Tag Archives: Earthplace

SLOBs Take Over Westport

If you drove around Westport today, you may have noticed an unusual number of high school boys weeding, planting, mulching, painting, cleaning and picking up garbage.

What a bunch of SLOBs.

That’s the great acronym for Staples’ Service League Of Boys. One of the most popular clubs at the high school, it’s a way for boys — and their parents — to join together in community service.

Today — during the group’s 8th annual Service Sunday — SLOBs contributed over 600 hours of work. They also donated $5,000 in supplies and goods, to get their work done.

Staples seniors Brendan Massoud, Thomas Moy and Elliott Poulley (rear) work at Earthplace.

Among the job sites: Wakeman Town Farm, Camp Mahackeno, Earthplace, A Better Chance of Westport Glendarcy House, Staples High and the Bridgeport Community Garden.

More SLOBs action this time at Wakeman Town Farm — from today’s Service Sunday.

Meanwhile, inside Staples, SLOBs created a library for the K-8 Luiz Munoz Marin School in Bridgeport. Members contributed over 800 books, which they catalogued today.

They also assembled healthy snack bags for Read School students. For some youngsters, that’s much of the food they eat on weekends.

SLOB’s service day is big. But the boys do plenty throughout the year too. Since September they’ve volunteered at over 70 community events, here and in neighboring towns — providing over 3,800 hours of service.

Our SLOBs are pretty neat!

Service League of Boys members and parents pose for a photo. Soon it was back to work.

Happy GreenDay!

Looking for a way to welcome spring, honor the environment, and do cool, important things with family and friends?

You’re in luck!

GreenDay is this Saturday (April 29). In just 5 years, the event — created by Staples High School’s Club Green — has become a low-key but very fun Westport-wide celebration.

You can choose from:

8:30-10 a.m. Clean-up Greens Farms train station and Riverside Park. Both events are sponsored by the Westport Beautification Committee.

10 a.m. Family Trail Run at Earthplace. Trail run/walk options for all ages and abilities, from a 100-yard dash to 2 miles. Cost: $25 per adult, $15 per child, $75 maximum. Proceeds benefit Earthplace’s community education programs.

10 a.m. Tour Westport’s wastewater treatment plantSee how sewage turns into clean water. Location: 4 Elaine Road, off Compo Road South, between I-95 and the railroad tracks.

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Fun and learning with nature at EarthplaceEarthplace naturalists, Wakeman Town Farm animals, Westport Library storytellers and the new Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum join forces. Experience and explore the natural world through hands-on science activities, and nature arts and crafts. Cost: $5/person.

12-3 p.m. Westport Tree Board gives away native saplings at Earthplace. Members will also direct visitors on tours of the Arboretum, and conduct a free raffle. The winner receives a wooden bench, handmade from black locust wood harvested on the property by Tree Board member Dick Stein.

2 p.m. Rally for the environment at Earthplace. Bring or make your own signs (materials provided), to celebrate science and nature.

3 p.m. Hydroponics at the Westport Library. Watch a hydroponic system being built. Learn how it helps grow a healthy food system.

Get your green on!

(For more GreenDay information, click here.)

Earthplace “Wish List” Aids Animals After Fire

Firefighters saved nearly 50 animals during last Friday’s Earthplace fire. The only loss was a gray tree frog.

However, the popular nature and environmental center needs a number of items, ranging from a rabbit house and terrarium to falconry anklets and animal care products.

The public can help. Click here for a full “wish list.”

In other Earthplace fire news, officials have determined the cause: spontaneous combustion involving a linseed oil-soaked rag, left after refinishing work the previous day.

How The Earthplace Garden Grows

Like the perennial plants that bloom, then disappear there, the native garden in the Earthplace atrium has cycled through periods of growth and dormancy.

Designed in 1960 by Eloise Ray — a noted landscape architect — at what was then called the Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum, the handsome garden was filled with indigenous species.

Eloise Ray, in the natural garden she conceived and designed.

Eloise Ray, in the native garden she conceived and designed.

Over the years — as the name changed to the Nature Center — the garden became a favorite spot. A bronze statue and bench added to its serenity.

In 1977, the Greens Farms Garden Club took over maintenance. They continued until 2011, when the board of trustees changed the courtyard focus. For a few years, the garden fell into disuse.

But in the fall of 2015, the garden club revived it. They weeded vigorously. Working from Ray’s original blueprints, they planted 17 new shrubs, and 42 native plants. Last year, they added 12 more perennials.

Greens Farms Garden Club members (from left) Ann Watkins, Barbara Harman, Wynn Herrmann, Rivers Teske and Donnie Nader take a rare break from their Earthplace work.

Greens Farms Garden Club members (from left) Ann Watkins, Barbara Harman, Wynn Herrmann, Rivers Teske and Donnie Nader take a rare break at Earthplace.

Today the garden is once again a delight. It supports local wildlife like grey tree frogs. Honeybees pollinate the flora. Birds and butterflies abound.

Staff and visitors love it. And, says Greens Farms Garden Club past president Wynn Hermann, members and Earthplace employees enjoy a “wonderful partnership.”

Earthplace's atrium garden blooms again.

Earthplace’s atrium garden blooms again.

On Saturday, March 11, guests will gather there for a Garden Party Gala. There’s great food and music, plus an auction. It’s a fundraiser for Earthplace’s education programs.

The theme of the evening is “Help Our Garden Grow.”

Which makes perfect sense. Whether it’s flowers or the environmental awareness of children, Earthplace plants seeds, nurtures and grows.

(The Garden Party Gala is set for 7-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 11. For information and tickets, click here.)


[OPINION] After Election, Let Kids Be Kids

Many “06880” readers reacted viscerally on Sunday to Drew Coyne’s “06880” story. The beloved and talented Staples High School social studies teacher described his reaction to last week’s presidential election, adding insights into what it meant for teenagers in his classroom.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Among those reacting to Drew’s reaction was Jaime Bairaktaris. The community-minded 2016 Staples grad has been highlighted here before. Among other things, he was an Earthplace volunteer and EMT. Last spring he traveled to Italy to work with youngsters from a disadvantaged Naples neighborhood.

Now he’s a Sacred Heart University freshman. He’s still a Westport EMT, still works at Earthplace, and is also an EMT for Easton (working the midnight to 6 a.m. shift).

And Jaime helps supervise elementary school students during lunch in a nearby town. He passes along these insights into today’s kids, a few days after one of the most polarizing elections in American history.

  • Trump’s gonna build a huge wall and keep all the bad guys out!
  • Clinton lies too much. I don’t trust her. She killed too many people!
  • Trump’s gonna kick all of the immigrants out. Where will they go?
  • She’s kind of an old lady.
  • He looks like an angry orange.
  • Mr. B, you CAN’T vote for them. Promise me you won’t!

It’s confusing to hear these things come out of tiny mouths, on the playground or between bites of pizza.

I broke up verbal arguments between students. They climbed over tables or stood on their toes, trying to subdue their opponent.

But the aftermath does the real damage. When the argument is over students are left angry, anxious and frightened. Nothing upset me more than a crying child. One was legitimately fearful they would have to leave the country. Another cried because they could not understand why their classmate did not see what they saw in a candidate.

It’s eerily similar to what some adults feel now. But these are children.


The 2016 election was one of the most polarizing in history.

I know that children should have some exposure to the election process. In today’s world, we have no choice. But when they recite Fox or CNN sound bites, it’s time to stop and let them be kids.

Parents need to teach the process not as if 2 things are up against each other, but rather 2 people.

Kids understand that being mean to other people is wrong. But when a news outlet — or parent — bashes a candidate, a child becomes confused. After a while though, that bashing becomes normal and okay. After all, Mom, Dad or the TV did it.

A child can’t distinguish between a candidate on television or a book buddy in class. That’s where problems start.

I’ve seen what overexposure to “adult topics” can do to a child. I have not found anything good about it yet.

It’s our job to lead by example, be kind to all others, and personify anyone you speak about.

He is a father, a husband, a son. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter. Start there, and build up when talking about someone.

Just let kids be kids.

Happy 100th, Margaret Barnett!

Today is Margaret Barnett’s birthday. She’s 100 years young.

Margaret and her husband Roy — a pathologist — arrived in Westport in 1954. They wanted a bigger house than the one in Norwalk, for their growing family.

The couple raised 3 children — John, Edith and Teddy — here. Margaret was very active in the Norwalk Symphony, Earthplace and the Democratic Women of Westport.

She played tennis — quite well — through her 70s.

Happy birthday, to a woman who has given this town so much, for so many years!

Margaret Barnett, at her 95th birthday.

Margaret Barnett, at her 95th birthday.

Peter Boyd: Local Net Zero Can Impact The World

It’s an ambitious goal: Westport wants to be “net zero” by 2050.

By mid-century we hope to produce or purchase as much renewable energy as we use; minimize energy use in the first place through efficiency measures, and handle our water and waste in sustainable, resilient ways.

Westport’s Green Task Force leads the charge. It’s a local response to a global problem.

That approach fits perfectly with the life Peter Boyd leads.

Peter Boyd

Peter Boyd

Formerly the COO of the Carbon War Room — helping businesses reduce carbon emissions at the gigaton scale —  last fall Boyd advised a non-profit group of business leaders on their net-zero initiative leading up to the Paris Climate Conference.

He just launched a consulting firm called Time4Good, and serves as an executive fellow at Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment.

But he’s also a Scotsman who — after living in South Africa, London and Washington DC — moved to Westport 2 years ago, with his wife and 6-week-old baby.

Green Task ForceAlmost immediately, Boyd joined the Green Task Force. Earthplace tapped him for its board of trustees.

Boyd believes that local actions can have enormous impacts on our beleaguered planet.

“We’re raising our family here,” he says. “2050 is not far away. I’ll be 70. My kids will be early- to middle-age. They’ll make life choices then the same way I do now.”

As he looks around Westport — his new home town — Boyd sees big houses, big cars, and people driving 50 yards down the road to meet their children’s buses (which stop less than every 50 yards).

But he also sees “opportunities to make better quality-of-life choices.”

One example: electric vehicles.

A fleet of them drove by after his recent Green Day talk at the Westport Library.

“They’re better cars than what we have now, and they’re more fun to drive,” Boyd says.

“(Second selectman) Avi Kaner’s Tesla is fast and sexy. It’s a car you can really show off.”

Boyd notes, “I don’t have a Tesla budget. But my Prius is incredibly cheap to lease.”

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles last year. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P35D model. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds -- not that anyone does that on local roads. On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles a while ago. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P35D model. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds — not that anyone does that on local roads. On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

That’s the “secret to a lot of climate change choices,” Boyd says. “Doing things better than before, so we can have a quieter, less polluted town.”

Another example: Boyd sees Westport homeowners install geothermal and solar systems. Their electric bills are “tiny,” he says — “and they’ve got clean, wonderful homes.” Weatherizing and insulating also pays enormous dividends.

He stresses that NetZero 2050 is not about “moving to communal houses and taking all public transport.” Rather, it involves working at the town level, in personal ways.

He says passionately, “They’re way more impactful than we think.”

No Idle Threat

Tomorrow (Saturday, May 14) is Westport GreenDay.

Organizers hope it will be a real turnoff.

Well, actually, they’re encouraging drivers to turn off their car engines.

Nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut are transportation-related. Turning off an engine, then back on again is more fuel efficient than idling for just 10 seconds.

idling car

First Selectman Jim Marpe urges all Westporters to sign a “No Idling Pledge” (click here for the environmentally friendly online version).

(NOTE: State law prohibits “unnecessary idling” for more than 3 minutes. Provisions are made for weather extremes, certain service vehicles and health-related conditions.)

Other GreenDay activities tomorrow include a cleanup of Parker Harding Plaza and the riverfront; family events and a talk about the town’s new arboretum at Earthplace; a tour of Westport’s wastewater treatment plant; activities at Wakeman Town Farm, and a 3:30 p.m. library talk about Westport’s Net Zero goal for 2050.

Green Day logoTomorrow afternoon, electric vehicles are on display at Jesup Green, and a few lucky folks can test drive Teslas. There’s also a free EV shuttle service from the library to Town Hall, where the Westport Cinema Initiative sponsors the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” at 6 p.m.

It should be a great Green (if gray) Day.

And if Westporters don’t take the “No Idling” pledge to heart, “06880” will start posting photos of drivers sitting in their cars, while their engines run.

Don’t mess with us.

(For details of the weekend’s events, click on www.WestportGreenday.com)

Here’s One Fundraising Auction I’m Pleased To Promote

Westport is filled with worthy fundraisers. Many include auctions, with residents offering the use of exotic 2nd homes, tickets to sold-out concerts and sports events, and plenty of other way-cool, 1%-type stuff.

I can’t publicize all these great events. If I did one, I’d have to do them all. Besides, “06880” is a blog, not a community calendar.

Well, here’s one fundraiser I’m happy to promote. Because “06880” is my blog.

And I’m the auctioneer.

EarthplaceOn Saturday, April 2, Earthplace hosts “Mother Nature’s Masquerade.” There’s food, drinks, and a silent auction.

But (I’m told), the big deal is the live auction.

I’ll pump up prices for:

  • A sunset sail along the Sound in a classic sloop — restored and captained by Earthplace executive director Tony McDowell himself.
  • VIP garage/pit passes to a NASCAR race — and an autographed helmet.
  • Jam at a real gig with local legends the Vamp Kings.
  • Tickets to “The King and I” on Broadway, with backstage passes and a tour led by Anna — Westport’s own Kelli O’Hara.
  • A week at a luxury Cape Cod condo.

Those are fantastic items. I’ll have a great time selling them. You’ll definitely enjoy bidding on them.

But first you have to be there.

For more information — and tickets — to the Earthplace “Mother Nature’s Masquerade,” click here.

Going once ... twice... sold!

Going once … twice… sold!


Jaime Bairaktaris: “I Want To Help”

When Jaime Bairaktaris moved to Westport, entering Bedford Middle School 4 months into 8th grade, he already knew 2 people: his triplet brothers.

But the 3 boys are very different. So coming into a new school — even from nearby Redding — was a shock.

“Bedford was much more diverse. The kids were more advanced,” Jaime — now a Staples senior — recalls. “They used profanity in a paper, and the teacher called it ‘powerful.'”

His family raised the boys to do things for others. During his first week at Staples, Jaime saw a poster with an ambulance. “That looks like fun,” he thought.

Soon, he was in an Emergency Medical Responder class. That’s become his main activity. Jaime quickly moved up the EMT ranks. He’s just 3 IV sticks away from advanced certification.

Jaime Bairaktaris, in an EMS ambulance. (Photo/Dorrie Harris)

Jaime Bairaktaris, in an EMS ambulance. (Photo/Dorrie Harris)

In July 2014, he was elected to the EMS board. He provides tech support, and as “Mr. Sunshine” sends cards on every member’s birthday. “It’s not a big deal,” he admits. “But it’s a great feeling. Little things add up to something larger.”

Jaime also volunteers as an assistant teacher in Earthplace‘s after-school and summer programs. He loves watching kids grow up — at the same time he helps them get there.

“I love the ambulance. But you only see someone for 15 or 30 minutes,” Jaime says. “Earthplace is a different way to help.”

Jaime Bairaktaris at Earthplace's summer camp. He says it's a tossup which activity the kids like more: mud fights, or hosing off afterward. (Photo/Harris Falk)

Jaime Bairaktaris at Earthplace’s summer camp. He says it’s a tossup which activity the kids like more: mud fights, or hosing off afterward. (Photo/Harris Falk)

One day freshman year, Jaime took a photo of a snapping turtle he found in his yard. His mother suggested sending the shot to WestportNow. Since then, the website has published over 200 of his images. They show beach scenes, Staples High School and sunsets. “You don’t have to go far to see beautiful things,” Jaime says.

Jaime’s next project does involve going far, though.

He’s taken 4 years of Italian at Staples. He loves the class, and his teacher Enia Noonan.

“We talk about everything: language, culture, stereotypes,” Jaime says. “It’s not just how you say hello, but who you say it to, and why.”

Jaime’s mother is Italian (Sicilian and Neapolitan). “My roots are really important to me,” says Jaime. “If you know where you’re from, you know who you are.”

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Naples, he knows, is not the most beautiful city. There is poverty and crime. Jaime has never traveled abroad — but in April he heads there, to volunteer for 2 weeks with an international program for elementary-age children. It’s a safe place for them — in a very rough neighborhood — while their parents work.

He’ll live in a dorm, with volunteers from all over the world. It’s a big commitment — but one he embraces. He takes it eagerly, and with an independent spirit often lacking among teenagers today.

Like this: Jaime drove to and visited colleges on  his own. A trip to the University of Maine was typical: He stopped at Acadia National Park and Boston along the way. He met strangers, and they parted as friends.

“I realize my parents trust me a lot,” he says. “I appreciate that.”

(They found out he’d applied to the Napoli program after he was accepted. Hey, when you’ve got triplets there’s a lot going on at home.)

Right now, Jaime needs help with funds. Donations will pay for program fees, insurance, airfare, and a course in teaching English as a foreign language he hopes to take. Anything extra will be donated to the Naples school, for supplies.

“When people think about service trips, they never consider Italy,” he says. “But the need for service is real. These children are in trouble. I want to help. What better way to end my senior year than to make a difference in their lives?”

And what better way for Westport to help this remarkable, giving Staples student? Every contribution counts: www.gofundme.com/helpnapoli.