To some, "March Madness" means basketball brackets. From President Obama to the bagel guy, Americans weigh in on the merits of colleges everyone knows, and those they never heard of until this morning.
In Westport, "March Madness" means more. It's the start of a spring filled with fundraising for worthy causes. There are plenty to support, and competition can be fierce. So over the years, a number of local organizations have marked a few special events as their own.
Project Return, for example, turns to birdhouses. Each year, the residential home for adolescent girls and young women in crisis asks over 130 artists to design and build original birdhouses.
Some are clever. Others are whimsical, ironic or funky. Last night, all were displayed in downtown store windows, for admiration by Westport "strollers." They (the birdhouses, not the people) will stay there for three weeks.
Then, on Saturday, April 6 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton, they'll be auctioned off. Tickets are $125, with auction prices ranging from moderate to wacky. But the birdhouses are like that too, and work Project Return does is invaluable. The clever, creative fundraiser is now in its 18th year. Birds are grateful, and Westport back yards have never looked better.
Auctions -- one silent, the other loud and raucous -- are just two of the highlights at A Better Chance of Westport's "Dream Event" tomorrow (Saturday, March 23) at the Westport Inn. Items include sports and concert tickets, vacation rentals and (my favorite) the use of the Staples boys soccer team for a birthday party or other special event.
Yet the auction -- fun as it is -- pales in comparison to the speakers. ABC scholars -- young men who are about to graduate from the program (which provides educational opportunities to outstanding minority youth), and graduates already making their marks in the world -- speak eloquently about what ABC means to them. Anyone listening -- and everyone listens raptly -- realizes at least one small segment of America's future is in wonderful hands.
A third program providing legs up for young people is Staples Tuition Grants. Now in its eighth decade, STG awards over $300,000 a year in scholarship aid to high school seniors -- and Staples grads already in college.
STG is a low-key organization. Many Westporters have never heard of it. But the thousands it has helped know there is a genuine need for tuition grants -- even in Westport.
On April 27, there's a cocktail reception to raise funds and awareness. STG seldom puts out its hand, but it needs our help to continue handing out more.
Not all of Westport's fundraisers are youth-oriented. The Westport Arts Center supports a variety of program -- chamber music, jazz, film, visual arts and education -- for people of all ages.
On May 18, an "Art Noir Ball" promises a feast for the senses. "Unique performances and interactive installations" are on tap, for "an elegant and sultry evening full of spectacle and surprise." The arts in Westport enjoy a superb legacy, and the Westport Arts Center's fundraiser will go a long way to ensuring it continues.
Four days after the Art Noir Ball, the Westport Public Library takes center stage. In less than two decades, its "Booked for the Evening" (get it?!) gala has attracted Tom Brokaw, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese and Doris Kearns Goodwin to Westport. Patti Smith and New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz have come too, proving -- not that she needs to -- that director Maxine Bleiweis' vision of a 21st-century library is all-encompassing indeed.
This year's honoree is Jon Meacham. A Pulitzer Prize winner for his biography of Andrew Jackson -- and author of highly acclaimed books on Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, as well as a former editor of Newsweek -- Meacham will entertain, inspire and invigorate the sellout crowd.
The month after that -- June 13 to 16 -- there's the Yankee Doodle Fair. Most folks don't think of this as a fundraiser -- it's all about rides, cotton candy and carnival games -- but this one is a big fundraiser for the Westport Woman's Club. At 106 years young, the fair is probably our oldest charity event. It's certainly the most anticipated by everyone under the age of 12.
Westport is blessed with so many organizations -- far more than I've listed here -- that do so many great things, for so many people, in our town and well beyhond.
All need money to keep doing good work. Each approaches its mission -- and its fundraising --with its own unique style.
Most of us can't afford to help them all. But none of us can afford not to help at least one, in whatever way we can. It takes a village to keep our village strong, vital -- and well funded.