Tag Archives: Westport Weston Family YMCA

Unsung Hero #111

Ruth Sherman walks the walk.

Literally.

Every day for 50 years — in all kinds of weather* — Ruth has walked from Hillspoint Road to the top of Compo Hill.

She recently returned from Spain, where she completed the 100-mile El Camino spiritual trek.

For the 79-year-old longtime Westporter, it was no big deal.

Ruth Sherman

Yet Ruth’s walks are only part of her daily routine. Since the 1960s, she’s taught exercise and fitness at the Westport Weston Family Y. Right now she’s with the Arthritis Foundation Family aquatic program.

When the Senior Center opened, she began teaching there too.

Many class members are younger — often much younger — than Ruth. But they struggle to keep pace.

When she’s not walking or leading classes, Ruth bikes. Of course, her rides are for good causes.

Since last century, she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in the Pan-Mass Challenge. She was not always alone: Sometimes she was joined by her husband Larry, 4 children, in-laws and friends. Her group was called Ruthie’s Riding Rascals.

You’ve probably seen Ruth Sherman around town. The next time you see her, say hello — and congratulate her for being this week’s Unsung Hero.

But you’ll have to be in pretty good shape to catch up.

*And in Westport, you know what that means.

(Hat tip: Richard Fogel)

Mystery On The Merritt

Anyone who has visited the Westport Weston Family Y — or zoomed past Exit 41 on the Merritt Parkway — has seen the activity.

Every few days — because you don’t expect highway work to happen consistently — earth movers rumble to life.

They take mounds of dirt, and shift them from here to there. They do the same with boulders. They dig up some spots, flatten others. They look like they’re doing something.

But that sorry stretch of land, hemmed in by the road on one side and a forlorn fence on the other, also always looks the same. What exactly has been done there over the past few months?

Besides making the northbound entrance one of the scariest pieces of roadway in the history of transportation?

(Photo/David Meth)

Unsung Heroes #100

Little things mean a lot.

A you-go-first wave from another driver at the intersection. The guy in the supermarket parking lot who offers to take your cart back to the store. The out-of-the-blue call from a teacher to say how proud she is of your kid.

Those are the random human encounters that make us smile, and lighten our step. They make our day.

Then there are the little things that make every day.

Like the front desk folks at the Westport Weston Family Y. They’re there at 5:30 a.m., when the first commuters race past. They’re there at 10 p.m., when the last laggards leave.

A constant parade passes by. Women rush in, late for their spin class. Kids forget their passes. Men call from the locker room, needing help opening their locker because the idiotic lock jammed again.

They answer phones. They remind people — gently — that their membership has lapsed. And over and over and over again, they check people in.

A typical scene at the Westport Weston Family YMCA front desk.

They do it all with smiles, courtesy, and uncommon grace. Often, they go the extra mile.

They dig into their own pockets to refund money if the vending machine failed. They lend umbrellas to folks who forgot theirs. They call people at home, telling them their credit card was found, and turned in.

They greet us when we arrive. They thank us when we leave. They seem genuinely pleased to see us.

I’m not always in a good mood when I walk into the Y. I may have had a bad day. Someone may have shot into the parking space I was waiting for. I may not look forward to swimming for 45 minutes, back and forth in the pool.

But I’m certainly in a better mood after checking in at their desk. And I’m in a great mood when I leave.

So thanks, all you front desk folks at the Westport Y. I won’t list names, because I’d miss someone.

But you know all our names. That’s one more reason you’re our Unsung Heroes this week.

YMCA To Expand Bedford Facility, Enhance Camp Mahackeno

In 2014, the Westport Weston Family Y opened its new Bedford Family Center, off Wilton Road.

It was big, beautiful, modern, bright and airy.

It also lacked gymnastics, and a child care center.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center.

Four years later, the Y is ready to embark on a 2nd phase of construction. Highlights include bringing the gymnastics program back from Norwalk, increasing space for programs like yoga, and enhancing facilities and amenities at nearby Camp Mahackeno.

Today, the Y reveals the specifics in a series of member meetings in the Schine Room. Two were held this morning. One began a few minutes ago. A 4th is set for 6:30 tonight.

According to CEO Pat Riemersma, a 22,000-square foot, 2-story addition will connect to the current “Kids Club” part of the current building (facing the main parking lot).

The upper level will include space for gymnastics, and a bigger “Kid’s Club.”

An architect’s drawing of the proposed Bedford Family Center upper level expansion.

The lower level will allow expansion of popular programs like group exercise, spinning, dance and youth services.

The addition is within the previously approved 107,000-square foot footprint, Riemersma says.

The project includes 70 more parking spaces. However, the Y will not seek a change to its current membership cap, or increase the day camp cap of 360 children.

Camp Mahackeno — just south of the Bedford Family Center — will see a new pool and splash pad; new poolhouse; re-grading of the athletic field; relocated archery range; 2 new giant slides (tucked into existing grading and vegetation); expanded playground, with equipment for older children; improvements to the outdoor amphitheater, and a refurbished and winterized Beck Lodge.

Plans for the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s Bedford Family Center expansion, and renovations at Camp Mahackeno. New construction and areas of enhancement are marked in yellow.

The facility addition and camp improvements are slated to begin in September 2019. Camp Mahackeno is expected to open on time in June 2020. The building addition is planned for completion in September 2020.

Total cost of the project is $25 million. Funding will come from various sources, including the capital campaign, endowment and bank financing, Riemersma says.

Pics Of The Day #343

Bald is beautiful.

It also raises money to fight childhood cancer.

For the 3rd year in row, the Westport Weston Family YMCA hosted a fundraiser yesterday for the St. Baldrick Foundation. Over 80 men, women and children raised pledges — and paid themselves — to have their heads shaved.

They honored Brent McCreesh, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2004. Since then, Team Brent has raised over $4.5 million.

And they’ve done it one lock — well, many — at a time.

(Photos/Denise Hotch and Dana McCreesh)

 

Fathers And Daughters Dance In The Spotlight

When I heard the Westport Weston Family YMCA planned a “Father Daughter Dance,” I did a stutter step.

This is 2017! How could they single out fathers? What about girls whose dads were away on business? Girls with divorced fathers, living far away? How about girls whose dads had died — or those with 2 moms?

They’re all “families” — as the “Family YMCA” should know.

Dabbing at last Friday’s Westport YMCA Father-Daughter dance.

It’s a good thing I shared my aaaargh! moment with Patty Kane.

She’s the director of marketing and communications for the Westport Y. And she took my questions right back to her bosses.

So here’s what I learned about the “Father Daughter” dance, held last Friday in the Y gym (with the tag line “Make her first date one to remember!”).

“I am proud to say it does not stem from a desire to be traditional, nor was it meant to exclude other family types,” Patty reports.

Instead, it was “intended to honor and strengthen the relationship our community of fathers has with their daughters, and for the Y to provide a space for them to share time together.”

In fact, the Y’s flyer noted (at the very bottom): “If dad is not available, substitutes are welcome. Preferably grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, close family friend etc.”

Malia Daniels (2nd from left) attended the Y’s Father-Daughter dance with her uncle.

The idea, Patty notes, was to “emphasize the importance of good male role models in children’s lives. I am happy to report that over 60 families took part in the Father Daughter Dance.”

That’s great — and reassuring — news.

Now — as a way to make all girls feel comfortable, welcome and accepted — maybe they can come up with a more inclusive dance name.

Samantha Heiser enjoys a special moment with her dad.

Workout Weather

The view from the Westport Weston Family YMCA’s cardio fitness center is always interesting.

Today it was spectacular:

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Those windows make working out almost fun!

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.