Tag Archives: Julie Mombello

Adam J. Lewis Academy Thrives

Adam J. Lewis grew up poor, in the Bronx. But he seized the educational opportunities he was given — scholarships to Dalton, then Hamilton College — and made a great, successful and fulfilling life for himself.

Then, on September 11, 2001 he was killed at his World Trade Center desk.

In his memory, the people who loved Adam — his wife and many friends — built a superbly fitting tribute.

Adam J. Lewis

Adam J. Lewis

Patty Lewis and Westporter Julie Mombello — friends from their days working together at Greens Farms Academy — knew the importance of pre-school education.

In Westport, pre-school — where children explore the world using all their senses, and learn letters, numbers, scientific observation, music, art, language, problem-solving, cooperation, coordination and many other skills — is a given. That’s far less true in Bridgeport, where the cost of preschool can be daunting.

Patty and Julie vowed to do what they could to give little children just a few miles from Westport the same advantages their own kids had.

The Adam J. Lewis Pre-School was born. And — despite daunting obstacles including fundraising, site selection and city bureaucracy — it has thrived since opening in 2013.

From its start — with just 12 children — it has grown steadily. This year there are 70 students, in pre-K3, pre-K4, kindergarten and 1st grade.

Last year the school relocated to a downtown Bridgeport campus. Its new name is the Adam J. Lewis Academy. They’ll add one grade each year. Ultimately they’ll serve 150 students, as a pre-K through grade 5 independent school.

The goal is to provide children from every background with an intellectually, socially and personally transformative educational experience. Students will leave empowered, and ready to make a difference in the world.

Westporters continue to play a key role in the Adam J. Lewis Academy. Lee Bollert is a longtime board member; 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker joined 4 years ago. Mombello remains a driving force.

Saba Pina — an original teacher 7 years ago — is still there. A new 1st grade instructor came from the Greens Farms Academy internship program.

Many other Westporters help too, volunteering their time and donating funds. (Fully 100% of school families receive need-based financial assistance.)

9/11 was one of the darkest days in American history. Out of those ashes though, a wonderful story of hope and dreams continues to rise.

(For more information on the Adam J. Lewis Academy — and to help — click here.)

An early class of very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

Doggone!

The other night, Louie ran away.

It was around 10:15. The Mombellos have an invisible fence, but somehow Louie — a 10-month-old puppy — escaped.

Julie Mombello was about to pick up her husband Michael at the train station. She left a frantic voicemail: Find a ride home. She was looking for Louie.

The doors didn’t open at the Green’s Farms platform. Several people missed the stop. Amy Harris and Michael Cohen, who live around the corner from the Mombellos, gave Michael Mombello a ride home. He told them the puppy was missing.

They dropped Michael at his home, on the corner of Long Lots Road and Turkey Hill. Quickly, they returned. They said they thought they’d just seen Louie, running up Linda Lane.

Louie

Louie

Amy dropped her husband at home, then drove back. She wanted to keep looking.

Julie and her husband searched the streets off Long Lots: Linda Lane, Elmwood, Moss Ledge.

Amy — now accompanied by her son — kept looking too.

Julie Mombello with her other dog, George, at a charity walk in Bridgeport. She is a director of the well-respected Adam J. Lewis Preschool in that city, where she also teaches.

Julie Mombello with her other dog, George, at a charity walk in Bridgeport. She is a director of the well-respected Adam J. Lewis Preschool in that city, where she also teaches.

Around 11;45 p.m., Julie’s cell phone rang. A woman on High Point Road thought she had Louie.

As Julie pulled into that street, a car came down. It was Amy and her son — still searching for Louie.

Julie told Amy she thought they’d found him. Amy pulled over to wait.

When Julie walked out of the High Point house, holding Louie in her arms, Amy and her son came over. They told her how happy and thankful they were he’d been found.

By then it was midnight. Amy — a stranger to Julie a couple of hours earlier — had been out with friends in New York. Julie is sure the last thing Amy wanted to do was look for a lost puppy that wasn’t even hers.

But she did.

Louie and George, the Mombellos' other dog. They're best friends.

Louie and George, the Mombellos’ other dog. They’re best friends.

Julie was overwhelmed by her perseverance, and the kindness of the woman on High Point who got up to see why a dog was barking in her yard at 11:45.

It was cold last week. Louie is little. Julie shudders to think what might have happened.

“This whole experience made us feel like we were living in a small town again, where people actually care about their neighbors,” Julie says.

The next day, she dropped thank-you notes in both families’ mailboxes.

But it was such a feel-good story, she wants to share it with the “06880” world.

PS: A couple of days later, Julie received a note in the mail. The woman on High Point Road thanked Julie for her note, adding that as a life-long dog person, she knows “all about the feelings enmeshed with our canine family members.”

She signed the note “Baba and family.”

Baba Ganoush is her dog.

Dancing With The Stars — And Be One Yourself!

“Dancing With the Stars” is a hit TV show. It’s spawned an entire genre of fundraising events.

Positive Directions is following in step — but with a twist.

Moshe Aelyon -- one Westport star -- will be dancing with another.

Moshe Aelyon — one Westport star — will be dancing with another.

On Saturday, October 18 (6:30 p.m., Patterson Club), the Westport-based youth development and counseling service offers “A Chance to Dance.” There’s the familiar format, sure: 6 local celebrities (including Westport designer Moshe Aelyon, Safe Rides co-founder Julie Mombello and graphic designer Miggs Burroughs) pair with professional dancers for a very entertaining segment, and are judged by a panel including Bill Mitchell.

But everyone else can shake their booty too. There’s also a contest to find the happiest dancer(s).

Anyone can submit a short video of dancing anywhere, any way, to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song.

You can dance by yourself, with a partner (or more). You can dance well or poorly. You can dance seriously or funnily.

Just dance! Make the Positive Directions folks happy.

(And pay $100. It’s a fundraiser, after all.)

Here’s Liz Beeby’s effort:

The entry deadline is Monday, October 6. The top 40 entries will be shown during the “A Chance to Dance” gala.

The winner will receive “Serenity,” an original artwork by — who else? — Miggs  Burroughs.

But, of course, if you pay your $100 and submit your video to help Positive Directions, you’re already a winner.

(For more details on submitting your video, and ticket information for the event, click the “A Chance to Dance” website.)

A Pre-School Grows In Bridgeport

Adam J. Lewis grew up poor, in the Bronx. But he seized the educational opportunities he was given — scholarships to Dalton, then Hamilton College — and made a great, successful and fulfilling life for himself.

Then, on September 11, 2001 he was killed at his World Trade Center desk.

Out of the ashes of his life, the people who loved Adam — his wife and many friends — built a superbly fitting tribute.

Adam J. Lewis

Adam J. Lewis

Patty Lewis and Westporter Julie Mombello — friends from their days working together at Greens Farms Academy — knew the importance of pre-school education.

In Westport, pre-school — where children explore the world using all their senses, and learn letters, numbers, scientific observation, music, art, language, problem-solving, cooperation, coordination and many other skills — is a given. That’s far less true in Bridgeport, where the cost of preschool can be daunting.

Patty and Julie vowed to do what they could to give little children just a few miles from Westport the same advantages their own kids had.

The Adam J. Lewis Pre-School was born. And — despite daunting obstacles including fundraising, site selection and city bureaucracy — it has thrived since opening last December.

The Bridgeport building before (left) -- and now that it's the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

The Bridgeport building before (left) — and now that it’s the Adam J. Lewis Preschool.

Many folks — including Westport board members Nancy Aldrich, Lee Bollert and Trish Tweedley, and fundraisers Carolyn Cohen, Tracy Fincher and Anne Hardy — worked tirelessly to make the pre-school a resounding success. Earlier this month, they celebrated their 1st year.

There were 12 kids, all 3 and 4 years old. Everyone received need-based financial aid. (It costs $7,000 a year to educate each child. Sometimes, Julie says, parents pay what they can “literally in quarters.”)

Several boys and girls entered speaking no English. “We saturate them all in language,” explains Julie. “There is constant talking and reading. There are books and letters all over the place.”

The very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

The very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

Julie is an administrator and teacher. Westporter Saba Pina is one of the other teachers.

Earlier this month, a “graduation” ceremony was held for the youngsters moving on to kindergarten. The school worked hard to make sure each has an appropriate placement. Some are heading to charter schools; others to the Greens Farms Academy Horizons program.

The 1st graduation was quite a moment.

“When you sign up for a project like this, you realize it’s all about the kids,” Julie says.

“You can make a difference — one child at a time. You try to give them an opportunity they otherwise would not be exposed to.”

The preschool takes great advantage of the outdoors. There's a fantastic playground too.

The preschool takes great advantage of the outdoors. There’s a fantastic playground too.

But, she realizes, beyond teaching children to count and learn their ABCs, Adam J. Lewis has given them “self-confidence, resilience and perseverance, so they can handle whatever life throws at them.” In Bridgeport, Julie knows, “you face a lot of curveballs.”

In the beginning of the school year, she recalls, a little boy always said, “I can’t do this.” Now, he never says that.

“That’s 90% of the battle,” Julie says. “If you believe in yourself, you have a much greater chance of success.”

She — and all the other folks associated with Adam J. Lewis — feel a tremendous amount of pride. They’ve launched what already is a wonderful institution.

But Julie can’t help noticing something.

“Literally 5 miles from Westport, things are so dramatically different. The need can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to think, ‘How can I make a difference?'”

She answers her own question.

“For some reason, the education of young children makes you feel like you are making a difference.”

Next year, Adam J. Lewis welcomes 16 pre-schoolers, up from 12 this year. They’ll add another teacher. And they’ll keep making a difference.

One child at a time.

(Adam J. Lewis Preschool administrators, educators and board members hope Westporters will continue to support them with money, time and energy. To learn more, click on the Adam J. Lewis Preschool website.)

SafeRides Saves Lives

For years, the Westport Youth Commission tried to develop a Safe Rides program. Members knew it’s a very effective way to keep teenagers out of cars after they — or their friends — have been drinking. But organizers could never overcome thorny insurance questions.

In 2009 Alex Dulin solved the problem. The Staples junior had just moved from Mercer Island, Washington, where she was deeply involved in a SafeRides program. They ran it through Boy Scouts. Voilà!

Julie Mombello

Julie Mombello

Julie Mombello — head of volunteers for the Staples PTA — was inspired by Alex’s passion. Julie, Alex and a host of others became driving forces (ho ho) behind Westport’s SafeRides program.

Five years later, it’s thriving. Every Saturday night at 9:30, a team of student dispatchers (and 1 adult volunteer) gathers at Christ & Holy Trinity Church. They eat food donated by Westport Pizzeria.

And every Saturday — until 1:30 a.m. — 4 cars are constantly on the go. Each has a backpack with a first aid kit, rubber gloves and water.

There’s also a bucket. Westport Wash & Wax has offered to split the cost of an interior wash and detail, if someone gets sick and misses the bucket. That’s happened once in 5 years.

Giving up a Saturday night is a huge commitment. But this year 46 seniors, 59 juniors, 28 sophomores, 11 freshmen — and 28 adults — did it at least once.

Every volunteer must pay to work with SafeRides. Additional funds come from the Staples and middle school PTAs, and some elementary schools’, and the PAL.

SafeRides volunteers, before the calls come in.

SafeRides volunteers, before the calls come in.

The calls offer a (confidential) window into Westport life. Some come from teenagers who know they have drunk too much, and should not drive home. Some come from their friends.

Some come from babysitters, who do not want to get in a car with a father (or mother) who has been drinking.

SafeRides tries not to be a taxi service. Sometimes, though, it is.

“We brainstorm all the time how to avoid it,” Mombello says. “We can’t come up with a way. But we can’t limit the people who use SafeRides. It’s okay to be a taxi service once in a while, so long as we’re saving lives.”

SafeRides logo

A criticism of SafeRides — before it began, and now — is that it promotes teenage drinking.

“I can’t believe someone drinks because of SafeRides,” Mombello counters. “What SafeRides does is keep someone who has been drinking from getting behind the wheel — and it keeps their friends out of the car too. If we save one life, it’s worth it.”

SafeRides drivers and navigators will not leave until they’ve seen their rider get safely inside the home. A few times, Mombello says, drivers have rung the bell, to make sure their rider was met by an adult.

Occasionally calls are made to parents, to say their child is being delivered home by SafeRides. Drivers have waited in the driveway until the adults arrived.

“Parents have been incredibly appreciative of that,” Mombello says.

SafeRides 1No one has ever had to call 911. But every member trains for that eventuality.

“SafeRides has really established itself,” says Mombello. “Our feet are firmly on the ground.”

After 4 years as director, she’s stepping down. Mark Dulsky — a longtime volunteer with Service League of Boys (SLOBs) and baseball — takes over.

Tomorrow is the final night of the school year for SafeRides. In September — when school begins — they’ll start again.

And they’ll continue saving lives, even if no one ever knows whose.

A Sobering Story

With the holiday season near — hark! the herald angels are singing already! — it is time to turn our attention to mistletoe. Menorahs. And men and women who drive drunk.

A recent story in Inklings — the Staples High School newspaper — is worth noting.

The paper often covers important topics, like teen drinking. But — as editor-in-chief Katie Cion points out — nearly every Staples student today knows the perils of drinking and driving. Years of health education — and work by organizations like Safe Rides and the Teen Awareness Group — have hammered home the dangers of combining the two.

Adults — well, not so much.

“Personally, I have never stopped a teenage drunk driver,” a Westport police officer told Cion. “It is much more common for the operator to be an adult.”

drunk driving

Cion’s story opens with a student describing a trip home from a family wedding.

Her father had had too much to drink. Her mother offered to drive, after “only” a couple of glasses of Champagne.

“The car was swerving, and we were going way too fast,” the student recalls. “She was straddling the line in the middle of two lanes. It really freaked me out because I didn’t know what to say because she’s my mom, but I was terrified the entire time.”

Both Safe Rides member Will Haskell — a Staples senior — and adult director Julie Mombello say that students can be smarter, and less embarrassed, than their parents about admitting they are too drunk to drive.

So, as we get set for a few weeks of spirited joy and parties and peace-wishing, let’s give each other, and all Westporters — especially our impressionable kids — one special gift.

The gift of not killing each other on the road.

 

Riding Safely

Stirring a lot of controversy — but even more excitement — Safe Rides started almost a year ago.

The organization — which offers a safe ride home to Westport youngsters most Saturday nights — has become an important part of local life.  Students are proud of what they’ve accomplished — and adult volunteers like Julie Mombello share in their satisfaction.

The Westport mother got involved with Safe Rides after hearing Alex Dulin — the local group’s founder, and at the time just a junior in high school — speak to both the Westport Youth Commission and Staples PTA.  Julie’s involvement grew rapidly.  These days she does everything from helping create the new web site to overseeing the calendar to updating paperwork.

With her youngest child entering Staples next year, Julie looks forward to continued involvement.  She likes watching students take action — and she believes strongly in Safe Rides’ mission.

It is not — as critics charge — an invitation to teenage drinking.  It is an acknowledgment that — all over the country — some young people do drink, and in our community we’ll do what we can to avoid tragic consequences.

“In an ideal world all teens would wait until they were legal to drink,” Julie says.  “Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.  People who say that juniors and seniors are not going to drink are burying their heads in the sand.  We don’t want to make it easier for teens to drink.  We do want to give them a chance to make a good decision if and when they make a mistake.

“If they end up drinking at a party and are afraid to call home, we want them to have a safe alternative to getting behind the wheel.  Not only does Safe Rides keep kids off the roads, but it makes Westport safer for everyone.  We consider Safe Rides a way of giving back to the community.”

Julie Mombello

In the beginning of November, SafeRides added a 3rd car.  “We didn’t want people waiting so long that out of frustration they either got behind the wheel of a car, or got into a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving,” Julie says.

The main users of Safe Rides are youngsters who drank too much, and those looking for rides when their “designated driver” drank.  But there are other users too — like teenage baby sitters who don’t want to be driven home by parents who have had too much to drink.

One girl called Safe Rides when a date ended badly.  In the car, she cried.

Of course, some people try to scam Safe Rides.  “We’ve said no to kids at the diner,” Julie notes.  “They had money and were too cheap to call a cab.  We hate to say no, but we don’t want a car out on one of these trips when someone might really need a ride.  We don’t want to be a taxi service.”

Safe Rides began a blacklist when it was discovered that someone gave a false home address, and was actually dropped off at a party.  Users can be blacklisted for party hopping, extremely rude behavior, using the program every weekend, and leaving before a ride arrives.

However, Julie says, “people who are willing to give back and volunteer for a couple of Saturday nights can be ‘un-blacklisted.’  Once they see how the program runs, they might be less likely to abuse the system.”

The biggest challenge, Julie says, is recruiting student volunteers.  While many adults — some of whom do not even have children involved in the program — stay up past 2 a.m. to make Westport roads safer, Safe Rides is looking to bolster its roster of 83 teens.

The more volunteers, the less arduous the commitment.  And the safer Westport will be for everyone.

(Students and adults interested in the next training session should email Julie Mombello:  mombo50@att.net.)