Focus On: Stephanie Webster & Family

I am the Editor for CTBites, Your Guide To Great Food in CT. As you can imagine, the playing field has changed. My job has shifted from a profitable business reporting on the restaurant industry in CT to a not-for profit fundraising and support platform called  Food For The Front Lines. It started when I helped Founder Nicole Straight launch Food For The Front Lines Go Fund Me to raise money for local CT restaurants to deliver food to first responders and healthcare workers. To date, we have raised almost $30,000.  

As this started, I was concerned at first as few seemed to be heeding the advice of our local officials, but saw a change two weeks in. In launching the Food For The Front Lines program, I’ve been blown away by the level of community support, kindness, and generosity. 

We are here for anyone who needs support, a virtual cocktail, or a food delivery. Please support your local chefs and farmers. We are a part of a community who cares about those around them, and people should not forget this: Reach out. I will continue to serve our community any way I can.

We are a part of a community who cares about those around them, and people should not forget this…

I regularly check in on my out of work friends, people I know are struggling, and those who are afraid. I’m not worried about the economy or that the world will get back on its feet, because it will. My greatest fear is for my family living in Manhattan. I view this as a wake-up call. If you look at the silver lining in this global pandemic, several things become clear. Pollution is vastly improved, families are spending time with each other, and people have started to realize that Trump is a farce of a president. My hope is that people remember what they have learned in this time of crisis. 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Stephanie Szostak & Family

Stephanie Szostak, her husband and two boys, aged 17 and 13 have lived in Westport for seven years. Stephanie is an actress who recently wrapped up the second season of her show A Million Little Things on ABC. 

“Having just wrapped a show, normally I would be probably auditioning for new stuff now but obviously all productions everywhere have stopped. As an actor these periods of unemployment and waiting are something we are familiar with so I’ve decided to treat it like that—as regular waiting. I’ve had to deal with not being in control before—waiting for callbacks for example. It’s good to treat this as sort of an “off-season” like athletes and to take the opportunity to do things to be a better performer, like creating and journaling which I am attempting to do.

Sometimes, I can’t believe the volatility of my state of mind. There are days where I’m positive or functioning and just being able to take day to day and focusing on what’s in my control. I focus on just feelin  and acting slow and just being where I am–where my two feet are. And things are ok when things are like that. It’s not that I am being oblivious but I’ve limited watching news to once a day. 

There are other days when I can’t quiet my mind and that’s saying a lot because and I’ m a meditator. I meditate 2x a day. I guess we are never really in control but this is more challenging than in regular times. Your own mind can be an obstacle—thinking about the future and the pain all around. 

Other obstacles are the news, being four people in one house, together all the time. I gain energy from moments alone, and that is challenged now. It goes without saying, though, that it’s a blessing to be together with our loved ones. We say thank god we are together, and that we like as well as love each other.  

My husband is a financial planner who normally goes into city two to three times a week. Like everyone he works from home all the time now and he is actually working a lot, and is in touch with a lot of clients just hearing them out about and what they need. It’s interesting because you can hear from his side of the conversation that theirs state of mind range. He’ll go from one person who is optimistic and to another going through a nightmare as well people who were dealing with illness already and then this crisis has happened. Of course, it affects him but thank goodness for technology so he can stay connected to co-workers because for him going to office was important. It’s important to feel the energy of other people around you.  

One saving grace as a family has been the puppy we adopted in February. He has been such a gift.  He’s given us moments of joy and love and togetherness around him. The other day, I was lying on the ground with the puppy with my 17 year old—a tender moment that wouldn’t have happened normally. 

We’ve also drawn a lot of resilience from our kids. Kids are incredible because they are in the moment always. My younger son has a group FaceTime talk with his friends they all check in and it’s so sweet. They talk about school, have homework groups—they help each other.  

Most of all, I’m amazed at the leadership in the town and the communication we’ve been getting from very early on—it really makes a difference. I feel like that as a community we’ve really come together and everyone is respecting what needs to happen. Most of the time, people have good intentions. I believe in the good of people but some people take a little bit longer to figure thing out, to get with the program. I don’t think that’s ill-intended so I believe we have to be careful with social media with pointing fingers, denouncing or accusing. We need to talk to people directly, email if we need to say something or see something. We need to have accountability for what we say and not hide behind a screen. 

My mom grew up in Paris in World War 2 and she said “funny times, bring funny behavior”—meaning you don’t know how people will react to stress.  We need to have history be our teacher and hear its reminders, before we reach points where we want lash out when we see others doing what we don’t think is right. We should remember that we don’t know what they are going through. 

We need to have history be our teacher and hear its reminders…

Social distancing is weighing on us all, but it will be long, so we must remember to be gentle in the way we act with one another. We need to get ahead of the mental and emotional issues that will surely arise. Awareness is everything. If we are made aware then we can step into the world with that awareness.” 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Sheri Gordon

Sheri Rabiner Gordon is a member of Westport’s Board of Finance. 

“I spend my days helping everyone get their work done, keeping the house together and endless meals! I check in on friends and family and am continuing my work on Board of Finance. It’s taken some time to adjust to virtual-only meetings. 

I’m a people person so it is hard not getting to interact with people in person. I think Westport is doing a good job recognizing that it’s hard to stay home but necessary to get through this time–I miss everyone in Westport right now! 

In every generation there is some trial or tribulation. This is ours. I hope we come out stronger as a community and with a better sense of time management.” 

In every generation there is some trial or tribulation. This is ours.

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Annette Norton

I own a local department store on Main Street: Savvy+Grace. It went from a retail business to e-commerce and call in order business overnight. I am still working, shipping locally & getting the store ready for when we can re-open. 

It’s hard not seeing my customers and co-workers. Trying everything to keep my business going during this challenging time but I truly feel the community is amazing. Once it hit Westport, the community took the necessary actions to flatten the curve. I see people walking more, bonding more, and shopping local more. The community has only grown closer from this.  

The community has only grown closer from this.

My greatest hope is that we all see how it is easy to take things for granted. That this pandemic brings out more gratitude, kindness and love in us all. It’s hard on all of us for same and different reasons My coping mechanisms for me have been God, Family & Friends (and maybe a little more wine!-ha-ha). I won’t call it a fear but I do keep thinking of the kids and how hard this is on them as well.  

As a business owner in town, I am so grateful for the community and that it realizes how important it is to ‘shop local’. It is not just a trendy saying. I have seen first-hand, during these times….Westport means it and rallies. It is beautiful and heart-warming. I know this will pass and together, we will be stronger for it.  

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On: Jay Dirnberger & Molly Alger

Jay Dirnberger and Molly Alger moved to Westport from New York City 11 years ago and quickly became integral members of town life, lending their time and efforts to numerous local nonprofits. Molly is a retired management consultant and Jay is a retired institutional investment portfolio manager. A highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, Jay was a helicopter pilot in the Army’s, First Cavalry Division and was later in the 18th Airborne Corp at Fort Bragg. He is the recipient of the Silver star, Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, twenty-three Air Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. You can see and hear Jay’s American Memory interview with the Library of Congress here

“I often hear people use the analogy of wartime when it comes to the situation we’re in. Drawing the comparison idea of fighting a war in your own country doesn’t apply here—the last time that happened was the Civil War, so we have no recent collective memory of that. Except for the caregivers, the war analogy is too broad, in my opinion. However, there is a sense of community behavior to support a common goal but it doesn’t seem to me to be close to a war situation. I do think there is some analogy to the Depression that is applicable. 

I take this seriously—and have since the beginning—but, at first, I’d say Molly took it more seriously than me. In February and March there hadn’t been a lot of info about people who have been sick and gotten better. Not knowing that was demoralizing. As I’ve been learning that some people have had it and didn’t even now or those who did know and were sick but still survived—that statistical knowledge holds out hope. However, there is the worry of “silent transmitters”. 

From my professional point of view: In the long term, I think that the economic impact could be resolved fairly quickly. The economy will rebound–it’s the jewels of town that may be affected in terrible ways: The schools, The Westport Museum, The Library and The Playhouse. The brand-new businesses that just got started will be seriously harmed. On the other side, there risk-takers—the entrepreneurs– those who were supposed to start new businesses or about to buy real estate and didn’t, who are going to raise their head up and think “I dodged this bullet.” There is no doubt that Westport will take a fairly serious short term hit because of the amount of cases we had here, but eventually schools will reopen, the Playhouse and Library will survive and they’ll be strong as ever. Families will want to come here and live.

The economy will rebound–it’s the jewels of town that may be affected…

Personally, our greatest impact is that we can’t do the volunteer work we both love. I am part of the Y’s Men and on the finance committee at the Westport Museum as well as on the board of The Playhouse. I’m also a school mentor within the international refugee community in Bridgeport. I miss that a great deal. Molly is on the board of the Friends of the Senior center and is Secretary of the Westport/Weston Community Emergency Response Team which augments emergency services during crises. Molly is practicing with the Community Band playing her alto saxophone. She hopes to participate next season. This situation is different now—volunteers can’t be put on the front lines and at risk so we are finding different ways to help. 

We walk a lot. We’ve always been walkers but we do more now. Usually we about 3 miles a day. We take a certain path and we see people in neighborhood. We cross to separate, but we still smile and greet each other.  It’s responsible behavior and it’s a shared experience that particularly reminds me of living in Manhattan those first few days after 9/11–when you ran into anyone you would say “did you lose anyone” “are you ok?”

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.