Tag Archives: Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

Westporters Push Against Cancer

The Levitt Pavilion was packed yesterday — with push-up people.

The view from the Levitt Pavilion stage.

Hundreds of men, women and kids — from super-jacked to usually sedentary — did as many push-ups as they could in an hour.

First Selectman Jim Marpe banged out his. So did Chief of Police Foti Koskinas. And Paul Newman’s grandson.

Chief of Police Foti Koskinas and Push Against Cancer founder Andy Berman.

Which was fitting, because all the money raised goes to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the fantastic getaway for boys and girls with cancer and other serious diseases. It was founded, of course, by Westport’s own Paul Newman.

The 9th annual Push Against Cancer raised well over $120,000 — a record. That makes nearly $500,000 since the event began.

Congrats to founder and mastermind Andy Berman. To the many police and firefighters who helped make it happen.

And, of course, to everyone who participated — and feels very, very sore today.

(Hat tip: photographers Sabine Foreman, Andrew Kindt, Adam Vengrow)

Yes, There’s A Marathon In Antarctica. No, Richard Garland Is Not Crazy For Running It.

We’ve all got travel goals.

I’d like to see all 50 states (I’m at 48). You might want to go on a safari, or walk along the Great Wall of China.

Richard Garland plans to hit all 7 continents. But that’s just the means to an end.

His goal is to run a marathon on all 7 continents.

I got tired just typing that sentence.

Until I talked to Richard, I didn’t even know there were marathons on all 7 continents. Antarctica, after all, is a continent.

Turns out, there is a marathon there.

Not only that, it’s happening right now.

And Richard Garland is there to run it.

But he’s not just running 26.2 miles, on ice and snow in sub-zero temperatures while dodging penguins and, I’m sure, man-swallowing crevasses.

He’s doing it to raise money for the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

Some very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

And not just a few bucks. Richard’s goal is $100,000, for the fantastic Bridgeport institution that — with strong Westport support — honors the memory of a special 9/11 victim.

Richard has a special bond with the school that’s changing the lives of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in the West End. He knew Adam Lewis. Patty Lewis — Adam’s widow, and a driving force behind the school — is Richard’s wife’s best friend.

Travel — and giving back — are in Richard’s blood. A London native, he came to Westport to work. He thought he’d stay 2 years. Twenty-three years later, he’s still here.

Though he grew up playing sports, Richard hated running. “I thought it was for people with no lives,” he says.

But when he turned 50, he challenged himself to run the New York Marathon. He raised funds for the Westport-based Hole in the Wall Gang Camp — and got hooked.

Richard Garland, completing the New York Marathon.

Richard travels the world for work. He timed one trip to run a marathons in London. Others followed, in Kenya and Tokyo.

He ran the Boston Marathon too — in 2013. “I was slow enough not to be at the finish when the bombs went off,” he says.

Antarctica marks the 5th continent Richard will race on. On Sunday he flew to Punta Arenas, Chile. He boarded a Russian cargo plane, and arrives in Antarctica today.

The marathon is Friday. Unlike New York, Boston, London, Kenya, Tokyo — or anywhere else on earth — runners face an average windchill of -20 degrees Celsius, and strong winds. (And this is summer down there!)

It’s tough impossible to train for something like this. The best he could do, experts told Richard, was run on a treadmill in a walk-in freezer.

He did not. But he took the next-best advice, which is train on sand.

The Greens Farms resident ran at Burying Hill, Southport and Fairfield beaches. “It’s not very easy,” he reports. “I think I’ll run this marathon very slowly.”

You and I would relax after such an exhausting event. We’d check out the scientific stations and penguins, maybe see what Punta Arenas offers on the way home.

But you and I are not Richard Garland. He has a business meeting right after the marathon.

In London.

“I’ll pack my business suit, along with my Antarctic running clothes,” he says cheerfully.

The coldest continent marks Richard’s 5th for a marathon. He plans to run Easter Island — off the Chilean coast — next year. The last will be Sydney, in 2019.

Richard Garland in 5 marathons. Clockwise from upper left: New York, Tokyo, Kenya, London and Boston.

But 7 marathons on 7 continents is not Richard’s final goal. In fact, it’s just a warm-up.

In 2020, he’d like to run 7 marathons on 7 continents — in 7 days.

“Impossible!” you and I say. In addition to sheer exhaustion, just getting from one 26.2-mile race to the next is incomprehensible.

“No, it’s a thing,” Richard says, as if this is like walking down your driveway to pick up the mail. “There’s a private plane, with business class seats.”

But if he does that, he warns, there’s a price.

“It’s a million-dollar fundraiser for the Adam J. Lewis preschool.”

(Click here to contribute to Richard Garland’s current Adam J. Lewis marathon fundraiser.)

Pic Of The Day #49

Hundreds gathered — and hundreds more participated — in today’s 8th annual Push Against Cancer for Kids at the Levitt Pavilion. The event was a fundraiser for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps. (Photo/Joey Bairaktaris)

Raise Funds — And Upper-Body Strength — For Kids

Westporters know that every day is different at the Levitt Pavilion.

One night there’s a rock group. The next night, a military band. Then comes a comedian, followed by Klezmer musicians. It’s Ed Sullivan on steroids.

But on Sunday morning, June 4 (10:30 to 11:30), the Levitt stage will be taken over by regular people of all ages.

Doing push-ups.

It’s the 8th annual Push Against Cancer for Kids. Individually and in teams, everyone is invited to bang out as many push-ups as possible.

Last year’s Push Against Cancer drew a wide variety of ages and sizes …

The only catch: You have to be sponsored. Friends, family members, colleagues — all pledge money, based on how many push-ups you can do.

All proceeds go to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the program for children facing severe medical challenges.

An anonymous donor will match all funds raised by everyone under 23 years old (up to $25,000).

… and both genders.

Paul Newman founded the Hole in the Wall Gang camp nearly 30 years ago. This year, Westport-based Newman’s Own Foundation is helping out.

The Westport and Danbury Police Departments are all in too.

Opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. A Hole in the Wall Gang camper, now in remission from cancer, will deliver an inspiring speech.

DJ Sean McKee — aka Big Daddy — will motivate the push-up participants. He has a great reason to help: He’s a 2-time cancer survivor.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas (5th from left) and his entire force are strong supporters of the Push Against Cancer.

Last year’s event drew over 400 people. They raised $79,000 for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Organizer Andy Berman’s goal this year is $100,000. The cost of a week at the camp is $2,500 — though all services are free to campers and their families. So Berman hopes to raise enough money for 40 kids.

How many push-ups will you contribute to the cause?

To register, or for more information, click here. Questions? Email andy@mentalgritfitness.com 

Boxers, Bowties And Millennial Philanthropy

With many of his classmates and friends, 2003 Weston High School graduate Andy Porter spent the last few years flying all over the country for bachelor parties and weddings.

He and his buddies had a great time. But they also realized it would end. Soon, they’d focus full-time on families and careers.

How, they wondered, could they stay close over the next 20 to 40 years?

Porter and his pals know full well how lucky they were to have grown up in Fairfield County. (His roots here are deep: His grandmother — an architect — designed all the houses on Porters Lane, off Bayberry; his father was a 1967 Staples High School grad.)

Two years ago, they made a decision: They’d get together every year, to volunteer and raise money for a good cause.

The group of 9 put their professional talents to work. The accountant and finance men handled the money. The lawyer got 501(c)(3) status.

The marketers came up with the name — Boxer Bowtie Club — and the catchphrase: “Gather. Give. Grow.”

Then they went to work.

They chose the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp as their first beneficiary. Growing up near its Westport headquarters, the Boxer Bowtie members knew the amazing work it does, providing fun and friendship for seriously ill kids (and their families).

Their initial event was a black-tie cruise around Manhattan. 250 people showed up — and raised $75,000.

The Boxer Bowtie Club was not messing around.

Last year, they repeated the cruise. This time a crowd of 450 contributed $100,000.

The Boxer Bowtie Club on a Manhattan fundraising crew. Lady Liberty is in the background; a boxer is in front.

But the guys — who by now number 20 — are not satisfied with one activity a year. Each member is asked to volunteer at least 5 times a year.

Not all of those efforts are connected to the club. But some are — and they’ve spread beyond the tri-state area.

On May 6, Boxer Bowtie guys will travel from all over the country to Dallas. They’ll raise funds for Education Opens Doors, helping at-risk students navigate the college process.

Their 3rd annual New York gala is set for the fall. The original 10-year goal — to send 40 kids to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp — was accomplished in just 2. Members will decide soon which camp project or need to tackle next.

The Boxer Bowtie Club, after helping out at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Andy Porter is at far right. Others (from left): Brooks Foley, Matt Silver, Brett Reis, Kale Butcher, Luke Dudley, Adam Luchansky.

“All of our roots are in Fairfield County,” Porter notes. “We were so fortunate to have had parents, teachers, coaches and resources to help us. So we’ll always have some projects with ties to the area.”

As you read this story, you may be thinking of Go50. That’s the Westport group — profiled recently on “06880” — of local men, ages 50 and up, who dedicate time, energy and money to great causes. They’ve done quite a bit, by coincidence, for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

Porter saw that story, and realized that despite the age differences, there were lots of similarities between the 2 groups. He hopes the millennial Boxer Bowtie Club and baby boomer Go50s can at some point partner — and have fun — together.

The Boxer Bowtie Club (above, at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp) hopes to work with another group that helps that Westport-based organization: Go50.

Of course, the Go50 men have already sent their children off to college. Many of the Boxer Bowtie guys don’t even have kids yet. But — after all those bachelor parties and weddings — they’re on the way.

Porter says that’s one more reason the Boxer Bowtie Club is important. “We hope we’re developing a new generation of philanthropists. We want to do that now, not later. And it’s something we can model, to pass on to our kids.”

So what about that “Boxer Bowtie” name?

“We’re all very loyal — to each other, our communities, and people in need,” Porter explains.

“Dogs are loyal too. We all had dogs growing up. And boxers are some of the most loyal dogs of all.”

As for bowties: At every annual fundraiser, one of their sponsors — David Fin neckwear — hands out bowties, with boxers on them.

It’s fun. It’s informal. It’s a way of bonding.

And it’s definitely not something you’d get at a bachelor party.

(For more information on the Boxer Bowtie Club, click here. Founding members are Kale Butcher, Emil Defrancesco, Luke Dudley, Glen Kendall, Adam Luchansky, Andy Porter, Brett Reis, Matt Silver and Ryan Squillante. Sponsors include the Trunk Club, David Fin and Stella Artois.)

Steve Ruchefsky’s Gang Of 50

For his 50th birthday, Steve Ruchefsky figured he’d whip up a nice feast for a few friends.

That quickly evolved into an invitation to Bill Taibe. He’s an even better cook than Steve — who is, after all, a lawyer who now manages private investments, while Bill at the time owned Le Farm and was about to open The Whelk. So 5 years ago the backyard of Steve and his wife Rondi Charleston’s handsome Evergreen Avenue home was transformed into the setting for a killer 5-course meal.

Steve — who considers himself lucky, with a “wonderful wife, great daughter and amazing friends” — capped the occasion by announcing a $1 million gift to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

He knew Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through serving on the Westport Country Playhouse board. Steve’s donation allowed the camp in upstate Connecticut — which “creates fun and friendship for seriously ill children and their families” — to build a residence for doctors and their own families. “Steve’s Station” made it easier for them to stay longer — and their kids to enjoy the facility too.

It was a wonderful gesture. But that was only the start of Steve’s post-50 life.

“I had 2 ephipanies,” he says, 5 years later. “I grew up in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t have a lot. So I knew I wanted to help people.”

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar.

At the same time, he adds, “I wanted to do more than writing a check. I wanted to have fun with my guy friends.”

He rounded up 6 of them. All felt blessed to live here. All had spent the first part of their lives building careers and families, then seeing their children off to college. All had plenty of energy, and the desire to make time in their busy lives for others.

The result: “Go50.” (It stands for “Guys Over 50.”)

Those men — now 13 — are all at least 50 years old, and eager to “get out of our bubble, get dirty, and get going to do good.”

Many names are familiar: Tom Cope, John Engelhart, Jim Hardy, Barry Leskin, Matthew Maddox, Vinny Mullineaux, Jim Naughton, John Porio, John Seigenthaler, David Tetenbaum, Doug Weber and Steven Wolff.

Their first project was at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The boathouse was crammed with boats, canoes, fishing rods. Nothing was organized.

Nine “Go50” guys headed north in a van. They emptied, cleaned, sorted and painted. They got rid of old equipment. Campers, counselors and administrators loved what they’d done.

Go50 guys, after cleaning the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp boathouse.

Energized, the “Go50” gang tackled the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport. They painted and renovated a conference room, bringing new life to the building.

Then they wondered how they could do more than some one-off projects.

“None of us served in the military,” Steve says. “We were spared from the draft, and could start our careers when we were young. We decided we wanted to give back to people who did serve in the armed forces.”

Just off I-95 in Bridgeport is Homes for the Brave. The non-profit provides housing, vocational training, job placement, mental health and addiction services, and life skills coaching to help individuals — especially veterans, many of whom have been in prison or have addiction issues — leave homelessness behind.

Steve committed “Go50” to an ongoing relationship. They’ll prepare meals, clean the grounds, and help where and however they can.

Homes for the Brave helps veterans in many ways.

That’s one story. It’s a great one.

Then Steve heard about Homes for the Brave’s newest project.

Created by Peter Van Heerden — former executive director of the Westport Arts Center, now head of Fairfield University’s Quick Center — along with Westport artist Nina Bentley, it’s a show in which people living at the Homes tell their stories.

The performance is called “War Stories.” But they’re really “life stories.”

Notes posted at a recent “War Stories” rehearsal.

Steve has seen rehearsals. “These are not actors or writers. They’re men and women who have served our country. Life has been hard for them.

“They’re not Gold Star veterans who came home to parades. They’re vets who for the most part joined up to get away from trouble. But they came back and found themselves in trouble again.”

A recent preview in Hartford earned a standing ovation.

Steve wants to get the word out about upcoming performances at the Quick Center (Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1 — click here for more details; click here for tickets).

Steve Ruchefsky (center) at a “War Stories” rehearsal.

Learning about “War Stories” has inspired Steve to do even more with “Go50.”

“We have a great time together. We get a lot done, and we laugh a lot,” he says.

One thing they laugh about is that they’re all over 50, yet they’re “gang members.”

But what a gang!

Town Leaders Drop And Give (Much More Than) 50

On a normal Saturday, Westport’s many gyms, fitness centers and cycling studios compete for customers.

On a normal Saturday, First Selectman Jim Marpe cuts ribbons, meets citizens, maybe even takes his stuff to the dump. Police Chief Foti Koskinas oversees his cops, locks up bad guys and keeps Westport safe for all.

Last Saturday was not normal.

A number of gyms, fitness centers and cycling studios sent their clients and trainers to the Levitt Pavilion.

There, Mental Grit Fitness owner Andy Berman welcomed 300 fitness enthusiasts. Among them: Marpe and Koskinas.

Together, over the course of an hour, they banged out over 200,000 push-ups.

Andy Berman, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and First Selectman Jim Marpe assume the position.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas, Andy Berman and First Selectman Jim Marpe assume the position…

Thanks to pledges they secured in the weeks before, they raised over $75,000 for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. That organization — founded, of course, by the late Westport icon Paul Newman — offers special experiences to youngsters battling serious illnesses.

This is the 7th year Berman ran his unique fundraiser. It was the most successful — and (thanks to Westport’s CEO and top cop) high-powered — yet.

...and pause for the camersafterward.

…and pause for the camera afterward.

Andy gives huge props to Crossfit Westport’s Amy Mandelbaum; Crossfit Revel’s Jay Ross and Julie Migliaccio; JoyRide’s Rhodie Lorenz, and Achieve Fitness’ Andrew Kindt for their leadership. A number of other local gyms and fitness centers also participated.

Berman was thrilled. Everyone who did push-ups at the Levitt felt proud.

There’s no report, though, on how the first selectman and chief of police spent the rest of their day.

(To contribute to Berman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp fund, email andy@mentalgritfitness.com, or call 203-733-1194.)

Andy erman and Foti Koskinas get a bit of advanced work in.

Andy Berman and Foti Koskinas get in a bit of advanced work.