Focus On: CLASP

Since 1976, CLASP group homes, headquartered in Westport, creates and supports family environments for people with autism and intellectual disabilities. Latravia Cox and Tiffany Scott are the manager and assistant manager, respectively of the CLASP home at Kings Highway South, which has been in operation since 1983 and is home to five adults.  Providing meaningful and enriching lives to residents CLASP is a 501c3 nonprofit dependent on charitable donations. We hope you will support their work by clicking this link

 “The house is co-ed, with two women and three men. All are adults with intellectual disabilities.  Some may also have other physical and emotional conditions as well but their primary diagnosis is intellectual disability.  

Jeff age 63 wants to live the American dream with a house, fast car and a wife. 

MC age 42 is totally and completely into video games and rap music. 

Tom age 60 is a very nice guy who loves to help. 

Sheri age 47 works competitively and loves to follow popular culture and TV 

Martha age 44 is a homebody who loves hearing from and seeing her mom. 

The hardest thing for our residents about social distancing and the need for caregivers to wear Personal Protective gear is that long-standing practices and schedules have been broken. For example, every Tuesday was going to Dunkin Donuts. Some people were used to seeing family every weekend or on some other regular schedule and that’s not happening.  This was a very social bunch.  Also, everyone at the house had a day program or job.  This provided much of the routine human interaction with people from the cafeteria lady to the person in the seat next to them at work—the kind of interaction and routine we all need. 

The worst part for our residents is not seeing their families.  This is not only hard on the residents but hard on the families too.  It’s also hard trying to explain why all of these measures are necessary without going too far and terrifying people with the idea that they might die.  

A good thing is that some people are getting more personal attention at the home than they would at their usual day programs.  The staff to resident ratio is 1 to 5 at home.  It is usually a much higher resident to staff ratio at day programs. 

We like to stress inclusion in the community at CLASP so now we are like a turtle pulled inside our shell. Just like for everyone else this has been a very strange time. For the first few weeks it was exciting and different. Now, not so much. Our staff have been phenomenal by working long hours to minimize the number of people who have to come in to the home– thus minimizing the contact risk. 

What has been surprising is how we have been able to find ways to use technology in innovative ways to both conduct our business and keep our residents and clients connected. 

We’d really like followers of this project to know that we’re part of the neighborhood, part of the community as much as anyone else. In a civil society we all have a responsibility to one another we will all get through this together—and when we do, we need a BIG party!” 

we’re part of the neighborhood, part of the community

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

Focus On: Lisa Laudico & Family

Lisa Laudico has lived in Westport for 13 years with her husband and two sons. She is a Metastatic Breast Cancer survivor who volunteers helping others who are struggling with the disease. 

“I am a clinical social worker and so we as a family are always checking in with each other to make sure we take care of our mental health AND our physical health during this time. Given I have had to be careful with my exposure to germs in general for the past 2.5 years given my stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer diagnosis, our family is used to ‘germ/virus vigilance’.  

I work as a volunteer now for a few foundations dedicated to helping those with Metastatic Breast Cancer (The Cancer Couch Foundation and Share Cancer Support) – this work has not stopped and we are working on new ways to connect and support. My husband Tony is working remotely and is able to for the most part – he is enjoying not having to travel! Our two sons (one a college senior and the other a college sophomore) are doing their remote online classes. We all have our ‘work days’ and we have a “Corona” job jar that each of us tackle each day. We are doing a family book club where each week we have a different book nominated by a family member. Lots of dinners together and game nights at least twice a week. We have been doing global zoom dinner parties with friends all over the world and wonder why the heck we didn’t do this more often before! We have decided that zoom dinner parties with just 4 people works really well. If you go bigger – it is a little more chaotic. 

We are social people and certainly miss seeing friends in person. My husband is in a band and they have not been able to practice together for over a month. Having both of our sons home for this long stretch of time is very different and also lovely. Our eldest would come home for visits for only a week at a time even in the summer (he lives in NYC) and so to have all of us together is very special and something you get when you organize a big family vacation but those have become exceedingly rare with the schedules of our two sons. What a gift! 

Our community is very special and there are many active, caring members of our town who are out there making a huge difference. I was saddened to hear that there had been some negative comments in the beginning of the crisis when we, as a town, benefited from another country’s efficient and fast testing of COVID 19 alerting us to confirmed exposure when it had been in our town for many weeks unconfirmed and untested. But the goodwill in this town always rises to the top. I know of many teenagers and college students who have been extremely respectful of the social distancing guidelines – not all kids and parents have been stretching the rules. Westport is a very special place and this time confirms that again. 

I am less worried for my own health even with my condition since I am currently stable and on oral chemo (thank goodness!) but more concerned for my husband given how poorly men seem to be doing once they contract the disease as compared to women. I am now asking our sons to do any errands so my husband can reduce his exposure outside. My greatest fear beyond our own family is with my many friends with MBC who are even more immunocompromised than myself and who have additional health issues that need continual care at hospitals.  

We are all very aware that when/if triage decisions need to be made in overwhelmed ICUs, someone with a stage 4 diagnosis like mine will not get a ventilator so that someone with more of a shot at a longer life can live. I hope that this does not happen to anyone. I pray and hope that we do not lose people and that the projections will be wrong. In the end, though, we are a family of hope and I do see so much opportunity for hope – in how we as a town pull together, in how our faith communities look to new ways to support and connect with individuals in need, in how our society overall will look to the helpers in our life at the pharmacy, the supermarket, the postal worker, the teachers, the delivery workers, our nurses, doctors and hospital workers of all kinds with more respect and gratitude.  

…we are a family of hope

I hope that we may look at our society and see that an overhaul of our healthcare system is the right humane thing to do and that paid sick leave is something for the greater good. That this kind of social upheaval gives us a chance to see where we need to do better to be a society that takes care of its vulnerable since we now see that each of us can be among the vulnerable at any time. That we can look at how we as a society need to reconstruct how we support those who support us but who do not always get such a fair deal. May we not lose or forget these important lessons. 

We are so privileged to live in such a beautiful community that shows its love inside and out. I have so much gratitude for living in Westport and we feel so blessed to have our relative health as we shelter at home. It is a scary time to have this invisible enemy impact our lives but may it be a reminder that we have choices on how we get to live this life. Never let an existential crisis go to waste! Let’s not waste a second. 

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: Kelle & Jeff Ruden

Originally hailing from Texas, Kelle Ruden has lived in Westport for 20 years with her husband Jeffrey, who grew up in Westport and graduated from Staples High School in 1982. Many around town know Kelle as an avid gardener who is a past President of the Westport Garden Club and for her previous work as the Programs Director at Westport Library. 

“We are both able to work from home and we are enjoying taking breaks together for a meal or a walk to the end of our road, checking on friends and family and catching up on the latest news. I am also coordinating volunteers to shop for members of our congregation and participating in services and classes via Zoom. 

Jeffrey is Managing Director and Senior Commercial Banker for Fieldpoint Private, I work part time as Lecture Coordinator for Shankar Vedantam, host of NPR’s Hidden Brain. Jeffrey has been working from home since March 12 and his work has been busy because of the reduction in interest rates. Both of us have worked with clients who are anxious about the coming months and the uncertainty of these times. 

Mastering Zoom, upgrading WIFI speed and navigating canceled events dominated the early days. Of course, as the days went on, worries about friends and family became paramount. My brother is deemed “essential” in Houston and had been working without a mask or gloves but he now has them.  Jeff’s mom suffers from Alzheimer’s and cannot really communicate and we cannot see her.  We have concerns for friends whose businesses are suffering and our town, our nation and those who are struggling to get by or are losing their livelihoods and their lives. 

We had heard a bit about the virus in China in January but the reality that it would come to us all struck when we were on a cruise from Feb. 1-15 in the Caribbean. Halfway through the trip- on Feb. 7, the ship was in port in San Juan and the crew began enacting virus protocols- the entire library, board games and puzzles were removed, menus were shrink wrapped after disinfecting, and all on board were asked to refrain from handshaking and to wash hands frequently. And, of course, the ship was cleaned rigorously and constantly.  

At home, after the initial “denial” phase, people seemed to hunker down and show real concern for their neighbors. Our town leaders have been incredible during a very trying time. A huge shout out not just to our first responders, medical folks and clergy- but to our pharmacy workers, grocery store clerks and food service workers who are seeing us all through this. 

A huge shout out not just to our first responders, medical folks and clergy- but to our pharmacy workers, grocery store clerks and food service workers

COVID forced many of us into a “hard stop” and presented an opportunity to step away from a frantic pace that did not allow for time to rest and recharge, to think or to dream. Of course, many workers have not had the luxury to stop during this time and my hope for them is that they stay well and are celebrated and well compensated for all they have done. We are grateful for this amazing community we live in, and our incredible neighbors.  

My family settled in Texas in 1840 and as Dan Rather once said: “Always marry a woman from Texas. No matter how tough things get, she’s seen tougher.” But more seriously, we are both at an age where we have experienced loss and hardship and had the benefit of the wisdom of family members who have lived through worse: hunger, war and deprivation. This is a challenging time with great loss of life, but historically our country has been through even worse and has come out stronger. 

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: Bob Mitchell

Bob Mitchell is a former chairperson of Westport Museum (Westport Historical Society). He’s lived in Westport with his wife, Kathy, for 22 years.  

As with most people, I am spending a lot more time at home, basically alone. (My wife is an invalid.) I go out for basic errands, and to walk – my principal source of exercise. I am taking advantage of the extra free time to work around the house. I’ll be pretty embarrassed if the many overhanging chores are still undone after life returns to normal. And, I am resuming hobbies and avocations – writing, genealogy, music, scientific analysis – for which I found little time recently in my busy life. 

I am retired. However, I am very active with the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston, and our many face-to-face meetings and activities have been replaced by Zoom, conference calls, and emails. I am responsible for arranging speakers for our weekly meetings, and now am engaged in preparing podcasts, video meetings, and other ‘socially-distanced’ modes of providing camaraderie and involvement for our many home-bound members. 

I was always raised to follow the rules, and to think about other people, so living under the COVID strictures fits right in with my mentality. I also was always more an internal person rather than an external person, so being at home more is not so strange to me. And my wife is not well, so I have long lived a somewhat solitary life. But I still do miss being with other people.  

I miss the lack of direct personal contact. Electronic means are not the same. I thank God that our technology is such today that we can associate with each other in one form or another that was not available until recently. But it is not the same. You cannot hug friends over Zoom. 

 I miss institutions – principally The Library, WMHC, MoCA and others where one could hang out and participate in activities with other human beings. And bookstores, which have always been a place of comfort for me. One positive change has been the impetus to overcome social distancing with social reaching out. I have spoken on the phone with more distant friends and relatives in the past few weeks than in the past several years. I just hope the impetus to keep in touch does not fade when we are back together with our local friends face-to-face. And, as I said before, I have never walked so much in my life since I left New York City in 1993, where I walked everywhere. I see friends, at a distance, explore areas of town I hardly knew, and keep healthy. I even see my neighbors, believe it or not. Thank goodness the virus did not hit when it was 10 degrees out.

I just hope the impetus to keep in touch does not fade when we are back together

I think Westport is doing a very good job with this. Most people are following the guidelines; those businesses that are still open are being very sensible; and the Town government is doing its usual great job. I’m sorry they had to close the beach parking, but I understand that some people, particularly the younger ones who can’t imagine that they could ever catch this ‘old-folks disease’, might well succumb to the temptation, especially as the weather gets nicer. 

I would hope that we learn some lessons about helping each other, thinking before acting, and being generous. I hope that people develop a greater appreciation for the important things in life – family, friends, social activity, healthy fun. I would also hope that our government would take to heart the lessons about not being adequately prepared, in readiness for the next one, whatever it might be. My greatest fears are the growing instances of totalitarian governing in response to the need for strong executive action during the crisis. This crisis will pass, but the changes in our various societies may not. This too shall pass! 

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: Westport Third Selectperson, Melissa Kane

Melissa Kane is Westport’s Third Selectperson. Raised in Manhattan she spent summers in Westport as a child in historic houses that her parents rented which she calls “magical places that made Westport a very special place for me. Spending summers in Westport is what I looked most forward to all year.” Kane, her husband John and son George, now 21, moved to Westport when her 2nd child, Lily was born 17 years ago. 

“I’ve not physically been back to Town Hall since March 12. Working remotely, I’ve been a liaison between the community and the administration with a focus on making sure people have access to the information they need at all times and that they are able to direct their concerns where they need to go and the opportunities to channel their energies into something positive. 

So, I’m focusing a lot of my time on putting together town-led volunteer efforts. So many people want to be doing something right now. I think that at a time like this, when you lose control over everything, there is a sense that if you can just grab onto one thing and be helpful–whether that’s people making masks or working on feeding workers on front line—it allows people to gain a sense of, if not control, some accomplishment. I personally feel this as well. You feel you are moving the ball forward a little bit when you feel helpless otherwise. 

At state level, one of the projects I have been working on, is trying to get better guidelines and regulations for food safety working with organizations like the CT Food association and CT Restaurant Association. I’m also advocating to the governor for these guidelines and regulations to be put out with executive orders and working with Mark Cooper at the Westport-Weston Health district about setting up to have Chamber of commerce field calls about citizens’ concerns about safety when they go to the grocery store or any stores that are open—where there is no uniform way that safety is handled it’s not uniform in any way . Even though there are state regulations, methods vary and that makes people uneasy so I’m working on how you create some uniformity at the state and town level.  

I’m also working on something really cool with our Department of Health & Human Services which has an incredible list of resources for people who are having a hard time practically and emotionally right now. It is really important to talk about the concept of grief that people are feeling now—grief for a life that has been lost. There is so much to unpack around what grief is and what we judge as grief, and what people should be “allowed” to grieve. For example, my parents are 85 and 88 and at risk and scared. I think about them and seniors everywhere who are worrying if they will be spending the end of their lives so isolated. What can we do to alleviate this fear and the grief that comes with it?  

I do believe we will all come out and hopefully there will be a future and it will be really wonderful but it is going to be a changed world and people are realizing that normal will be different. 

people are realizing that normal will be different

I feel extraordinarily lucky to live in this incredible community which has had sickness and will have more, but we have roofs over our heads and we care about those who don’t and we want to help. It feels good to work with a municipality working so hard to keep people safe.” 

Explore More of “Westport In Focus”

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