Tag Archives: Westport Department of Human Services

School Mentors Get High Marks

Back in the (pre-pandemic) day, 26 mentors met weekly with Westport public school student mentees. They shared lunch, played games, developed friendships, and impacted each other’s lives.

But 2 years in which schools were closed to visitors diminished the ranks. Today, there are just 5 mentor/mentee pairs.

Annette D’Augelli wants to raise those numbers.

As mentor program coordinator for Westport’s Department of Human Services, she’s seen the power of mentorship.

Since its start more than a dozen years ago by Patty Haberstroh, the program has grown to encompass grades kindergarten through 12, at all Westport schools.

Potential mentors are interviewed and vetted. D’Augelli then works with counselors and teachers to match adults and students, by gender and interests like sports or movies.

Meetings take place during the day, at mutually convenient times. For elementary schoolers that’s usually during lunch, in the library, a classroom or on the playground.

Middle schoolers don’t like missing lunch with friends, so meetings take place at other times. Staples students’ schedules change daily, so that’s another challenge.

Mentor meetings are about 45 minutes long, and friendship-based. The pair play games or talk; it’s not a time for homework or tutoring.

Mentees often come from single-parent homes, or for some other reason need another adult in their lives.

Matches may last long past graduation (which mentors proudly attend). Several mentors have been invited to weddings of mentees.

It may take a while for the relationship to develop. One boy spent 4 years never saying “thank you” or “I’m glad you’re here.” But the mentor kept modeling that behavior.

Recently, the youngster shook his mentor’s hand, and said “thanks.” That’s not why mentors sign up — yet it was an important moment nonetheless.

Annette D’Augelli

Every year, Human Services hosts a party for volunteers in all departmental programs. Last year, a mentor asked her very shy mentee if she wanted to meet 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker.

The next day, the girl excitedly told all her friends that she’d met “the mayor of Westport.”

D’Augelli says that many teachers report the mentor program leads to increased participation in class — and greater student confidence too.

“This is so important — especially now, as we’re coming out of COVID,” the coordinator says.

“Everyone needs someone to bounce things off of who is not a parent. They need to have conversations with adults who are their number one fans.”

Though some mentors are retired, adults of any age can apply. The time commitment is small — 30 to 45 minutes once a week (or even once every 2 weeks).

The impact is enormous.

And it lasts a lifetime.

Interested in becoming a mentor? Email adaugelli@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1183.

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Senior Center Names New Director

There will never be another Sue Pfister.

But now there’s a Wendy Petty.

The Fairfield resident — and, for the past 11 years, Weston Senior Activities Center director — was announced today as the new director of the Westport Center for Senior Activities.

Pfister — who led Westport’s Senior Center for 36 years — retired December 31.

Wendy Petty

Petty led Weston’s Senior Center expansion through fundraising, capacity-building and advocacy. She established partnerships with local organizations, volunteer networks, colleagues and social services agencies, to develop innovative social and recreational opportunities for seniors.

Originally from Southern California, Petty and her husband Jim raised their children in Weston. She has a BA in counseling and human Services from Notre Dame de Namur University.

In addition to her specialty in senior services, Petty has experience in non-profit operations, team leadership, grant and program development, and budget administration.

“I am very happy to welcome Wendy to Westport’s Center for Senior Activities,” says 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker. “She brings professional expertise, operational management and local knowledge to the Human Services team and, most importantly, to the WCSA.”

Petty says, “I am very excited to join WCSA’s team and look forward to building on their success as an exemplary hub for local seniors. Together, we will continue to provide the best possible care and service to the senior community.”

In her free time Petty enjoys running, taking long walks with friends, and spending time with family. She and her husband are active in the local car enthusiast community, and enjoy weekend rallies on the back roads of Connecticut.

Westport Senior Center

“The Senior Center’s success can be attributed to a variety of factors, including a Town administration that prioritizes seniors, participants who both contribute and drive programming, and our professional staff members who facilitate connections and run the programs day in and day out,” says Human Services Department director Elaine Daignault, which oversees the Senior Center.

“Under Sue Pfister’s leadership, the WCSA’s dedicated team helped to build the center of Westport’s dreams.

“Today, we prepare for a new era of growth and prosperity for our most esteemed senior residents. I could not be more excited to welcome Wendy to the team.”

In addition to Petty’s appointment — effective February 1, 2023 — Tooker promoted Holly Betts to assistant director of the Senior Center, and Jason Wilson to program specialist, effective immediately.

“Westport … What’s Happening”: Jen Tooker On Traffic, Downtown Plan And Human Services

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker returns, for another Y’s Men of Westport and Weston podcast.

This week she answers questions sent in by residents about traffic impacting the downtown plan, and whether it will include a study.

She also discusses the very important role the Department of Human Services plays in town, offering financial and support services to families in need.

It’s especially important during the holidays, when economic and other pressures are strong. Tooker provides important information about DHS programs, and how to access them.

Click below to listen:

Roundup: Hamlet, Holiday Giving, Casa Me, Middle School Art …

The Planning & Zoning Commission held its final public hearing last night on the proposed text and map amendment change for The Hamlet at Saugatuck.

Scaled-down versions of the original plan show less density and height.

The commission has 65 days to render a decision. It will likely be discussed next at their December 5 work session.

An original design for The Hamlet at Saugautck …

… and a revised version.

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Just in time for the holidays: Westport’s Department of Human Services’ Giving Program is back.

Donations from community members are a huge help to Westport families facing financial hardship. One hundred families with school-aged children benefit each year from the program. 

This year, rising costs for food, housing and fuel has added strains to many local budgets.

Gift cards and cash donations are matched with families, who then purchase food and simple holiday gifts for their children. Beneficiaries are anonymous. 

The program enables parents to personalize their presents, and participate fully in the holiday season.

Residents and organizations can donate cash, checks or gift cards to the “Family to Family Seasonal Holiday Giving Program” online (click here). Contributions can also be dropped off at Town Hall, or mailed to the Department of Human Services c/o Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

Westport residents facing financial difficulties can contact Human Services at 203-341-1050 or humansrv@westportct.gov for confidential assistance.

Questions? Email adaugelli@westportct.gov or call 203-341-1183.

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CTBites’ weekly blog leads with a story about Casa Me.

The story on the new restaurant in the longtime Sconset Square corner begins:

Casa Me elevates the local restaurant scene with its exceptional Northern Italian vacation-inspired cuisine.

For months Westporters and passersby wondered what was to become of the slightly rundown restaurant in Sconset Square in the midst of a massive renovation and remodel that seemed to take forever. Rumors began to circulate… a Mexican restaurant was coming to town (another?). A Spanish restaurant was moving in. (That’s across the street.) There was also some speculation that a new concept by restauranteur Mario Fontana, owner of the Bodega restaurants both in Fairfield and Darien was going to open.

Fontana was indeed opening a new restaurant, Casa Me, but the cuisine would be distinctly vacation-inspired Italian cuisine. This time he would be joined by his wife, the lovely Pina Ferlisi, who would take on the role of Creative Director after leaving a long and successful career as a fashion director for such esteemed brands as Henri Bendel and Alexander McQueen.

Click here for the full story. For the Casa Me website, click here.

A Casa Me collage, courtesy of CTBites.

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Big art is coming to Westport’s middle schools.

The Westport Public Art Collections’ new program will display large format artwork. loaned by local and regional artists.

The goal is to expand WestPAC’s mission of bringing original works to schools, to help stimulate discussion and connections with art and other curricula.

The middle school program was piloted last year when Coleytown reopened, with Eric Chiang’s “Are We Born Connected” and “History Civilizations.” 

Two artists are loaning works for the 2022-23 school year. Jay Petrow offers a large-scale canvas “So Sorry” for Bedford Middle School, while Liz Leggett’s 3 abstractions are at Coleytown.  

Both Westport artists have completed their installations. Throughout the school year they’ll speak to art classes, be interviewed by student newspapers and TV, and continue sharing their stories, experiences, and practices with students and staff.

Jay Petrow with “So Sorry.”

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A reminder: Staples High School Candlelight Concert tickets go “on sale” to the public — don’t worry, they’re still free! — on December 1.Performances are Friday, December 16 (8 p.m.) and Saturday, December 17 (3 and 8 p.m.).

The event combines 80 years of tradition with a modern holiday spirit. The Symphonic Orchestra, Symphonic Band and Choral Ensembles perform Candlelight favorites like “Sing We Noel” and “Hallelujah Chorus.” Also movements from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” music from “Home Alone” by John Williams, and the first movement of Dan Forrest’s “Jubilate Deo.”

Set your reminders. Candlelight tickets get gobbled up fast!

Oh, yeah. Here’s the (easy to remember) link is: www.StaplesMusic.org.

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The Westport Museum for History & Culture is teaming up with Verso Studios at the Westport Library for a new podcast.

“Buried in Our Past” focuses on the histories all around us, It offers a new way to look at the past, and rethink the present.

The monthly podcast is recorded at Verso Studios. It’s available on the Library’s YouTube channel, and through Apple and Spotify.

The debut episode (available now) features the true story of the first Thanksgiving with guest Greg Porretta, a Julliard-trained actor and Westport Museum board member. Click below to see:

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Last month, 5-year-old Daisy Jonas contracted RSV, the respiratory virus that is especially dangerous in young children. She spent 3 nights — including her birthday — at Stamford Hospital.

Her parents were grateful for the new toys given to her during her stay. Now it’s time to give back.

Daisy’s older brother — 9-year-old Levi — wants to join her in collecting toys from Westporters, for Stamford Hospital. New, unwrapped toys can be dropped off by December 18. Email biancablairjonas@gmail.com for the address; click here for an Amazon wish list.

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Westport resident Dr Jim Gadzik, Westporter — a trauma surgeon at Norwalk Hospital — has a life outside of the operating room.

He can cross off one bucket list item. He’s just written a play.

“Magic: A Ballroom Musical” will be staged at Norwalk’s Wall Street Theater this Saturday (November 26, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.).

It’s an original, Christmas-themed, family-friendly show, featuring 30 songs and 7 ballroom dances.

Jim explains: “It is the story of Pam and Bob, 2 lonely people who find love in a ballroom studio on an enchanted Christmas weekend when they are offered free lessons as a holiday gift by an intriguing dance instructor. If you like Hallmark, Disney and happy endings, you’ll love ‘Magic.'”

Click here for tickets, as well as the livestream link.

 

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Speaking of doctors: Bob Altbaum is guest speaker at the Y’s Women’s next meeting (Monday, November 28, 11:30 a.m., Green’s Farms Church). The public is invited.

Dr. Altbaum retired last year from Internal Medicine Associates of Westport, where he spent his entire career. He joined them in 1978.

An exceptional diagnostician, he is also a Renaissance man. He teaches, hikes, snowshoes, plays tennis and pickleball, and is a keyboardist in the doctor-filled rock group DNR.  They play at places like the Levitt Pavilion, and fundraisers for pancreatic and breast cancer, Norwalk Hospital and ALS.

Dr. Robert Altbaum

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Jazz does not take a holiday.

In honor of Thanksgiving, the weekly “Jazz at the Post” series moves this week to Wednesday.

Well-known pianist Chris Coogan joins bassist Don Falzone and drummer Jim Royle for 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. sets at VFW Post 399 (465 Riverside Avenue).

There’s a $15 cover, with dinner starting at 7 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended: JazzatthePost@gmail.com.

Chris Coogan

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Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup included photos of 2 joyful soccer teams: Staples High School girls, and Greens Farms Academy boys.

Both won championships on Sunday: the “LL” state and New England Prep School titles, respectively.

Here’s another happy guy: Paul Marchese. He lives in Westport, but coaches the Ridgefield High School girls swim team.

Under his guidance, the Tigers captured this year’s FCIAC, state LL and state open championships.

He looks deservedly excited. But aren’t winning swim teams supposed to toss their coach into the pool? (Hat tip: Anne Pfeiffer)

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“The Laramie Project” — the Unitarian Church of Westport’s weekend play — was a simple but powerful production examining the aftermath of the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard.

It was also timely, coming on the same weekend a man killed 5 patrons of a gay club in Colorado Springs, and wounded many others.

After the actors took their bows, the audience remained for an insightful talkback.

“Laramie Project” talkback, at the Unitarian Church. (Hat tip and photo/Jill Johnson Mann)

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There have been a ton of seagulls recently at Sherwood Mill Pond.

Matt Murray snapped today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo yesterday, as they enjoyed breakfast.

(photo/Matt Murray)

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And finally … following up on his photo (above), Matt Murray offers today’s musical selection:

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Roundup: Election Day, Thanksgiving, Kristallnacht …

Pigs can’t vote.

But people can.

And everyone should. It’s the central tenet of democracy. Millions of people have marched, sacrificed, even given their lives for this country to ensure that right.

Billions of people around the world wish they had what we have.

Jolantha — Weston’s favorite pig — reminds “06880” readers, wherever in America they are, that today is Election Day.

If you live in Westport, click here for a sample ballot. (Thanks, Jeff Looby!)

If you live in Connecticut, click here to find your polling place. Then go there!

NOTE: Voters at Coleytown Middle School polling place should take the first entrance on North Avenue (the one right after Coleytown Elementary School), rather than the one at the top of the slight hill.

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

Turnout was light this morning. This was the scene at the Westport Library polling station.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

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Speaking of the election: It’s a bit late. And most voters have probably made up their minds.

But yesterday, Sustainable Westport said: “This year, in lieu of environmental debates (issues with scheduling), we provided candidates with questions on environmental issues and sustainability. They submitted answers at the end of last week.”

For candidates for State House District 143, click here. Candidates for District 136 did not respond. For candidates for State Senate District 26, click here.

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Saugatuck Congregational Church will not host their traditional community Thanksgiving feast this year.

However, Westport’s Department of Human Services will once again join with the Westport Housing Authority and Homes with Hope to provide food gift cards and meals to those in need.

Those organizations are working with Coleytown Elementary School, Coleytown Middle School and Temple Israel to continue their traditions of offering homemade cards, gifts and pies.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault adds, “We are grateful to the Westport Woman’s Club. They provide grocery gift cards to distribute to food-insecure residents, and assist with the cost of specially catered meals from the Sherwood Diner for Westporters who receive home-delivered meals through the Senior Center.

For more information, contact Human Services by phone (203-341-1050) or email (humansrv@westportct.gov). “We are here to help!” Daignault says.

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With antisemitism on the rise in the nation, The Conservative Synagogue invites all Westporters to commemorate Kristallnacht — the Nazis’ “Night of Broken Glass” — this Saturday (November 12, 5:30 p.m., 30 Hillspoint Road).

The service includes Havdallah and hearing eyewitness testimony from Kristallnacht survivor Fred Behrend.

Click here to register.

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Saugatuck Rowing Club’s junior athletes won several medals at last month’s season-ending Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Pennsylvania.

But they’re winners off the water too. The young rowers (and their parents) spent last weekend cleaning up the banks of the Saugatuck River, right by their home boathouse.

Thirty participants amassed over 300 pounds of trash. That’s 10 pounds of garbage per person.

Keep Norwalk Beautiful provided supplies. Jen and Adam Goldberg of Pop-Up Bagels donated nearly as many bagels as there were pounds of trash.

Saugatuck Rowing Club plans an encore this spring.

A small bit of the large amount of trash collected by Saugatuck Rowing Club volunteers.

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Speaking of Saugatuck: Slice of Saugatuck delivers. The September event raised $5,000 for Homes with Hope.

The 10th annual festival brought over 2,000 people to  experience, sample and taste their way through the neighborhood. To date, donations from the Slice to Homes with Hope, for use in their Gillespie Center Food Pantry, total over $40,000.

“The Festival is all about food — food for those who can afford it, and now food for those who can’t,” says Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Slice’s sponsor, the Westport Weston Chamber. “We are so pleased we have been able to make these donations each year to help ease food insecurity. It’s a win-win.”

From left: Bob O’Mahoney and Harry Brady Viva Zapata owners; Bill Rizzuto owner of Rizzuto’s; Helen McAlinden director of Homes with Hope; Matthew Mandell, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director; Robert Curwen, Chamber member.

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In 2010, former Red Sox pitcher John Trautwein lost his son Will to suicide. There was no sign or warning.

Trautwein and his family formed the “Will to Live Foundation.” The goal is to encourage teenagers and young adults to “talk about it,” and serve as “life teammates” for each other.

On November 17 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall), Trautwein will speak about this important topic. The event is sponsored by Westport Youth Services, the Police Athletic League, and the Teen Awareness Group.

Trautwein spoke to high school athletes in August, at the FCIAC leadership conference. His message was strong, and well received.

This program is aimed at parents, middle and high school students, coaches, and anyone who works with young people. Additional resources and counseling support will be available through Kids in Crisis and Positive Directions during and after the event.

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Why is a college transcript so crucial?

This Thursday (November 10, 7 p.m., online), Amy Chatterjee — senior college counselor from Collegewise, — discusses what a transcript actually is, how it can “show a love of learning through courses,” and why it’s the most important part of the college application.

Click here to register.

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Usually, it’s music teachers who watch their students perform on stage.

On November 20 (MoCA Westport, 4 p.m.), faculty members of the Westport School of Music will be on stage for a special concert. “Autumn Colors” will celebrate nature’s splendor, through piano, strings, flute, guitar and voice.

Highlights include “Autumn in New York,” “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” from “Charlie Brown,” and “Autumn” from “The Four Season of Buenos Aires.”

After the concert, guests can greet the musicians, and enjoy refreshments and drinks at the MoCA Bar.

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This week at Jazz at the Post: Spain’s “finest and most celebrated jazz pianist,”  Abé Rabade. Very popular throughout Europe, he’ll perform at VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 this Thursday.

Rabade’s music blends classic Catalonian and Galician styles, along with the soulful and swinging “great jazz tradition.”

Joining in are Rale Micic (guitar), “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall (saxophone), David Richards (bass0 and Tim Horner (drums).

There are shows at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m., with dinner starting at 7. Tickets are just $15. Email Jazzatthepost@gmail.como for reservations.

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Longtime Westporter Joan Kahn died Saturday, in Norwalk Hospital. She would have been 98 next month.

Joan’s family described her as “feisty, independent, determined, brilliant and caring.:

A “founding mother” of modern Westport, she and her husband Ed moved to Westport in 1953 from New York City. They lived first on Charcoal Hill, then built a home on Coach Lane.

Joan’s family called her “a sounding board and encourager of husband Ed throughout his town leadership as he chaired the Representative Town Meeting, spearheaded efforts to save Cockenoe Island, positioned Westport as the first town meeting to vote against the war in Viet Nam, and was a part of the committee that bought Longshore.”

With a group of mothers, Joan started the Westport Cooperative Nursery School (now Westport Nursery School).

Joan was valedictorian of her high school class at Calhoun High School in
New York, graduated from Smith College, and earned her social work degree from Columbia University in 1952.

She was an early “career mother,” as a social worker at Norwalk Hospital, then Bridgeport Hospital, and finally in the Norwalk school system, from which she retired.

She was an avid follower of politics, curious world traveler, and consummate reader. She was also an active, loving, mother of 3 children. all of whom attended Westport schools: Karen, Shoshi
and Dan.

She also leaves 6 grandchildren — Ron, Edwina, Maya, Eli, Max  and Emma =- and 4 great-grandchildren.

Joan Kahn

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Wakeman Town Farm volunteer Thomas Schmidt stopped feeding breakfast to the animals just long enough to snap today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo:

(Photo/Thomas Schmidt)

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And finally … Alice Cooper wanted to be elected.

If you want your candidate to be elected too … head to the polls! They’re open until 8 p.m. tonight.

(Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, independents, Whigs, Know-Nothings, and everyone else: Vote with your wallets. Please click here to support “06880.”)

 

 

 

Roundup: Back-To-School Help, Online Returns, Hate Incidents …

If it’s August, it must be back-to-school time.

Which means, it’s time to help local youngsters whose parents can’t afford all the bells and whistles — or perhaps even notebooks and pencils — that their kids need.

Not to mention, after-school childcare.

Last year, Westport’s Department of Human Services helped 115 children from 70 families with back-to-school needs. They also provided 15 children with financial assistance to participate in programs while their parents were at work.

Human Services seeks Walmart gift cards to allow families to shop for essentials. Monetary donations provide access to after-school programs. Both are tax-deductibel.

Donations can be made online. Click here; then click on “Family to Family Programs – Seasonal Program – Back to School.” Checks can be made payable to the “Town of Westport/DHS Family Programs,” and sent to Human Services, 110 Myrtle Ave Westport, CT  06880.

If you or someone you know requires assistance, call 203-341-1050 or email humansrv@westportct.gov. All calls are confidential.

Every child deserves access to school supplies.

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First came the excitement of Lily’s Market. There’s new (and convenient) life in Weston Market.

Starting Friday, Lily’s will offer something else: returnable online returns.

“Returnable” is a subscription service. Members drop returns for items bought online in a bin, at Lily’s — skipping the hassle of printing labels, packaging, and hauling them to a shipping location.

To subscribe, scan a QR code on Lily’s returnable bin. To return an item, email rose@returnable.com with purchase/return information. Returnable processes the info, and provides next steps.

It’s all good. Plus: the first month is free!

Lily’s Market, Weton.

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With hate incidents rising in Connecticut, Stacey Sobel’s appearance yesterday at the Westport Rotary Club was timely.

Sobel — the state’s regional director of the Anti-Defamation League noted that while violence has been minimal here, white supremacists have increased their physical and online presence.

She commended Connecticut legislators and media for their vigilance in exposing and combating hate speech. “We are focused on preserving democracy,” said Sobel about the ADL. (Hat tip: Dave Matlow)

Stacey Sobel holds up a “New England Nationalist Social Club” flyer at the Westport Rotary Club’s meeting, at Greens Farms Church. (Photo/Dave Matlow)

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Yesterday’s “06880” highlighted the volunteer efforts in Ukraine of Westporters Brian Mayer and Ken Bernhard.

They’re hard-working. They’re inspiring.

And on August 15 (7 p.m.), they’re at the Westport Library.

They’ll discuss UkraineAidInternational.org, the not-for-profit Brian co-founded, as well as the triumphs and difficulties of the Ukrainian people as they fight the Russian invasion. Click here for more information, including in-person and Zoom registration.

(From left): Ken Bernhard, and Jeff, Nancy and Brian Mayer, unloading supplies for Ukraine.

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Elizabeth Petrie-Devoll is the August artist exhibitor at the Westport Book Shop.

Eleven works will be on display this month. Elizabeth creates new art from old object, enlivening history and questioning the border between the past and present.

She says, “In a disposable age I reconfigure, repurpose and compose well-worn and often utilitarian relics.

All work is available for purchase. To see more of her work, click here.

Elizabeth Devoll, at the Westport Book Shop.

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Actor Pat Carroll died Saturday. She was 95 years old.

She was well known to Westport Country Playhouse theatergoers. Her 4 stage appearances spanned 4 decades: “Once Upon a Mattress” (1961), “Something’s Afoot” (1975), “Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein” (1982) and “Nunsense II” (1993).

In 1995, she directed the Playhouse production of “The Supporting Cast.”

Longtime WCP PR manager Patricia Blaufuss calls Carroll’s “Nunsense” performance “a master class in comic timing and delivery. She made the show fresh, vibrant, and a sellout. She was a remarkable stage presence and a memorable woman in entertainment history.”

Click here for a full obituary. Click here for an in-depth video interview.

Pat Carroll in “Gertrude Stein.” (Photo/Gerry Goodstein)

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Admit it: Secretly, you’d love to do improv.

This fall, the Westport Community Theatre will once again offer a master class in the art. All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced.

Second City-trained actress Heather Delude will teach both short- and long-form scenic improvisation, along with musical improv. This is not her first WCT rodeo; she’s instructed there many times before.

The class meets Saturday and Sunday, October 8 and 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information and registration, email WCTJuniors@gmail.com, or call Cindy Hartog at 203-858-6993.

Heather Delude

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Problems with the Westport Library air conditioning yesterday were nothing to crow about.

But this guy beat the heat, with a special spot outside the café, where manager Heli Stagg captured the image, for “Westport … Naturally.”

(Photo/Heli Stagg)

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And finally … were there other crows at the Library too?

We’re not sure. We were not …

Roundup: More Mitzvahs, Heating Help, Gaby Gonzalez …

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Yesterday’s “06880” lead story yesterday celebrated the works of members of 4 Westport synagogues. They’ll be honored December 12 by the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, as part of their annual “Mitzvah Heroes” celebration.

But there’s a 5th Westporter too — from Congregation Beth El in Norwalk.

Stephanie Gordon has been a shul leader since 2007.  A lawyer professionally, she focuses her volunteerism in 2 areas: working toward “tikkun olam” (repairing the world), and improving her congregation

Committee work at Beth El includes Membership, vice president for Education and Fundraising, and the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee. But she’s hands-on too, from decorating the sukkah to greeting congregants on Shabbat.

For years Stephanie was part of Norwalk Open Doors’ shelter and kitchen crew. She then stepped up to lead. The pandemic notwithstanding, Stephanie continues to plan healthy menus, shops, recruits volunteers, and leads meal prep and service. 

Stephanie Gordon

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This winter could be one of the most expensive on record. That’s scary news for neighbors who already have trouble heating their homes.

The Westport Warm-Up Fund can help.

The initiative helps hundreds of Westporters with home heating expenses — thanks to others who donate.

Tax-deductible contributions can be made online (click here) or by mail:  Westport Warm-Up Fund, Department of Human Services, Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport CT 06880.

For more information — or to request help — call 203-341-1050, or email humansrv@westportct.gov.

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Gaby Gonzalez — the state champion Staples High School girls soccer star — has been named to the All-New England team.

Next fall, Gaby will play at Cornell University. It’s familiar territory: both her older sister Mia and father Jack played for the Big Red.

Congratulations, Gaby!

Gaby Gonzalez

 

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Human beings are not the only living things in Westport enjoying holiday decorations.

Chickens in this Hillspoint Road coop do too.

They also are happy that chicken is not a traditional Christmas meal.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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Late-autumn Compo Beach reeds frame today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature:

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

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And finally … on this day in 1988, Roy Orbison played his final concert. The country singer with an astonishing, angelic, operatic voice — who had a 2nd career with the Traveling Wilburys — died of heart failure 2 days later, at 52.

CMS Giving Assembly: Important Tradition Continues

If it’s November, it must be time for the Giving Assembly.

For several decades, Coleytown Middle School celebrated Thanksgiving with a month-long, school-wide project. Each grade selected one or two organizations or non-profits. Students and parents collected goods or raise money.

Then — on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — the school gathered together for a Giving Assembly. Recipients described how they’ll use the donations. There was music too, and plenty of good vibes.

The closure of CMS for renovation, and then the pandemic’s prohibition of visitors, put the great tradition on hold.

Thankfully, it’s back.

Newly renovated, Coleytown Middle School returns to an old tradition.

As the school rebuilds a sense of community after a few tumultuous years, enthusiasm for the program is high.

Eighth graders overwhelmingly chose Al’s Angels — the Westport-based charity helping children with serious illnesses — as this year’s recipients. The 2 pods have a “coin war,” to see which collects the most.

Patty Haberstroh

Seventh and 6th graders are raising funds for Westport’s Department of Human Services, and the ALS Therapy Development Institute. They selected both groups to honor Patty Haberstroh, Westport Human Services’ longtime youth director who is battling ALS. For 20 years, she was an instrumental part of Coleytown’s Giving Assembly.

Sixth graders are also collecting donations for Homes with Hope. Executive director Helen McAlinden kicked off the campaign by visiting all 8 classrooms. She described her organization’s efforts to combat homelessness and food insecurity, and inspired the young fundraisers.

PTA volunteers have already delivered some items to the Gillespie Center.

“All year long, we talk about the importance of giving back,” says 6th grade language arts teacher Emily Diggs. “We do a lot of lessons about ‘being your best self.’ This is one more way to do that.”

A large “thermometer” in the hall between the 2 6th grade pods — the Orcas and the Dolphins — is updated every day. Students watch the two groups fight for the top spot.

Last week, the Dolphins held a slim lead.

But, as several wise children told Diggs, “It doesn’t matter who wins. It’s all about giving back.”

Students love to hear stories about their impact at the annual Giving Assembly. COVID means that this year’s version will be virtual — streamed live on Coleytown TV.

That’s a small price to pay, for the return of an important tradition.

CMS — and the Giving Assembly — are both back!

McAlinden: Housing Rally A Good Start; More Needed

Helen McAlinden is excited about yesterday’s housing rally on Jesup Green.

The event — co-sponsored by Homes with Hope, the Westport Housing Authority and Westport Department of Human Services — drew dozens of housing supporters, and a number of politicians.

McAlinden — executive director of Homes with Hopes — says:

“Their attendance and support shows us we have friends and advocates at the State Capitol. It was brilliant to see that!

“With Connecticut’s $300 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds unallocated at this time, our collective voices were heard. But this needs to continue, so that these funds are invested in affordable housing and support services to protect our most vulnerable residents.

Young attendees carried signs at yesterday’s rally. (Photo/Lauren Braver Schiller)

“We would like to thank First Selectman Jim Marpe, Elaine Daignault (Human Services director) and Carol Martin (Housing Authority director) for their partnership and leadership in hosting such a wonderful shindig in Westport.  They did a brilliant job highlighting the Fairfield County housing crisis.

“But our efforts are not over. Please continue your advocacy. Now, with this event fresh in people’s minds, is the time to continue to spread the word and consider doing a similar event in other communities.

“One woman’s story — which mirrored many others — brought the event into a real-life scenario which was appreciated by everyone. The town of Westport and Westport Housing Authority will be happy to lend their support to help produce a similar event in every community highlighting, how small, affluent towns can be part of the answer.”

Click below for a video of the event:

 

Teen Survey: Drugs Of Choice, Coping With Stress, And More

About 60% of Staples High School seniors drink regularly. A quarter use marijuana. The same number vape — mostly THC.

Those are some of the headline-grabbing statistics announced this week by the Westport Prevention Coalition. Working with the Search Institute, Westport Department of Human Services and Positive Directions, they conducted an anonymous survey of 800 7th through 12 graders in April.

In addition to substance use, questions covered developmental relationships, COVID stress and racial justice.

Results were presented at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Yesterday afternoon, Westport public schools coordinator of psychological services Dr. Valerie Babich and Positive Directions prevention director Margaret Watt did a deeper dive into the statistics, on a Zoom call with Westport educators, youth workers, social service providers and students.

The bulk of the discussion involved the substance use findings. The survey asked about behaviors in the preceding 30 days. Teenagers were still wearing masks and supposed to be socially distanced; COVID continued to limit some of their interactions.

Key substance findings from the Westport Prevention Coalition survey.

Nonetheless, 60% of Staples seniors had had “more than a few sips” of beer in the previous month. For 7th graders, the number was 9%. It rose steadily, most noticeably starting in sophomore year.

Taken together, the 33% total of high school students who drank in the previous 30 days — during COVID — was higher than the Connecticut average in a survey conducted in 2019, before the pandemic.

Marijuana use and vaping begins around 9th grade. It rises in tandem over the years, peaking at 24% (marijuana) and 25% (vaping) by senior year.

Of the students who knew what they were vaping, 2/3 used THC; 1/3 used nicotine. In addition, 28% used multiple substances. But 13% did not know what they were inhaling.

Interestingly, tobacco and prescription drug misuse was virtually non-existent: 0 to 2% in all grades.

The Westport Prevention Coalition has undertaken an educational campaign. This is the front of a postcard. The other side helps parents talk about substance use with their youngsters.

As students get older, they reported, their parents’ disapproval of certain substances goes down. By senior year, only 63% of students said that their parents disapprove of marijuana.

In terms of perceived harm, 78% of high school students think that 5 or more drinks at a time, once or twice a week, is harmful. That means 22% do not believe it is bad.

81% of high school students think vaping is harmful.

In 7th grade, 74% of students surveyed thought that marijuana is harmful. By 12th grade, the number dropped to 34%.

COVID had a strong impact on Westport youth. More than half of students surveyed took steps to resolve pandemic-related problems. The majority said they accepted the reality of the new situation. However, only 34% reached out to others to talk about how they were feeling.

58% of the students felt connected to school staff. A whopping 94% said they felt connected to friends.

In tough COVID times, friends can be lifesavers.

Questions about developmental relationships with teachers revealed “moderate to high” responses. Students felt that they were challenged to grow, provided support, and expanded their possibilities.

Areas for improvement included inspiring possibilities for the future, exposure to new ideas, and introduction to people who could help them grow.

The final section revealed that 3/4 believe they have a role to play in ending racial injustice. A clear majority are aware of the impact of their own words and actions, in the social justice arena.

Data will be reviewed with school administrators, staff, mental health professionals and students. The Westport Prevention Coalition will then determine how best to turn the findings into solutions.