Tag Archives: Experience Camps

Roundup: Smoke Shops, “06880” Header, Grief Awareness …

Smoke shops threatened to join nail salons as Westport’s most ubiquitous businesses.

But a Planning & Zoning Commission vote last night snuffed out more openings.

After lengthy debate on the proliferation of the stores — which sell vaping and related products, and often include bright lighting — the board voted 5-2 on a text amendment to prohibit all future shops with more than 20% of the inventory or square footage devoted to smoking merchandise.

Danielle Dobin, Michael Cammeyer, Neil Cohn, Paul Lebowitz and Jon Olefson were in favor of the regulation. Patrizia Zucaro and John Bolton were against it.

In addition, stores selling smoking- and vaping-related products below the 20% threshold must now secure a special permit via a special hearing. The regulation will prohibit “candy stores” from skirting the smoking rules.

The P&Z also voted to ban all neon-like signs and displays (including LED lights) that project outside stores.

The P&Z meeting was chair Danielle Dobin’s last. Earlier this month, she was elected to the Board of Finance.

Current members — and attorney Eric Bernheim, who represented a client on a non-smoking matter — praised her for her service.

This morning, she told “06880” that she was proud to have accomplished the smoking-shop text amendment before leaving the P&Z.

Savvy Smoker on Post Road East drew criticism last night, for its products, its exterior signage, and its bright interior displays.


“06880” app users, and those who read our blog in an email, don’t see it.

But visitors to our website are always greeted with a “header” image of Westport. It changes ever couple of months.

Our new photo is particularly intriguing: a nighttime view of downtown, reflected in the Saugatuck River. Jeanine Esposito provided the shot.

Click here to enjoy. Or just look below:


Six million American children experience the death of a parent or sibling by the time they turn 18 — 1 in 12 kids. Yet many people struggle with what to say when someone dies, making kids (and adults) feel different and alone. 

November is Children’s Grief Awareness Month. Doing its part, Westport-based non-profit Experience Camps offers concrete language tweaks everyone can use, to create a more grief-sensitive society.

They’re “flipping the script” — literally. Click here to read some comments we often say (“You need to be strong”); then click the comment to flip it to something more meaningful (“You may feel like you need to be strong, but you don’t have to be with me”).

Experience Camps helps children cope with the death of a parent or sibling, with an extensive and innovative series of summer camps and year-round programs.


Two Staples High School teams have reached the semifinals of state tournaments.

Both games are today. And both promise to be great matches.

The 2-time defending state champion girls soccer squad — ranked #3 in the CIAC “LL” (extra large schools) division — faces #2 St. Joseph at 6:30 p.m. tonight, at Fairfield Warde High.

It will be the third meeting of the year between the longtime rivals. In the regular season, they battled to a 1-1 draw. The Cadets eked out a 1-0 victory in the FCIAC (league) final.

Two hours earlier — 4:30 p.m., at Amity Regional in Woodbridge — the #2-ranked Wrecker field hockey team takes on #3 Glastonbury.

The timing is tight. But with a little luck, fans can catch at least part of each game.

And with all their talent (and a little luck), both Staples teams will be victorious.


Amazon Fresh — the highly anticipated, high-tech grocery store that was supposed to replace Barnes & Noble near Little Barn, then turned into a half-finished, unopened “zombie store” — may soon sprout back to life.

Bisnow reports that Amazon is moving forward with expansion plans.

Stores will be redesigned, and add coffee and donuts. It’s a pivot away from what Bloomberg calls its “tech-heavy strategy” of the past.

Amazon will redesign stores and add offerings like coffee and donuts, with an emphasis on these items instead of the tech-heavy strategy it employed in the past, according to Bloomberg.

“We will have a good pipeline for next year,” Amazon Fresh worldwide vice president Claire Peters said. “What we won’t do is open stores aimlessly.”

Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: Don Spiegelman)


Was politics on or off the table last night at Tarantino?

We’re not sure. But there definitely was a ton of experience last night, at the Saugatuck restaurant.

Five current or former members of the Board of Selectmen/women got together, along with a former Board of Finance member. Can you name all these once and present town officials?

Sitting (from left): Former 3rd selectman Charlie Haberstroh, Karen Hess, current 2nd Selectwoman Andrea Moore, former Board of Finance member Ed Iannone, former 2nd selectman Avi Kaner. Standing: Former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, current 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.


The VFW is well known for its “Jazz at the Post” Thursday night series.

But there’s more jazz at Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 on Riverside Avenue this Wednesday (November 15 (7 p.m.).

The US Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble — featuring Westport trumpeter Michael  Mossman — comes to town for a concert. It’s part of their extended Veterans Day tour in the tri-state area.

They’ll also host students from Westport and Bridgeport, for pre-concert workshops.

It’s all free — courtesy of the United States Air Force.


Speaking of Jazz at the Post:

The long-running series has brought international greats to VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399.

This Thursday (November 16; shows at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m.; dinner at 7; $15 music charge), the star is a legendary local musician.

Weston’s own Chris Coogan is a pianist, composer, teacher, choir director and producer, rooted in jazz and gospel traditions.

Coogan — who needs no introduction, really — will be joined by his rhythm section for decades: bassist John Mobilio and drummer Jim Royle.

Reservations are highly recommended: JazzatthePost@gmail.com.


Yesterday’s Roundup included the great news that Clemson University’s men soccer teams won their 2nd ACC championship in 4 years, with a penalty kick win over the University of North Carolina.

The Tigers boast 2 Westport connections: Head coach Mike Noonan (a star on Staples’ 1978 state championship team), and reserve keeper Paddy Donovan (Staples ’22).

Somehow, a photo of the 2 was not published. It’s a great one (below). Go Tigers!

Coach Mike Noonan and goalkeeper Paddy Donovan.


Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green pushes the bounds of theatrical experience with live score/narrated documentaries like “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” with Yo La Tengo, “A Thousand Thoughts” with the Kronos Quartet, and “The Weather Underground,” chronicling the rise and fall of the radical political organization.

On December 8 (6:30 p.m.), the Lundberg Family Foundation Master Film Series welcomes Green’s latest Sundance and South by Southwest-selected documentary, “32 Sounds.”

The film is “a meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception of the world around us (through a) wholly unique, sensory rich experience.”

Each member of the audience receives headphones for an immersive “binaural audio experience” (spatial sound technology that gives listeners a clear sense of space).

Green will take part in a post-screening Q&A with the audience. The event is free. bit requires registration (click here).


“The One Note Man” — an award-winning Christmas love story about a lonely bassoonist, produced by Westporter Rita Marcocci — will be shown at the Westport Library on December 10 (2 p.m.).

A talkback follows with the film’s actor star Jason Watkins; Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, writer/director George Siougas, and executive producer — and Westporter — Rita Marcocci.

Click below for the trailer.


Matt Murray describes today’s “Westport … Naturally” image, of Compo Road South near Bradley Street:

“Every year since I’ve lived near the beach. I go by this street as it changes colors. Some years it’s very red. Some, like this year, it’s this shade of orange.”

(Photo/Matt Murray)


And finally … on this day in 1900, composer Aaron Copland was born. The “Dean of American Composers” died 90 years later, leaving behind a rich legacy of music evoking the vast American landscape, and pioneer spirit.

(Joy, grief; music, sports, film — it’s all here, like every “Roundup” every day. If you appreciate this feature, or any other on your hyper-local blog, please click here to support us. Thank you!)

Roundup: Day Of Champions, Michael Calise, Weston’s Sister City …

Every elementary school kid in town, it seemed, raced onto PJ Romano Field yesterday morning, for the annual Day of Champions.

Their parents were there too. All were decked out in costumes — just one part of the offbeat, fun and very important competition.

The event raised over $212,000 for Experience Camps, the Westport-based network of activities for children who have lost parents or siblings.

So who was the big winner, when all the games were over?

Experience Camps, for sure.

One eager team …

… and Jordan Schur’s family, part of another. (Photos/Dan Woog)


Happy belated birthday to Michael Calise! One of Westport’s most celebrated citizens turned 83 yesterday.

Andrew Colabella salutes “one of the many outspoken, preserving, and caring fighters of Westport.” He writes:

“Michael has worked hard to preserve the cultural identity of our town by purchasing land and historic homes for preservation of what our town once was, and is holding on to.

“You can find him often at Town Hall, for Planning & Zoning, Flood and Erosion Control, Zoning Board of Appeals and RTM meetings.

“Summer nights Michael walks from the oasis of trees on Compo’s South Beach to the jetty, Fiona’s Disappearing Island, and back.

“Fall and winter nights he can be found at Luciano Park with his friend and their dogs, playing together. Happy birthday, Michael!”

Michael Calise at a recent “06880” party, and in the Staples High School Class of 1958 yearbook.


Ukraine Aid International — the organization founded by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer — helps Fairfield County towns partner with similar-sized communities in Ukraine.

Westport was the first. Stamford, Easton and Greenwich followed suit.

Now Weston has done the same.

In this week’s “What’s Next in Weston,” 1st Selectwoman Sam Nestor describes the relationship, and offers details on how Westonites can help their new friends, during this very difficult time.

Click below to listen. The podcast is a production of the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston.


Nature abounds in Westport — even downtown.

Reeds frame Kerri Rosenthal, adjacent to Parker Harding Plaza, in today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo by Sandy Rothenberg.

(Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)


And finally … in honor of yesterday’s fantastic Experience Camps event at PJ Romano Field:

 (Be a champ! Help support “06880.” Please click here — and thank you!)


Roundup: Linxweiler Trees, Races & Champions, Ukrainian Eggs …

The Post Road East improvement project has begun.

The first step — long before installing turn lanes, crosswalks, shoulders and sidewalks on the stretch between Volvo of Westport and New Country Toyota — was the removal of a dozen or so trees.

They stood for decades in front of Linxweiler House — the former blacksmith shop between Fresh Market and McDonald’s, now owned and operate by Homes with Hope.

That property looks a lot different today, than it did last weekend:

Linxweiler House, as seen from Crescent Road …

… and looking east, from near Fresh Market. (Photos/Molly Alger)

The good news: The 2 cherry blossom trees in front of Sakura still stand.


On your mark … get set … and get ready for the 44th annual Minute Man Races

The popular Westport Young Woman’s League — set for Sunday, April 30 at Compo Beach — includes a 10K run, 5K run/walk, and kids’ fun runs (from 50 yards to 1 mile).

For professionals, it’s a USA Track and Field-certified event. For kids, family-friendly activities will take place during and after the races.

As always, there will be music, food trucks and more.

Student and first responder discounts are offered for the adult races. Contact minuteman@wywl.com for a discount code. Click here to register, and for more information. Proceeds benefit local non-profits.


Registration is open for the 5th annual Day of Champions.

The event — family-friendly fun (and fierce competition) that raises funds for Experience Camps, the Westport-based network of activities for children who have lost parents or siblings — is May 21 (8:30 to 11:30 a.m., PJ Romano Field).

To create or join a team — or donate — click here.

To get psyched for the event, click the video below.


Ukrainian Easter Sunday is not until April 16.

But Westport artist Mark Yurkiw — who has Ukrainian heritage, and is a member of the group that raised $252,000 for our sister city, Lyman — is celebrating early.

Throughout his career, he’s been decorating Ukrainian Easter eggs. He sent “06880” a sample of his work:

The red egg in front celebrates the birth of Mark Yurkiw’s son Cooper, in 1994.

In 2001, he created this 5-foot “egg” for the White House.

It was signed by 256 members of Congress.

Slava Ukraini!


More progress on the house at 233 Hillspoint Road. Town officials halted construction there in 2019, after finding violations of the building permit.

Workers yesterday removed several feet from the top of the chimney. It had been built higher than its legal height.

Workers removing the top of the chimney at 233 Hillspoint. Road. (Photo/Matt Murray)


In 2020, COVID forced Saugatuck Elementary School to cancel “The Little Mermaid” at the final dress rehearsal —  before the opening curtain.

She’s back!

A new cast of 125 students in grades 3-5 act, sing and dance — and run the lights and sound, help construct and decorate sets and props, and operate special effects.

Saugatuck alums from 2020 (and even some of their parents) have helped with the show! Set designer Julie Colotti, costume designer Miriam Young, and prop managers Alexandra Dodwell and Amy Kopisz incorporated many original pieces, along with new additions.

After his daughter Phoebe returned as a student acting coach, John Nunziato jumped in as artistic designer and special effects consultant.

Shows are Friday, March 31 (7 p.m.) and Saturday, April 1 (1 and 6:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

“The Little Mermaid,” at Saugatuck Elementary School. (Photo/Kerry Long)


You can’t autograph an Mp3 download.

But you sure can sign a vinyl album.

VersoFest’s headliners and guests, including producer Steve Lillywhite, Psychedelic Furs front man Richard Butler, and Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, will autograph copies of their records, for giveaways and auction items during next weekend’s VersoFest.

Festivalgoers can submit their entries for the giveaway starting with the March 30 kickoff concert featuring rising American rock band Sunflower Bean.

Submissions are open through Sunday, April 2. That final day features a record fair (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and a vinyl record panel brunch with WPKN DJ Alec Cumming, producer Dooley-O, Kraftjerkz Records’ Kid Ginseng, WFUV DJ and House of Wax host Eric Holland, New Haven Independent arts reporter Karen Ponzio, and moderated by the Zambonis’ Dave Schneider.

The silent auction (April 1-2) offers a chance to bid on a variety of signed albums associated with the festival’s speakers and guests. All proceeds support future VersoFests.

For more information, including concert tickets and workshops registration, click here.

VersoFest vinyl.


Speaking of music: The Grammy for Best Children’s Album went to Kaitlin McGaw, and her group Alphabet Rockers. (Sure, it was in February. But I just found out. It’s still worth sharing!)

And it’s “06880”-worthy because she’s the granddaughter of longtime Westporters Ed and Kay See.

Ed — an attorney — was longtime town counsel. He played a key role in Westport’s purchase of Longshore, in 1959.

Kay supported many local causes. She was on the Westport Library board, when the new building was built.

The See family’s stained glass window hangs over the altar of Assumption Church, near the Josê Feliciano window.

Eloise See — Ed and Kay’s daughter — is Kaitlin’s proud mother. Sandy is her equally proud uncle.

The award was even more special, because the presenter was presidential inaugural poet — and Kaitlin’s fellow Harvard graduate — Amanda Gorman.

Alphabet Rockers produces and performs music and dance that promotes racial and gender awareness.


The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport is a beautiful building.

On April 1 (8 p.m.), its the site too of Damn Tall Buildings.

That’s the hot bluegrass/indie/roots/old-time/vintage swing/Americana band from Brooklyn. The trio will headline the UU’s Voices Café.

There’s table or individual seating. Bring your own beverages and snacks, or buy at the sweet treats table. General admission: $25 per person. A portion of the proceeds support the congregation’s Social Justice Council. Click here for tickets (live and livestream), and more information.


Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo proves: There’s nothing like a nice early spring day to put the top down, and enjoy the sun.

(Photo/Matt Murray)


And finally … on this date in 1721, – Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated 6 concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt. Today we know them as the Brandenburg Concertos.

(“06880” is your hyper-local blog. We’re a non-profit, dedicated to bringing the community together. We rely on your (tax-deductible) contributions. Please click here to help. Thank you!)

Everyone Is A Champion On Special Day

Early fog could not obscure the smiles on the faces of hundreds of children — and adults — this morning at PJ Romano Field.

And it sure could not hide the joy of organizers. The “Day of Champions” returned after a 2-year COVID hiatus. And everyone was a winner.

Jumping through the Ninja course. (Photo/Amy Shapiro)

The event is a fundraiser for Experience Camps — the national network of summer camps and year-round programming for children grieving the death of a parent or sibling.

Founded by Sara Deren and headquartered in Westport, it’s a national non-profit. But today’s “Day of Champions” — bringing together a couple of dozen teams, competing in a “color war” with games, contests, dancing and more — had a distinctly local flavor, with hundreds of participants and volunteers.

The “En Fuego team” was on fire. (Photo/Amy Shapiro)

Each team committed to raising $1,000. But the total for the day — $150,000 — blew that goal out of the water.

Grief knows no socioeconomic bounds. Every child attends Experience Camps for free. Events like today’s make that possible.

The “Day of Champions” is a family (and friends) affair. (Photo/Amy Shapiro)

Another Ninja. (Photo/Amy Shapiro)

Another (hungry) team. (Photo/Amy Shapiro)

Volunteers included (from left) Jen Tooker, Candice Savin and Andrea Moore. Westport’s 3 selectwomen “womanned” the welcome table. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Roundup: Mattress Recycling, Document Shredding, Experience Camping …

Did you know that more than 75% of a mattress can be recycled — even that old one in your basement?

So how to get rid of it? Sustainable Westport and Earthplace host their semi-annual mattress recycling drop-off event this Saturday (May 14). Bring your dry, unsoiled mattress and/or box spring to Earthplace from 8:30 to 11: a.m.

It will be recycled into all sorts of stuff, from carpet pads and insulation to air filters and steel products.

Can’t get your mattress to Earthplace? Boy Scout Troop 36 will take it for you. Spots are limited; click here to sign up. A donation of $20 is suggested.

And … if you miss this event and can’t wait for the fall collection, Park City Green in Bridgeport accepts mattresses and box springs year round, Call 203-212-3860.

Boy Scout Troop 36 picks up recyclable mattresses.


And … once you’ve recycled your mattress, bring your secure documenets to the William Raveis parking lot (47 Riverside Avenue, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

You can watch them being shredded. And you don’t even have to remove any staples.

The suggested donation is $10 for a box or shopping bag, $20 for a large garbage bag. 100% of all funds go to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.


The Day of Champions is set for this Sunday (May 15, 9 to 11:30 a.m., PJ Romano Field between Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools).

The family-friendly fun and fierce competition may remind you of summer camp. That’s because it’s a fundraiser for Experience Camps — the place where children who have lost parents or siblings can smile again, with peers who understand and caring counselors.

Click here for more information — and to create, join or donate to a team.

Fun at Experience Camps’ 2019 Day of Champions.


Tickets are going quickly for the Queer Cook-off. The Westport Pride fundraiser — pitting 3 teams, each with a noted chef, and celebrity teams — is set for Thursday, May 19 (6 p.m., Aitoro Appliance, Norwalk).

As they’re cooking in a “Chopped”-style competition, there’s plenty of food and drink for the “audience.” Food and beverage sponsors include Organic Krush, Copps Island Oysters, Dave & Charlie’s Hometown Deli, Garden Catering, Longford’s Ice Cream, The Kitchen and Tribus.

Ingredients for the chefs — Bill Taibe of Don Memo, Kawa Ni and The Whelk; Jes Bengtson of Terrain Café and Amis Tattoria, and Arik Bensimon of Monogram Design Center — come from Sport Hill Farm, Ayn’s Chili Oil and Pam’s Jams. Raffle prizes are donated by Nordstrom, Clay Story CT, Munson’s Chocolates, artist M.C. Hewlett, Monogram and various chefs.

As if that’s not enough to whet your appetite: I’m one of the judges.

Click here for tickets and more information.



“Westport .. Naturally” has featured a few shots of the Parker Harding Plaza swan.

Most have been wide-angle shots. Here she is, primping for her close-up.

(Photo/Claudia Sherwood Servidio)


And finally … Susan Jacks, the Poppy Family singer best (and probably only) known for her 1969 hit “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?,” died last month in British Columbia. She was 73, and on the waiting list for a second kidney transplant. Click here for a full obituary.

Day Of Champions Returns. It’s Quite An Experience!

In the past 2 years, over 200,000 children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID.

One in 13 children experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18.

Those statistics are sobering. So is the realization that most surviving youngsters feel different, isolated and alone.

Since 2009, Experience Camps has provided a way for boys and girls to share their grief — and move on from the trauma of losing a loved one.

The project grew from 1 site and 27 kids, to a network of 7 summer camps in 5 states serving more than 1,000 children, plus year-round programs. Because death and grief touch youngsters in all socioeconomic brackets, the entire week is free.

And it’s headquartered right here in Westport.

Sara Deren traded a career in financial services for the challenge of developing Experience Camps. (Her “experience”: Her husband Jon owned Camp Manitou for boys in Maine.)

Today she oversees all the camps, along with weekend retreats, leadership training and online sessions, from an office in Brooks Corner. She is proud that through friendship, teamwork and the common bond of loss, thousands of youngsters have gained confidence, regained hope — and begun to laugh and love life again.

The pandemic hit Experience Camps especially hard, though. In 2020, at the same time more children than ever were losing loved ones, the in-camp experience had to move entirely online.

Last year brought a limited program, with many restrictions. The fear of more illness was hard on kids who were already suffering. But they found joy in being together, with others who knew what they were going through.

A week at Experience Camp is filled with fun.

COVID also shut down Experience Camps’ fun — and important — fundraisers.

In 2018 and ’19, the first Day of Champions was held at Camp Mahackeno. Twenty teams of 12 to 15 people each — kindergarten through adult — competed in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and other activities. It was like a huge camp color war.

Each team was asked to raise $1,000. Sara expected to make $20,000.

But the 2019 Day of Champions brought in $150,000.

“I was amazed and awed,” she says. “They blew it out of the water. Everyone was incredibly committed — and very competitive.”

On May 15, the Day of Champions returns. From 9 to 11:30 a.m., at a new site — PJ Romano Field, between Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools — kids and adults will run, dance and hula hoop their way toward victory (dressed in vibrant, creative gear representing their team colors).

It’s family-friendly — and fiercely (but fun) competitive.

The Day of Champions is filled with fun …

Michelle Yanover is among the Day of Champions’ strongest champions.

The Westport mom has spent 31 years without her own mother. Laurie Goldfarb died at 33, after battling leukemia. Michelle was 7 years old.

“Over the years, I’ve learned you never get over ‘it.’ ‘It’ becomes part of your story, woven into the fabric of your whole being,” she says.

“But given the right chance, love and support from unimaginable loss there grows strength.”

Four years ago Michelle volunteered at Experience Camp. She experienced the magic that happens when a grieving child gets a week to be “normal” — while also getting support for their loss.

She was inspired by the work of the staff and counselors, and gratified by the smiles on campers’ faces.

Michelle has already signed up a team for the May 15 Day of Champions (and wants hers to become the top fundraising team of all). She’s eager to help the 7 summer camps (and other activities, including a meet-them-where-they-are moderated online space in Minecraft, that replicates camp).

… and games.

“Our fingers are crossed for a pretty normal summer ,” Sara says. “There is a huge need. A lot of grief has been sitting in people’s homes.”

In addition to COVID deaths, more youngsters than ever have lost parents and siblings to suicide and overdoses.

“Those are alarming trends,” Sara notes. “It’s especially important, with stigmatizing types of death, for kids to have a place to go.”

Which is why she urges as many people as possible to form teams for the May 15 Day of Champions.

“Two years off has built an amazing amount of anticipation,” she says. “This will be one of Westport’s first big post-pandemic events.

“It’s spring. It’s outside. It’s a large gathering of the community, returning to joy, fun, silliness, costumes and music. That’s such a great parallel to grief.

“And it’s what we do every day at Experience Camps.”

(For more information on the May 15 Day of Champions — including creating, joining or registering a team — click here. For more information on Experience Camps, click here. For a very cool trailer, click below.)

Roundup: Kids’ Grief, Senate Parliamentarian, More


Kids are resilient.

We say that a lot. Partly, it’s true. Partly, we want to believe it.

But COVID has caused grief for many youngsters. They’ve lost relatives. They fear others may suffer and die. They’ve lost so much of their own normal lives. And there’s so much uncertainty, day after day after day.

Experience Camps knows a lot about grief. The national, no-cost program for grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver runs great summer camps for children and teens.

When the coronavirus derailed last year’s programs, they focused instead on raising awareness of the many facets of childhood grief.

A key part of that effort is a Zoom panel discussion next Tuesday (March 2, 2 p..m.). Experts from a variety of perspectives will discuss “How the Pandemic of Grief is Impacting Kids.”

Experience Camps founder Sara Deren says the audience is “anyone and everyone. Everyone is grieving now. This is not just for professionals. If you have or know kids, it’s important to understand COVID’s impact on them.”

Click here to register, and for more information.


There’s always a Westport connection to national news.

When the US Senate parliamentarian ruled against yesterday that raising the minimum wage to $15 violated budgetary rules limiting what can be included in the legislation, at least 2 “06880” readers wondered: Who exactly is this parliamentarian.

Google (and Wikipedia) provided the answer: She is Elizabeth MacDonough. And although she grew up near Washington, DC, she graduated from Greens Farms Academy in 1984.

The New York Times reports that MacDonough — the first woman in the post — has “retained both the position and bipartisan respect under the leadership of both parties since she was named in 2012.”

Not much else is known about her local ties. If you’ve got more — or her remember her from GFA — click “Comments” below. (Hat tip: Clark Thiemann)

Elizabeth MacDonough:  (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)


One of the town’s most important — and least publicized — honors is the James S. Bacharach Service to the Community Award.

Presented annually for the last 32 years by the Westport Youth Commission to one or more high school seniors who live in or attend school in town, it recognizes significant service to Westport. Bacharach founded and served as president of the Youth Adult Council. He was also deeply involved in the organization that is now Homes with Hope.

Any Westporter — adult or student — can nominate a high school senior. Nominees should have a strong record of community service within Westport. Click here for a nomination form.

Submissions must be accompanied by 2 references. A maximum of 2 letters of support can be uploaded to the application or emailed separately to kgodburn@westportct.gov. The deadline is March 26.


Last night’s nearly full moon was big.

But not as big as it was as seen through the Westport Astronomical Society’s telescope, at Rolnick Observatory.

Franco Fellah sends along this shot, and points out the prominence of the Tycho impact crater on the right.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)


And finally … there are some red-letter birthdays today. Johnny Cash was born February 25, 1932. He died in 2003.

Fats Domino was born on this date in 1928. He died in 2017.

And of course Victor Hugo, born today in 1802. He died in 1885.

“Day Of Champions” Will Be Quite An Experience

Westport is awash in organizations that benefit young people — here, in the rest of Fairfield County, the country and the world. It’s one of the strengths of our community.

Many throw fundraisers. Westporters support them generously, with time as well as money.

But most of these kid-focused groups’ events don’t actually involve young people themselves.

That’s why Experience Camp’s Day of Champions is so wonderful.

Not to mention unique, cool, and tons of fun.

Experience Camp is the Westport-based network of summer camps for youngsters who have lost a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The program builds confidence, encourages laughter, and allows them to navigate grief through friendship, teamwork, sports and the common bond of loss.

This year, Experience Camps will serve 1,000 boys and girls, at 5 locations from Maine to California.

Of course, running such a life-changing program costs money: $1,000 for a week at camp.

For much of its first decade, Experience Camps — founded by Westporter Sara Deren — relied on gala fundraisers in big cities, and foundation grants.

In 2017 Deren asked fellow Westport resident Gery Grove to help raise funds here. She teamed with Melissa Post, who like Grove loved the idea of the camp.

They thought about the usual events, like cocktail parties. But they realized the best way to raise money for kids was to involve kids themselves.

Together with a hard-working committee, they launched the first Day of Champions in 2018.

Fun at Experience Camps’ Day of Champions …

Camp Mahackeno was the perfect venue for the camp-like color war/field day. Twenty teams of 10 to 15 people each (kindergarten through adult) competed in sponge races, an obstacle course, toothpick pickup contest with oven mitts, archery and others activities. Many wore costumes.

Points were awarded for spirit, fundraising, cheering and more. It was a joyful day — and it brought in over $150,000.

… and funny hair …

To participate, teams had to raise at least $1,000. Some were well over $25,000.

Organizers feared the first year might have been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

Last year’s Day of Champions brought in more than $225,000. Over the past 2 years, Westport’s Michelle Yanover — who lost her mom at 7 — has raised over $45,000. Working with his New York Life firm, Grove’s husband Matt added another $40,000-plus.

… and a tug-of-war …

This year’s 3rd annual event is Sunday, May 17 (8 to 11:30 a.m.). Due to construction at Mahackeno, it’s moved to another great location: Fairfield County Hunt Club.

Yet as fun and financially important as the Day of Champions is, there’s another element that makes it special.

… and more fun. (Photos/Stephen Dodd)

“It teaches kids a lot,” Grove says. “They learn there are other kids who need their support — kids who don’t have their entire family here anymore.

“Kids get a chance to raise money for a resonant cause. And they have the best time doing it. Our lives are busy, but families come and do this together. Kids, teachers, parents, town officials — everyone puts concerns and differences aside for the day. It’s a great time!”

(Click here to register a team. Spectators are welcome too.)

Rach’s Hope Shines Through

The family of one critically ill child could not visit much. The cost of hotels and meals away from home was prohibitive.

The family of another found lodging miles from a hospital — but had no way to get back and forth. Parents of a third worried about care for their other children, while they tended to their sick one.

When a child is diagnosed with a critical illness, parents face a blizzard of decisions. They’re in a fog of uncertainty and fear, handling a hurricane of tasks.

Yet in the midst of all that activity and emotion, one more weather-related metaphor stands out: a ray of sunshine.

It comes, gracefully and lovingly, from Rach’s Hope. The Westport-based foundation honors Rachel Doran. In 2018 the Staples High School National Merit Commended Scholar — a rising senior at Cornell University, talented Players costume designer, and founder of her own pajama company — developed a rare reaction to common medications.

She suffered severe burns to 95% of her body. She then developed another life-threatening syndrome. After 35 harrowing days, Rachel died.

Rachel Doran

Despite their grief, her parents Alan and Lisa remembered the kindness shown by friends, hospital staff and strangers.

Small gestures — finding a hotel 2 blocks from the hospital; arriving with healthy muffins and protein shakes; taking care of Rachel’s sister — sustained the family at a time when they were so focused on Rachel that they had no time or energy to care for themselves.

Since then, Rach’s Hope has provided real, important sustenance and hope to families tossed by the tornado of a child’s critical illness.

For example, a Westport resident who teaches in another town knew of a student in intensive care at Yale New Haven Hospital. Rach’s Hope sent Uber cards for transportation, and Uber Eats for meals.

“Family members have to eat and sleep well, so they can be strong for their child or sibling,” Lisa notes.

Another boy in that same district is being treated in Boston. Rach’s Hope provided gas cards to the parents, and covers their hotel bill.

Columbia Presbyterian is a great hospital. But there is no reasonably priced hotel nearby. The Dorans formed a partnership with the Holiday Inn in Fort Lee, New Jersey. They pay a discounted rate for families who stay there — and the hotel provides shuttle service to the hospital.

Though its reach is wide, Rach’s Hope’s Westport roots are deep. Lisa’s niece volunteered as a counselor at Experience Camps — the Westport-based program for children whose parent, sibling or primary caregiver has died.

Last summer, Rach’s Hope sponsored 2 children for the camp. They’ll send 5 this year. A week for each child costs $2,500.

To raise funds, Rach’s friends, their families and others close to her –including W Hair & Color, Rothbard Ale + Larder and Le Rouge by Aarti — are sponsoring the 2nd annual “Rach’s Hope PJ Gala.”

It’s Saturday, February 29 (7:30 to 11 p.m., Penfield Pavilion, Fairfield). Last year’s inaugural event was fantastic: warm, fun and energetic.

And it brought in over $100,000.

(Yes, you’re supposed to wear PJs. Rachel had founded her own pajama company, Rachel’s Rags.)

Rachel Doran (left) shows off her portfolio.

It’s clear she touched a ton of people. Her sister Ellie and friends founded a flourishing Rach’s Hope chapter at Staples. The school’s volleyball team hosted a fundraiser of their own. And Rach’s Hope is one of the charities receiving proceeds from this year’s County Assembly dances.

They all believe in Rach’s Hope. And they hope everyone who knew Rachel — and many who did not — will support the February 29.

The storm of a child’s critical illness will never go away. But with Rach’s Hope’s help, those dark clouds may part just a bit.

(For tickets, more information or to make a donation, click here.) 

PS: As a fashion design management major at Cornell, she was a research assistant in the Costume and Textile Collection, wrote for their blog, and became a curator. 

Her mentor Denise Green called her “the kind of assistant every professor, collection manager and peer dreams about. She was curious, determined, passionate, smart, kind, and had a great sense of humor.”

A central exhibition space — which housed her own project a few months before she died — has been named in her honor. Click here for more information, and to donate.

Ian O’Malley’s 1978 Single Malt “Experience”

Ian O’Malley is a busy guy.

He’s a realtor. He’s a longtime New York radio DJ. He and his wife Debbie have 2 young children.

So he can be forgiven — maybe — for forgetting that he owned a very special bottle of 1978 Macallan single malt whisky, worth thousands of dollars.

Ian bought it years ago. When his son was 2, he moved it to a top shelf because — well, you know kids. Over time he placed a couple of other bottles in front of it.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Last year, as the O’Malleys moved from Wilton to Westport, Ian discovered the bottle. He was thrilled, but had the same idea as when he first bought it: Save it for a special occasion.

That special occasion is now. But Ian won’t be drinking.

Not long ago, he told Debbie about a friend who works for Edrington — Macallan’s parent company. He raffled off a bottle; the proceeds went to charity.

And his bottle wasn’t nearly as exclusive as Ian’s. (The cheapest price Ian could find for his 1978 was $3,300 — from an Italian retailer who won’t ship to the US. For $4,600, you can buy it from a store in the UK that will.)

Ian O’Malley

Ian volunteers for a number of non-profit groups, here and in New York. He did not want to choose one to benefit, and alienate the others.

Debbie suggested Experience Camps. The Westport-based organization sponsors 1-week camps for boys and girls after the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver.

Kids laugh, cry, play, remember the person who died, or forget the grief that weighs them down. They feel “normal,” because everyone there has been through something similar.

When Ian was 12, his father died of pancreatic cancer. Decades later, Ian says, “I would have loved an opportunity like Experience Camps.”

A unique raffle needs a unique price. Tickets are $104 each — because Ian is a DJ on New York’s classic rock station, Q104.3.

They’re tax-deductible, Ian notes. And available by clicking this easy link.

The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Sunday, April 14. The drawing takes place at 9 p.m. the next day. It will be streamed on Facebook Live, from his house. (Where the lucky bottle still sits, unopened.)

Yet Ian’s generosity does not stop there. If the winner lives within 60 minutes of Westport, he promises to deliver it personally.

Just thank him. You don’t even have to invite him in for a drink.