Lights festival bright spot for new teen group in Westport

WESTPORT — The energy of some local teens helped light up a special happening at MoCA Westport on Saturday afternoon.

The Winter Outdoor Lights Festival featured a fair-like atmosphere, with food, DJ music and a chance for children to decorate shiny compact discs that were then incorporated into a light path that will be on display at the museum throughout the week.

“It was just supposed to be a fun project,” said Ben Larsson, 17, of Westport, and one of several local teens engaged in communal charity work through a new nonprofit called Up Next Teens.

The group, which aims to combine helping others with bringing opportunities for growth and learning to its teen members, was the brainchild of Addison Moore, 15, a 10th grader at Staples High School.

He described the group as unique — not only because it’s officially led by teens, but it focuses on the intersection of community involvement with self-betterment and experience for those actively involved.

“I couldn’t find anything else out there like that (where) you can help the world while also bettering yourself,” said Addison, who began his charitable organizing years ago in his native New York City, creating a group to help feed those in need.

While the intention was originally to organize this event in town through Toquet Hall, permit issues left the group handcuffed, so they reached out to MoCA to help.

“MoCA was a perfect first choice,” Addison said. “They’ve been super helpful, super supportive.”

Ruth Mannes, the executive director, said the event aligned with the museum’s mission and welcomed the idea.

“It really is great for MoCA because it’s part of our mission to do these kinds of events — to bring people out and to share an event,” she said.

She also commended the group for handling so much of the organizing.

“Teens are a real force in the world right now,” Mannes said.

Members of the group said they appreciated the artistic aspect of the event.

“Creativity is an important outlet, especially for teenagers to express themselves,” said Morgan Han-Lemus, 15, of Westport, one of a half dozen Up Next Teens members helping out at the event.

She said the group also offers other benefits.

“Through Up Next and this event with MoCA, I’m able to gain more experience, whether it be entrepreneurship or charity work,” she said. “All of it’s really interesting to explore.”

Emily Carver, 16, of Westport, agreed, adding it’s amazing what a group of teenagers could accomplish when they set their minds to it.

“I really enjoy being part of this group,” Carver said. “There’s the learning aspect (and) you get to put your name out there.”