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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Green is on the GO in Fairfield and the Region

Green is on the GO in 
Fairfield and the Region
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Magazine “From the Field” column)

The Green Revolution – that is, the worldwide environmental movement that seeks to adopt cleaner, greener, renewable and sustainable practices – is no longer in its infancy. This little tyke has climbed out of its crib, helped itself up, toddled about and learned the ABCs of the channels and legislative arenas with which it must deal on an ongoing basis to push through positive eco-compatible developments.

In the beginning, there was conservation, wildlife protection and ecology. Then alternate energy innovations in the solar, wind and hydroelectric power categories. The intro of reduction, recycling and reuse strategies followed. Lately, it’s the buzz about sustainable gardens and local farming that’s bending an ear.

A number of businesses from Fairfield and neighboring communities are leading the charge and schooling consumers about some very unique new products and services, helping foster a big rethink about our environmental responsibilities. Several of these local players were on hand at a recent Green Market Exposition held in the City Hall Annex in Bridgeport.

There was Fairfielder Dan Delventhal’s MowGreen.US, a network of locally owned gas-free lawn care cooperatives that has taken root in Fairfield County and is rolling out regionally. Operating under the motto “Get the gas off the grass”, operators employ only traditional hand-mowers, rakes, brooms and battery-powered edgers and blowers to service lawns. For large properties, Delventhal has converted a gas mower to solar-powered hydrogen operation. At the same time, the business promotes lawn reduction in favor of native plants and organic gardens.

Fairfield-based Green Building America is a contractor that chooses to build with insulated concrete forms comprised of recycled materials like Styrofoam. A typical wall construction is made by stacking 10-foot-long blocks in a stacking system. The benefits include smart reuse of recycled materials, energy savings of 20%+, fire resistance, anti-mold and superior sound and heat insulation. “Insulation is a top earn-back in a home, and this product capitalizes on that,” said Managing Director Ed Santandrea.

Sunlight Solar Energy, which has its CT headquarters in Milford, installs solar electric and solar thermal panels on residential and commercial properties. While this is an established technology, it’s the purchase incentives and pricing that’s rapidly changing and heating up this category. This includes combined Fed and state rebates of up to 40% on cost and equipment price drops of 20%.

Brookfield, CT-based Green Star Energy installs equipment designed to make homes more energy efficient with new technologies like a split ductless invertor for heating and cooling that mounts on the wall. Oxford-based EasyCare Energy Solutions makes a reflective radiant barrier for attics to reduce energy costs.

Even local mom-and-poppers are making a difference. Gumdrop Swap is a Bridgeport company that takes unwanted kids clothing items, repurposes them and provides shopping credits to service users to redeem in its showroom. Black Rocker Gussie Bradford makes items from coconut shells, such as night lights, drinking cups, candles and jewelry containers. “Coconuts are organic and incredibly diverse,” said Bradford. “You can even burn its shell to coal and use it as a filter to purify water.”

Penfield Reef Light: Sentinel of the Sound

Penfield Reef Light: 
Sentinel of the Sound
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Magazine Holiday 2011)

Fairfield, CT – For nearly 140 years, since her Fresnel lens first flickered to life January 16, 1874, Penfield Reef Lighthouse, less than a mile off Fairfield Beach in Long Island Sound, has served as a guide to mariners and an icon for the town of Fairfield. In recent years, its Coast Guard parent has been seeking a new private owner and in Fall 2011, an online auction was initiated. Fairfield residents Sandye Mann and Bill Sapone formed the Penfield Reef Lighthouse Preservation Committee to campaign for local acquisition of the historic beacon and, at press time, were seeking donations to top a competitive bid of $25,000.

The initial driver for the construction of Penfield Light was an increase in shipping activity in Bridgeport Harbor after the Civil War. Penfield Reef, at the end of which the Light was ultimately erected, jutted out dangerously close to the route of steamers and schooners operating between Bridgeport and New York and was the cause of several boating accidents. In 1864, the passenger steamer Rip Van Winkle bumped the shoal and in the winter of 1866-67, four vessels were grounded on the reef. Spurred by local merchants and boaters, in April 1868, a lighthouse engineer petitioned the Lighthouse Board, which asked for and secured $55,000 from Congress to build a structure.

Construction began in 1872, with a conical ring of granite forming a base and cavity at the top serving as the basement of a granite and wood-frame two-story dwelling that would be built on top of it. The first floor housed a kitchen, living room and oil room. The second floor contained four bedrooms. Above that, an octagonal tower was erected, topped by a cast-iron lantern featuring a light that worked on a clockwork mechanism and flashed red every six seconds.

George Tomlinson was the first of many keepers the Light would have over the next century, with turnover occurring almost every other year. The initial annual salary was about $400, well earned by the keeper who often took his life in his hands traveling to and from the lighthouse, especially in winter. One keeper, in fact, Fred Jordan, anxious to join his family for Christmas, was drowned in rough seas December 22, 1916 when his rowboat capsized. Assistant Keeper Rudolph Iten was promoted in his place. Days later, Iten recounted seeing Jordan’s ghost and the lighthouse logbook mysteriously placed and opened on a table.

Life in the Light itself was comfortable enough, though water had to be boiled to purify it, the radio was often powerless and the foghorn loud. The hours were passed reading, cooking, washing, playing records and keeping watch. Newspapers were coveted and often dropped off by a passing lobsterman.

Penfield Reef Light was automated in 1971 and then almost replaced by a pipe tower. Local residents, Congressman Lowell Wicker and State Representative Stewart McKinney saved the structure, and today its light continues its decades-long mission.

Martha Dean Jump Starts SHU Audience on Constitution Day

Martha Dean Jump Starts SHU Audience on Constitution Day
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

Fairfield, CT – There was fire in her words, conviction in her voice and nothing short of an S.O.S. in her message.

On Wednesday afternoon September 14, Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Avenue, hosted Martha Dean, Esq., the 2010 Republican candidate for Connecticut Attorney General. To commemorate the university’s 7th annual celebration of Constitution Day, Dean delivered a passionate address titled “Defibrillating the Constitution: Jump-Starting the Heart of America’s Economic Engine.”

Conducted in the Schine Auditorium to a full house, the talk drew on Dean’s 23 years of experience practicing law and specific constitutional cases she has personally handled. Dean is also an established business owner, with a stable of attorneys in her 16-year-old law firm.

Besides having Dean on hand, the university announced the publication of pocket-sized copies of both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, to give students and lawmakers in Connecticut fingertip access to these important documents. Attorney Deborah Stevenson conceived the project and, at the conclusion of Dean’s remarks, distributed copies to all in attendance.

Professor and Chair of the Department of Government and Politics, staff member for over 30 years, and coordinator of Constitution Day Gary L. Rose, Ph.D. introduced Dean, providing some background about the commemoration to start. “About eight years ago, the late Senator Robert Byrd initiated legislation that any college or high school receiving federal aid should set aside a day to honor the Constitution,” he said. “September 14 was the day the Constitution was ratified. The legislation permitted the day to be marked within the week before or after that date.”

Byrd said there had been a wide range of scholarly past Constitution Day speakers, which included Quinnipiac Law Professor William Dunlap, think tanker Todd Gaziano, U.S. Congressmen Chris Shays and Jim Himes, Civil Liberties Union head Sandy Staub and Barry Schaler. Byrd added that the school does not cater to any party view or pursue a particular agenda with these presentations.

Dressed in a conservative dark blue suit jacket, flower print scarf, pink top and long navy skirt, Dean took to the stage saying that her given 30 minutes was really too compact to provide a comprehensive Constitution overview, so she focused on offering thoughts the gathering may not have heard before.

“Every generation is called upon to defend this great nation – the reality and idea of America. This begins in our homes,” she said. “Our Founding Fathers lit the fire of freedom. In our homes, it is stoked anew, and the passing on of the flame is a responsibility. And yet we must exercise restraint – or the force of government will be used to restrain us.”

She continued, “Rights pre-date our Constitution and came from kings and dictators, but never did a society write them down. The Constitution was put in place to confirm our rights – rights given by God, and hence empirical.”

Dean stressed that we must understand the Constitution – put simply, that it protects our God-given rights. “It’s the only truly legitimate function of government. It’s a brilliant and enduring document,” she said.

Dean inferred that our elected officials can be flippant in their messages. “Politicians often say, ‘I love America.’ It’s worth asking them for clarification,” she said. “To love something means so much more than finding something pleasing and convenient. It means you’ve made a commitment to uncover its essence, to understand more of what God intended it to be. What is the essence of America? Commit yourself to that.”

The esteemed attorney considers the Constitution to be a remarkable document. “Despite mankind’s superior existence, man has lived in dampness and squalor until recently. The Constitution and the ideas of our Founding Fathers are truly a miracle that has changed for the better the lives of people the world over. Freedom combined with morality. The right to have and do things combined with responsibility.”

Dean reminded the group that the Constitution’s creators agreed on 28 great principles that underpin our republic and proceeded to recite those 28, summarizing each with a sentence.

The noted speaker said that the real power of the famed document is the freedom it provides that unleashes the creativity of a few who make remarkable discoveries benefiting us all.

Raising a red flag, she asked, “Why do we look to other countries to interpret our own Constitution? Is this the type of effort that’s consistent with our trying to understand our nation and our Constitution, or a reflection of self-doubt or self-interest or arrogance to create a more perfect America?”

She continued, “Our leaders have forgotten what principles our country was founded upon. The flame has not been passed along in the home. Schools have forgotten per the textbooks. This is the start of a decline into darkness. I truly believe America is in Code Blue. This is a very scary time.”

Dean added that our rights are already being encroached upon. “There’s no point in having other rights if you don’t have the right to earn a living,” she said. “In times of economic crisis, legislators feel compelled to make bad law.”

But there’s hope she offered. “The Tea Party movement. Individuals across the country from various parties who are focused on the Constitution. They realize the one thing that can be done is to rekindle the fire our Founding Fathers started. The Constitution is the only medicine that will work.”

Another bright group, she suggested, is the Institute for Justice, started by young lawyers. “They have come to the defense of small businesses, like hair braiders, shoe shiners, and independent taxis. They are a great resource,” she said, adding, “and love to work with young graduates.”

Dean made a quick final assessment of our country’s state before relinquishing the podium. “Our individual liberties are well protected right now, but we’re doing a terrible job of protecting our economic liberties. There’s a lot of work to be done if you truly love this country.”

SHU Ranked 18th for Athletic Programs in Nationwide College

SHU Ranked 18th for Athletic Programs in Nationwide College Study
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

In a recent comprehensive review of 197 NCAA Division I, II and III colleges nationwide, Division I-AA school Sacred Heart University was ranked 18th as a best college for athletes.

The study was conducted in the summer of 2011 by staff at The Daily Beast, the three-year-old digital news offspring of revered print brand Newsweek, and published the last week in August. It is the second annual study of its kind and was driven by interest from alumni, students, parents of college-eligible children and the schools themselves in college rankings. The athletic programs category was one of more than a dozen areas examined and rankings were based on a mathematical formula and where a school falls relative to a category average.

In the athletic program category, four criteria were examined: athletes as a percentage of total undergraduate enrollment, financial aid per athlete, total operating expenses and the ratio of athletic spending to instructional expense. In that order, SHU measured up as follows: 21.3% of enrolled undergraduates are athletes; $10,534 is provided in financial aid per athlete; $18,681,467 is spent on overall athletic operations; and $0.43 is spent on athletics per instructional dollar.

The top 25 schools were noted, with the University of Tulsa at the top end and company that included the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, Colgate University and Syracuse University.

Don Cook, SHU’s executive director of athletics for the past 19 years and a 47-year athletic program veteran with long-time posts at both Fairfield University (15 years) and University of Hartford (six years), was flattered about the school being honored. He pointed to several elements that may have helped gain attention for SHU.

To start, Cook said, “We have made a long-range commitment to our program. The fact that we have 31 sports and over 750 participating athletes – which is a high percentage of our student body -- probably caught the attention of the surveyor.”

SHU athletes also perform well academically. “We have had almost 14 consecutive semesters wherein our athlete G.P.A.’s are over 3.0,” said Cook.

Coaches are another exemplary part of the success equation. “We have a dedicated coaching staff, with an average tenure of 10 years,” explained Cook. “They know what they are doing. And many that I hired some 16 years ago are still with us.”

Awards from college athletic governing bodies contribute to SHU’s high profile as well. “Our school has won the last four consecutive Northeast Conference Commissioner’s Cups, for men and women, which is based on a point system and how our teams rate against other schools’ teams in regular season play. Our women alone have won five of these awards in a row,” he said, proudly.

What may not have been considered in the Beast rankings, though, which is a very important part of an athlete’s experience and growth as an individual, is the interaction of the athlete with his or her surrounding community, said Cook, who coached his first college game, in baseball, in April 1966.

“Our athletes have done a lot in terms of community service and have an enormous impact on the lifestyle of our institution,” he said. “For example, we send 10 to 15 of our athletes every single weekday to the Dunbar School in Bridgeport – a school that barely manages to stay open – to work with students and teachers to do mentoring. It makes such a difference to the stability of that school.”

SHU’s outreach efforts have not gone unnoticed. “In 2010, the NCAA gave us a community service award for our various work in Bridgeport,” Cook said. “This past year, we received the Northeast Conference Building Communities Award, based on the number of student volunteer hours and community service. We had a couple thousand hours of dedication, to which no other schools came close.”

Cook summarized, “Our success is really an interactive mix of volume, performance on the field, community service and academics.”

SHU Students Aid Bridgeport Beautification Effort in Fall Sweep

SHU Students Aid Bridgeport Beautification Effort in Fall Sweep
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)

Bridgeport, CT – Over four dozen Sacred Heart University students set pencils and textbooks aside Saturday morning November 5 in favor of shovels, rakes, spades and work gloves to pitch in on a Bridgeport beautification effort.

Spurred by Groundwork Bridgeport, an environmental organization in the Park City that focuses on enhancement and clean-up, and coordinated by Maura Cook, Assistant Director of Volunteer Programs at SHU, the effort focused on removing tree and leaf debris, waterfront clearance, trash pick-up and the planting of flower bulbs and trees. SHU student activities were concentrated on two sites: William Barnum Park at the corner of Barnum Avenue and William Street and James Brown Park on Waterview Avenue. About 35 members of SHU’s Kappa Sigma fraternity handled James Brown Park while 16 other students managed William Barnum. All equipment and plantings were supplied by Groundwork.

“We’ve done this every year with Groundwork, for at least the past five years,” said Cook, who has worked at SHU for the past year and a half where she is also pursuing her Masters in Communications. “We also help Groundwork at various other times of the year. For instance, during our Community Connections Pre-Fall Program, we take 48 freshmen, put them in Bridgeport for a week and expose them to various service opportunities and the culture and history of the city. Really, any time they have a project come up, we will help out. We really try to meet the needs of the community in any way we can.”

Cook was very involved in service in college and said she wanted to pursue a career in non-profit. To that end, after graduating, she worked at a drop-in center in New York, helping homeless adults. “When I saw this opportunity at SHU, it was appealing as I wanted other students to find a passion in service and that it could be a lifelong commitment,” she said. “Service doesn’t have to end after college. SHU is such a great community to be a part of – that was attractive as well.”

Student participants in the morning Fall Sweep ran the gamut in terms of academic backgrounds, but many had been part of other programs like Habitat for Humanity. “They had gotten a taste for service work, and the Kappa Sigmas participate every year in the Sweep,” said Cook.

At James Brown Park, Groundwork Executive Director Jack Dillon gave the students their work assignments and they set about raking leaves and clearing brush from the waterfront, which was snarled with invasive plants and weeds and dotted with trash and discarded items like a car bumper, a bureau and tires.

Josh Keane, student president of Kappa Sigma, was among the group and remarked, “Community service is one of the most important things you can do. A lot of people take it for granted. We’ve got a good crew out here.”

At the opposite end of the park, two dozen students from Central High and Bassick High Schools helped plants trees under the guidance of Vernon Sanders of non-profit Build-On, and Chris Donnelly, an Urban Forestry Coordinator with the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection. These students were also outfitted with equipment from Groundwork.

Meanwhile, at William Barnum Park, SHU students, under the guidance of Laura Bubela, a landscape architect from the Boston area assisting Groundwork, were also busy raking and tree planting, as well as digging shallow trenches along a perimeter fence for daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs. The group was picking up loose rock and brick debris, too, stumbling upon disturbing items in the process like a knife, razor blade and bag of marijuana.

In the end, the areas the students had toiled in looked orderly, fresh and appealing to any visitor hoping to enjoy them. The groups were rewarded with a cookout in a back lot behind Groundwork headquarters, situated on Barnum Avenue midway between the two parks.