Woog's World: In Westport, March madness is about being magnanimous
March is a nondescript month. It's a long slog with fits and starts of nice weather, punctuated more often by wind, clouds, rain and, occasionally, snow. This year, the snow has really overstayed its welcome.
March is sometimes a month of Easter and Passover (not this year). Otherwise, the two big events are St. Patrick's Day and the start of Daylight Saving Time.
Except in Westport. Here, March means benefits. For some reason, this has become the go-to time for local organizations to throw major fundraisers. Every weekend, something is going on. So many good causes put on so many great events, it can be tough to decide which to support, who to help. Fortunately, our town is filled with folks who open both their hearts and their wallets.
And the choices they offer are indeed very cool.
Last weekend, Mitchells of Westport opened its well-polished doors to Near & Far Aid. That's the low-profile but spectacularly productive nonprofit that donates millions of dollars to men, women and children living in poverty right here in Fairfield County. Grants provide emergency food, shelter and clothing, plus job training, financial literacy, affordable housing and education.
The 20th annual Spring Gala may have been Near & Far's finest event yet. The food was fantastic. The auction items -- silent and live -- were astonishing. The entertainment (MC Dave Price and musical guest Sara Bareilles) was first class. The store was buzzing. Best of all, the cause is very, very important.
A Better Chance of Westport's "Dream Event" has live and silent auctions too, with equally top-shelf items. There is also plenty to eat (and drink). ABC -- which provides motivated, outstanding minority youth the opportunity to achieve their dreams through education and, at the same time, inspires every Westporter fortunate enough to meet the "ABC Scholars" -- sometimes has entertainment. But the highlight of each year's "Dream Event" are speeches from current and alumni ABC House students. Their stories are compelling and inspiring. No one walks away unmoved. This year's Dream Event is Saturday, March 28 (7 p.m., Birchwood Country Club).
The night before (Friday, March 27, 7 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club, Wilton), Project Return will celebrate its own 20-year fundraiser: the Birdhouse Auction. This event is truly unique. Dozens of artists create and contribute birdhouses. They're traditional and contemporary, whimsical and contemplative, indoor and outdoor, made from a wide variety of materials in a broad range of styles. Each is auctioned off, in a fun, festive atmosphere (with a buffet, martini bar and music from DNR).
Project Return -- a North Compo Road home for teenage girls and young women in crisis -- has turned March into an entire birdhouse month. Last Sunday, a downtown "stroll" offered sneak peeks at the birdhouse. This Thursday (March 19, 6 to 8 p.m.), the Westport Arts Center offers a look back at 20 years of birdhouses and artwork. Those are free -- as is a look at a few birdhouses in Max's Art Supplies. Sure, the store is closed -- but they've always displayed those artists' creations, and they're not stopping now.
Not all fundraisers are big and splashy, of course. Every year, Best Buddies -- Staples High School's club that fosters one-on-one friendships between intellectually and developmentally disabled students and their classmates -- hosts a fashion show, silent auction and dinner at the high school. Group members spend months preparing for the event. The fashions are fabulous -- what teenager doesn't love taking a star turn down the runway? -- and the vibe is fun. The Staples cafeteria is not exactly Mitchells, Birchwood or Rolling Hills, and the amount raised is nowhere near those other events' leagues, but that's not the point. The idea is to do good things for other people -- hopefully, in a special way -- and have a great time doing it.
Some fundraisers are one-offs. Late last month (technically, not March, but February is really short so I'm including it), Staples Class of 2008 member Adam Kaplan organized a fundraising concert. The beneficiary was Orphenians, the school's elite singing group that heads soon to San Francisco, for a very elite workshop with Chanticleer. (No, not every Westporter can afford the trip to California.)
Adam -- who starred most recently in "Newsies" -- enlisted several Broadway friends (including fellow Staples alum Mia Gentile) for a stellar show. Between numbers, they spoke glowingly about the importance of high school theater and music.
Speaking of music, there's one more benefit worth noting. It's a project, not an event per se. But it shows that -- at all ages, and in every way imaginable -- Westporters find clever ways to help others. Bedford Middle School seventh-grader Brody Braunstein loves music. So he's organized a used instrument drive through KEYS, which provides lessons to Bridgeport kids. Brody will pick up any instruments at your house (except pianos!). For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS: Happy St. Patrick's Day!