Tag Archives: Gillespie Center

Staples, Farmers’ Market, Gillespie Center: Seed, Feed And Lead

The Westport Farmers’ Market opened for its 12th season last month.

As usual, plenty of vendors offered everything from locally grown and raised produce and meat, to honey and bread.

The crowd was large. The vibe (and weather) was warm. Another year was underway.

And — for the 9th year — the Market will partner with 2 other important town programs: the Gillespie Center, and Staples High School’s culinary classes.

It’s a win-win-win. In fact, it’s one of the most intriguing partnerships around.

Once a month — at the end of Thursdays, as vendors close up — the Farmers’ Market purchases unsold food. Volunteers transport it to Staples.

There, chef Cecily Gans’ students create unique menus, and prepare wholesome, nutritious meals. The Farmers’ Market picks those up and takes them to the Gillespie Center — Westport’s emergency shelter.

Gans’ students — with help from Rotary Club members and the Farmers’ Market — then serve the meals they’ve cooked.

“Seed, feed and educate” is the way WFM director Lori Cochran-Dougall describes the 3-prong partnership. They call it “Farms to School to Community.”

“We’re lucky to live in a privileged area,” she says. “This program allows kids to see neighbors who have fallen on hard times in a different light.”

Relationships bloom. Last year, an older man gruffly refused vegetables.

“My mom always says to eat all your vegetables,” a girl replied.

His face softened. He took some.

Fresh strawberries, tomatoes and other produce are used creatively — and deliciously by Staples’ culinary students.

Soon, he was back for more. He told the teenager he had not tasted tomatoes like that since his mother served them.

“People in Westport are very generous with their donations to the Gillespie Center,” Gans says. “But there’s not a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We bring in high, nutrient-dense foods. That makes a difference. Think about how you or I would function if we didn’t eat well.”

Gans’ students appreciate the opportunity to cook for the residents — and to make their menus count. Each month, the ingredients are different.

Among the recipes: Hungarian gulyas; butternut squash pasta; asparagus with miso lemon dressing; quinoa tabouleh with parsley and mint, and curried pumpkin with raisin.

“They think outside the box,” their instructor says. “They’re creative. They get the opportunity to serve, and see the needs of their community. Their level of responsibility really impresses me.”

Three graduating seniors — Christian Franceze, Alex Ialeggio and Ryan Liu — have been involved for all 4 years at Staples. Next year, Gans counts on juniors to fill their shoes.

Chef Cecily Gans’ students prepare food for the Gillespie Center.

The students build strong relationships with the WFM farmers and vendors. “We’re there at the beginning of the Farmers’ Market season, and the end,” Gans says. “We do whatever we can for them. They do the same for us.”

Cochran-Dougall echoes that sentiment. The director praises everyone in the community who participates — including the major funders, the Rotary and Sunrise Rotary Clubs.

In return, the Staples students print and share the menus they’ve created. It’s one more way to help nourish the town.

(Interested in donating to the Westport Farmers’ Market for this project? Click here — and earmark it for the Gillespie Center.)

Nielsen Earns High Ratings From Gillespie Center

From old-timers like Gault and Mitchells to younger arrivals like JoyRide and Saugatuck Sweets, Westport is filled with local businesses that give back in countless ways to the town.

But multinational corporations do it too.

Today, Westporter Bruce Haymes joined a group of colleagues from Nielsen’s Wilton office in giving Westport’s Gillespie Center a thorough spring cleaning.

They worked on the yard, painted the picnic benches and repainted the interior.

Nielsen’s Wilton employees, earlier today at the Gillespie Center.

Passersby might have been impressed to see employees of the giant market research firm spending an entire day helping our local homeless shelter.

They would have been even more impressed if they’d known that one member of the work crew was Mitch Barns — CEO of the 40,000-employee company, with operations in 100 countries.

We give Nielsen the highest ratings for today’s show!

Nielsen CEO Mitch Barns repairs a chair.

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

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

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

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

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

But make no mistake: I’m privileged.

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

Amelia Suermann

Amelia Suermann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s make them matter.

Remembering Tina

Tina died today. Or maybe yesterday, or the day before.

I don’t know Tina’s last name. I never really talked to her — once or twice, at the Y when it was downtown.

You may not think you knew Tina. But if you live in Westport, you did.

She was the homeless woman with the limp.

We saw her everywhere. Tina was at the library. Gold’s. Oscar’s, before it closed.

And of course, we saw her limping all around town.

A Weston native, Tina was an independent spirit. She didn’t care for rules. She lived life her own way.

Sometimes she panhandled — downtown, or in front of CVS. Some Westporters gave her money. Others didn’t. They thought she’d spend it on alcohol or drugs.

Tina didn’t drink or do drugs. Mostly, she spent what she had on food for her cat.

helping-hands

She ate meals, occasionally, at the Gillespie Center. Volunteers there got to know her, as best they could. Tina was not an easy person to know.

Many people — and organizations — did what they could to help. Homes With Hope tried. Human Services tried. The police tried. Sometimes they succeeded. Sometimes not. But they never stopped trying.

They always treated her with dignity and respect.

Tina got through winters her own way. She lived in a shed downtown.

That’s where she died. Someone who had not seen her in a while went looking for her. He found here there, in the shed.

She’d had a bad leg wound recently. She may not have taken care of it. That was the way she lived, and it may have been the way she died.

Tina’s mother died, not too long ago. Her brothers are also gone.

But Tina may have a funeral. Rev. Pete Powell — a founder of Interfaith Housing (now Homes With Hope) — often leads services for homeless people.

If there is one, I’m sure Westporters will attend. They’ll try to do what they can in death for Tina — the woman with the limp — just as they did in her life.

Remembering Ernie Gazdik

Alert “06880” reader John Karrel writes:

“Ernie G”‘s eldest daughter, Michele Convertito, says, “He could always make you laugh.”

Until October 3, when he died at age 65. The Fairfield native was a truck driver for over 30 years.

I serve a monthly lunch at the Gillespie Center. No person there could brighten my day like Ernie G. After his family — notably his daughters Michele, Melissa and Maria — no passion was more important for him than his Yankees.

Ernest Gazdik

Ernest Gazdik

For years, he and I traded barbs about his Yanks and my Red Sox. Neither of us would win. There was always a twinkle in his eye.

Last time I saw him, some weeks ago, we had both mellowed. We complimented each other on our teams: my Sox headed for the post-seasons, his Yankees seeing a bright future with a host of young players.

Some day, when the 2 teams meet in the playoffs and Gary Sanchez’s walk-off home run propels the Yanks into the World Series, I will be sad. Then I’ll think of Ernie G’s beaming face, and I’ll smile.

And if his beloved Yanks do lose, Ernie G will still have been “one of the greatest men I have ever known,” in daughter Michele’s words.

That’s not bad.

(For Ernie Gazdik’s full obituary, click here. Donations in his name may be made to the Gillespie Center, 45 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.)

What A Difference A Day Makes

Every day, Westporters make a difference.

Once a year, we draw attention to what we do, and how we do it.

The idea behind “Make a Difference Day” is not to pat ourselves on the back. It’s to encourage everyone to do something — anything — to make a difference.

That “day” is actually a week: October 17-25. So far, 42 projects have been submitted to organizers. Many were quickly filled. A few still need volunteers:

  • Fall clean-ups for Homes With Hope, CLASP and Caroline House.
  • 3 food drives at Super Stop & Shop: help man tables at the store.
  • The Gillespie Center needs rooms painted.
  • The Senior Center has drop-in projects (Saturday, October 24, 9:30-11:30 a.m.): assemble toiletry bags for homeless men, comfort bags for abused women, and arts and crafts kits for children in need.

Other projects can be found at www.westport-makeadifday.org. You can submit projects there too. For more information, email makeadif@aol.com.

Make a Difference Day

Staples Students Are Complete SLOBs

Today was as sweet as it gets.

Staples students could have celebrated the spectacular weather by going to the beach. Playing tennis, golf, frisbee or with each other. Studying for AP tests that start tomorrow, even.

Instead, over 100 boys — and 80 or so parents — spent the day on community service projects all around Westport.

The Staples Service League of Boys — SLOBs for, lovingly, short — headed out to the Bacharach Houses, Gillespie Center, Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, Wakeman Town Farm, Linxweiler House, Powell House, Project Return, ABC House and Earthplace.

They wielded tools...

They wielded tools…

They weeded, planted, mulched, picked up garbage, painted and cleaned.

...got dirty...

…got dirty…

They worked long and hard. They did manual labor, and learned some skills. They worked side by side with their parents, and a few siblings.

...picked up garbage...

…picked up garbage…

It’s all part of SLOBs’ ongoing commitment to their town. So far this year, they’ve contributed more than 2,300 hours of service.

And how did you spend your day?

...filled and hauled wheelbarrows...

…filled and hauled wheelbarrows…

...learned new skills...

…learned new skills…

...took down branches...

…took down branches…

...bonded with their parents...

…bonded with their parents…

...and siblings...

…and siblings…

...and left the town far better than it had been just a few hours earlier.

…and left the town far better than it had been just a few hours earlier. (Photos/Emily Prince)

Gillespie Center: 25 Years Of Shelter From The Homeless Storm

For a place as contentious as Westport — half the town opposed building the playground at Compo, and half thought building a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe Island was just ducky — you’d think putting a homeless shelter in the heart of downtown would ignite World War III.

But you would be wrong.

The Gillespie Center is preparing to celebrate its 25th anniversary this Friday (April 25, 3 p.m., in the courtyard at 45 Jesup Road). Last week, a few of the founding visionaries reminisced.

Gillespie Center - anniversary

What came through loud and clear was this: Moving the shelter from the old Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road to a decrepit maintenance shed behind what was then the Fine Arts Theater (now Restoration Hardware) was never an issue.

Not in 1989. Not in the intervening years. And certainly not today. Over a quarter century, the Gillespie Center — the name honors Jim Gillespie, the 1st president of Homes with Hope (then called the Interfaith Housing Association) — has provided housing, meals and hope to thousands of men and women.

And many more Westporters than that have contributed food, setup and cleanup help, equipment and funds to keep that hope alive.

Gathering at the center last week were Marty Hauhuth, 1st selectman from 1985-89; Pete Powell, Homes With Hope president from 1988-2010; Dolores Bacharach, HWH’s 1st vice president and a leader in the establishment of the community kitchen, and current HWH president Jeff Wieser.

Dolores Bacharach and Pete Powell reminisce about the early years of the Gillespie Center.

Dolores Bacharach and Pete Powell reminisce about the early years of the Gillespie Center.

Pete recalled the forces that led to the opening of the 1st homeless shelter in December 1984, at the former firehouse (located in the parking lot between Bartaco and National Hall). That event was debated. But the moral leadership of Reverend Ted Hoskins, Rabbi Bob Orkand and businessman James Bacharach (Dolores’ husband), plus the town support of 1st selectman Bill Seiden, human services director Barbara Butler and David Kennedy, tamped much of the controversy.

A few years later, as Arthur Tauck was redeveloping National Hall into an inn, the move to Jesup Road — catty-corner from the police station — made sense.

Many hands helped make the new 15-bed home possible. (Who knew the toilets were rescued from a home that Phil Donohue was razing?) A 5-bed facility for women — Hoskins Place — was build next to the men’s shelter, when the transit district office moved.

Over the years, the Gillespie Center’s conversion from a beat-up old building to a well-maintained shelter has enhanced the look of the entire area.

The Gillespie Center today.

The Gillespie Center today.

The frontage on Jesup Road near Matsu Sushi, the gardens maintained for years by Jed Ringel and repointing of the brickwork by Brooks Sumberg are visible to all.

Less visible is what goes on inside. But the men and women who seek shelter there — and others who use the very active food pantry — know and appreciate the hard work and tremendous care lavished on the Gillespie Center by many in town over the past 25 years.

Jeff Wieser quotes a friend from Virginia. After touring Homes With Hope’s 10 properties in Westport — the organization supports a lot more than the Gillespie Center — and winding up downtown, he said: “You must be the only town in America with a homeless shelter 2 doors from Tiffany!”

The Gillespie Center  has never lacked for volunteers. (Or — proving that Westport is no different from the real world — clients).

Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.

Westporters of all ages volunteer at the Gillespie Center.

One of those volunteers was Jim Marpe. Today he’s the latest in a long line of 1st selectmen to support the Gillespie Center. Twenty years ago, he helped stock the pantry, serve meals and clean up.

That’s the kind of support the Gillespie Center has enjoyed for 25 years. If you’re looking for controversy — or a story about an affluent suburb that shunned its homeless — stay away from 45 Jesup Road. You won’t find it there.

All you’ll see are beds, meals, and Westport’s support for our fellow humans, down on their luck.

(For more information on the Gillespie Center and Homes With Hope, click here.)

 

 

High School And Homeless In Westport

Staples students are spending this summer in many ways. Some have paid jobs; others are interns. Some travel, or take courses. A few sleep in every day.

Brian Saunders was homeless.

Until recently, the rising senior lived in a comfortable Westport home. He still does.

But for a full week, he wandered around Westport. He ate cheap or free meals wherever he could. He slept in a car, a doorway and a baseball dugout.

Brian Saunders, a few days after his week of homelessness ended.

Brian Saunders, a few days after his week of homelessness ended.

Brian did all this willingly. Inspired by an AP English reading assignment — Into the Wild — he wanted to experience life without all the possessions he’d grown used to. Homelessness and isolation were foreign concepts to him. A week on his own — in his home town — seemed like a way to gain insights into himself, and others.

Brian — whose extracurricular activities include Kool To Be Kind, Young Democrats and the Circle of Friends program with special needs children — talked to Barbara Butler and Sarah Cocker at Human Services, and Pete Powell, former president of Homes With Hope.

Brian spoke with a Westport police officer, who was not happy with his plan. Neither were school and religious officials, who said he could not sleep on their property because of liability.

His parents were not thrilled either.

But Brian embarked on his mission. He spent hours in the Westport Library. He trudged all over town, carrying a change of clothes in a trash bag. (An actual homeless man scoffed, “We use backpacks. This is not New York City. We blend in.”)

He ate meals at McDonald’s and the Gillespie Center. With only a pillow and blanket — no sleeping bag — he spent uncomfortable nights in a friend’s car, the Coleytown Elementary School Little League dugout, and the doorway of a fitness center.

Brian befriended other homeless people. There was an alcoholic, with 2 children in college. “He’s my parents’ age,” Brian says. “Things just broke down for him.”

Brian learned a lot from talking with residents. Some were regulars at the Gillespie Center, across Jesup Road from the police station.

Brian learned a lot from talking with residents. Some are regulars at the Gillespie Center, across Jesup Road from the police station.

There was a school bus driver who lost his home in the mortgage crisis, and now lives in his car. A former cocaine dealer. And a construction worker who — like many homeless people — shuttles between Westport and neighboring towns.

One man kept telling Brian, “go home.”

Brian learned that — contrary to popular belief that the Gillespie Center kitchen serves up wonderful meals every day, of cast-off dinner party delights —  the reality is far different. The food can be microwaved chicken patties, the social issues fraught, the noise level loud.

“This was really tiring. The nights were cold. But it energized me. It’s the most meaningful thing I’ve done,” Brian says. “It’s made me think about my life, and what I want to get out of it.”

One day, he sat on the lawn next to Restoration Hardware. “It was incredible. I was watching $100,000 cars fly by, talking to a former drug addict with lupus and hypertension who can’t get to a doctor. There was such a contrast between myself, him, and the town.”

This is the face of Westport to many. The homeless are often invisible.

This is the face of Westport to many. The homeless are often invisible.

Brian says his week on the streets provided “a chance for me to slow down, look around, and get some clarification before I move on in life.”

In college he may study neurology, psychology or biomedical engineering. Before that comes senior year at Staples.

Right now, he’s appreciating life back home.

The first thing he did after leaving the street was take a shower. That — and sleeping in his own bed — were “incredible.”

Since then, he’s looked around at all his “stuff.”

“I feel calmer now,” Brian says. “I think I have a better sense of what I want. And what I want to ignore.”

Win Win Win Win

Dinner at the Gillespie Center was special on September 9.  Students in Staples’ advanced culinary arts class, along with the Culinary Arts Club, prepared and served food for residents of the town homeless shelter.

They did it again October 14.  And they’ll continue throughout the school year, on the 2nd Friday of each month.

That’s good, and it makes a nice story.  But there’s much more.

The culinary students create menus featuring fresh local produce and meat.  Chef Cecily Gans purchases the items at the Westport Farmers’ Market, held every Thursday in the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

Westport Sunrise Rotary provides funding for the food.  Club members also pick up and deliver the food to the Gillespie Center, and coordinate serving with the students.

And the Staples PTA donates funds for essential, um, staples like oil, vinegar and rice.

Talk about a win-win-win-win situation:

  • Students learn about community service, preparing meals with fresh ingredients, and supporting community agriculture programs.
  • The Farmers’ Market helps fill an important need.
  • Sunrise Rotary plays a key role, assisting students and the Gillespie Center.
  • And men and women facing hard times eat healthful, great-tasting meals.

Staples culinary students, with Chef Cecily Gans (3rd from left).