Tag Archives: Westport Weston Family YMCA

Y Seeks Clarification Of “Membership Cap”

During the many long months years decades it took for the Y to move from downtown, I thought the result would be a traffic disaster.

I envisioned lines of cars backed up and down Wilton Road, all the way to the Post Road. I’ve seen bad traffic there; I could not imagine it wouldn’t get worse.

Well, the Y has been out there next to Exit 41 for more than 2 years. And — you could blow me over with a feather — the traffic is not only not worse. It may even be better.

Maybe the lights have been rejiggered. Maybe everyone hops onto the Merritt and gets off at Exit 42. Maybe everyone jogs there.

Whatever the case, the traffic apocalypse never happened.

And next Thursday (March 2, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission may discuss a membership cap for the Y.

The (relatively) new Westport Weston Family YMCA.

The (relatively) new Westport Weston Family YMCA.

According to an email sent to members, in 2008 — when the Y sought approval to build — the P&Z established certain conditions. One was a “membership cap” of 8,000.

The Y says they’ll ask the P&Z to clarify that the 8,000 “pertains to individuals that are of driving age.”

That makes sense. The fire marshal should care how many people are in the building. The P&Z should concern itself with the number of cars.

The Y did not ask me to write this. They don’t know I’m doing it.

But as someone who spent years imagining gridlock — and hailed the cap when it was first announced — I might as well admit how wrong I was.

Debbie Stewart’s Indomitable Spirit

Nearly every Westport Y member knows Debbie Stewart.

She’s the woman with long dreads and boundless enthusiasm. She popped in and out of Zumba and cycling classes; chatted with employees and members, and lit up every corner of the building with her presence.

Now, Y staffer Midge Deverin has told her story.

It’s astonishing.

A Jamaica native, her mother died of breast cancer when Debbie was 6. Her father soon left her and 3 siblings alone. Debbie graduated from high school, moved to Florida, and became a certified nursing assistant.

She worked in Brooklyn and Connecticut. Soon she was hired as a caregiver for Libby Nevas. She and her husband Leo were noted Westport philanthropists.

Debbie quickly became an important part of the family. She never left Libby’s side, Midge writes. “They were inseparable; talking, laughing, enjoying each other’s company until the day Libby Nevas died while Debbie, her ‘angel,’ held her hand.”

Debbie Stewart (middle row, 2nd from right) and the Nevas family.

Debbie Stewart (middle row, 2nd from right) and the Nevas family.

Debbie planned to return to New York. But Leo — “strong, healthy and exceedingly independent” — asked Debbie to stay. She accompanied him to plays and concerts in New York, and meetings in California.

Debbie charmed “statesmen, ambassadors, authors,” Midge writes, “with her easy banter and informed opinions.”

Debbie Stewart and Leo Nevas.

Debbie Stewart and Leo Nevas.

Suddenly, in 2003 — while studying to become a dental assistant — Debbie underwent emergency surgery to remove a large brain tumor.

It continued to grow. She endured 2 more operations. The last, in 2009, resulted in debilitating side effects.

Debbie was left with short-term memory loss. Her brain is no longer aware of the entire left side of her body, or surroundings.

Throughout all her surgeries — and her “tremendous physical and emotional turmoil” — the Nevas family was there for her.

In May of 2009, Pat Pennant was hired as Leo’s housekeeper. She met Debbie, who needed round-the-clock nursing care.

A few months later, Leo died. His daughter, Jo-Ann Price, promised Pat that when Debbie was out of crisis, but needed a companion/caretaker, Pat would get the call.

Three years later, it came.

Pat Pennant and Debbie Stewart.

Pat Pennant and Debbie Stewart.

“Many might say that from that time till now, Debbie has led a compromised and limited life,” Midge writes. But anyone who’s had “the pleasure and honor of really knowing Debbie” knows otherwise.

Her “enthusiasm and joie de vivre” followed her everywhere: from volunteering 3 days a week at the Notre Dame Convalescent Home in Norwalk, to Compo Beach, the Levitt Pavilion, museums, dancing, trips to New York, shopping at TJ Maxx and Home Goods — and of course the Y.

A few weeks ago, however, Debbie’s inoperable tumor grew again. She is now virtually immobile.

The other day, Midge visited Debbie at her Westport home. She was propped up by Pat, but Debbie’s welcoming smile filled the room.

She asked Midge about her Y friends. They visit often.

In typical fashion, Midge writes, Debbie did not talk about her problems.

Instead, she told Midge, she’s determined to be back.

Meanwhile, Midge misses Debbie at the Y. She misses her shimmying down the hall. She misses her irrepressible energy. Most of all, she misses her unwavering spirit, which “stares at both life and death with a smile.”

(To read Midge Deverin’s full story about Debbie Stewart, click here.)

Midge Deverin and Debbie Stewart, not long ago.

Midge Deverin and Debbie Stewart, not long ago.

Seniors, Y Tussle Over Silver Sneakers

Silver Sneakers is an insurance benefit included in more than 65 Medicare health plans. For a fee to a for-profit company called Healthways, seniors can visit fitness and wellness centers. Medicare and private insurers call it “preventive medicine.”

Silver Sneakers logoOver 13,000 participating locations nationwide offer all basic amenities, plus group exercise classes geared specifically toward “active older adults.”

The Westport Weston Family Y is not one of those locations. According to alert — and angry — “06880” reader David Meth, every other Y in Fairfield County is.

Meth provided the names of over a dozen seniors who would like our Y to include Silver Sneakers as part of its membership program, and introduce more  programs specifically for seniors.

Meth believes the Westport Y views older members as not a good business model.

He says that CEO Pat Riemersma told him a program like Silver Sneakers would bring in too many seniors. Part of the reason, he says, is that Riemersma told him of an agreement with the Planning and Zoning Commission that limits the total number of members. Meth says that Riemersma said the Y “needs to understand the trend before signing this type of agreement” (like Silver Sneakers).

A "First Friday" koffee klatch, organized by the Y's Aqua Fitness group.

A “First Friday” koffee klatch, organized by the Y’s Aqua Fitness group.

Feeling that seniors are less valued than younger families, Meth combed the Y’s website looking for senior programs. He found a “gratuitous” photo on the mission statement page, of seniors having lunch. There also is a senior aquatics program.

Of course, Riemersma told him, seniors are invited to participate in classes and programs open to all Y members.

“Yes, get on the same floor with 20-30-year-olds and try to keep up,” Meth replies.

“That’s it. Not another program dedicated to seniors: no fitness programs, no yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, walks in the beautiful woods, etc., just to name a few that are absent. Not even a link or page for seniors to direct them to the one program available.”

Meth is upset too about the special monthly fee of $57 for seniors. He says that is “double the price of any other local fitness center.”

YMCA logoRiemersma replies: “Silver Sneakers is not a business model recognized by the national YMCA. It’s run by a for-profit entity. Seniors pay a fee to Healthways, and Ys get reimbursed based on the number of visits by an individual. We are a cost-driven organization.”

Regarding Meth’s assertion about the P&Z stipulation, Riemersma says, “We are limited to the number of members, but it has nothing to do with seniors. We want to stay within the agreement.”

She says that financial assistance is available to everyone — including seniors who cannot afford the reduced rate.

A seated yoga class, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

A seated yoga class, at the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Riemersma vigorously denies Meth’s assertion that the Y does not value seniors.

“We serve all members, regardless of age,” she says. She cites programs like Senior Fridays, pickleball and chair aerobics, while pledging to do a better job of publicizing senior offerings on the website.

And, she says, “many members are actually offended by the phrase ‘active older seniors.'”

She says she would love to have a face-to-face or phone conversation about this with Meth.

He counters that he will communicate only by email.

Y Special Olympic Swimmers Splash To Success

Just 6 months ago, “06880” announced that the Westport Weston Family YMCA was forming a Special Olympics swim team.

The group came together quicker than Michael Phelps churns through pools.

This weekend, 16 athletes travel to Hamden and New Haven, to compete in Connecticut’s Special Olympic Games.

Their ages range from 10 to 18. Some need assistance to swim 15 meters. Others race on their own for 50 meters.

All have a fantastic time. All practice once a week. And all are supported by a wonderful team of coaches and volunteers.

Good luck to all. Of course, they — and the Y — are already winners.

Westport YMCA senior program director Jay Jaronko (2nd from left), and Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers.

Westport YMCA senior program director Jay Jaronko (2nd from left), and Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers.

(Hat tip: Marshall Kiev)

Y I Was Wrong

For years  — during the decade-long rumble over the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s proposed move — I stood firmly in the stay-home camp.

I was convinced the Y belonged where it had been for 8 decades: downtown. Losing such a vital organization, I thought, would be as mortal a blow to Main Street as the closing of the Fine Arts movie theaters had been a few years earlier.

I dreaded the traffic jams I “knew” would clog Wilton Road. I freaked out about cars backed up all the way to Kings Highway, all hours of the day.

I thought the Mahackeno property — wooded, beautiful, on the banks of the Saugatuck River — would be cut, leveled, ruined forever.

I was convinced the Y should stay downtown -- its home since 1923.

I was convinced the Y should stay downtown — its home since 1923.

The new Y has been open for a year and a half. And guess what?

I love it.

The building is as beautiful as a Y can be. It complements the woods. Inside, it’s bright, airy and welcoming. The views from the fitness center are stunning. The halls are wide. Even the locker rooms — the major design mistake — have been improved.

Traffic is no problem. In fact, the new location — snuggled up against Merritt Parkway exit 41 — has goosed membership nicely. Plenty of new users don’t live in Westport or Weston. They’re commuters, popping in and out on their way to or from work. It’s great to have them (and their membership dollars).

As for downtown: Bedford Square will add more to downtown than the Y did (at least, in its later years). The retail/residential complex promises to bring new folks, new life — even new traffic patterns and perspectives — to a somewhat tired, but still vital, part of Westport.

The view from the Y's fitness center is pretty spectacular.

The view from the Y’s fitness center is pretty spectacular.

No, the Y did not put me up to this. They have no idea I’m writing it.

I just thought about how wrong I’d been the other day, when I finished my workout, walked past the new cafe and kids’ club, outside by the blooming trees and bushes, into the spacious parking lot. The old Y had none of that.

So yeah, I was totally, completely wrong. My bad.

Now how about you?

If there’s a Westport issue or controversy that today — in retrospect — you’ve changed your tune about, click “Comments” to share.

I can’t be the only guy in town who ever made a mistake.

Special Olympics Swimming Makes A Splash

Marshall and Johanna Kiev do not see the glass as half full. The Westport couple find it overflowing.

When their daughter Chloe broke her arm playing on the monkey bars at Coleytown Elementary School, the Kievs spearheaded a drive for a better playground.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

To help Chloe — who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that includes heart problems and developmental delays — enjoy activities with friends and classmates, Marshall and Johanna worked with the Westport school system to add Special Olympics Unified Sports to its already very successful Staples High School project. Unified Sports teams include youngsters with and without disabilities. A full elementary program begins this winter.

At the same time, the Kievs approached the Westport Weston Family Y about a more traditional Special Olympics program. They loved the idea.

The result: Registration for the Y’s new swim offering begins Monday (November 30).

Youth ages 8 to 21 years old will learn or improve their swimming abilities. They’ll compete on a team. In June, they’ll join the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven.

Westport Y logoSpecial Olympics Swimming will run year-round. Eight-week sessions begin in January, with sessions each Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Practices will be age- and ability-coordinated, coordinated by a certified swim coach and volunteer assistants.

The Kievs led a fundraising effort — a Halloween party — with many generous attendees. So there’s no cost to participants. The Y will help cover any additional funds.

The entire Kiev family is thrilled about the new program — but no one more than Chloe. “I’m so excited to swim and win medals and have my friends come and watch me,” she says.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email jjaronko@westporty.org.  To read more about the Kievs and Chloe’s Williams Syndrome, click here.)

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

One Town, One Team

For years, Westport has fielded 2 teams in each youth travel basketball age group. One was sponsored by the Westport Weston Family Y; the other by Westport PAL.

It was tough on kids, and their parents. It diluted the talent pool too.

Westport Y logoNow the 2 programs are joining forces. They’ll conduct joint tryouts, share coaching staffs and collaborate with scheduling practice time and league play, using school courts and the Y.

Following tryouts next month, boys and girls in grades 4 through 8 will be invited to play in a variety of Fairfield County Basketball League age groups and divisions, competing as “Westport PAL in association with the Westport Family YMCA teams.” There will be 15 teams in all.

Officials say the partnership is a response to parents’ concerns about having 2 separate FCBL programs for 1 community.

blog - Westport PAL

Jay Jaranko, senior program director for the Y, calls it “a win-win-win for both organizations, the town of Westport, and we think an even bigger win for the players and their teams.”

Howie Friedman, president of the PAL travel basketball program, says that the partnership with the Y is in line with his organization’s focus on maintaining the proper balance between competitiveness and fairness.

“Our PAL creed of ‘it’s all about the kids’ will truly be served by this collaboration,” he notes.

Last year's 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

Last year’s 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.