s more than just a doctor.

She made 5-week-old Ameerah a onesie, with her name on it. Earlier — before the baby was born — Gorman helped Autumn write a note for Ameerah to read when she’s older.

In September Autumn will go to school, to become a dental assistant. Until then, she’ll stay at Malta House — “breastfeeding, and saving money.”

(For tickets and more information on AWARE’s June 3 “Party in the Pasture” fundraiser, click here.)