Tag Archives: STAR Lighting the Way

Pic Of The Day #689

Nearly every night, there’s a worthy fundraiser.

One of the best each year is the Galaxy of Gourmets. Sponsored by STAR Lighting the Way — the advocacy and support organization that since 1952 has helped individuals of all ages with developmental disabilities live full, independent lives — it’s a night of fantastic food, wine and craft beer. A couple dozen area restaurants and caterers turn Aitoro’s Appliances in Norwalk into a wonderful party room.

There’s live music too, from Rubberband and the Suburban Chaos Band. The groups include STAR clients.

Make no mistake:  They’re good. The place rocked. Rubberband: You guys are STARs!

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Cy And Joyce Brigish Star In A Book

In 1968, Alan and Joyce Brigish had their first child. When Cy was diagnosed with Down syndrome, many people advised them to put him in an institution, then go on with their lives.

Against the prevailing wisdom of the day, the couple decided to keep their family together.

They spent years advocating for a child who was not like most others. They also offered him every opportunity to reach his potential educationally, socially and spiritually.

Cy Brigish

Every day there were challenges, frustrations and triumphs. While raising Cy — and her 2 other children, Hal and Jackie, in Westport — Joyce also worked for the inclusion of all people with disabilities.

She did it with patience, kindness, diligence and fortitude. In doing so, she helped change public sentiment concerning people who, historically, were marginalized.

STAR, Inc. Lighting the Way has long been a big part of Cy’s life. Established in 1952 by parents who believed that children with intellectual and developmental disabilities were entitled to the same basic opportunities as other children, today STAR is a not-for-profit organization with a full array of services for over 600 people from birth to their senior years — and for their families.

STAR helps those individuals live full lives with independence, freedom of choice and personal growth. Services include early intervention for infants and preschoolers; family support; job assessment and training; recreation and leisure activities, and support to adults in group homes and apartments.

The other day, Alan donated copies of a book to STAR. It’s called “Joyce’s Way: Finding Normality Despite Disability.”

Written by Susan Klein, it’s the story of his wife. Klein shows how Joyce and her family helped Cy reach his potential, while helping pioneer a new way of seeing people with disabilities.

STAR, in turn, donated copies of “Joyce’s Way” to local libraries.

Today, Cy — a star STAR client — works 2 jobs: at Garavel Chrysler Jeep and Panera Bread. He lives independently, and recently turned 50.

Joyce was not there that day. She died of cancer in 2016.

But her legacy of inclusion, advocacy and love remains. Now it lives on, in the pages of the book her husband donated to STAR, and which will be passed along, far and wide.

(To order o copy of “Joyce’s Way,” click here. For information about STAR, including how to donate or volunteer, click here or call 203-846-9581, ext. 302.)

Walk, Run & Roll Is A True Team Triumph

The 5k Walk, Run & Roll is one of the greatest fundraisers of the year.

Over 800 men, women and children flock to Sherwood Island to raise money for STAR — the local organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, through job training, scholarships and enrichment programs.

But some of the folks most impacted by STAR have not been able to take part in an endurance event.

This year’s 13th annual Walk, Run & Roll — set for Sunday, May 6 (Sherwood Island State Park, 10 a.m.) — solves that problem. And it does so in an ingenious, inclusive way.

STAR has partnered with myTeam Triumph — an athletic ride-along program for children, teens and adults (including veterans) with disabilities. These “captains” are fitted with a safe, comfortable specialized racing chair. They’re joined by “angels,” who fundraise for, run alongside and guide them through the race.

This Sunday’s event — the first for the state chapter — includes well-known Westport captains Wyatt Davis, Jenna Herbst and Stefan Esposito, plus Weston’s Jonathan Piazza.

Stefan Esposito and his brother Christophe, on a training run.

Westporter Curtis Lueker — myTeam Triumph Connecticut chapter founder — will join over 2 dozen members in the run.

“This is all about inclusion,” he says. “Our angels and volunteers get to know the captains. They spend time during training runs, and hanging out. The captains and the families are the stars.”

During the week, Lueker is head of commercial markets for a private New York bank. But his passion is endurance racing, and giving back to his community.

He raced short distance from 1999 to 2013, when he moved to Westport. He joined Total Training & Endurance, and has completed 2 Ironman races, plus 50K and 50-mile trail runs. His 3rd Ironman is this July.

Fifteen years ago, after struggling to complete his first short-distance triathlon, he saw a father and disabled son race together in a longer distance triathlon. When he saw them again on HBO Sports, they became his heroes.

Lueker later found Team Triumph, and formed Connecticut’s chapter.

His involvement has given him great insights, he says. His 3 young kids — all of whom will join him on Sunday — get it too.

“We live in an amazing town with many luxuries,” he says. “We lead lives that many would die to have. Yet we complain about our commute, our job, the lunches served at school. Meeting captains and their families with real challenges really puts things into perspective.

“I’ve also seen how people with disabilities often don’t feel included in the community. MyTeam Triumph can’t solve that issue. But we can make an impact.”

(A 1K route is suitable for walkers, strollers, wheelchairs and baby joggers. The 5K race includes  prizes for the top finishers in each age group. Attendees enjoy a continental breakfast, live music, arts and crafts, kids’ fun bus, face painting, balloon sculpting, yard games and lunch. To register to run, walk or stroll, or donate to an existing team, click hereFor more information on myTeam Triumph, click here, email clueker@myteamtriumph-ct.org, or call 646-330-1235.)

For Wyatt Davis, State Budget Cuts Literally Hit Home

Wyatt Davis got the most out of Staples High School.

He hosted a weekly radio show on WWPT-FM. He was an avid member of Best Buddies and the Photography Club, and the football team’s most ardent fan. Nearly every staff member and student knew him — and all loved him.

Not bad for a young man who — because of cerebral palsy — cannot speak, or use his extremities.

Wyatt Davis in 2011, at the WWPT-FM controls.

Wyatt is 21 years old. That’s the age limit for high school special education services. He graduated last June (while also attending community college).

In normal times, he’d move to a program like STAR. Like similar organizations around the state serving those with intellectual/developmental disabilities, its services would help Wyatt transition to the “real world.”

But these are not normal times.

In the absence of a state budget, Wyatt — and over 200 recent high school graduates like him — have been stranded in a hellish limbo.

“Wyatt uses a wheelchair for mobility, and needs 24/7 assistance to meet his basic health care needs,” says STAR executive director Katie Banzhaf.

But, she adds, “I don’t think of Wyatt that way. To me and all of us who know him, we see an amazing young man who loves photography (he takes great photos with adaptive devices), loves his iPad, has a great sense of humor, and will absolutely charm his way into your heart.”

Wyatt Davis and his friend Taylor Harrington, watching a Staples baseball game.

Through STAR — which he became involved with last year — he has attended photography and music classes, and engaged in many activities.

But state legislators have not yet passed a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Governor Malloy’s interim budget cut funding for places like STAR by up to 18%.

Now Wyatt mostly stays home.

His parents have paid privately for STAR services, 3 days a week. They have other pressing needs — including Wyatt’s other health expenses, and a daughter in law school — and cannot afford that for much longer.

A little snow doesn’t stop Wyatt Davis from enjoying the slopes.

The other option is for his father or mother to quit their job, to stay home with Wyatt. But that won’t help him grow, develop and make friends.

“We’re trying to raise awareness and funds from the community so Wyatt can return to STAR for at least 1 to 2 months,” Banzhaf says. “That will give us time to find additional resources, so he can stay as long as he needs us.”

United  Way of Coastal Fairfield County — and an anonymous donor’s contribution of $1,000 — have ensured that after major hip surgery last month, Wyatt can join STAR again next next week.

The organization hopes other neighbors and friends will help too. To donate — or for more information — call Peter Saverine, STAR director of philanthropy, at 203-846-9581, ext. 302, or email psaverine@starct.org.