Posted onMay 19, 2020|Comments Off on Calling All Neighbors!
Call it the COVID Paradox: At a time when people most need each other — for solace, for hugs, for simple companionship in a crisis — we’re commanded to stay far apart. Being close can kill. New phrases like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” sound as grim as they actually are.
In mid-March, Navida Greifenberger started a “Westport Coronavirus Info” Facebook group. It was a way to share ideas, and create community.
As important as it was, it did not take long for Greifenberger to realize that more was needed. Beyond group sharing, she wondered, how could she help individuals?
She created a simple Facebook form, linking those who wanted to make phone calls with those who wished to receive them. One of the first volunteers was 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane. She quickly realized this was a great project for the town’s Department of Human Services. Director Elaine Daignault agreed.
No matter how you connect …
Together the department, Greifenberger and Kari Bley established structure (including background checks and orientation) for volunteers.
Anyone 18 and older is welcome, from every neighborhood and with all kinds of interests.
Once a background check is completed, Human Services matches callers with recipients. Matches may include common interests, but some volunteers and recipients indicate that they want to be matched with someone older or younger.
No particular skill is needed. The only prerequisite is completing the form, and establishing a compatible call schedule.
The goal of the program — called “Hello, Neighbor” — is for each pair to have at least one conversation a week. Anything beyond that is up to them.
… both the caller and recipient will benefit from regular phone conversations.
“We’re excited to have put together a program that doesn’t differentiate between volunteers and beneficiaries,” says Kane. “Everyone wins when a connection is made. Our community becomes richer as a result of making new friends, mentors and confidantes.”
“Social media is a wonderful and important tool for people to communicate,” Greifenberger adds. “But it doesn’t compare to the comfort of hearing a voice at the end of the phone.”
Daignault believes that participants will get “far more out of a regular conversation with a neighbor than they anticipate. It’s not so much about the content of the conversation, but the impact of ‘showing up’ for one another.
“Many people miss their routine. It’s nice to have something like this to look forward to. One-to-one calls provide an unusual opportunity for people to be truly present, without distractions.
“This is key for anyone who may feel isolated. Mental health is tied to our interactions with others. In the current environment, avoiding person-to-person interaction, many people feel invisible and alone. We hope this program helps everyone feel important and heard.”
If you want to be heard — as a volunteer or recipient — click here. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-341-5037.
What began as a little idea — hey, let’s make a video to connect Westporters! — has turned into something big and bold.
And very, very cool.
In just one week, 5 passionate Westporters
Honed their concept
Put out the word
Got submissions, and
Created a video that everyone should watch right now. Or at least, within the next few minutes.
The first video — released this morning — shows a wide array of Westporters. Through photos and videos, they provide messages of hope; offers their services as therapists, piano teachers, lawyers, Pilates instructors and Zoom party planners; give thanks to heroes, and talk about pets. There’s even a much-needed dose of humor.
This is the first of several “WestportConnected” videos. I’m sure it will spread like, um, a virus, and many more folks will join in.
Thank you Marcy Sansolo, Darcy Hicks, Lisa Newman, Jaime Bairaktaris and Melissa Kane.
Now click below. Connect. And smile!
Have a message of good energy, love or support? Want to advertise your business’s creative deal? Send along a submission for next week’s video: email@example.com.
Westporters keep coming up with great ideas to stay connected.
The latest is as simple as its name: WestportConnected.
The goal is to go beyond the usual social media platforms. Organizers Marcy Sansolo, Darcy Hicks, Lisa Newman, Jaime Bairaktaris and Melissa Kane — a who’s who of creative, concerned and well-connected neighbors — invite fellow Westporters to share a message by sending either a photo (of yourself and/or your family and/or pets), or a video (no longer than 10 seconds!).
Want to say hi to everyone? Send a photo! (Photo courtesy of Bob Weingarten)
You can also offer services or support, as a professional or someone willing to help. Just take a photo or video, holding up a poster with what you can do, and your contact info.
Need ideas? Organizers suggest:
Messages of love and support to fellow Westporters
An activity that you or your family is doing to keep sane
Services you can offer for people who can’t leave their homes: lawn work, shopping, outdoor repairs, etc.
Support contacts to get help for depression, spousal abuse, addiction, etc. If you are a professional or sponsor who can offer support, let people know how to reach you
Share lessons via Zoom or other virtual conferencing appointments: music or art lessons, meditation sessions, workout routines, etc.
Are you a therapist who can meet clients online? Let us know!
There aren’t many rules. Just be positive!
Organizers say, “this is an attempt to recover some of the life we’re missing due to quarantine. It’s a reminder for all of us that no one is alone.”
Of course, “06880” is happy to help. Messages will be made into a video — and it will be posted here on Monday (March 30).
Send your photos and videos to WestportConnected@gmail.com. The deadline is 4 p.m. this Friday (March 27).
Connect now. Then get ready to be uplifted on Monday!
Earlier today, I posted a story about 3 successful local businesses. Toward the end, 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane mentioned one longstanding issue: helping visitors (and residents) realize there’s a lot more to downtown than Main Street.
She — and other officials — are addressing the problem.
And they need our help.
Kane also chairs the Westport Wayfinding Steering Committee. They’ve hired MERJE — a “nationally recognized wayfinding design firm” — to create a “master wayfinding plan for downtown Westport and the gateways to the town.”
(“Wayfinding” helps guide motorists and pedestrians to parking and destinations using signage, maps and digital plans.)
The committee and MERJE have developed a survey about downtown design and directions. They’ve sent it to merchants and landlords. Now they want public opinion.
Click here to participate. It’s open through next Wednesday (April 17.)
One way to find our way. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Tip O’Neill said that all politics is local. On North Avenue, it doesn’t get more local than water tanks in your neighborhood.
In what may be the only time this year the Democratic and Republican candidates for 1st selectman speak in the same home on the same day — though not together — Melissa Kane and Jim Marpe meet tonight with residents concerned about the planned expansion of Aquarion’s water towers.
The events take place at 66 North Avenue — opposite the Aquarion site.
Last month, Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to approve the 3- to 5-year-construction project. Located directly across from Staples High School, it will more than triple the current water capabilities. Two new 40-foot tanks will replace the one current 12-foot tank.
Aquarion cites fire safety and increased daily usage as reasons for the new tanks. The fire department supports the proposal.
Over 200 residents have signed a petition opposing the project, and a legal challenge is underway.
A photo shows the height of the proposed new water tanks. Since the photo was taken, taller trees have replaced those in the photo.
Anyone can ask the 1st Selectman candidates what they think about taxes, traffic and the future of Main Street. Their answers may not be surprising.
But “06880” wants to know more. We’d like to know what makes these men (and woman) tick. And what makes them Westporters, as opposed to politicians.
So we asked each candidate the same 10 questions. Here are their replies. I chose the fairest way to post them: alphabetically. But — since as a “W” I’m always last — they’re in reverse order. Hah!
What got you to Westport?
John Suggs: My wife and I were looking for a community in which to raise our newborn twins, with great schools, friendly neighborhoods and unique community character. A place that our kids would always be proud to call home. That is Westport.
Jim Marpe: Our family moved to the New York City area 30 years ago at the request of my employer, Accenture, following a lengthy expatriate management assignment. By coincidence 2 of our best friends had moved to Westport while we were overseas, so we had already visited several times and gotten a preview of the community. Our daughter was entering elementary school, so the world-class quality of the school system was the primary attraction. But the other attractions were the physical character of the town, the cosmopolitan atmosphere and the wide variety of activities that did not exist in similar places we had lived.
Melissa Kane: I began coming here as a child and have loved it ever since.
TJ Elgin: My grandparents helped save me from a dark path with my father.
John Suggs and his dog Monty. The photo was obviously taken between October 1 and March 31.
What kept you in Westport?
Suggs: The friendly people, the community ties and the schools which have become a second home for our children.
Marpe: The Westport public schools are the primary reason we stayed, but by then we were involved in leadership roles with a variety of interesting community service organizations that help a wide cross-section of Westport, including Homes With Hope, the Westport Weston Family Y, Green’s Farms Congregational Church, the Rotary Club, Westport Country Playhouse, the Young Woman’s League, and Neighbors and Newcomers of Westport. My wife, Mary Ellen, was a successful small business owner for over a decade (Westport Academy of Dance). Moreover, we had come to appreciate the wide variety of high quality amenities that Westport offers (Library, beaches, Longshore, performing and visual arts, attractive open spaces) as well as proximity to New York City. In the end, it’s the great friendships we have developed with an amazing array of interesting and involved Westporters that will keep us here for many years to come.
Kane: My husband proposed to me way out on a sandbar at Old Mill Cove. We love this town and wanted to raise our children here. The overall character, roots in the arts, and the people make it an easy place to love.
Elgin: My family and friends.
Favorite place in Westport to relax?
Suggs: Golden Shadows back porch in Baron’s South.
Marpe: Compo Beach (South) on a summer evening with friends and a picnic dinner. Certainly not Town Hall!
Kane: Walking on the beach.
Elgin: Compo Beach.
Favorite place to go when you’re NOT in Westport?
Suggs: Cape Town, South Africa.
Marpe: Any place that has small, family-owned vineyards and wineries and a small, quiet inn.
Kane: Hiking in the White Mountains with my family.
Elgin: Stratford Pyramid Shriners.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe, in the 2013 Memorial Day parade. Behind him are State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, 3rd Selectman Helen Garten and 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner.
Musical group you’d most like to see at the Levitt?
Suggs: The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.
Marpe: The Rolling Stones.
Kane: Ben Folds.
Elgin: Lights, she is from Canada.
Favorite annual event in Westport, and why?
Suggs: Staples High School Candlelight Concert. The music by our talented students together — during the holiday season — makes my heart soar.
Marpe: Memorial Day parade. Truly a local event with a family focus that reflects our small town character, honors our residents who fought for our freedoms, and marks the unofficial beginning of summer.
Kane: Memorial Day parade. It’s the most wonderful small town, magical event one could imagine. It really captures the spirit of the town like nothing else. My children have been in it; I love to watch and participate in it. I am also always humbled by the sacrifices that were made by our servicemen and women.
Elgin: Fireworks because it’s my first real date with my soon-to-be wife, and Lobsterfest because of old friends I never get to see.
Melissa Kane (right) with her mother, Judith Orseck Katz.
If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about Westport, what would it be?
Suggs: The traffic congestion.
Marpe: Traffic would flow easily and freely through all our intersections. The Waze and Google Maps apps would cease to divert traffic from I-95 and the Merritt Parkway onto our local streets. Our drivers would obey all speed limits and traffic regulations, and observe safe driving etiquette. And our streets would magically widen to become “complete streets” with sidewalks, pedestrian- friendly crosswalks and bicycle lanes, along with plenty of room for cars to pass.
Kane: Making it a place our children could come back to and our seniors can stay in.
Elgin: The entitlement. We live in a world where we all need to help each other and our surroundings, to have a brighter future for our planet.
Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts?
Suggs: Neither. The Sherwood Diner.
Marpe: Dunkin’ Donuts. But my real choices are Coffee An’ and Donut Crazy.
Kane: Coffee An’.
Elgin: Neither. I don’t drink or eat from places that I don’t know where their products are from.
If you were underwhelmed by the presidential debates of 2016, your long national nightmare is over.
On Thursday (October 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1:3o p.m., Westport Library), the 4 candidates for 1st selectmen face off. It should be informative — and substantive.
Republican Jim Marpe, Democrat Melissa Kane and independents John Suggs and Timothy J. Elgin will discuss business-related issues. There’s a good reason: The debate is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator Jay Sandak will lead the discussion in areas like the town’s business environment, jobs and taxes.
The event begins with a chance to meet the candidates. At that time, attendees can submit written questions for the debate.
As political leaders debate the fate of Dreamers — 800,000 undocumented migrants who arrived in the US before the age of 16 — a small group of Westporters stood on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen downtown bridge this afternoon, protesting President Trump’s proposed repeal of the DACA program.
Holding a sign festooned with flags of various countries — including the US and Italy — the group reminded passing motorists that Westport owes a great debt to immigrants.
Laws were much looser in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the ancestors of many Westporters came here to work.
Darcy Hicks, Melissa Kane, Sarah Kempner and Lauren Soloff, with their message. (Photo/Theo Koskoff)
Midway through the event, a car stopped. Two men got out, and approached the group.
Slowly, Jose and Robert shook the hands of every protester. They thanked the group for representing them.
Both men are Dreamers.
Then they got back in their car, and drove off.
They were on their way to work.
One of the Dreamers, thanking a protester. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
John Suggs has announced his candidacy for Westport’s top spot. The independent — running against Republican incumbent Jim Marpe and Democratic challenger Melissa Kane — plans a 3-pronged platform.
Suggs stresses “advocacy, common sense solutions and a nonpartisan approach.”
As a Representative Town Meeting member for 10 years, Suggs cites his leadership roles on school safety, open space and protecting neighborhoods.
A 25-year professional in asset management analysis, public policy and community development, Suggs currently works in forensic genetic genealogy. His Family Orchard business helps adult adoptees search for and reunite with their birth families.
Suggs says he is running as an independent because “I want to represent all of Westport — not merely the interests of any single party or constituency. In times of toxic, partisan politics, where politicians will say just about anything, true or untrue, to gain an advantage, I will always tell you the truth.”
He wants Westporters to “roll up our sleeves and work harder, smarter, better to reduce traffic congestion, sustain the quality of our schools, revitalize downtown and fill empty storefronts, and preserve our property values.”
Suggs says that local elected officials cost Westport taxpayers money as they “endlessly study our problems with exorbitant fees paid to outside consultants.”
He pledges to “place a moratorium on expensive studies, roll back onerous traffic control measures that aren’t working, refurbish (not replace) the Compo Beach pavilion, and restore (not destroy) the Cribari Bridge in Saugatuck.”
Suggs was born and raised in California. With a BA in political science from Loyola Marymount University, an MS in management and systems from New York University and an MBA from Fordham University, he has served as a public policy director, affordable housing advocate, history teacher and Jesuit seminarian.
He and his wife moved to Westport in 2003 with newborn twins, in large part for the schools. Suggs is an active Assumption Church parishioner, and volunteered as a Little League baseball and basketball coach. For 5 years, the Suggses have been a host family for A Better Chance scholars.
“Despite my long record of working on behalf of the town, I am starting the race as the underdog, going up against both established political parties,” Suggs tells “06880.”
“But having talked — and more importantly, listened — one on one to so many people these past few months, I know that my message to Westporters that we must not allow ourselves to get dragged down into the finger-pointing and blame game of toxic partisan politics by both parties resonates deeply for people across the entire political spectrum.”
He adds, “These next few years will be full of difficult challenges for all Westporters, at the state and federal level.” He urges residents to “put aside partisan bickering and pull together as one community, using our common sense to find our own best solutions to navigate through.”
Among the “common sense solutions” Suggs advocates is “fine-tuning traffic controls to mitigate traffic backups.” Adding 3 seconds to a green arrow helps clear 7 more cars from congested intersections, he says.He’d also restore right turn on red at downtown intersections.
Suggs wants to “adaptively reuse valuable town-owned assets” rather than build new ones. He believes “perfectly sound empty buildings” could be converted to new uses like municipal offices, homes for non-profits and senior housing.
“Let’s listen to our residents when they resoundingly no (or yes),” Suggs says. From railroad parking and replacing the Compo pavilion to funding schools, “local politicians should never presume” to tell Westporters what to believe. The 1st selectman should be “an honest broker to ensure all Westporters have a say, and are satisfied that decisions are being made fairly and honestly.”
Josh Suggs wants to save the William F. Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River.
He describes his past advocacy efforts as leading the campaign to “save the Cribari Bridge, and protect Saugatuck and Greens Farms from 18-wheelers”; fighting to restore “critical education funding” to the budget; organzing an effort to preserve nearly 6 acres of endangered land as a state archaeological preserve; being an early and strong proponent of a blighted property ordinance; helping revise guidelines that are now “free and fair to both proponents and opponents of future sanitary sewer extensions,” and leading the campaign to stop construction of a driveway from the Barnes & Noble shopping center onto South Morningside Drive, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School.
Recently, Suggs says, partisan politics has seeped down from national and state levels, “influencing substantive policy decison in our so-called nonpartisan RTM.”
He concludes, “I’ve always been true to my convictions. I’ve entered this race not just to win, but to represent the whole community, encouraging greater civic involvement that will lead to a better Westport.”
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