Tag Archives: Mercy Learning Center

After The Protests: Here’s How To Help

Sunday’s “United Against Racism” protest on Jesup Green was powerful and important.

But many of the several hundred attendees left feeling helpless. What can we actually do, besides march and speak? they wondered.

Darcy Hicks heard them. the co-organizer of the event — and a longtime social justice advocate — says, “I’m a big believer in protests and rallies. But not if they just stop there.”

On Monday, she went to work. She compiled a list of ways to help.

Downtown Bridgeport — there’s a lot going on.(Photo/Gary Pivot)

She focused on Bridgeport because she and her husband — attorney Josh Koskoff — both work there.

“We love the people,” Darcy says. “It’s a vibrant city with amazing history – yet 40% of children live below poverty level.

“Having a foot in both Westport and Bridgeport makes me realize that if all of us had that experience, we would think about their needs more. It’s hard to remember people in need of you don’t know them, or even see them.”

So, Darcy says, in addition to rallies and protests — or instead of, if you are concerned about COVID-19 — here is what you can do:


1. Drive to Bridgeport. It’s not far. It’s part of our extended neighborhood — and it’s important to interact in any way we can.

If you’ve been braving Starbucks, go to Bean N Batter instead one day. Treat yourself to waffles — available for curbside pickup. BONUS: It’s owned by Staples grad Will Hamer.

Instead of going to Dunkin’, surprise your family with a box of the real thing from Daybreak Doughnuts. Tired of the usual takeout? Wait until you feast on Brazilian churrascaria from Pantanal

2. Online shoppers: Here’s a better way to support your habit! https://www.fastcompany.com/…/7-black-owned-businesses-to-s…

3. Give. I know, some people say it’s inappropriate to ask for money these days. But for those of us fortunate enough to fill our carts with 700 rolls of toilet paper, we can spare something. The ACLU is always a good place to donate. So are https://bailproject.org and www.campaignzero.org.

Here’s a list of state and local organizations I’ve compiled, with the help of BPT Generation Now! (an amazing group of people, who are making great changes in Bridgeport):

Black Lives Matter
CTCore
Citywide Youth Coalition
Hearing Youth Voices
Students 4 Educational Justice
Connecticut Students 4 a Dream
Make the Road CT
Adam J. Lewis Academy
Neighborhood Studios

Some very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

4. Join these Facebook groups:
https://www.facebook.com/…/Justice-for-Jayson-155481706457…/
https://www.facebook.com/noahcalebfreedom/
https://www.facebook.com/nhvcrb/

5. When the quarantine is lifted and you find yourself filling your day back up with exercise classes, pick a day to volunteer for the Bridgeport Public Schools. They need visiting readers! https://www.bridgeportedu.net/SVAB.

Or volunteer to teach English to women at Mercy Learning Center. Or help kids with their homework at The Caroline House.

There’s so much more that can be done. If you know of more ways to close the socioeconomic gap that exacerbates racism and inequality in this area, please click “Comments” below.

COVID-19 Roundup: Graduation; Helpful Guys; Mercy Learning; 6 Feet; More


Jennifer Kobetitsch lives across the street from Staples High. So — with yesterday’s (long-awaited) announcement by Governor Lamont that all public schools will remain closed through the end of June — the sign she posted at the top of her driveway is apt.

But she’s especially sad there will be no in-person graduation ceremonies this spring: Her 5th grader attends Long Lots Elementary.

On to Bedford this fall!


From the first days of the coronavirus crisis, a dozen or so Westport teenagers have run errands for senior citizens, and anyone else having difficulty getting out because of self-quarantine. Plenty of people used their safe, socially distancing services (and loved them).

Seven weeks in, they’re still helping.

“We’re getting pretty good at grocery shopping,” they say. “We’ll go to the post office, or whatever else you need. We can’t enter homes though, or interact with pets or people. Westport, Weston and Fairfield residents only, please!”

To contact these great guys (and girls), email GuysHelping@gmail.com.

Staples High School student Will Matar delivers groceries.


Since retiring from Staples High School, Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian has been a staunch, beloved tutor at Mercy Learning Center.

He and his fellow volunteers do remarkable work, helping underserved women in Bridgeport improve their lives through education. Food security is always an issue — particularly now.

MLC’s doors are closed during the pandemic. Staff members do their best to ensure that clients have food and basic supplies, plus funds to help with rent and other bills.

But their food and diaper pantries are almost bare — and they’re close to running out of food gift cards. Checks can be sent to Mercy Learning Center, 637 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604. Click here for online donations.


“06880” receives regular reports from readers complaining that residents are not keeping 6 feet away.

Westporters are not stupid. Or inconsiderate. Or selfish.

But — just to help out — Richard Brezovec sends along this reminder of how far 6 feet actually is:


And finally … despite the credits, this was Diana Ross without the Supremes. But 50 years later, the music and message still resonate.

COVID-19 Roundup: Gardens; $$$; More

 


The Westport Garden Club‘s spring plant sale is always a red letter date for green thumbs.

Like so many other events, it’s fallen victim to the coronavirus. But, the club says, it’s only postponed — not canceled. A new date will be announced soon.

COVID-19 has not knocked other plans. Members of the 96-year-old organization continue to beautify and maintain gardens and cemeteries all over town.

They’ve been busy at Grace Salmon Park, Nevada Hitchcock Park, Adams Academy, Earthplace and more. No more than 2 members work at any time, and they keep far apart while weeding, pruning and planting.

Next up: extending the Pollinator Pathway project begun last year, and enhancing the town with floral accents.

Beautiful Grace Salmon Park (Photo/Ginger Donaher)


Westport Rotary Club grants are usually a big deal, unveiled with fanfare at a big May meeting.

This year, the pandemic forced a change. $80,000 in funding was announced by email. And it’s going out now — not next month — because for many recipients, the need is urgent.

Thanks to fundraisers like LobsterFest, and ongoing hard work by members, Westport Rotary can help 35 local organizations. They include Staples Tuition Grants, Homes with Hope, CLASP Homes, and a wide range of Westport-based social services, housing, education and addiction services organizations.

Also receiving grants: Bridgeport and Norwalk organizations that serve the needy, including Mercy Learning Center, Family ReEntry and the Carver Foundation.


Speaking of Mercy Learning: Many Westporters are longtime volunteers. The Bridgeport program provides underserved women with academic, language, computer and life skills; early childhood education; assistance preparing for citizenship, and mental health, job and financial counseling.

Recently, many more Westporters have given generously, as the organization adds food, medicine and diapers for women in need.

Yesterday, the National Catholic Reporter shined a great spotlight on MLC. It’s featured in the paper’s “Saints Next Door.” Click here for the full story on this wonderful institution — and the great people behind it. (Hat tip: Diane Johnson)


More great philanthropic news:

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is giving 90 grants totaling $1,359,500 from its COVID-19 Resiliency Fund. The project was launched just a month ago. Click here for the list.

But they’re not stopping there. An anonymous donor will match every donation — up to a total of $500,000. Click here to make a donation of any size. Every dollar counts!


And finally, a beautiful song that means more than ever, these days:

COVID-19 Roundup: Office Evolution, Finding Westport, Diapers, Masks, Loose Change And More

A year ago, Office Evolution opened across from Fire Department headquarters. It was the newest entrant into the rapidly developing market for co-working spaces.

On its first anniversary, COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, working remotely was imperative. Yet so was avoiding other people.

Because it delivers mail, and some members do “essential” work, Office Evolution is considered an essential business. Doors are locked, but members have 24/7 access via electronic fobs.

Owner Laura Kaufman knows that working from home is new for many people. So she’s looking for pictures and stories of how that’s going. Anyone posting on Facebook, Instagram, NextDoor or LinkedIn (Office Evolution Westport) will receive a $25 gift card, and a chance to win up to $1,000 more. For more information click here, email westport.ct@officeevolution.com, or call 203-635-8770.

Office Evolution


To the list of great resources for finding what’s open in Westport — restaurants, stores and more — check out FindingWestport, on Instagram and online. It includes store hours, phone numbers and hyperlinks.


Mercy Learning Center has been gratified by the response from “06880” readers to their plea for food, supplies, and funds for rent and bills for the hundreds of women they serve so well in Bridgeport.

Another overwhelming response came from Gina Oliveira Beranek. After posting a request on Facebook’s great Westport Front Porch page, she and another driver headed yesterday to MLC. Their cars were stocked with food — and over 4,800 diapers.

Way to go, Gina and all you Porchers!


As “06880” has reported, Virginia Jaffe and her Greens Farms Elementary School sewing moms are busy every day, making masks. And, Virginia reports, their efforts are paying rewards.

Yesterday they donated 90 to Homes with Hope residents. Since March 30, they’ve given away 350 masks, to bus drivers and other frontline personnel.

There are now 10 seamstresses and 6 fabric cutters, all across Westport. They need help: cutting, sewing, and donating funds to buy fabric, threads and elastic. Just email westportmasks@yahoo.com.

Every donor will get the satisfaction of helping. Plus — just as important — every donor gets a mask.

Virginia adds that the group encourages children to wear masks, by making plain white ones that can be decorated with personal designs. Here’s Jake Martin, with his special theme (and disinfectant):


Every day, Larry Weisman puts his loose change in a jar. The last time he went to the bank, there was $800. He gave it to his grandchildren.

Now — in light of the need, and with the support of his grandkids — he’s donating the money to World Central Kitchen. Jose Andreas’ extraordinary non-profit has already furnished a million meals to hospitals and those in need, while also providing much needed work for restaurants employees.

It’s a great cause. Larry urges “06880” readers to donate their spare change too.


And finally, Ringo Starr, Robbie Robertson and a host of other great musicians were social distancing months before it was a thing:

COVID-19 Roundup: Optimism; Playhouse Performers; Mercy Learning, And More

CBS News’ Steve Hartman hosts an online “class” about optimism. It’s aimed at children, but should be mandatory viewing for everyone.

The most recent session was about a 4-year-old girl who befriended an 84-year-old widower. It’s a wonderful piece. But that’s not why I’m showing it.

The “06800” link is that Steve introduces it all with Mike Aitkenhead. He’s the former Staples High School/current Weston High environmental instructor who — when he was named Teacher of the Year — thanked “Mike the Mailman.”

“It’s not what you do in life. It’s how you do it,” Mike the Teacher said. Click below — and have your Kleenex ready. (Hat tip: Mark Lassoff)


The Westport Country Playhouse is dark. But this Friday (April 17, 7 p.m.), it will light up online with some spectacular performances.

The Playhouse YouTube channel and Facebook live will host “Getting to Know You: A Celebration of Young Artists.” Westport’s Tony Award-winning Broadway star Kelli O’Hara hosts 10 Fairfield County students — all accomplished musical theater artists.

Dozens of hopefuls submitted videos of songs — many of which they hoped to perform in musicals this spring. Ten were selected randomly. Among them: Camille Foisie of Staples High School, and Momo Burns-Min of Weston High.

Ten understudies were chosen to submit a question for O’Hara to answer. Staples’ Jamie Mann is one of them.

All videos submitted will be compiled into a supercut at the end of the program, and shared on Playhouse social media channels.

(For Friday’s livestream, click on westportplayhouse.org, go to the bottom of the homepage, and click on the Facebook or YouTube icon.)


For 30 years, Westporters have embraced the mission of Mercy Learning Center: to improve the lives of under-served women in Bridgeport through education.

Of course, women who are hungry cannot learn. If they can’t afford the rent or diapers, they have no time or energy to learn. Now, the coronavirus has made those needs even more dire.

In week 4 of the crisis, MLC has exhausted their food and diaper pantries — and run out of food gift cards.

Because Mercy Learning Center is not considered an “essential service,” the building is closed. But director Jane Ferreira and her staff are in touch with their students. They’re doing their best to ensure they have food and basic supplies, plus funds to help with rent and other bills.

Checks can be sent to Mercy Learning Center, 637 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604. Click here for online donations.


On the one hand, this seems like great news.

On the other hand, it’s like a tease.

Who’s driving anywhere these days? (Hat tip: Chip Stephens)


And finally, this classic duet from 2 who died way too young: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell:

 

 

Mercy!

Twenty years ago, when Tammy Barry moved from New Jersey to Westport, her neighbor — a nun — suggested she get involved with Mercy Learning Center.

The Bridgeport organization — providing literacy and life skills training to low-income women — was run by nuns.

Today it’s a secular non-profit. It serves — and changes the lives — of hundreds of women a year.

Tammy Barry

Barry has been intimately involved since she moved here. She now runs Mercy’s mother/child reading program. After each session — which includes singing and parent education — everyone goes home with a new copy of the book they’ve read.

With her 3 children grown and graduated from Staples High School, Berry also tutors English and life skills.

Barry calls her group — 5 native Spanish and Portuguese speakers, in their 30s through 50s — “incredible. I love them. They have such energy, and are so eager to learn. They ask great questions, and help each other out so well.”

A 53-year-old gets up at 5:30 every morning, to get her kids ready for school. She works 5 days a week — then goes to Mercy, working on her GED.

“I’d be exhausted,” Barry says. “But she’s so happy to be there. She’s a role model for all of us.”

All of the women, Barry says, are “driven, grateful, and always smiling.”

Tammy Barry (center), and her hard-working but always-smiling students.

Mercy Learning Center is wonderful. It fills a gaping need, just a few miles from Westport.

But with over 100 women on the waiting list, it needs more volunteers.

“You don’t need to be a teacher,” Barry explains. “The curriculum tells you exactly what to do. You don’t have to speak a 2nd language, either.”

Tutors come from all over Fairfield County. They’re all ages — from retirees to young people who leave work early, or go in late.

They teach English, math, science, civics, technology and computer skills. They help prepare their students for high school equivalency and US citizenship exams, and for college and careers.

Tutor coordinators and a curriculum manager help volunteers who have questions or concerns.

Twenty years after she started volunteering at Mercy Learning Center, Tammy Barry is more committed than ever.

Now she wants you to commit to Mercy too.

(For more information or to volunteer, contact Lynn Gabriel or Erica Hoffman: 203-334-6699; lynn.gabriel@mercylearningcenter.org; erica.hoffman@mercylearningcenter.org)

Unsung Hero #14

As a new school year begins, it’s appropriate that this week’s Unsung Hero is a former teacher.

Generations of Staples High School students revered Gerry Kuroghlian. For nearly 40 years, “Dr. K” — his doctorate was from the University of Illinois, with an undergrad degree from the University of Virginia — taught Westport teenagers how to write, how to think, and how to act.

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

His challenging classes like “Myth and Bible” were as demanding as college-level courses. But he never forgot that he was working with still-unformed boys and girls. His greatest delight came from helping mold them into active, concerned citizens of the world.

Kuroghlian was totally invested in the life of Staples. If there was a play, concert or athletic event, he was there.

He never missed an Eagle Scout ceremony, celebratory dinner or parent’s funeral either.

When Kuroghlian retired in 2008, some people wondered how he’d fill his days.

They needn’t have worried.

Kuroghlian quickly became one of Mercy Learning Center‘s most active volunteers.

He taught ESL at the heralded Bridgeport women’s literacy and life-skills center. His new students — women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between — loved him.

He returned the admiration.

“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly. “They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all. They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.

Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had. They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.

“No one is ever late. No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly. “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something. They’re amazing.”

After class, the women work on computers. They also go on field trips. When Kuroghlian took them to a library, they learned how to get library cards for their kids.

Kuroghlian is equally involved at Kolbe Cathedral High School. He spends most afternoons at the Bridgeport private school, as a tutor, SAT and ACT advisor, and college application essay guide. Thanks in part to his help, virtually every graduate for nearly a decade has gone on to college.

Gerry Kuroghlian works with a Kolbe Cathedral senior on his college essay.

At Kolbe, Kuroghlian organizes cultural field trips to Fairfield University and New York City. Just as he did at Staples, he attends sports events, chaperones the prom, and continually shares his philosophy that it is the responsibility of each individual to make a difference.

He also arranged for over 1,000 books to be donated to the library.

In his spare time (!), Kuroghlian works with national education organizations, cancer and diabetes groups, the Westport Library and United Church of Christ.

Nearly 10 years after “retiring,” Dr. K. shows no signs of slowing down.

Why should he? He’s continuing the work he loves: Showing teenagers how to make their mark on the world, by doing it himself.

(To nominate an unsung hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Lynn U. Miller)

Women Make Westporters Much More AWARE

One of the joys of publishing “06880” is the chance tell stories of Westporters who quietly — but very effectively — do wonderful things for others. Many folks volunteer their time with organizations that — while very important — many of us never hear of.

Were you aware of AWARE?

Founded over 20 years ago in New York by Amy Saperstein and friends, the goal is to make a difference in the lives of women and girls. (AWARE stands for Assisting Women through Action, Resources and Education.)

When Amy moved to Westport, she launched a local chapter.

AWARE women, at a fundraiser for Mercy Learning Center. From left: Deb Parnes, Kim Perlen, Amy Saperstein, Erica Davis, Johanna Kiev and Jennifer Seymour.

AWARE women, at a fundraiser for Mercy Learning Center. From left: Deb Parnes, Kim Perlen, Amy Saperstein, Erica Davis, Johanna Kiev and Jennifer Seymour.

Each year the group selects a women’s cause, then partners with a charity to benefit it. Through a fundraiser, hands-on activity and educational event, AWARE shines a light on a different meaningful women’s issue. Previous partnerships have included Mercy Learning Center, and an organization to aid victims of sex trafficking.

This year, AWARE supports female veterans. The Westport chapter has partnered with Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, a Bridgeport transitional home.

Once a month, AWARE volunteers serve dinner to homeless female vets there. They work with “AWARE kids” to assemble diaper bags filled with newborn supplies, for pregnant veterans in need. And they organized a panel discussion in Westport, with female veterans from 4 military branches.

"AWARE Kids" filled diaper bags for pregnant female veterans.

“AWARE Kids” filled diaper bags for pregnant female veterans.

Westport Michelle Hogue says it is “refreshing to volunteer with a diverse group of women. We learn and listen first, then engage and assist.”

Hogue hosts this year’s cocktail party fundraiser (Saturday, April 30, 7 p.m.).

But that’s not the only big event to be “aware” of.

In June — at the National Organization for Women’s 50th anniversary gala — they’ll receive NOW’s Intrepid Award.

That’s pretty cool.

But nowhere near as cool as the work these Westporters do — under the radar, but way over and above — for women beyond our town borders.

(For tickets and more information on AWARE’s April 30 fundraiser, click here. To learn about upcoming meetings and events, email AwareCt@gmail.com.) 

Mercy!

Gerry Kuroghlian may be the most passionate person I know.

For over 40 years, his passion was teaching English. Generations of Staples students were inspired by his incredible enthusiasm for Shakespeare, his “Myth and Bible” course, writing, and everything else associated with the school.

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

Gerry retired 4 years ago. His passions now are helping seniors at Bridgeport’s Kolbe Cathedral High School with their college essays, and tutoring at Mercy Learning Center.

Mercy — also in Bridgeport — provides basic literacy and life skills training to low-income, under-educated, marginalized women. It’s an amazing organization, and dozens of Westporters donate their time and energy there too.

Over Thanksgiving, Gerry and his wife Ellen were enjoying a stay at the Hawthorne Inn in Concord, Massachusetts. They began chatting with another family. Gerry mentioned Mercy Learning Center. The family wanted to know more. Gerry happily told them all he knew. That was that.

Until this week.

Mercy Learning Center called to tell Gerry they’d received a $10,000 donation from strangers. It was the family he’d told all about Mercy.

Some call it a miracle.

I call it the kind of thing that happens when Gerry Kuroghlian spreads his warmth and passion with whomever he meets.

Mercy Learning Center

“Dr. K” Gives Back

When Gerry Kuroghlian retired in 2008 after 43 years as a Staples English teacher, he knew he would not spend leisurely hours playing golf.

If you know “Dr. K” — and everyone in Westport does — you’d know he’s not a leisurely guy.  And he is definitely not a golfer.

Dr. Gerald Kuroghlian

As soon as he left Staples, Kuroghlian headed in the opposite direction:  to Bridgeport, the city where he was born and spent his early years.  Following the lead of Westporters he knew and admired — Dick Leonard, Doris Shiller and dozens of others — he volunteered at Mercy Learning Center.

Last year he taught GED classes at the much-heraled women’s literacy and life-skills center.  This year he’s teaching English as a Second Language — influencing (and learning from) women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between.

“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly.

“They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all.  They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.

Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had.”  They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.

“No one is ever late.  No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly.  “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something.  They’re amazing.”

After class, the women work on computers.  They also go on field trips.

Kuroghlian recently took them to the library.  They paid particular attention to the children’s section, where they learned how to get library cards for their kids.

“These woman are totally motivated to improve the lives of their children,” he says.

But Mercy Learning Center is only part of Kuroghlian’s rich life.  He also volunteers at Kolbe Cathedral, the small parochial school in Bridgeport.

Westporter Bill Mitchell got Kuroghlian involved.  Mitchell is a “Shepherd” — someone who provides financial assistance and mentorship to a student during his 4 years at Kolbe — and when he introduced Kuroghlian to the school and its students, “Dr. K” was hooked.

The English instructor works with all 60 seniors on their college essays.  He offers an objective eye, and a lifetime of experience in helping the Bridgeport teenagers bring personal, individual voices to their writing.

“They’re great kids,” Kuroghlian says.  “They’re unbelievably polite, with firm handshakes — boys and girls.  They all have jobs, and do an incredible job balancing school, sports and work.”

Having watched Bridgeport decline so far from its heyday, Kuroghlian feels good about his current work — and the women and teens he works with.

“In Bridgeport, education is seen as a privilege — not something to take for granted.

“As a teacher, I’ve never felt more valued.  I’m rewarded not with money, but with thanks.

“The women at Mercy want a better life for their kids, and the kids at Kolbe want a better life for themselves.

“They all realize that education is their only way out, and they’re all killing themselves to get an education.  It’s a wonderful environment to be in.”