Tag Archives: Jeff Wieser

Stand Up Comedy Show Overcomes Serious Challenge

For the 11 years of “Stand Up for Homes with Hope” — the local housing organization’s biggest annual fundraiser — they’ve signed a contract with a “30-day-out” clause for the comedian.

That means if he or she gets a call from “Saturday Night Live,” or a sudden movie contract, the performer can cancel. Hopefully, those 30 days provide enough time to find a replacement.

Every year, that date has come and gone without incident. It’s a good thing: “Stand Up” accounts for nearly 15% of Homes with Hope’s yearly budget. It’s allowed them to house nearly twice as many homeless people as they did before the event began, in 2008.

But this year, CEO Jeff Wieser and his staff were surprised to see that Mike Birbiglia — the 2018 headliner — was opening on Broadway a week before the gala. There was a show the same date and time as he was expected to be at the Quick Center.

Birbiglia’s agent confirmed that — 39 days before showtime — he was exercising his out clause.

The board, “Stand Up” committee, sponsors and friends went into overdrive. They identified possible comedians, then whittled the list to find those who were available, affordable — and appropriate for a family-friendly audience.

They found Nate Bargatze — the first comedian who had been recommended to them, way back in February.

He’s a very funny comedian, working on a TV pilot based on his move to Nashville. He has toured with Chris Rock, had his own Netflix special, and appeared more than a dozen times with Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien.

Ticket sales and promotions were on hold, until Homes with Hope knew who they were promoting. But now they’re in high gear, ready for November 3.

There’s no backing out now.

(For tickets and more information about “Stand Up for Homes with Hope,” click here.)

“06880” Party In Pictures

If you couldn’t make last night’s “06880” blog party, I understand.

We competed with the Senior Center lobster dinner, and the Chamber of Commerce after-hours social.

Plenty of readers are on vacation. Others live far away.

But the 120 or so folks who made it to Compo Beach last night had a great time. Politicians, candidates and commission members (even the P&Z — thanks for canceling your meeting!) mingled with artists, bankers, retirees, stay-at-home moms and dads, teachers, lawyers and local merchants (thanks, Julie, for repping Savannah Bee Company!).

Special thanks go to Westport’s Parks & Rec beach crew, who went waaaay out of their way to be helpful, warm and welcoming.

We ate. We drank. We chatted about everything except politics.

We watched the sun set. We realized how grateful we are to live in Westport — or to have some ties to it.

See you at next year’s bash!

Nicole Klein and her son Carter came to their first “06880” party 5 years ago, just 3 weeks after moving to Westport. They’ve been regulars ever since.

Great minds think alike. They did not coordinate their outfits — but they sure looked great! (Photo/Susan Garment)

Sean Byrnes’ 1967 Corvette — a true 427, as the license plate notes — was a huge hit.

Author Prill Boyle and Homes with Hope CEO Jeff Wieser mixed and mingled.

Former Westporter Bonnie Bradley — whose family lived near Compo for many generations — came from Roxbury for the “06880” party. She brought a special gift: This painting of the Saugatuck River and National Hall.

It’s not an “06880” party without an 06880 hat. (Photo/Susan Garment)

Unsung Hero #34

Audrey Sparre joined Homes with Hope — known then as the Interfaith Housing Association — in 1999. She was one of their first professionally trained case managers.

Audrey initially managed men at the Gillespie Center shelter, and the adjacent Hoskins Place women’s shelter. She grew with the agency.

As Homes With Hope built permanent supportive housing, she added responsibilities. Working first at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, then at the permanent headquarters on Richmondville Avenue, she supervised the HwH counseling staff (currently 10 professionals).

For the last decade, Audrey has overseen all programs, and all program directors, at Homes with Hope. Her title is VP and chief operating officer.

While she appeared at nearly all their functions since 1999 — and was a regular at Castles in the Sand, Stand Up for Homes With Hope, Project Return lunches and “Summer Night” parties — Audrey kept a low profile. She preferred hands-on care of clients.

In her early years, Audrey Sparre attended an Interfaith Housing Association event with a younger Jim Marpe.

On February 16, Audrey — a longtime Westporter — retires. It’s a huge loss for Homes With Hope — and Westport.

“She represents the best of what this community is all about,” says president and CEO Jeff Wieser.

“She raised her daughter here, nurtured many people in her various roles at HwH, She’s been the glue that makes our social work function efficiently and effectively. She has kept our clients, staff and community safe and caring.”

Audrey’s retirement will be interesting. She has property in upstate New York, where she hopes to pursue her equestrian activities. (She’s a member of St. Lawrence University’s Athletic Hall of Fame!) And, Wieser adds, she’ll raise yaks.

The other day — in the midst of intense activity at the Gillespie Center — Audrey looked around and said, “I can’t believe I’m leaving all this!”

Homes with Hope can’t believe she’s going either. This week’s Unsung Hero will be sorely missed.

Yellow Pages, The Sequel: RTM Reps Help Westport Go Green

Yesterday, “06880” reported that Westporters can avoid the coming Yellow Book plague by opting out.

Today, there’s even better news on the driveway littering front.

RTM representatives Liz Milwe, Jeff Wieser and Matthew Mandell have worked for months to make opting out of phone book deliveries easier, more effective — and environmentally friendly.

Spurred by Westporter Morgan Mermagen’s 200-signature petition, the RTM members started work on a town ordinance. The Local Search Association — the national lobbying organization for companies like the Yellow Pages and Frontier — heard about the plan. They — and members of those businesses from around the country — came to Westport, to meet with the 3 RTM members.

But the talks reached an impasse.

So this spring, the RTM reps moved forward with their proposed ordinance.

The companies reached out again. Finally — with the help of assistant town attorney Gail Kelly, and following months of conference calls — a deal was struck.

There will be no ordinance. However, all phone book distributors in Westport have agreed to follow these parameters:

  • All plastic bags used during delivery will be made with 20% post-consumer recycled content. This will be noted on the bag.
  • A new opt-out notice — showing the website www.YellowPagesOptOut.com — will cover 30% of one side of the bag.
  • A letter to the town, announcing a pending distribution by any company, will be done 90 days prior to any event, and 30 days prior to a cut-off for being able to opt out of that (and future) distributions.
  • All books will continue to have a notice on the front cover about the opt-out, with the same URL.
  • Within 14 days after delivery, the distribution company will return through the route, picking up any unclaimed bags within view.
  • A report will be sent to the town each year, noting how many people have opted out.

“These are serious concessions made by companies trying to stay relevant in a changing time,” says Mandell. “Each side used all of its might to sway things, with First Amendment rights waved around more than once. In the end this is a fair solution.”

“The change in the bags is a success for the environment,” adds Milwe. “It will be a greater success if residents opt out and if they tell their friends to opt out. Let’s make it happen!”

The 3 RTM members will now work with the town and local groups to create a campaign to inform all residents about the opt-out.

For more information, contact Milwe (lizmilwe@gmail.com), Wieser (JWieser@hwhct.org) or Matthew Mandell (matthew@westportd1.com).

Take $100,000 Worth Of Perfectly Good Furniture. Then Throw It Out The Window.

Ken Bernhard is a principal in Cohen & Wolf’s municipal, real estate, and business and corporate groups. He works in the firm’s office at 320 Post Road West.

He’s also a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney.

He’s nobody’s fool.

This morning, Bernhard heard an enormous crunching sound coming from the building’s top floor.

Morgan Stanley — the tenant there — is moving out. Workers were methodically moving every piece of furniture — cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas, you name it — onto the ground.

A chipper then chewed every single piece up.

Into the chipper it goes.

Bernhard — who helped create the Syria Fund, which provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations — was appalled.

He asked the foreman of the company — Total Relocation Services — what was going on. The man said they had a contract. Morgan Stanley’s floor must be “broom clean” by the close of business today.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley is throwing away …

Bernhard asked the foreman to check that the financial services firm really wanted to toss at least $100,000 worth of perfectly good furniture away.

Yep, the forerman reported. A Morgan Stanley representative repeated the claim: “Broom clean” by the end of the day.

… another shot …

Bernhard swung into action. He called Jeff Wieser. The CEO of Homes With Hope raced over. He salvaged what Bernhard estimates is “1/20” of the furniture being demolished.

Bernhard also called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said he would send someone over, to see what he could do.

The foreman said he’d had no real notice of the project. But, he told Bernhard, next week the company is scheduled to do a project “4 times as big,” not far away. That may be Morgan Stanley’s Nyala Farms complex.

Bernhard hopes to organize non-profits, and save some of what is there.

“It’s a collective effort,” he says.

It certainly is.

But what does it say about Morgan Stanley — and our society — that it has to be?

… and a 3rd. (Photos/Ken Bernhard)

First Citizens Of Westport

One man revitalized downtown Westport with a building project. The other revitalizes lives, providing homeless people with buildings to sleep in.

Both men — David Waldman and Jeff Wieser — will be honored as “First Citizens.” The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce presents the awards on Tuesday, June 13, at a dinner at the Boathouse restaurant.

Waldman is principal of David Adam Realty. Under his leadership, Bedford Square — the former Westport YMCA — has been transformed into a lively retail/restaurant/residential complex.

That’s just the latest achievement in Waldman’s 26-year commercial real estate career.

David Waldman proudly shows off the Flemish brick used in Bedford Square.

A near-native, he arrived here in town age 1. His father — a marketer — moved here because Westport was “the marketing capital of the world.” He built buildings to house his business. He sold the company, kept the buildings, and a real estate firm was born.

David attended Coleytown Elementary and Junior High. He graduated from St. Luke’s and Syracuse University, then returned to Westport in 1991 — just in time for a real estate downturn.

Waldman persevered. His initial project — renovating the Art’s Deli block on Post Road West, including apartments above — provided him with his first understanding of “process, politics and zoning.”

He and his wife Yvette — “the one who grounds me and gets me through life” — have 3 children: Rachel, Jacob and Ava. He calls them “my greatest accomplishments.”

Yet Bedford Square — created in conjunction with several partners — is not too shabby either. By developing adjacent Church Lane and Elm Street, Waldman has “tried to make positive change. We’re taking the town where the world is moving — a little more walkable and connected.”

David Waldman (center), at the opening of Bedford Square.

He calls himself “blessed to live, work and play in the same town. Sometimes that’s difficult. But it’s nice to see people enjoy our work.”

Now he’s turning his attention to nearby Sconset Square, and the former Save the Children site across the river.

“I’m only 47 years old,” Waldman notes. “It’s nice to have public recognition. But at the end of the day, the product on the ground is what I’m proudest of.”

Waldman’s fellow First Citizen honoree Wieser represents the non-profit sector. In 7 years as CEO and president of Homes With Home — Westport’s supportive housing umbrella — he has nearly doubled the number of beds, added new services, and engineered a merger with Project Return (the North Compo residence for teenage girls and young women).

Homes With Hope is believed to be one of only 4 such organizations in a town like Westport in the nation.

Jeff Wieser

This is Wieser’s 2nd career. A New York banker with stints in Australia and Hong Kong, he and his wife Pat moved here in 1985.

Their choice of Westport was happenstance — they just wanted a “commutable suburb” (a town-owned golf course and beaches were added attractions) — but it soon became home.

With 2 young children, the Wiesers quickly met lifelong friends.

Wieser served on the Homes With Hope board for 15 years. He had not thought of working there. But when founder Rev. Peter Powell retired, and several people asked Wieser to step up, he realized that after 30-plus years in banking, he was ready.

His wife said, “This is something you wanted to do all your life.”

She was right. “It’s been a wonderful change,” he says.

Wieser is proud that his organization has been supported so well — and so long — by town officials and private citizens.

Jeff Wieser (Homes With Hope CEO) and a lobster. The event was a “build a sand castle” fundraiser for Homes With Hope.

“Westport cares about our neediest neighbors,” he says. “Homes With Hope is a model for all suburban communities.”

Wieser hopes to keep it growing. “There’s still plenty to do,” he notes. “We’re getting chronic homelessness under control. The much bigger challenge now is affordable housing.”

Waldman and Wieser are not the only 2 Westporters to be honored by the Chamber of Commerce. “Young Entrepreneurs” Aishah Avdiu, Remy Glick, James O’Brien and Phoebe Spears — from Staples and Weston High Schools — will be feted too.

Westporter David Pogue — technology columnist/Emmy-winning TV personality/author/musician/New York Times, CBS News, Scientific American, Yahoo Tech and PBS star — is the keynote speaker.

We can’t all be First Citizens. But it’s clear — and the Chamber of Commerce recognizes — that Westport is blessed with far more than one.

(Tickets for the June 13 dinner are $80 each. Tables of 10 are also available. For more information, click here.)

Word!

It wasn’t quite curling up with the New York Times crossword.

More like racing through it, trying to beat dozens of other crossword aficionados. The grand prize: A book (about words) donated in your name to the Westport Library.

Your name on a new plaque.

And — 24 hours before the Super Bowl — the knowledge that you’re a champion in a competition using (instead of destroying) brain cells.

It happened this afternoon: the Library’s 18th annual Crossword Puzzle Contest.

Jeff Wieser was ready for the Crossword Puzzle Contest. The countdown clock is in the background. There were 3 preliminary rounds, of 20 minutes each.

Jeff Wieser was ready for the Crossword Puzzle Contest. The countdown clock is in the background. There were 3 preliminary rounds, of 20 minutes each.

I was there for the 1st time. The McManus Room was filled with fellow puzzlers. Many had come to previous contests. A few had been to every one.

Eric Maddy came all the way from Huntington Beach, California (and wore shorts). He seemed to know a lot of folks. Crossword solvers have created quite a community.

But there were plenty of familiar faces. Sitting across from me was Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. On my right was Alan Southworth, the 2010 Staples High grad/musician/marathon runner/crossword creator (he hopes Will Shortz will select one of his puzzles for the Times).

Will Shortz: New York Times puzzle editor, Westport Library contest host, all-around cool guy.

Will Shortz: New York Times puzzle editor, Westport Library contest host, all-around cool guy.

Shortz himself — the Times puzzle editor/NPR host/Indiana University enigmatology major — was at today’s contest too. He served as the genial, wisecracking, challenging host.

The diverse, high-energy crowd was perfect for Shortz. And he had 3 strong puzzles — a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (in ascending order of difficulty) for us.

I did not win. I did not make the cut as one of 3 finalists. I am, however, extremely proud to say that I did receive a perfect score on all 3 puzzles.

I earned a certificate for that, signed by Will Shortz himself.

A couple dozen others got certificates too. It was that kind of group.

And that kind of only-in-Westport afternoon.

PS: The 3 puzzles will be published in upcoming Times editions. Will gave us the back stories about them. One is by the youngest creator in Times history. When we heard that, no one in the room felt smart at all.

You might even call us clueless.

The 3 finalists. Andy Kravis (right) of New York City won, finishing a Friday puzzle in a blazing 4:50. Eric Maddy (center) finished 2nd. He came all the way from California -- and received ed a Westport Library tote bag in appreciation.

The 3 finalists. Andy Kravis (right) of New York City won, finishing a Friday puzzle in a blazing 4:50. Eric Maddy (center) was 2nd. He came all the way from California — and received a Westport Library tote bag in appreciation.

From now on, the winner's name will be etched on a plaque bearing the name of Howard Brody. As the

From now on, the winner’s name will be etched on a plaque honoring longtime puzzle fan Howard Brody. As the award notes, he “never had a cross word for anyone.”

Project Return Joins Homes With Hope Family

For 33 years, Project Return has helped teenage girls and young women in crisis rebuild their lives.

For 33 years too, Homes With Hope has provided emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, food and services to homeless men, women and children.

Starting today, 2 of Westport’s most important organizations merge.

Just 2 months ago, Project Return — the converted 8-bed farmhouse on North Compo Road that since 1983 has housed hundreds of females from Westport and surrounding towns — learned that on June 30, it would lose all state money.

The Department of Children and Families — which provided 80% of the group’s funding —  has been hit hard by budget cuts. In addition, DCF has shifted its policy, from group homes to foster care.

Project Return, on North Compo Road.

Project Return, on North Compo Road.

At the same time, Project Return was moving its focus to a slightly older group: 18-25-year-old women. It’s an under-served population that is projected to rise, says Kim Lake, board member and chair of the organization’s Strategic Action Committee.

“Partnering with Homes With Hope is by far our best option,” Lake says. “They’re excellent at what they do — and they’re part of our community.”

Homes With Hope president and CEO Jeff Wieser is thrilled with the new collaboration.

“Project Return will be a separate, fully functioning program under our umbrella,” he says.

“They’ll continue their wonderful work: nurturing, coaching, helping young women get back to their families or begin independent lives.”

Homes With HopeWieser adds, “Project Return is very tied in to our mission, of supporting those without homes, or at risking of losing theirs, achieve more self-sufficient lives.

“But we did not have the facilities to focus on that population, right here in our own community.”

1983 was a watershed: The year 2 fantastic organizations were founded.

2016 will go down in both groups’ histories — now shared — too.

Plastic Bag Ban Sponsors Respond

In 2008, RTM members Jonathan Cunitz, Liz Milwe, Gene Seidman and Jeff Weiser sponsored the “retail bag ordinance” banning plastic bags in Westport. In response to today’s post about the new CVS bags, they sent this message to “06880”:

RTMWe remain proud of the enlightened action that the Westport RTM took 7 years ago to act responsibly with regard to plastic bags. Ever since Mel Sorcher and Don Wergeles first brought their concerns to our attention, and after nearly a year of organizing, engaging the community, and legislating, the RTM overwhelmingly passed the Plastic Bag Ordinance by a vote of 26-5 on September 2, 2008.

We have been gratified by the strong support that our Plastic Bag Ordinance has gained in the town. It also is gratifying to note that while the ordinance was inspired by a similar, earlier ordinance in San Francisco, ours has been a guide for a number of other towns that have adopted ordinances since 2009.

We conservatively estimate that the town of Westport has eliminated 15 million plastic bags from circulating in our environment, creating a problem in our rivers, Long Island Sound, the Atlantic and beyond. Many Westporters say they are very proud that our town has the distinction of being a leader in the environmental movement, by being the first town east of the Mississippi to ban plastic bags at retail.

CVS bag 1

The CVS bag shown and mentioned in your article this morning directly and intentionally circumvents the spirit of the Plastic Bag Ordinance. While the CVS bag may be technically “legal,” it is certainly contrary to the intention of the law. It’s a way for the plastics industry to stay in the business of providing unnecessary bags.

It is worth noting that the only way plastic shopping bags can be recycled is if the consumer returns them to a grocery store. The recycling rates at grocery stores are well below 10%. The CVS bags will jam Westport’s single-stream recycling machines and continue to be a nuisance, stymying Westport’s recycling efforts.

Westporters have gotten used to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store — and they’ll get used to bringing reusable bags to CVS and Walgreens, all the while being responsible and proud citizens of the environment.

We know that even little efforts make great impact, and show our children that we care about the environment. The plastic bag ban has proven to be successful and should continue to be enforced.. CVS will respond to public pressure. So, next time when you are in CVS, just say no to their plastic bags!

 

Signs Of Vigilantes

Alert “06880” reader Jeff Wieser — who doubles as president and CEO of Homes With Hope — writes:

The end of the political season is a terrible time to raise this issue – again. The entire town is sick of yard signs, and the controversy they continue to stir up.

But I would love to make “06880” readers aware of a different reality about yard signs.

The town has a very specific policy about non-political yard signs. Not-for-profits (those that abide by the regulations) ask the office of the selectmen (in advance) for permission to erect yard signs at specific town-owned locations.

They can be placed no more than 2 weeks before an event, and there can be no more than 15 of them. At Homes with Hope we abide by these rules for the 2 events per year for which we put up yard signs. We also make sure after those events to take the signs down quickly.

This Saturday (November 10) we have our annual fundraising benefit — “Stand Up for Homes with Hope,” at the Westport Country Playhouse. We put up yard signs 2 weeks ahead of time in our town-approved sites. The storm uprooted a few signs, but we replaced those in our last-ditch attempt this week to inform Westporters about this important annual fundraiser.

Have you seen me?

It appears, though, that a few neighbors object even to these town-approved attempts at getting the word out. A large number of signs have disappeared, seemingly victims of a few vigilantes.

While I apologize for our need for yard signs, the fact is they are very effective in letting people know about events. For those of us who respect the rules of the town, I think it fair that our neighbors should also respect the rules and let us keep up our signs!