Tag Archives: Bacharach Emergency Housing

“I Should Be A Statistic”: Startling Insights Into Westport’s “Privilege”

The recent brouhaha over TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest got many folks thinking. Throughout town — and around the globe — they dissected the meaning of “privilege.”

Amelia Suermann has a unique perspective. Today, she shares it with “06880”:

I’m privileged to have grown up in Westport. It is a wonderful and supportive town. I’m so proud to say “I’m from Westport” — even when fellow Nutmeggers roll their eyes.

I did not have the “typical” Westport upbringing. My parents aren’t CEOs or executives. I didn’t live in a McMansion, and I wasn’t raised with other stereotypes of Westport.

But make no mistake: I’m privileged.

I’m privileged to have been homeless in Westport. It could have been a lot worse. I am privileged to have been raised by a single mother who worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs, to afford rent and necessities so that I could grow up in a great town with amazing resources, and attend school in a public system that rivals some of the best private institutions in the country.

Amelia Suermann

Amelia Suermann

I’ve posted before on this blog — anonymously — about growing up homeless in Westport. Without the town’s incredible resources, including the Bacharach Center and Gillespie food pantry that fed us many times when money was tight, God only knows where I would be.

I worked minimum wage throughout high school. Sometimes I used my earnings to pay phone bills or buy groceries. I should be a statistic.

But I grew up in Westport — a community with supportive neighbors and teachers. Because of that, I graduated high school. And as Elizabeth wrote a few days ago, the assumption that I would do so was privilege in of itself.

I went to college in Boston and then DC, where I settled and started my life. I’m a product of Westport’s world. The perspective that Westport has provided me is truly unique.

It’s a perspective of 2 worlds: Food pantry “shopping” on Friday night, lounging on friends’ boats on Saturday. You don’t get more privileged than that.

Addressing your own privilege should be about recognizing that maybe we have it a little easier than a lot of people.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

A colleague who is originally from Milford sent me a newspaper story on the essay contest. While I understood the intent, a part of me sighed “Ohhh Westport…” as I shook my head.

I thought about my own life, my own privilege. Could we have had an easier life in a less expensive place? Probably.

But I would not have had the excellent education that set me up for the life I have now. People in other towns and of other ethnicities don’t have the same opportunities as many in Westport do. And while I would like to believe that if a non-white peer having the same experience as I would end up with the same happy ending, I don’t.

There are hundreds of comments on Dan’s various posts. Isn’t that the true intent of the essay contest — to inspire thought and a dialogue about one’s own privilege?

Let’s all vow to not let these conversations about privilege go away, simply because they’re hard or embarrassing.

Let’s make them matter.

Staples SLOBs


Staples is filled with SLOBs.

And Westport is a far better place for them.

The yuk-yuk anagram stands for Service League of Boys.  The parent-son community service club is one of the most popular organizations at school.

It’s only 3 years old, but already the SLOBs have established a great tradition:  Service Sunday.  Fathers, mothers and teenage sons work together doing construction, landscaping and painting for social service groups in town.

Last year they gave the Gillespie Center a new courtyard, finished the food pantry and painted their office.  SLOBs painted the bathrooms at Bacharach Emergency Housing, and mulched their beds.  They did a lot of landscaping for Saugatuck Apartments and Linxweiler, and also worked for seniors through the Department of Human Services.

This year they’ve added Project Return and the ABC House.

Staples SLOBs work in the Gillespie Shelter food pantry.

They pay for supplies with unique fundraisers.  For 2011 a committee of boys devised an arm wrestling event.  After school on March 11, SLOBs and friends will try to break the Guinness world record for simultaneous arm wrestlers (it’s 200).  Then SLOBs will host an arm wrestling tournament, with teams of 6 (3 males, 3 females — teachers are welcome).  By charging an entry fee, SLOBs hopes to raise up to $10,000.

Tom and David Kalb help landscape Linxweiler House.

But they still need help for Service Day (this year, May 1).  SLOBs provides the grunt work, but they need professionals to help — for example, doing bathroom renovatiions (including new vinyl flooring), and installing paving stones and removing damaged asphalt at the Gillespie Center.

Pros are also needed for power washing at 2 houses; porch renovation and replacement of rotted shingles; replacing a rotted stockade fence, and sheetrocking a small area of the food pantry.

Sure, Staples students sometimes leave the cafeteria a mess.  But this group of SLOBs is doing some pretty neat things.

(Interested in helping with Service Sunday, either by donating professional expertise or money?  Able to donate a storage shed, new grill, and/or new tools like rakes and shovels?  Contact Suzanne Kalb:  skalb@optonline.net; 203-226-4803.)