Tag Archives: Victoria Gouletas

Rob Simmelkjaer’s Ground-Breaking Persona

As a kid, Rob Simmelkjaer’s grandmother always told him: “If you’re going to open your mouth, the best thing is to ask a question.”

Questions are “a sign of respect, curiosity, a way to learn,” notes the Westporter. “They’re more than just an opening.”

Simmelkjaer has had lots of chances to ask questions. He’s a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a 2017 candidate for second selectman.

Rob Simmelkjaer

He’s been an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, and as vice president of NBC Sports Ventures was involved with the radio network and podcasts. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News, where as anchor and correspondent he covered the Virginia Tech shootings and President Ford’s funeral.

Simmelkjaer — who majored in government and philosophy at Dartmouth College, and holds a law degree from Harvard University — is a huge fan of NPR’s StoryCorps. In those short Friday segments people interview relatives and friends, unearthing tales rich in drama and inspiration.

So it’s no surprise that Simmelkjaer — who was NBC Sports’ “in-house entrepreneurial expert” — is now striking out on his own.

Or that his new venture — Persona — is all about asking questions.

Simmelkjaer calls Persona “the first social video platform dedicated to interviews.” It’s like Instagram, he says — but with conversations, not photos.

The app makes interviewing easy. It helps interviewers frame great questions, makes sharing interviews easy, and enables users to discover interesting interviews on similar (or totally unrelated) topics.

Rob Simmelkjaer is at ease in front of a camera. Persona will make the rest of us feel comfortable too.

Persona is not yet ready for prime time. Simmelkjaer is developing a prototype. He’s slowly releasing content on other platforms, like YouTube, to grow the brand.

It’s an exciting project. Just the other day — in the aftermath of the massacre at a New Zealand mosque — Simmelkjaer interviewed Imam Mohamed Abdelati of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center.

Westport is an important part of Simmelkjaer’s process. Interviews with people like State Senator Will Haskell and attorney Josh Koskoff Takes On The NRA — interesting folks with intriguing insights — are part of the plan.

Simmelkjaer’s very first Persona interview was with Victoria Gouletas. She’s the ZBA member who was paralyzed a year ago, when a heavy tree branch fell on her during a windstorm.

Gently but insightfully, he asks Gouletas about the accident, how she handled the devastating news, and the effect on her family. As she talks about her children, they chatter in the background. Despite the tragedy, the interview is warm, personal and uplifting.

That’s Simmelkjaer’s goal with Persona. It launches officially later this year.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

And when you open your mouth, follow Rob Simmelkjaer’s grandmother’s advice: Ask a question.

Unsung Hero #89

Just over a year ago, as winds howled, a large tree branch fell on Victoria Gouletas. She broke her back, and fractured bones in her neck, scapula and sternum.

Victoria Gouletas

Victoria — a real estate attorney, member of Westport’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and mother of 3 young children — was told she would never walk again.

Victoria is incredibly strong and tenacious. Buoyed by wonderful support from her husband Troy Burk and her kids — and a fantastic outpouring of energy, resources and funds from friends and strangers all across town — she made extraordinary progress.

In a little over 3 months, Victoria was back at her seat on the ZBA. She was an inspiration to all.

However, the cold weather is difficult. The family is moving to North Carolina. It’s a huge loss to our town.

Last night, the ZBA surprised her. Congressman Jim Himes and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill sent letters of commendation, and First Selectman Jim Marpe was on hand to honor her for her service and courage.

Victoria Gouletas and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at last night’s ZBA meeting. (Photo/Josh Newman)

Jim Ezzes called her “one of the most qualified and valued members I have had the opportunity to work with, during my over 20 years as chair of the ZBA.”

Democratic Town Committee chair Ellen Lautenberg added, “Her dedication and professional approach to the position has been exemplary. In addition, Victoria is a wonderful role model for how she has dealt with personal challenges in terms of her positive attitude, incredible fortitude and perseverance.”

Westport has many unsung volunteers — including members of town boards and commissions. But it’s hard to find anyone — in government, or anywhere else — who better epitomizes dedication to the town, and the power of the human spirit, than Victoria Gouletas.

Click below for Rob Simmelkjaer’s tribute video:

Only Good For Victoria Gouletas

The tree limb that fell on Victoria Gouletas last winter broke her back, paralyzed her from the chest down, and upended her and her family’s life.

The road back has been long and hard. But Victoria — a real estate attorney and Zoning Board of Appeals member — has been buoyed by the kindnesses of family members, friends, neighbors, and total strangers.

Two of those strangers are twins. Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti deliver home-cooked meals to people going through hard times. Victoria was high on their list.

She was nominated by Westport Moms, the resource-rich platform run by Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post.

Judy and Joy’s good work now inspires others on Only Good TV, which — as its name implies — is a much-needed addition to today’s media landscape.

It’s a pay site — but you can watch Victoria, Judy and Joy’s episode as part of a free trial.  Click here to be uplifted.

Victoria Gouletas (far right), her kids, and Judy Vig and Joy Paoletti on Only Good TV.

Victoria Gouletas Update: She’s Strong, But Recovery Is Long

In March, “06880” told the heart-pounding tale of Victoria Gouletas.

The real estate attorney and Zoning Board of Appeals member was crushed by a large tree branch, during a howling nor’easter. It hit her head and back, fracturing several bones in her neck, scapula and sternum.

The tree limb also broke her back, paralyzing her from the chest down. She was told she will never walk again.

Help poured in for Victoria, her husband Troy Burk and their 3 young children. Westporters brought food, drove the kids, helped around the house and yard — and donated over $190,000 through a GoFundMe account.

Doctors assured Victoria that with intense physical therapy she can regain her daily independence, care for herself and her family, drive her children to school and return to work full time.

This week, she returned home for a brief visit. But another surgery — and more rehab — await. The road ahead remains long and difficult.

Victoria Gouletas (bottom row, 2nd from right) with friends (clockwise from left) Coleytown Elementary School PTA co-president Youn So Chao, Westport Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault, 3rd Selectman Melissa Kane, community organizer Marcy Sansolo and Victoria’s sister-in-law Suzanne Karpick.

Her spirit is strong. She and her family have been moved by the many friends — and strangers — who have contributed time and money to help.

Her husband will take another month off work to care for her and the kids. Meanwhile, the bills continue to mount.

Her friends hope Westporters will not forget Victoria.

We won’t. In fact, we’ll continue to be inspired by her.

(Click here to contribute through Victoria’s GoFundMe page.)

Thinking About Trees

Alert — and worried — “06880” reader Jane Nordli writes:

The story of Victoria Gouletas — the woman hit by the falling tree limb — is so sad.

And it raises an important question, though I don’t know if there is an answer.

Our trees have become dangerous, literally. Most of my neighbors’ yards were littered with branches and limbs from last week’s storm. Our next door neighbors are renters, so I don’t know when their mess will be cleaned up.

But the trees separating our property are ginormous, and terrify me. The yard is full of downed limbs — big ones. If just one of those trees came down, it would crush my house.

More than a week after the March 7 nor’easter, yards are still littered with tree limbs.

Should something be done to prevent another horrendous accident from happening?

A few years ago, someone was killed in their car here by a falling tree. Do other communities with gigantic mature trees do anything to protect their citizens? Is it a stupid question to ask?

I have some big trees as well, so I’m not casting aspersions. I hear the buzz saws going every day, so I know the tree guys (and gals) are cutting away and chipping the dozens of fallen branches, sections of trees, giant limbs and so on.

I don’t know that there is anything we can do but put up with the mess, and the possible heartbreaking harm to ourselves.

But if anyone has an idea, let’s hear it.

Many of Westport’s trees fall close to homes. Some fall on them. (Photos/Jane Nordli Jessep)

Unsung Hero: Special Edition

Sure, “06880” salutes Westport’s Unsung Heroes every Wednesday. But this story is so important, it can’t wait.

Like many Westporters, Lori Kosut was stricken but inspired by the story of Victoria Gouletas — the Zoning Board of Appeals member paralyzed during last week’s nor’easter, when she was struck by a large falling tree limb. (Click here for yesterday’s story, and link to GoFundMe.)

Every day since the tragedy, whenever Victoria’s husband Troy Burk returns from the hospital or their 3 kids come home from school, they see the branch. It’s a vivid and brutal reminder of how, in an instant, their family’s lives were changed.

This morning, Lori called Bert Porzio. The native Westporter owns Bert’s Tree Service. She asked if he could remove the branch that struck Victoria.

Of course, he said.

Bert Porzio, at work.

He headed right over to the Sturges Highway home.

And then he did a lot more.

Bert cleared every limb and broken tree that littered the yard.

But when Lori asked for a bill, he refused. Bert said, “It’s on me.”

Victoria and her family have a long road ahead. Fortunately, they’ll travel it with fellow Westporters like Bert Porzio.

Help Pours In For Westporter Paralyzed In Nor’easter

Somehow, in the swirl of news following last week’s nor’easter, this awful news was overlooked everywhere.

A week ago, as winds howled, Victoria Gouletas — a real estate attorney, and member of Westport’s Zoning Board of Appeals — was crushed when a large tree branch snapped. It hit her head and back, fracturing several bones in her neck, scapula and sternum.

Victoria Gouletas

The tree also broke her back, paralyzing her from the chest down. She has been told she will never walk again.

Victoria retains complete mental capacity, and can use her head, neck and arms. Doctors assure her family that, with intense physical therapy, she can regain her daily independence, care for herself and her family, drive her children to school and return to work full time.

Still, her life will be very different.

Victoria and her husband, Troy Burk, and their children Ana (10), Tafe (9) and Zoe (2½), love Westport. They have been touched by the outpouring of love and well wishes they have received from the community. Many people have offered to help.

Victoria is committed to her family, her town and her career. She is fiercely determined to live a full life, regaining as much mobility as her body will allow. She has vowed to work as hard as possible to beat the odds.

Victoria Gouletas, her husband Troy Burk and their kids.

However, her recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint. Out-of-pocket costs of retrofitting her life — while continuing to care for her family — will be immense and ongoing.

Upcoming expenses include a house renovation or relocation, vehicles to accommodate her limitations, ongoing nursing care, plus child care and housekeeping services.

A GoFundMe page was set up yesterday. The goal is $75,000. In less than 24 hours, it’s collected over $11,000.

Click here to contribute. The Gouletas and Burk families thank all for their support.