Tag Archives: Coronavirus

Ellen Landowne: Who Is That Masked Woman?

Now that everyone– and by “everyone” I mean normal, non-selfish boneheads — understands the importance of wearing masks, Westport Masks is busier than ever.

For many weeks the ad hoc group has made masks, then donated them to front line personnel and those in need. Recipients include Westport’s Public Works, Parks & Recreation and highway departments; Westport Post Office; elderly residents through Westport’s Department of Human Services; Open Door Shelter in Norwalk; Food Rescue US; Thomas Merton Family Center in Bridgeport; Stamford Hospice, Norwalk Hospital and more.

Dozens of folks cut, sew and deliver. But all involved agree, one volunteer truly stands out.

Ellen Landowne heard about Westport Masks in March through “06880,” and was one of the first to step forward.

Since then she has been a core team member. She’s made masks for many — including seniors — and raised funds for food pantries (through sales to the public, at $12 each).

Pretty good for anyone. Particularly for someone who — like Ellen — is 85 years young.

Ellen Landowne, at her 1942 Singer machine. It once belonged to her mother. She still uses it for all her sewing needs.

Ellen came to Westport in 1967 with her husband Bob Landowne. They were married for 59 years, until his death in 2017. Their 3 children — Deborah, Steve and Judy — all graduated from Staples High School.

After graduating from Mount Holyoke College and then New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center, Ellen became a registered nurse. She stopped working when her children were in school.

In what she calls her “second, ‘unpaid’ career,” Ellen got involved with the Girl Scouts. Funding came from 8 United Ways. She volunteered with the Westport-Weston group as a “foot soldier,” then joined the board. Eventually, she was named United Way of Westport and Weston’s first female president.

Ellen also served on the board of the Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center.

And at age 55, she received her private pilot certificate. She flew with Bob as far as Florida and Ontario.

Ellen Landowne, pilot.

The masks Ellen and her fellow volunteers make have 2 layers of 100% cotton.  They’re washable, with a filter pocket for added protection. They have neck ties too, so they can be worn all the time.

Masks can be ordered at $12 each through westportmasks@yahoo.com. All proceeds go to local food pantries, and to purchase supplies for more masks.

Volunteers are always needed. Organizers say: “If you have a working sewing machine, can sew in a straight line and can follow a pattern, we could use your help. Fabric cutting is also greatly appreciated.” Email westportmasks@yahoo.com.

Their next project: In preparation for return to school, the group is making children’s masks for families who cannot afford disposable ones.

(Hat tip: Virginia Jaffe)

Zoe Brown: An Eloquent 20s Voice, For 2020

At Staples Zoe Brown served as editor-in-chief of the school paper Inklings and co-president of the Teen Awareness Group, and played field hockey.

She graduated last month from the University of Southern California where she studied communication and cinematic arts, founded the Girls Who Read book club, and was a Hillel leader.

Zoe started her blog, Coast Confused, in 2015 just before graduating from Staples and switching coasts. 

She is moving back to Los Angeles this week, to search for a job in entertainment. Her goal is to become a literary manager and producer, or a showrunner and creator like Dan Fogelman.

Zoe Brown: proud graduate, in her home town.

The other day Zoe woke up with many confused feelings. She watched videos of her favorite writer, Marina Keegan, doing spoken word poetry, then put down her own thoughts. The resulting blog story is a wonderful piece of writing: powerful, insightful, honest, raw, personal yet universal. I’m honored to re-post it here. 

Lately, I’ve been driving with my windows down, blasting music, mostly songs about feeling lonely, sad or about wishing for love. You know, “Modern Loneliness” or “Sad Forever” by Lauv or “Dive” by Ed Sheeran. I secretly hope that someone will shout out to me, saying they like my music and that we should hang out. I do have friends, but I miss meeting new people and getting to know them, while getting to know myself more at the same time. I miss that moment when handshakes turns into hugs, and names turn into nicknames. I always remember the first time someone calls me “Zo.” Mostly, though, I miss touch and attention.

It’s hard right now, for so many reasons. It’s hard to grieve people killed for reasons that make less than no sense, to grieve normalcy and touch and the job I would have been starting soon, had things gone as planned (they rarely do). It’s hard to grieve in general but even harder without a warm hug or a supportive pat on the back from friends or family.

I thrive off of touch, off the electricity I feel when my hand grasps the hand of the cute boy from school on our first date at the movies, or when I cuddle with my best friend on her couch and she falls asleep so I have to sneak out so she doesn’t wake up. I’m going to see my Grandmom in Philly soon, and I can’t even hug her. I can’t hug my favorite lovely lady on Earth, who lost her husband, my Grandpop, not even a year ago. She probably hasn’t hugged anyone in 4 months. Then again, neither have I, besides when I “hug” my sister and she doesn’t hug me back (she doesn’t always like to be touched) or when I remind my dad “I am moving to LA for good” so he agrees to wrap his arms around his little girl quickly, one more time for now.

Zoe Brown

I started watching “When Harry Met Sally” the other day and in the very start, there’s a make out scene. It’s a closeup of two people making out in a park and it looked so gross to me that I didn’t keep watching the movie that night. Kissing seems gross to me. I have probably kissed a hundred boys at this point, and I don’t think I ever want to kiss one again. Maybe that’s dramatic, but I guess it’s just so clear to me right now, because I’ve had to be so careful about germs, that it is GROSS. Swiveling your tongue around in the inside of a random person’s dirty mouth, ew!

But at the same time, I can’t wait to kiss again. I can’t wait to see that look in his eyes and know that he’s about to place his soft lips on mine, or on my cheek and the creases of my neck. And it doesn’t seem so gross after all.

I don’t even know when that will happen, or with who. I know who I want it to happen with. I want to kiss Him again. I capitalized the H in Him when I wrote this without even thinking about it, as if he is God or something. He is most definitely not God, so maybe I should demote him to the lowercase “him,” to just an Angel instead, or maybe a demi-God, in my mind at least.

I imagine him next to me sometimes, like when I’m alone reading on a chair at the beach or driving to pick up food. I hope that doesn’t sound too sad or weird and I especially hope it doesn’t sound creepy. I just miss him, and I feel like I don’t even deserve to miss him. I don’t know him that well after all and I’m sure he doesn’t miss me. Why do I get to miss him? But then again, I also miss the smell of my best friend’s hair, the taste of buttery movie theater popcorn, and the sound of pen on paper and professors lecturing about whatever it is I used to learn in school.

So why can’t I miss him? Who am I to tell myself who I can and cannot miss? I mean, at least I’m not missing that other him (definitely lowercase), the one who stomped on my heart like he was killing a spider in the shower, with intention and no regrets.

I miss my favorite writer, Marina Keegan. I never even knew her, besides through her writing. She was 22 when she died, right after she graduated from Yale. In one of her spoken word poetry sets, she said “I want to have time to be in love with everything.” I do, too. I want to hug my best friend when I go to her house to congratulate her on getting her first job. I want to high-five my friend’s mom after we run a solid two miles together in the New England heat. I want to look next to me and actually see him, and give his hand a quick squeeze to let him know I’m glad that I’m not only imaging him next to me anymore.

Zoe Brown, browsing at The Last Bookstore iin Santa Monica.

I want to be in love with my country, my home, this beautiful Earth. I definitely am not right now. I am proud of so much of the effort from everyone, to better themselves and fight for justice with racism, police brutality, and everything else that’s so fucked up in America. I am not proud of my President. I am proud of the Supreme Court, for its ruling to protect LGBTQ+ people in the workplace. I am not proud of the police. I am proud of myself, for selling postcards to raise money to support black emotional and mental health. I am not proud of my friends who are not taking this pandemic seriously. I am proud of my friends and those who are taking it seriously and the doctors who are fighting to save people and create a vaccine. I am proud of the people who stand back up over and over again after being shoved down repeatedly, because as long as they keep standing, they keep winning.

I am glad to be alive, but I am also sad and uncomfortable. It feels like I was living on a rug on top of a bunch of spikes and someone ripped the rug right out from beneath me. Now I live standing on the spikes, so I have to be careful of my every step but no matter how I stand, it always kind of hurts.

I know that the rug will be replaced one day, and I am hopeful that it will be a better rug, too, one made with more care, respect and understanding than the last.

I hope that this world becomes better because of everything it’s going through. I know I’ve become better because of my struggles. Even though I am hurting now, I am hopeful that the world we live in will come out of this a stronger, brighter, and better one.

(To read more of Zoe Brown’s blog, click here.)

Zoe Brown, hiking in the Los Angeles hills.


During Lockdown, A Joyful Ride

When the COVID quarantine began in March, we lost our routines. For many, the lack of daily exercise — the Y, the gym, the spin studio, whatever — was toughest.

But we missed more than just the physical workout. We longed for our suddenly severed social connections too.

Early in the lockdown, a dozen women from Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Norwalk gathered on Zoom for what they figured would be 2 weeks of planks and push-ups. Their friendships had been solidifed at JoyRide. The group included one of the owners, an instructor, even one of the member’s sister-in-law and her friend, both in Denver.

Planking via Zoom.

What started as a temporary fix turned into much more. They do 75 push-ups and 5 minutes of planks daily (that’s over 7,000 push-ups and 8 hours already– and they have not missed a day).

If a group member can’t make the designated workout, someone joins her on FaceTime. No one works out alone.

After planking, they do another, member-inspired workout together. They track their favorites on a Google Doc.

More than exercising together though, the group is a support system. They laugh (“a lot,” says one member). They’ve shared their children’s college acceptances (and rejections), graduations from college, high school and 8th grade, and a pair of 50th birthdays.

After working out virtually for weeks, the group (minus their Denver members) got together for a 50th birthday celebration.

They created a logo, and designed a shirt, water bottle and (of course) face masks. They ordered the same leggings and workout equipment (including mini-trampolines). They had (multiple) happy hours.

They also gave back to the community, both as a small group and in conjunction with JoyRide.

These past few months, everyone needed something to keep sane and connected. These women may be back together — in person — soon. They’ll be fit and fresh, both physically and emotionally.

And they’ll have those very cool t-shirts, water bottles and face masks forever.

(Hat tip: Lauren Burg)

Personal Zoom Concerts: A Classic COVID Response

One of the great, unexpected consequences of the coronavirus is that musicians around the world are performing — live, for free — on very accessible media platforms. You can’t attend a concert, but concerts can sure come to you.

One of the downsides of this great, unexpected consequence is that it’s not exactly a real concert. Musicians get none of the usual feedback from audiences, who feel equally disconnected from performers.

The Hidden Fabric Music Project plays a different tune.

The premise is simple. A website connects young, classically trained musicians — graduates of Juilliard, New England Conservatory, Yale and other top schools — with anyone, anyone who wants to hear beautiful music. In a personal, one-on-one concert.

After filling out a brief form — answering preferred time and “strings,” “piano,” “wind/brass” or “surprise me!” — users are paired with an artist. The musician performs for 15 minutes via Zoom; the audience of one watches. There’s eye contact, energy — and the option, on signing up, for conversation too.

Hidden Fabric (the name comes from a Virgina Wolff quote) is the brainchild of Sam Weiser. At Staples High School he played violin — superbly — in every group, and every chance he got. He earned a dual degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and Tufts University. (The latter is in computer science. “I might use it one day,” Sam says.)

After grad school at the San Francisco Conservatory, he joined the Del Sol String Quartet. He has lived in the Bay Area ever since. (They performed in Westport last October.)

When the pandemic hit, Sam — and musicians around the world — suddenly lost all their gigs. Many pivoted quickly to livestreaming.

Sam Weiser

“There was an outpouring of creativity, even in the classical music world,” he says. “But as good a replacement as that is, the symbiotic relationship between the performer and listener gets lost. You’re playing to a camera. You don’t know who is on the other end, or how many people are there.

“For the audience, it feels sort of real. But there’s no sense that you’re sharing the music with the performer.”

He and his friends had an idea: short personal performances and conversations.. They recruited musicians from across North America. Their ability to connect personally was as important as their musical expression.

“The pandemic highlighted needs in our community — the need to create, but even more than that, the need to be heard,” the website says.

“HFMP is our way to engage with audiences, old and new, and to reaffirm our belief that to be human is to be connected.”

The idea has taken off. But even Sam was surprised by its power.

“It’s incredible how much doing 1-on-1 concerts changes my day,” he says.

“I’ve never been an extrovert. But it’s so touching to meet someone, and share something so personal. It’s just 15 minutes, but it feels really special.”

Listeners agree: Hidden Fabric brightens their day.

Enjoying a 1-on-1 concert, via Zoom.

There is no charge, though the website encourages tips. Sam says a set fee would “undermine the idea of giving our time to people who are struggling far more than we are.”

Across the country, restrictions are being lifted. Americans are going back to work and play. Concerts — with shared spaces, and musicians blowing into instruments — will be one of the last forms of entertainment to come back.

Until then, the Hidden Fabric Music Project plays on.

(For more on the Hidden Fabric Music Project — including sign-up information — click here.) 

Wall Of Wishes Greet Class Of 2020

Kelly Konstanty’s son AJ graduated today from Staples High School. The coronavirus robbed the Class of 2020 of the chance to celebrate together — just as it took so much else away.

To augment the “drive-through” ceremony, Kelly had an idea: a “Wall of Wishes.” She put large posters at ASF and Saugatuck Sweets, for anyone to write on; she also set up a special email address.

Best wishes poured in. Kelly collected them all. She and fellow mother-of-a-graduate Melissa Augeri hand-wrote them all on individual posters. This morning, Kelly and Staples mom Stacie Curran placed them all along the parade route, leading to the school. It was an enormous undertaking.

And an amazing sight to see.

So what do Westporters wish for our graduates? Read on!

Congratulations to the Class of 2020! – The Thaw Family 

Congratulations 2020 Staples Seniors…”Always stay in a STANCE!” – Coach Goldshore

“Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.” – Gever Tulley 

Congratulations Staples Class of 2020 – The Sternberg Family

Restore wishes the Staples Class of 2020 a lifetime of wellness and best of luck on all of your future endeavors!

First-year principal Stafford Thomas said goodbye today to his first graduating class.

The power of grit, endurance and perseverance will take you far! – The Laskin Family

Congratulations to the Class of 2020! The Heisler family is cheering you on. Westport strong!

Congratulations on your graduation!! The Class of 2020 will always be known as the one that survived a pandemic, racial divides and witnessed a nation coming together to make this country a better place. Not only did you adapt but came out better people for it. – The Hwang Family

Way to go Class of 2020! If COVID couldn’t stop you, nothing can! Keep making us proud! – The Connors Family

Congratulations class of 2020! Your class represents strength and grace! – The Brannigan Family

Best of Luck to the Class of 2020!  – The Feuer Family

Class of 2020 rocks “06880”! THANKS for all you did – – and you did it with grace, passion, pride and “class.” –   Dan Woog

(Photo/Kelly Konstanty)

“On the other side of this storm is the strength that comes from having navigated through it. Raise your sails and BEGIN!” – Gregory S. Williams

CONGRATULATIONS to the truly unique and amazing Class of 2020!! – XO  – The Bowens Family

Wishing the Class of 2020 all the best. – The Iannacone Family

Congratulations Class of 2020.  The best is yet to come! XO – The Augeri Family

The only way is up from here. Best of luck to all the awesome Staples graduates!  Love, Sandy & Gary Mitchell (AKA Meeme & Beepee)

Congratulations to the Most Resilient Senior Class: Staples Class of 2020, deserves the Trophy of the Year!! Your Strength, Tenacity and Flexibility will carry you through any challenges you meet as you continue your journey through Life!! Stay strong with the wisdom to support Truth & Kindness when needed!! Tipping a Glass of Cheers and Smiles to and for all of you!!  – The Pink House Lady

Congratulations Class of 2020! – Fran Smith (a.k.a. Aunt Fran) SHS Class of ‘45

Staples Class of 2020, You have all proven to be a group of resilient and flexible young adults. I congratulate you all! I know that we, the community, will benefit from how this time will mold you well into the future. You have the power to create and follow your dreams, now go live them. – Janine & Pietro Scotti

 Your wings already exist! All you have to do is fly. – The Massoud Family

Good Luck! Be yourself. Find yourself. XO

Chef Tor Sporre wishes you a better world.  Be part of it! – (Dancing Tulip picture drawn here)

Good luck in your new adventures!

Best wishes for your exciting journey ahead! – The Rizy Family

Best of luck to you all! Wishing you success & happiness! Much love, The Sutter Family

Way to make History Class of 2020! We always knew you would. 🙂 Great things lie ahead for you all. – The Howard Family

Congratulations Class of 2020! The best is yet to come. – ASF Sports & Outdoors

The poster outside ASF, before dozens of well-wishers added their thoughts.

We are so proud of you and all you have done‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️ Hearty Congratulations Graduates♥️️ – Grandma B/Grandpa M

Congratulations to the entire Staples 2020 graduating class. You have missed a great deal of your last year of high school but you are all resilient & talented and will no doubt go on to do great things! Go Wreckers! – The Burg Family

Don’t ever underestimate your strength, wisdom and compassion! You have been incredible during these unique times. Congratulations to this amazing class of 2020! – The Messenger Family

When it rains, look for the rainbows. When it’s dark, look for the stars.  Congratulations to the Class of 2020! YOU are the rainbows and the stars of the future! Dream Big! – The Hughes Family (Aunt K, Uncle Tom & Jameson)

Staples 2020! This is not the usual grad celebration, but you are not the usual class. You’ll work harder than you think and go farther than you can dream! Embrace it all! – The Vandis Family

Class of 2020 – “virtually” the greatest SHS class of all time! Go get ‘em! – The DesMarteau Family

Dear Staples High School Class of 2020, You did it! You finished an historic run to your High School Diploma in this unprecedented time. Bravo and remember you are Stronger than you know, this will not define you. Make the world a better place.  – Paul Lenihan

I am myself a Staples graduate so my simple message is: ONCE A WRECKER ALWAYS A WRECKER! – Arline P. Gertzoff (RTM3)

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

To all the Staples Seniors; This has been a strange and unusual year. As you go on  to your next adventure know that you have dealt so well under extraordinary circumstances and this will help you deal even better with whatever comes your way.  Wishing you all, all the best! – The Pressman Family

Class of 2020: Thank you for your contributions to Westport! You will be missed. Godspeed in your next adventures! – The Foisie Family

Dream BIG class of 2020! – The Zinn Family

To the Spectacular Staples Class of 2020, Your Strength, Smarts and Support of Community will Steer you to great Success in Anything you Seek. Much Love, From The Curran Family

Class of 2020, what a long strange trip it’s been. Go forth fearlessly, you guys have got this!” – The Braunstein Family

To the Staples Class of 2020: May your strength and determination be the shining gifts that guide you forward. Congratulations to you all. – Judith Marks-White

Congrats to the Class of 2020! We are so proud of you and all you have accomplished! – The Navarro Family

Staples High School seal, in front lobby (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

To the amazing class of 2020, we wish you all the best life can offer! Live confidently, passionately and with endless curiosity. Dream all that you can become, become all that you can dream! – The Frost Family

Dear 020 Graduating Seniors: As Maya Angelou put it the best. Let your life not be measured by the breaths you take but rather the moments that take your breath away. Best of luck!  XO – The Konstanty Family

Please take the disappointment from the end of this year to fuel your determination to launch your dreams for next year. With much love the Moody Famil

Congratulations to the Class of 2020!! In this crazy year we honor you as you have had to endure so much! This too shall pass; the future will be brighter and you will be stronger. Onward! Love, Joan Konstanty (AKA Gram)

Carpe Diem!  – The Manna Family

Congratulations to the entire class of 2020!! The best is yet to come. – The Porio Family

Congratulations Class of 2020! Wishing you happiness in all that you do. – The Teed Family

Best to our Staples Seniors – thank you for your guidance, support and paving the way. Xo The Rossman Family

Congrats Staples High School Class of 2020 – The Bakshi Family

Congrats Class of 2020. You rocked it! Love, The Greifenbergers

Congratulations and Best Wishes to the Class of 2020! – The Desser Family

Relish you are part of history, now go make your mark on the world. – The Chevrier Family

Dream high…laugh, learn and love along the way! Congratulations on your accomplishments and enjoy the journey ahead. The Obsitnik Family

To the Class of 2020: We  wish for you a world better than the one you were born into, the tenacity, strength and emotional intelligence  to be able to identify injustice and address it, the ability to see your potential and to go for it, and the patience to both listen and respect those whose experiences differ from your own. You are our future, the next leg in the relay. We pass the baton to you, but we don’t let go of it just yet for we still have so much to pass along to you, while all the while absorbing the lessons you have for us. You are the Class of 2020, a blessed and brilliant bunch that will go down in history. No go change the world! – The Dockray Family

Art From The Hearts Helps Heal

Not long ago Claudia Mengel heard about a doctor, working long hours and many days in the ICU. One night she took off her mask, and announced she was going home to do something that would lift her spirits: She would buy a beautiful piece of art.

The story resonated with Mengel, a Westport artist. Her daughter Rebecca Allinder — a 2005 Staples High School graduate — now works as an ICU nurse at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Mengel asked if her co-workers wanted a gift of art. Rebecca’s enthusiastic response sparked something larger: a campaign called “Art from the Hearts.”

Mengel asked more than a dozen artist friends if they could donate some of their work. That snowballed to 40 artists, who gave multiple pieces. Their gifts raised the spirits of more than 150 frontline healthcare workers.

Artwork from Julia Headland ,,,

Emily Laux was not surprised at the response. One of 8 Westport artists who contributed, she says, “as artists, we cannot take away the stress of these workers. We can’t give them a good night’s sleep or a comforting hug. But we can give them art that will bring some joy into their homes.”

… and Rebecca Swanson.

Besides Laux and Mengel, other Westport artists involved in the project are Jeanine Esposito, Jen Greely, Julie Headland, Cecilia Moy Fradet, Steve Parton and Rebecca Swanson.

Mengel and Allinder brought the dozens of works to New Jersey. The hospital’s ICU break room was set up as a temporary art gallery. Using a lottery, the nurses and their colleagues each selected a piece of art for their homes.

Rebecca Allinder (3rd from left) and her colleagues at St. Peter’s University Hospital.

Each also got a bonus. Every artist wrote a personal note accompanying their work, thanking the healthcare worker receiving it.

Rebecca says that when word of the project spread through the hospital, the break room turned into a show. Personnel from other departments told her that taking a break from their busy day to look at art was peaceful and calming.

Her ICU colleagues, meanwhile, still talk about the piece of art that they took home, where they hung it, and how much they enjoy it. The personalized thank- you notes brought many to tears.

“It is an honor to do what we do as nurses for our community,” Rebecca says. “But reading the notes made us feel special and appreciated.”

Rebecca Allinder and Claudi Mengel, ready to head from Westport to New Jersey with art.

Her mother quotes William Wordsworth: “The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” She meant the frontline medical personnel.

But those little acts of kindness apply to the artists as well. And — thanks to their talent and generosity — those acts will be remembered every time a man or woman arrives home from a long, awful hospital shift.

(Hat tip: Diane Johnson)

Y Reopens June 22. Very, Very Slowly.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA will reopen Monday, June 22.

But don’t expect to waltz right in, socialize, work out, and hang out. In an email sent this evening to members, CEO Pat Riemersma described a “gradual reopening with modified access to facility amenities.”

Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. That provides access to the Wellness Center (cardio, strength and free weights); indoor and outdoor pools, plus group fitness classes and personal training (inside and outside). Reservations are required for the entire facility.

During the next phase (date TBA), there will be a limited Kids Club, limited lobby seating, and additional classes.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA has been shut since March 12.

What’s not available? The locker rooms (restroom use only), showers, steam rooms, saunas, water fountains, cafe, as well as yoga mats, stretch bands and other rubberized equipment (though members can bring their own).

All members will be required to sign a waiver before using the facility. They will also have their temperature checked, and be asked screening questions.

Members must bring and wear masks or cloth face coverings, unless precluded by a medical condition. Members do not need to wear a mask while engaged in physical activity — if 12 feet of distance can be maintained. Members much clean all equipment before and after use.

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, you see a lot of restrictions. If you see the glass as half-full — or miss your pool, treadmill, instructor or Y friends, or are worried about an expanding waistline or disappearing muscle tone — you take whatever good news you can get.

(For more information on the Westport Weston Family Y, click here.)

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Unsung Heroes #149

Alert — and impressed — “06880” reader Melissa Waters writes:

Heroes come in varying degrees of nobility, courage and honor.

Though perhaps not “heroes” in the true definition of the word, as we near the end of the school year I’d like to nominate each and every one of the children in Westport.

They learned online since mid-March. Yet not only did these kids navigate a new way of education; they also learned a new way to navigate friendships, club activities, music lessons, and so much more.

Staples’ High School’s “We the People” team prepared for their national competition via Zoom. And they prepared well: They finished 5th in the US!

We asked them to pivot – and pivot quickly – to a “temporary” normal. So much of their daily life – and daily happiness – was canceled: play dates, sports, theater shows, field days, proms, moving up and graduation ceremonies, and more.

While I don’t know every kid in town, and it hasn’t been easy for some I’m sure, I’m guessing they all, in their own way, rose to the challenge and did the very best they could during this crazy time. I know I couldn’t have done what they’ve done.

So to all you students – especially our high school seniors – kudos!

Thank you for all the card games, the dishes you put into the dishwasher, the extra dog walks, the crazy hair lengths, your morning smiles, your evening silliness, and the hard work you’ve done online and as part of your families.

Now it’s time for you to enjoy the summer!

This would be a welcome sight.

Roundup: Re-opening Phase 2; Epidemiology; Lifeguards; Hemp; More

Phase 1 of reopening Connecticut is underway. So far, so good. 

Next Wednesday (June 17), Phase 2 begins.

Restaurants, libraries, sports and fitness facilities, hotels, museums, zoos, aquariums, indoor recreation centers personal services and “outdoor events” will now be allowed to open.

Of course, that does not mean all will. “06880” will report on local re-openings as we hear of them (send info to dwoog@optonline.net).

For details on what Phase 2 means around the state, click here.

When the Westport Library reopens, it won’t be with scenes like this.

On Thursday, Tallula Goldberg graduates from Staples High School. This fall she heads to the University of Rochester, to study epidemiology.

It’s not a new interest. This fall — long before anyone heard of the coronavirus — she created an Independent Learning Experience (self-directed course) on the topic.

For her final project, she wrote a children’s book. It breaks down the key aspects of public health and epidemiology in a way kids 10 and older can understand.

Though not specific to COVID-19, it provides an explanation of how diseases are spread, and suggestions to keep safe. Tallula is sharing it now, “in hopes of making sense of the crazy world we live in.”

Click here — then learn!

The weather is warm. Gatherings of 25 are now permitted. If you’ve got a pool, you’re pretty popular.

But as we come out of COVID, safety is still important. What to do? Contact WeLifeguard.com.

Run by 16-year-old Daria Maya — a certified open water lifeguard with Advanced Lifesaving, CPR and AED certifications — it’s a simple way to connect pool owners with guards.

Just click here to request a Red Cross Certified lifeguard, or swimming lessons. You set the rate directly with the guard. WeLifeguard does not profit from the service, and does not charge a fee. The goal is to keep everyone safe.

Everyone into the pool!

Daria Maya

Manna Toast opened the other day in Bedford Square. Now it’s joined by another new business.

Franny’s Farmacy grand opening is set for June 18, 19 and 20. Owner Griff Conti calls his store “a family-friendly destination for all things hemp.”

A Silvermine native with an entrepreneurial itch and a decade of experience as a recruiter in the oil, gas and cannabis industries, he originally planned to open Franny’s 8th franchise in Colorado. But the Church Lane location — across from Spotted Horse restaurant, near Savannah Bee Company — proved too hard to resist.

The “farm” in Franny’s Farmacy refers to its vertical integration: They cultivate, process, manufacture and distribute all their own goods.

They offer a diverse selection of CBD products, from CBD oils and edibles to smokable hemp flower, vape products and topicals. There’s a product line for pets too.

Franny’s is a full-service shop, with a dispensing bar, curbside pickup and delivery. Private appointments are available too. Click here for more information on the Westport store.

And finally … Spanky & Our Gang’s long-forgotten plea, from 1968:

Summer Camp: COVID Causes Closings

As a summer camp director, Jem Sollinger’s biggest concern is always safety: that of his 500 boys and girls from 2nd through 10th grade, and 300 staff members from around the world.

That usually means preventing accidents, patrolling the waterfront, and stifling colds and impetigo.

This year it meant confronting a global pandemic. And addressing scenarios, questions and fears he’d never considered in his lifelong association with Camp Laurel.

Sollinger — a 1988 Staples High School graduate and varsity soccer player at Union College — was a Laurel camper himself.

Now he and his wife Debbie run the Maine camp. It has a strong local presence. A few dozen Westport and Weston youngsters attend Laurel each year. The office in Brooks Corner has a staff of 6.

Jem and Debbie Sollinger

Sollinger is a staunch believer in the power of summer camp. It’s a place where “kids can be kids. They develop independence, try new things, take safe risks, learn to succeed, and build a sense of self.”

With its balance of athletics, arts, activities and travel opportunities, Laurel — and many other camps like it — offer young people a chance to grow, and a respite from the academic and social pressures they face the other 10 months of the year.

As idyllic as it is for campers, it’s a whirlwind for a director. After spending the off-season meeting new families, hiring staff, developing programs and dealing with issues like insurance and regulations, Sollinger and his staff spend 7 weeks entrusted with the care and safety of hundreds of campers (and young counselors).

“Even on the most wonderful, sunny summer day, there’s incredible pressure,” Sollinger says. “We plan as much as we can, all year long, for every kind of emergency and contingency. Our biggest concern is the physical and emotional safety of everyone at camp. Until we get every last kid on the bus, and home to their parents, everything else is secondary to that.”

On Thursday, March 12 — the day after Westport schools closed — Sollinger looked out his Brooks Corner window. The parking lot was empty. Main Street was abandoned. Still, he admits, he did not yet grasp the magnitude of the coronavirus crisis.

But as the rest of America shut down too — including Broadway, the NCAA basketball tournament and more — he realized there might be an impact on camp.

Sollinger’s brother and father-in-law are both pediatricians. They’re “non-alarmists,” the director says. But both told him: “This is serious.”

New York governor Andrew Cuomo said, “density is not our friend.” Summer camp, Sollinger knows, epitomizes communal living.

Safety is always a high priority. But camp, by nature, brings people close together.

As he spoke with his leadership team, directors of other camps, and officials with the American Camping Association, Sollinger understood how much was unknown about COVID-19.

And he wondered what those unknowns meant for this coming summer.

The CDC, ACA and state of Maine all had different interpretations of social distancing. But how could that happen at camp?

One suggestion was keeping campers in separate “pods,” with no intermingling. But Laurel thrives on all-camp traditions like campfires, theater productions and barbecues.

Campers from one bunk mix with others at electives. They take out-of-camp trips, and have sports competitions with other camps. Staff leave camp on days off; parents, grandparents and siblings arrive on Visiting Day.

Electives are an important part of a camp like Laurel.

There were perils all around.

“Kids can be less impacted than adults,” Sollinger says. “But what if there was an outbreak? We’d have to quarantine, with everyone having separate bathrooms. If we had to evacuate, how could we do that?”

He even considered his own social distancing. “I high-five kids when they come off the bus. I give hugs and fist bumps. We wouldn’t even be able to do that.”

Like many camp directors, Jem Sollinger is a hugger.

There were intangible issues too.

“We’ve developed wonderful relationships with families. It’s all built on trust,” the director notes.

“If we opened, they’d trust us. They’d say, ‘It’s okay. Laurel’s got it.’ But we didn’t have it. They would follow us, but I wasn’t sure where we were going.”

Sollinger and his team explored a variety of options, including a delayed opening, shortened season and “bubbles,” all accompanied by efficient, accurate testing. Nothing seemed realistic.

As spring wore on, “quarantine fever” kicked in across the country. “Everyone loves camp, wherever they and their kids go to camp,” Sollinger says. “As more and more programs and things got canceled, camp became the one thing everyone hung on to. Everyone wanted camp to continue.”

But, he adds, “wanting, hoping and needing is not a strategic plan. Camp needs to be safe.”

Camp Laurel is in rural Maine. But it’s not isolated from the real world.

On May 18, Sollinger and his wife sent an email to Laurel families. It began:

The decision whether to operate Camp Laurel this summer has been driven by finding a clear and realistic path to safety for our entire camp community. With the many unknowns related to COVID-19 and the operational restrictions established by the American Camp Association, we are unable to find this safe path.

With great sadness, we have decided to cancel the 2020 season.

We value tremendously the trust you have placed in us and our decision was dictated by a deep sense of responsibility. It’s the most difficult decision we’ve had to make as camp directors, and the idea of upsetting our camp family has been heart-wrenching.

The Sollingers gave families the option of rolling over their payment to 2021, or a full refund.

The reaction was very supportive. Sollinger calls it “a combination of disappointment, understanding, and compassion for Debbie and me.”

It’s been a strange spring for everyone. But the months ahead will feel especially strange to Sollinger. In his long camping career, he has never been in Westport in June.

He won’t be here long. Soon he, Debbie and their 3 daughters head north. They’ll spend the summer at Camp Laurel in Maine, with their leadership team.

Jem and Debbie Sollinger, and their daughters.

There’s a facility to take care of. There are social media photos and posts to send to families.

And a summer camp season — next year’s — to look forward to.

“We’ll weather the storm,” Sollinger promises. “And we’ll come back, stronger than ever.”