Tag Archives: Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants

Roundup: Catch A Lift, Catch A Train, Catch A Ride …


Master Sergeant Clayton Jensen planned to speak in Westport long before the announcement that American troops would leave Afghanistan.

But his appearance Friday (September 10, 5 p.m., Compo Beach), as part of Catch a Lift’s annual (and inspirational) fundraiser is now especially timely.

During his 15-year military career, Jensen was deployed numerous times to Afghanistan and Iran. He suffered several serious injuries

He holds graduate degrees in international relations and organizational leadership, and is working toward his third master’s in international public policy. 

Jensen will talk about his work in the military, what he’s learned about Afghanistan, and how to find hope amid devastation.

Catch-A-Lift  is a national organization supporting combat-wounded veterans through physical fitness, nutrition, mental support and community.

It has strong roots in Westport. This weekend — the 20th anniversary of 9/11 — will be special. Over a dozen vets will be hosted here, in our town’s 7th annual gathering of camaraderie and hope.

Click here for tickets to Friday’s ceremony, including a sunset celebration.

The Catch a Lift weekend also includes a community workout (Saturday, September 11, 3 p.m., Westport Police station, Jesup Road; click here to register), and a family bike tour (Sunday, September 12, 9 a.m., beginning and ending in Ridgefield; click here to register).


Speaking of Afghanistan: The Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants is preparing to welcome and resettle up to 150 men, women and children from that war-torn land.

That’s an unexpected addition to the 180 refugees CIRI had already planned to help, from countries across the globe.

Individual Westporters have long supported the non-profit. In addition, Christ & Holy Trinity and the Unitarian Church are part of a larger group of faith-based organizations that help set up apartments when refugees arrive in Bridgeport.

They create fully furnished homes, with beds, linens, bath needs, kitchen items and culturally appropriate food. Children receive school items, toys and diapers.

Some of the refugees have lived in camps for 15 years. Many of the children have never had a home. CIRI provides ongoing services for all families.

CIRI hosts a crucial fundraising gala this Sunday (September 12, 4:30 p.m., 80 Grovers Avenue, Bridgeport). For more information on the cocktails, live auction and more, click here. To learn more about CIRI, and donate, click here.


Westport Paddle Club‘s 2021 season ends today (Tuesday, September 7).

But it doesn’t have to be over, for kayakers and paddle boarders.

Owners Robbie and Taryn Guimond have over 15 kayaks and 20 paddle boards that need a new home.

Top of the line 2020/21 Ocean Kayaks Malibus sit-on-top doubles and singles are available. So are new 2021 SUPs, at deep discounts.

Head down to Westport Paddle Club (471 Riverside Avenue), call 203-998-1519 or email robbieguimond@gmail.com, to paddle home with great gear.


Yesterday was the last day for lifeguards at Compo Beach. Of course, Westporters will continue to visit their favorite spot.

Reflecting on the end of the “season,” though, Eve Potts realized something was missing this year: trash.

She writes: “As a daily Compo Beach walker, I rarely see traces of garbage. Everyone is very careful to deposit trash in the conveniently placed cans. And the Parks & Rec Department does an incredible job of hauling it away regularly. You rarely see overflowing trash cans.Hooray for the public, and Parks & Rec!”

Compo Beach receptacle (Photo/Amy Berkin)


Wheels2U Westport, the on-demand, group ride, door-to-train shuttle service, is extending its service hours.

Effective today, Wheels2U Westport will operate an hour and half longer each weekday afternoon: 4 to 9:30 p.m.

The 5:45 to 9:45 a.m. morning service is unchanged.

The longer hours should help commuters and others who work late, or want to meet friends for a drink or dinner after work.

The service area covers nearly all of Westport. Residents use the “Wheels2U Westport” app to request a pickup for trains leaving Grand Central as late as 8:07 p.m.  Riders are taken from the Saugatuck or Greens Farms station to their front door.

Pickup areas at Saugatuck are on the westbound side of the platform (corner of Franklin Street) or Railroad Place (near the elevator). Pickup at Greens Farms is in the large commuter parking lot just west of New Creek Road.

The fare is $2 when paid with the Wheels2U app. A Metro-North Uniticket rail/bus pass can also be used.

For more information, click here. For more information about the Westport Transit District’s services for the elderly and people with disabilities, click here.


Whatever I could say about this Post Road sing — and a similar one at Compo Beach — pales in comparison to what “06880” readers will write.

Have at it! Click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Rowene Weems Photography)


Sure, it now takes 2 or 3 weeks to get from Westport to Grand Central Station.

But at least — after 15 or 20 years — the gantries are gone.

(Photo/William Weiss)


Today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature is a 2-fer. Naturally — because there are 2 magnificent birds in each photo.

Great egrets at Compo Beach … (Photo/Michelle Widmeier)

… and great herons at Gray’s Creek. (Photo/Matt Murray)


And finally …. Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. Shana Tova! Let’s party like it’s 5782.

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.)