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.”
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.
Everyone knows that. It’s like saying “I-95 sucks.”
But every Westport parent has gotten that reminder 3 times in the past 3 weeks. Colorful postcards arrived in local mailboxes. They bore our “06880” zip code. They began, “Parenting is hard….”
Then they offered tips, to make talking with your kids a bit lest difficult.
The cards come courtesy of the Westport Prevention Coalition. A subcommittee of Westport Together — the collaboration between Positive Directions, Westport Public Schools and PTAs, and the Department of Human Services — its current charge is to raise parental awareness of teenage behaviors around alcohol and drugs.
That’s particularly important now, says Positive Directions prevention director Margaret Watt.
As Westport opens back up after the pandemic — with proms, graduation and other rites of spring looming after 15 months of unprecedented demands on adolescent life — parents may not realize what the “new normal” is like.
“Westport has sometimes turned a blind eye toward teenage drinking,” Watt says. But recent focus groups revealed that during COVID, some youngsters held Zoom drinking parties. Marijuana use may have also increased during quarantine.
The front side of one of the postcards …
Each postcard bears a different message.
One assures parents that teenagers value their opinions, and learn from observing priorities and choices.
It advises parents:
Talk about your expectations and rules.
Be open about your own stress, and model healthy ways to handle it.
Make fun family time a priority.
Another postcard reminds parents about Connecticut’s “Social Host Law.” Anyone over 18 faces arrest and imprisonment, lawsuits and legal fees, loss of homeowners insurance, and fines of $2,000 — one for every underage youth — if alcohol is used on their property. That’s true even if an adult is not present.
A third postcard notes that “new” marijuana — not the kind they might have smoked years ago — has been engineered to be “many times stronger than nature.” The card covers vaping THC, and the effects of the drug on brain development and addiction.
… and the back.
Each card includes a QR code, to scan for more information.
Four more are planned. All 7 end the same way: “Talk early … talk often.”
Feedback has been excellent. The postcards are seen as eye-catching, concise and informative. One parent contacted the Coalition immediately after receiving the first card, grateful for the info and conversation starters.
Future mailings may also include residents without school-age children. After all, it takes a village — not just a parent — to raise a child.
And it’s hard.
(For more information, click here. To volunteer with the Westport Prevention Coalition, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
For centuries, “mental illness” was a taboo subject — ignored, covered up or lied about.
Only recently has it come out of the shadows. We now talk about “mental health,” more than “mental illness.” It’s as vital to our lives as physical health.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go.
Westport Together — a partnership between the town’s Department of Human Services, Positive Directions, and the Westport Public Schools and PTAs — has put together a comprehensive calendar of events.
Every day this month, a virtual event focuses on some aspect of mental health. Highlights include:
“Adolescent Mental Health in 2021: Challenges and Caregiver Strategies” (May 12, 6:30 p.m.) Dr. Aaron Weiner discusses how to tell what’s normal, what’s a ore significant mental health concern, and how parents can support their kids. Click here to register.
Mental health for elementary school youngsters (May 13, 7 p.m.) For children and their trusted adults, “Gizmo’s Pawsome Guide” is a story-time read-along that introduces the topic in an accessible way, and offers tips and guidelines for coping. Click here to register.
“If They Had Known” (May 10, 7 p.m.), a documentary about the dangers of combining prescription drugs and alcohol. Email email@example.com for the Zoom link.
LifeLines — Melissa Bernstein’s new project — offers free daily workshops. Ranging from “Breaking Up With Your Inner Critic” to “Tracing Your Triggers,” they help people feel seen, heard and appreciated. Click here for more information.
Other events range from suicide prevention and raising children during the pandemic to shattering the myth of mental illness and “laughing yoga.” Click here for the full monthly calendar.
LifeLines offers a different activity every day this month.
Westport Together also compiled a list of resources for Westporters dealing with isolation, stress, depression, substance use or other issues. It includes:
1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued another COVID update today. It includes information about vaccines — and word that the town is planning for a Memorial Day parade, and a Levitt Pavilion season. He says:
Beginning today, all Connecticut residents and workers aged 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. For local vaccine scheduling instructions and locations, go to www.wwhd.org.
Health officials urge all who are able and eligible to register to get vaccinated. Those requiring special services and assistance with homebound vaccinations or transportation to vaccination appointments through Westport Transit should contact the town Department of Human Services (203-341-1050).
Fortunately, many of the most vulnerable in Westport are already vaccinated. They are enjoying the peace of mind and the realization that they are doing their part to help our community, neighbors, families and friends move into a spring and summer with less fear of infection from this horrible virus.
Although numerous people have been vaccinated, it is vital that COVID protocols remain in place until we are certain that transmission is decreasing.
Currently there is a surge in COVID-19 cases in Connecticut, and Westport remains in the red category with 28.5 positive cases per 100,000 population. We are seeing the effects of more social gatherings, travel, and a relaxation of COVID protocols.
Travel increases the chance of getting and transmitting COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you refrain from non-essential travel and follow the travel guidelines,
The CDC also recommends continuing to follow its COVID guidelines and protocols, specifically mask wearing, social distancing and good hygiene, even as restrictions are loosened and the vaccine is further administered.
“Masked COVID Portrait” — drawn by Dereje Tarrant, age 14.
Much of the uptick in cases is occurring in younger residents, and those in their 20’s and 30’s. There have been reports of large teen and youth groups gathering at Compo Beach without masks. Parents, please remind your children to wear masks when they cannot socially distance, even at the beach and other outdoor locations.
The Governor’s Executive Orders declaring a state-of-emergency have been extended to May 20. That means that COVID protocols and restrictions remain in place unless noted otherwise.
The town continues to work towards reopening more amenities and activities with the optimism that Westport will return to the yellow or gray status on the State’s color-coded COVID map, and that more people will be fully vaccinated. These include:
The Center for Senior Activities and Toquet Hall are planning for the possibility of outdoor and limited indoor programming in late spring or early summer.
The Parks & Recreation Department and Selectman’s Office continue to plan for a Memorial Day parade.
The Parks and Recreation Department is preparing to open its facilities, and plan to offer programs that were not available last year due to COVID-19.
Longshore golf course is open for play, as are several tennis locations, Compo Beach pickleball courts, the skate park facility, platform tennis, Compo basketball courts, and playgrounds.
Compo Skate Park is back open. (Photo/ldinkinphotography)
The Board of Selectmen approved the Downtown Merchants Association’s Fitness and Health Expo for May 1,, and the Fine Arts Festival for May 29-30.
The Board of Selectmen approved the closure of Church Lane starting April 15, to allow for expanded outdoor dining.
The Board of Selectmen approved the use of the Imperial Avenue lot for the Remarkable Theater’s drive-in movie theater. and for the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library’s Supper and Soul events.
The Levitt Pavilion is planning its season, to be held in compliance with any necessary COVID considerations related to outdoor venues.
Westport is approaching the end of the Passover week, as well as this Easter weekend. Both are important symbols of renewal and new beginnings that we associate with the arrival of spring. I wish all who observe these important holidays the joy that is associated with those celebrations.
And to all Westport residents, I ask for a renewed commitment to working through the COVID pandemic together in a safe and responsible manner. In doing so, we can all enjoy the pleasures of our community that come with the spring and summer months.
As Easter approaches, the days get longer and brighter. But continued vigilance is needed. (Photo/Craig Patton)
Earlier this month, several Westporters grew worried about a neighbor.
In his 90s, he lived alone. Several people would cook, and leave bags of food at his door. Two bags had not been retrieved; his mail was still in the box, and the carrier was worried.
Recently, a neighbor had seen bruises on his face. But when anyone knocked, he’d yell from behind a chained door, “COVID! COVID! Go away!”
Yhe Westport Police, EMS and Department of Human Services were called. Sadly, he had died.
A neighbor emailed me: “My heart breaks for the old man, by himself, perhaps ill and/or with failing memory, and so terrified of COVID he refused contact with concerned neighbors, who he knew also brought him food.”
Could they have done more? she wondered.
I asked Human Services director Elaine Daignault. She says:
“Neighbors are often the first line of support for individuals who live alone. That’s why it is so vital for Westporters to get to know their neighbors. Human Services frequently receives calls from concerned neighbors of elderly and disabled residents.
Elaine Daignault, director of Westport’s Department of Human Services
“Every scenario is different. A DHS social worker is always available to listen to concerns, and work collaboratively with neighbors and emergency responders to determine the best way to support the individual in question.
The strong partnership between first responders and Human Services ensures a collective approach to supporting seniors’ health and well-being in various situations.
“If the individual is in imminent danger, residents are encouraged to call 911. If DHS receives the call, we contact the police immediately for a welfare check.
“If warranted, EMS will transport the individual to the hospital for medical emergencies. In this scenario, Police, Fire and EMS will refer the household to Human Services for follow-up, as needed. We also work with hospital social workers to help with discharge planning.
“Concurrently, a call to Human Services initiates a trained social worker’s response to directly contact the individual to assess their needs and create a plan to help.
“Some people are more open to discuss their needs than others. Some people choose to decline assistance altogether. If they are not amenable to sharing, we will identify a family member or friend to offer assistance where needed.
“If we cannot make contact or progress, Human Services works collaboratively with first responders and the Westport Weston Health District to schedule an in-home safety assessment.
“If we cannot find a responsible family member to assist, or the individual is resistant, the team may refer the case to CT Protective Services for the Elderly. The state then becomes the lead agency, and town partners serve as local resources to ensure that the resident receives appropriate supports.
“Here are some ways for neighborhoods to look after the elderly in their communities:
Exchange phone numbers and ask for a loved one’s contact information, just in case.
Check in with them regularly, or set up a simple check-in. For example, offer to do their grocery shopping or bring them their mail. Request that the senior provides a regular “signal” to their neighbors, like opening and closing a specific blind each day, to avoid concerned neighbors making unnecessary calls for welfare checks.
Seniors and people with disabilities may be eligible to receive home delivered meals. This provides an additional layer of support, because volunteers personally deliver meals to recipients weekly.
“It sounds like the neighbors did the right thing by calling the Police Department and Human Services. Together, we will follow up on the calls and do our best to address concerns directly.
“Note that we cannot share personal information or circumstances without the individual’s expressed consent, which can be frustrating to the person making the initial call.
“In a non-emergency situation, anyone can call Human Services at 203-341-1050 weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or contact the Police non-emergency line at 341-6000 any time. The Police Department will always bring necessary backup, including Fire and EMS.
“If someone notices a pattern of suspicious activity, or has a concern about abuse or neglect, they can contact both numbers above or make a direct report to the Connecticut Department of Social Services Protective Services For The Elderly central intake line at 888-385- 4225. For after-hour reports, call 211.”
Need help with taxes? (Besides having more money, that is.)
Westport’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program — free state and federal preparation — runs from now through April 15. IRS-certified preparers assist seniors and low- to moderate-income households, virtually or through a limited in-person scanning option.
The national program is run locally by the Department of Human Services.
The virtual option provides uploading of information via a secure encrypted site A specialist reviews and follows up for additional information as needed. Click here to participate.
The limited, on-site scanning capabilities at the Senior Center is offered Tuesdays (1 to 4 p.m.) and Thursdays (9 a.m. to noon). Participants complete a phone call to confirm what documentation is required to participate. Call 203-341-1071 for an appointment.
More than 700 returns were prepared and filed last year in Westport, with total refunds exceeding $350,000.
Two important organizations (Homes with Hope and the Norwalk NAACP) will benefit from a drive sponsored by 2 important department (Westport Police and Human Services), and an important business (Mental Grit Fitness).
This Friday (December 18, 12 noon to 4:30 p.m., Imperial Avenue parking lot), you can drop off non-perishable foods, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
You can help another way too: by volunteering at the drive. Click here to sign up.
Congratulations, Autumn Smith! The Staples High School senior soccer player has been named to United Soccer Coaches’ All-America team.
She scored 38 goals, and added 49 assists, in her stellar career (shortened this year by COVID). Due to the coronavirus too, there will not be an actual awards ceremony as in previous years.
That hardly diminishes Autumn’s accomplishment though. Well done!
Dan Hoffman writes about a pet peeve:
“When I make a local phone call with a 203 area code, I try to guess whether I need to use a prefix of ‘1’ or not.
“When I’m wrong, a program tells me either I need to use a 1 or I don’t need to use a 1.
“If the phone system knows the answer, why does it make me redial instead of just putting the call through? Always drives me nuts.”
They don’t call it JoyRide for nothing.
A new app — JoyRideGO — brings the popular Westport-based fitness community’s joy and energy to cyberspace.
It features on-demand and live fitness class to enJoy (ho ho) anywhere, any time. They include the signature JoyRide cycle classes; popular JoyX Strength, Pilates, barre and yoga classes, and hybrids like Cycle + Strength, Cycle + Pilates, Abs + Arms, and Abs + Glutes. All are taught by JoyRide instructors.
Classes range from 15 to 50 minutes. A 14-day free trial is available on the App Store and Google Play. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No one likes waiting in traffic.
Unless you’re by Playhouse Square, in front of Winslow Park Animal Hospital.
They always manage to amuse drives. Here’s their latest holiday tableau.
PS: Enjoy it now. Tomorrow it may be covered by snow.
Speaking of traffic: How’s this for a great photo of Westport’s worst intersection?
Taken this way by Rowene Weems, it looks almost magical.
As COVID cases rise, the Pequot in Southport — Westporters’ 2nd favorite library — has temporarily suspended browsing hours. Curbside pickup is still available.
Sophia Grace was loving, sweet, courageous and radiant.
She was born with Epidermolysis Bullosa, a rare and debilitating genetic disorder. She died just after her 1st birthday.
In her memory, Sophia’s Hope raises awareness of the disease, as well as funds to cure it. As part of its education campaign, people paint a fun, cheery design on a rock; they print a message on it, then place it somewhere people will see it. They also spread the message (with the tag @sophias.eb.hope) on social media.
Sophia was the daughter of Westport Public Schools employee Tricia Lash’s friend and coworker. Tricia has painted this rock, and “hidden” it downtown.
If you see it, you’ll know the story.
But whether you find the rock or not, you can click here to help Sophia’s Hope.
As the weather cools, most Westporters crank the heat. But what if you can’t?
The town’s Department of Human Services’ “Warm-Up Fund” helps needy residents heat their homes.
It’s an ongoing problem. Last year, donations helped over 250 residents warm their homes during a relatively mild winter.
This year — who knows?
“The winter will be particularly challenging for households facing unstable employment, food insecurity, and financial vulnerability,” says DHS finance manager Susan Stefenson.
“Unfortunately, the number of households in need is growing due to the pandemic.”
The Westport Warm-Up program is funded entirely by donations. Recipients must be Westport residents, and demonstrate financial need.
Tax-deductible gifts are accepted online (click here) or by mail: Westport Warm-Up Fund, Department of Human Services, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport CT 06880.
For more information or to request assistance, email email@example.com, or call 203-341-1050.
Today’s Wall Street Journal features 4 kids, describing their “darnedest masks.”
One is Westport’s own Charlie Diamond.
Charlie describes a Star Wars mask, with comfortable ears and ships. Much better than those basic blue ones we adults wear! (Hat tip: John Karrel)
We see these little guys all over town — in parking lotscul-de-sacs and driveways.
“Slow down!” they warn. “Kids at play!”
This one at Staples High School met an untimely end.
Hey — at least it’s plastic. Not flesh and bones.
And finally … Sam Cooke was murdered 56 years ago yesterday. The gospel-turned-soul singer with the other-worldly voice — an important influence on the likes of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Billy Preston — was just 32 years old.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)