Category Archives: Features

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Sitting Down with Archbishop Blair

by Keith Griffin

Just moments into meeting Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, the newly installed head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, you like him. He’s a warm, engaging man along the lines of TV’s late Fred Rogers. Beneath that avuncular exterior, though, lies a strong intellect and deep commitment to his faith.

And it’s all delivered with a twinkle in his eye and a flat Midwestern accent that comes from having grown up in Detroit.

Archbishop Blair, who resides in town, sat down with West Hartford Magazine to talk about his role, the challenges of the Church, Pope Francis, and his limited free time.

In some respects, Archbishop Blair is like Pope Francis in that he was relatively unknown when he came here from the Toledo, Ohio diocese to replace Archbishop Henry Mansell who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.  Local Catholics are still curious about their new spiritual leader.

The Archbishop had this to say about the new Pope and his rock star popularity. “This is a two-edged sword, this popularity. On the one hand, the Pope has put his finger on some neuralgic points about how the Church is perceived, not only the Church, but the teaching of the Church. It’s a two-edged sword because some of his popularity is based on a misperception or false impression that somehow the Pope has any desire to change Church teaching on some very fundamental points that are very difficult for some people in the world today and they don’t accept. I think they’re going to be disappointed. I hope that doesn’t create some further difficulty,” the Archbishop said.

“Pope Benedict [the predecessor to Pope Francis] was a scholar, he was a theologian. He was a humble and rather shy man. Pope Francis is certainly not shy. Priests and bishops are not all cut from the same cloth and neither are Popes. We always pray God will give us the right man to be Pope for the times and each Pope makes his contribution.  Now Pope Francis is making his and it’s very welcome,” Archbishop Blair added.

His humility is apparent when asked about his role as the CEO of the Archdiocese, which comprises Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven counties and includes approximately 700,000 Catholics out of the three counties’ population of 1.9 million. He’s an influential man yet doesn’t project that image.

“I know I have to be vigilant about the temporal goods of the Church. This means getting the very best people to administer these things. The buck stops with me as far as the ultimate responsibility but it wouldn’t be proper nor am I qualified to actually manage or administer all of these things personally,” said the Archbishop, who turned 65 on April 12.

But then his spiritual side comes to the fore as it does with everything he will discuss during the one-hour interview. “The chief role is to be a pastor of souls and principally as a bishop to be a teacher of the faith. That’s the principal job of the bishop as a successor of the Apostles to hand on with integrity the deposit of the faith, the faith of the Church in Christ. “There are many other things the bishop has to do be a spiritual leader and provide for the Church. But you have to appreciate being a teacher of the faith is the most important.”

archCommunion“As long as I could remember I wanted to be a priest. I suppose as a kid I probably wanted to run off and join Rin Tin Tin on the TV at Fort Apache,” Blair said, “but my most abiding memory is wanting to be a priest, adding that his vocation was inspired not only by his parish priests but the nuns who taught him.

Archbishop Blair also sees as a challenge the “great crisis of faith” facing his Church. “We speak of various programs and methodologies we’re trying,” he said, “to draw people back to church, to try to attract other people to join the Catholic Church.  All these things are well and good as outreach. But ultimately in our society today what we are facing is a great crisis of faith. Many people question the need for religious practice as a member of a believing community that lives by an authoritative creed that includes moral teaching and sacramental worship.    For many, religion is reduced to philanthropy–doing good, trying to be decent people and helping others materially. They think that the practice of faith, attendance at church, is not essential for happiness in this world or the next.

“So when it’s a question of what to do to bring people to church, it’s a combination of many things but mostly it’s a question of asking God to give people the gift of faith. Then, of course, on our part to make that gift of faith credible in their eyes, because we’re practicing what we preach. If we say join us, come to church, go to Mass, and then when we leave church we don’t act in a very edifying way, we contradict the Gospel. Young people in particular are quick to see any hypocrisy. Of course we’re all weak, we’re all sinful, none of us lives the Gospel perfectly, but we try with God’s help,” the Archbishop said. “And just as with the Judas the mystery of iniquity was at work even among the Lord’s own apostles, so now the scandal of iniquity can be found whenever the faith is betrayed, as in the tragedy of clerical sexual abuse.”

A touch of sadness comes to his voice when he posits that the crisis is driven by more than just a loss of faith. “A lot of the traditional ways that brought people together, for example, close family life and the extended family, neighborhoods—for Catholics all of these things revolved around the practice of the faith. Today family life is in crisis for many, and family and neighborhood ties aren’t what they used to be. All of these things make it more difficult to hand down the faith. So we have to work in new ways to create a sense of community,” he said.

“The personal element, personal contact will always be essential.  It’s not just the Church but also other voluntary groups and organizations that are experiencing real challenges in bringing people together.  Much of today’s society tries to go it alone. People have the mobility and the communications now, and often spend time on their cell phone rather than talking to the person next to them. That kind of thing is a challenge for all of us,” he said.

But then the Archbishop demonstrates he is not a man mired in the past. Technology can and is being embraced to help the Catholic Church in its mission. “We are very blessed to have excellent resources on the web today. All you have to do is Google something about the faith and you will find some very good Catholic resources for answering questions and getting guidance. Not that it’s any replacement for personal contact, but it’s a great resource,” he said.

The Archbishop embraces technology in his daily life – to a degree. “Most 10 year olds are more savvy than I am, but I do use the web, and actually get most of my news off the web– church or secular. I use it a lot for communications. I have my iPhone to communicate. But if there is anything lengthy to read, I find it hard to do so on a computer screen. I still have to print it out and read it.”

Another challenge for the Church is the education of children in the Archdiocesan schools – a challenge many parents find difficult because of the cost. There are 16,000 students attending the Archdiocese’s 53 schools, including nine high schools where 98 percent of graduates attend college. Catholic school students consistently test two grade levels above their public school peers.

“I acknowledge that the costs today are high and not everybody can do it. Catholic schools grew in the United States because immigrant Catholics came who were not well received by their Protestant fellow citizens. The public schools were basically Protestant and not very favorable to Catholicism. In the big cities, at least, the Catholic people made a great financial sacrifice to send their kids there so they’d get a really good education and also preserve their faith.

“I’m not saying our public schools are anti-Catholic today.  Without prejudice to public education, which we all want to succeed, I hope that Catholic people would still be willing to make a sacrifice for the added dimension that the Catholic school can give. It’s always been a sacrifice.

“Ultimately we’ll only have Catholic schools to the extent that the Catholic parents are convinced of the importance of a Catholic education. That necessarily includes the religious dimension. In that sense it’s in their hands how well we will survive and flourish,” he said.

archbishop2 The Archbishop has praise for programs in place to help with tuition. The Archbishop’s Annual Appeal has a tuition assistance program that helped more than 1700 people last year. There is also Matthew 25, which provides aid to Northwest Catholic students from individuals or foundations willing to support four years of education. The program identifies gifted students and monitors their progress throughout their high school experience.

It’s a program run by Catholic Charities, which the Archbishop praised for its scope. “I was very impressed with the Hartford Archdiocese,” he said. “The Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, for example, is remarkably generous on the part of Catholic people. That includes a whole array of Catholic Charities outreach services and other charitable activities. Catholic Charities also gets grants and other support to conduct this work. It’s extremely important. Archbishop Mansell was fond of pointing out that after the federal government the Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the country.”

Archbishop Blair is a man who knows his limits and realizes the need to step back from the work that can easily swallow up all seven days in the week. “As a bishop or a priest, I always try to take a day off – one of the seven. I don’t have the weekends off so one of the seven. Some weeks it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Being outdoors is very appealing for him whether it’s walking or riding a bike. Those are the kind of things I do to unwind. A while ago the weather warmed up a bit and I took a ride down Route 44 to the reservoir for a long walk. Doing that, I unwind a bit.  I think about the Archdiocese but not in a hectic way, and I don’t just think about work. We all need that.”

“I also love the water. I grew up around the Great Lakes in Michigan. I’m happy that Connecticut is near the Sound and the ocean and there are some nice inland bodies of water. I was attracted to the walk at the reservoir because of the water there. It is very peaceful on or by the water.

“The Lord said to keep holy the Sabbath Day. The Sabbath was meant to show among other things that everything doesn’t depend on us and our work. You have to give a day to God to show that ultimately things are in His hands. I’m not saying my day off is the Sabbath – far from it. But the idea of activism, that one has constantly to be doing things, it not healthy for the body or the soul.

“I realize that many of our fellow citizens are working very hard and don’t get any time off. Some are even pursued by their employers on the cell phone or web after hours and on holidays. I don’t think that’s a healthy thing.”

His humor comes through even when discussing his growing knowledge of the Archdiocese after four months as the archbishop. “When Father Romans, [then his secretary] and I are driving to various events, he often points out churches and some favorite restaurants to me. He claims that I seem to remember the restaurants better than the churches. Maybe that’s not a very edifying thought.”

To view the full magazine online, please visit our ISSUU library.

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Oasis.

Home and Garden in West Hartford Magazine.

Prime Time Gardening
Tips and Tricks for planting in Prime Season!
This is the time of year that gardeners live for…even those who just purchase a few packs of annuals or a hanging basket or two!  Everywhere you go, the world is a riot of flowers, plants, flowering trees, fruit and berry bushes, herbs, vegetables plants, some with full grown fruit already on them. The bounty is overwhelming!…read more

Nurturing Gardening Relationships
Let’s face it,it’s been a long, hard winter.  And, for those of us who love gardening, it’s probably been even harder!  There are only so many times we can find beauty in snow on tree branches or nicely pruned hedges before we get anxious to be back into the garden. As the weather begins to warm up, let’s remember not to rush out into the garden too soon.  As excited as we are to get back to our gardens and plants, there’s nothing more harmful than working in wet soil.  And many of us in this area have clay or compacted soils already so we need to take extra care not to work in those wet soils or we will have a much worse problem…read more

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The Classic Man.

The world of Men’s Fashion is on fire this year and thanks to Dressed To The Nines, of West Hartford…the bar has been raised! Coupled with a few hot cars, the message is clear: Classic never goes out of style!

Casual.
Stroll the Center or take a weekend get-away in this custom sport coat in tan plaid with jewel tone highlights, in silk and wool by Dormeiul/England. It’s a classic two-button style with side vents and is pic stitched. His shirt is 100% 2-ply 120s cotton, in a light blue end-on-end by Thomas Mason/England. Ed completes his look with a pocket square in 100% silk, hand rolled print, made in Italy.

Ed MacDonald, of West Hartford, can be spotted strolling the Center with his family on weekends.

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Business.
Classic doesn’t go out of style… this custom-made business suit with a two button style jacket, notch lapels, side-vented with pic stitching and a ticket pocket is always in style. Sam is wearing super 1205 worsted wool in marine blue sharkskin with an overplaid by Vitale Barberis/Italy.  The trousers have a plain front and are cuffed. Sam’s shirt is 100% 2-ply 120s cotton, in summer white by Stoffa of Italy. His tie, in powder blue print on silk, is hand made in Ireland by Atkinson. The pocket square is 100% cotton, made in Italy.

Sam Fulginiti is a funeral director from Essex who travels to West Hartford Center for his custom business suits.

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Formal.
The trend now is to invest in a custom made tux for your wedding so you have it for black tie functions in the future! Tuxedos can be made-to-order so they fit like a glove with total comfort, whereby the suit simply moves with your body!

Brandon Dufour, of Watertown, wanted an unforgettable wedding when he recently tied the knot with his wife, Theresa Labarbera Dufour (New 8’s Good Morning Connecticut traffic reporter, and host of Connecticut Style). So, he decided on classic tails in Loro Piana Super 130s wool worsted with an all cotton pique vest and matching tie. His shirt is a classic formal shirt by Thomas Mason/England in 2-ply 100s cotton.

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Men who are looking for a classic new look will love Dressed to The Nines. During your initial consultation, Bob will focus on creating your personal style by selecting clothing that best flatters your features and enhances your appearance. For example, you’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the various coat options, whether you prefer single or double breasted, center or side vents, two or three buttons, and trousers that are pleated, flat front and plain or cuffed bottoms.

 

Bob DeGemmis, owner of Dressed to The Nines, has been helping gentlemen look their absolute best for generations! He works out of his  West Hartford Center headquarters. Bob grew up in the business and is the third generation of the DeGemmis family to offer custom tailored suits, shirts, sport coats, pants, topcoats, and formalwear.  While Bob has made a few ties in the past, he doesn’t want to compete with an expanded tie market globally. He stocks a large assortment of ties. Bob’s grandfather, Alfredo, a custom tailor in Italy, immigrated to Connecticut in 1916, bringing his bespoke tailoring skills with him. Since then, the DeGemmis family has been providing  wardrobes to gentlemen in Connecticut and New York.

CUSTOM-MADE PRICE RANGES:
Suits $895-$4,000, Shirts $150-$500, Trousers $345-$750

CREDITS: 

Casual and Business Photography by
Cheyney Barrieau Photography
barrieaustudios.com

 Formal photography by Brian Ambrose Photography
brianambrosephoto.com

 Styling by Bob DeGemmis
Men’s Clothing from Dressed To The Nines. Custom clothing price ranges: Suits $895-$4,000, Shirts $150-$500, Trousers $345-$750. 

Bob DeGemmis Dressed to the Nines,
998 Farmington Ave., West Hartford Center. bobdegemmis.com

 Watches Shinola – The Runwell, Made in America; Rolex – Oyster Perpetual Yachtmaster, and Patek Philippe – Calatrava
Lux Bond & Green
46 LaSalle Road, West Hartford Center
lbgreen.com

 Sunglasses Robert Marc Plastic, and Oliver Peoples Shaefer
Central Optica, 33 LaSalle Road, West Hartford Center
centralopticaeyes.com

 Shoes All by Carlo Pazolini, including a casual brown driving loafer, a versatile oxford, and a black tuxedo oxford.
Carlo Pazolini, 500 Westfarms Mall, Farmington, CT  shopwestfarms.com

Luggage Bosca Tribeca Stringer Bag and Tumi
Tegri-Lite Continental Carry-On
Plimptons
991 Farmington Avenue, West Hartford Center
plimptons.com

 Cars: 2014 Porsche Panamera Turbo S Executive Edition Color: Basalt Black on full black leather.  2013 Porsche 911 S Cabriolet.  Color: Anthracite Brown on full espresso leather.
Hoffman Porsche
630 Connecticut Blvd, East Hartford
hoffmanporsche.com

To view the full magazine online, please visit our ISSUU library.

Jim Chapdelaine

Musician. Husband. Father. Cancer Survivor.

Jim Chapdelaine is  a 13-Time Emmy Winner and Cancer Survivor

by Lisa Lelas

Who says only cats have nine lives? Nationally known West Hartford musician, Jim Chapdelaine, is a human example of perseverance, vitality, and positive attitude stronger than the Energizer Bunny! Okay, so enough with the animal metaphors. Through re-inventing himself with numerous layers of musical collaborations over the years to beating the odds with a rare form of liver cancer, Jim is surprisingly humble and lives each day without labeling himself a survivor. He is a musician. Period. Albeit a very successful musician, it is his positive spirit and generosity that has caught the attention of renowned medical centers as a symbol of hope.

Even if his name doesn’t ring a bell immediately, chances are you already know Jim’s music. He has traveled the country over the years to sold out venues with The Pousette-Dart band, playing their classic American folk-rock hits in the 1970’s and 80’s (one song fairly recently featured on an episode of ‘Lost’) and still tours with Jon Pousette-Dart today. But his guitar strumming fingers don’t stop there. Jim is a much sought after talent. Together with his band, The Shinolas, they are the rhythm section for many other well-known performers. Currently, he is touring with the legendary jazz performer, Big Al Anderson (formerly with ‘NRBQ’, the rock band ‘Yes’ and songwriter for many musicians, including Bonnie Raitt). Jim was a producer and provided the music for Phoebe Snow (her early hit song “Poetry Man” will ring bells for many), worked with Carol King…and the list goes on!

In addition to a successful career with musical bands and notable performers, Jim’s musical talent has been woven into many interesting television and film projects over the years, winning him 13 Emmy Awards. His first Emmy Award nomination came 15 years ago for the music he provided for a TV documentary on the making of the Amistad ship. He provided all the sound tracks for the PBS-TV series, “Infinity Hall Live” for which he won an Emmy for best audio for a public TV show. Another Emmy was won for the music for a 5-part energy conservation TV series narrated by Ed Asner. Teens will hear his music in ‘Kids in Cars’, a program that is shown in every drivers education class in the country and Jim also provided theme songs for many notable commercials, including Jiffy Lube, the Army National Guard, Bull Frog Sunscreen, and St. Francis Hospital.
You may wonder why a musician of his caliber chooses not to live in New York City or Los Angeles. Quite simply, Jim loves West Hartford. He is also in close proximity to Hartt School of Music, where he teaches music production and technology.

“I live in a small market which forced me to wear many hats as a musician,” says Jim, “I have always had the gift of intellectual curiosity. I like living here.”

“I already knew at just 2 or 3 years old what I was going to be!” he explains, “I remember strumming my first plastic ukulele wearing a cowboy hat as a toddler. In second grade I got my first guitar.” With no exaggeration, Jim can now play 70 different string instruments. He also plays keyboard and is a singer “of sorts” he adds.

Pousette Dart BandHealing Power of Music
Growing up as a musician, Jim had no idea how his music would one day serve him with the power of healing. With on-going health issues throughout his adult life, his guitar would serve as the one thing to get him through his darkest days.

“My last surgeries were tough,” he says referring to recent hand surgeries, “because I had to put down my guitar.”

“I’m left handed but play right handed. I’ve had four medical reconstructions on my hands, leaving my left hand partially numb. My thumb joint has actually been removed!” When doctors told him he couldn’t play guitar while his hand was in a cast, he begged them to ‘leave one finger out’ so that he could still play with Big Al at a concert. And he did. Apparently nothing stops this man from his music!

Doctors are still unsure of the exact causes of his deteriorating hands…possibly a natural pre-disposed degeneration of bones…or perhaps a condition caused from all the chemotherapy he had in his lifetime. And Jim had his share of chemo.

The world seemed open to Jim as the young musical genius he was. He took some time off from college at the age of 18 to tour with a country band. Then, after attending Berkeley School of Music for a couple of years his world started turning upside down. He got sick. He had symptoms nobody seemed to have a diagnosis for.  “It all started with a weird cold-sore inside my lower lip. It grew rapidly. Became hard and irregular.” As it started popping up elsewhere on his body, including the interior of his nose, doctors seemed baffled. It took over three months and 12 doctors until he had his first diagnosis. He remembers vividly that doctor telling him outright at just 22 years old, he only had a year to live. “My initial reaction to that doctor was to ask him if he would prescribe Valium! I left the room. I needed to somehow digest the information.”

Jim turned to his music again, sometimes playing guitar for 8 hours straight in order to cope with the pain and side effects of the treatments.

That marked the trail of a long line of doctors he would eventually see. He learned he had an extremely rare form of liver cancer, called angiosarcoma (AS). This cancer affects only 30-60 people in America each year. In Jim’s words, ‘It’s as mean as a hungry bear and far more dangerous. It hides better than any other cancer and can stay dormant for fifteen years and then can rage suddenly.”

Jim found an excellent oncologist. The doctor had to actually remove Jim’s nose and graph a new nose using parts of his ear. While, he will be always under doctors’ observation, Jim’s positive attitude and love for music carries him through his life today.

“As far as my experience with cancer, I’ve learned to ‘put it away’. I don’t unpack the experience very often; I don’t live my life as a slave to it. I’m a survivor, but I’m a musician, a father and a husband first.”

Jim and Kate CallahanRepresenting Hope
Until very recently, Jim had never even met another human who had experienced AS cancer. Because it is fatal, there were not many survivors he could talk to.

“Lately, I’ve unpacked some of this after connecting with others going through it.” Thanks to the power of social media and a website for AS www.cureasc.org, Jim has been able to speak with ‘fellow warriors’ who are fighting this disease. Money has been raised by these very people to finally fund studies at Sloane Kettering Hospital and Jim urges everyone to make a tax deductible donation if they can.

Another layer to Jim’s life now has opened as a mentor to AS patients. He realizes that to doctors his mere presence represents hope, being that he has beaten the odds and is now a long time survivor. “I’m actually on my way to Sloane Kettering to meet a young man from Texas afflicted with this cancer,” he said, “I even wrote a song for him for his recovery.”

Despite all Jim has gone through physically and all he has achieved musically, his life still revolves around his wife, Janine and their 15 year old daughter, Annie, a freshman at Hall High School. He hopes one day to record a collection of all his songs while his band, The Shinolas, are now working on their first record and continue playing at various local venues throughout southern New England.

Regarding his most recent hand surgery, Jim says, “I’m playing at 50% with a 100% attitude,” realizing there may be neck surgery still in store for him.

To most of us, surviving cancer is a feat in itself, let alone vanquishing 13 Emmy Awards (and 2 Grammy nominations), despite major health issues, but there is something else Jim is most proud of.  “Last year, I got elected to my high school’s Hall of Fame! That was an honor better than all my Emmys!”

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Finding Work… After Retirement

West Hartford’s Seniors Job Bank helping local Seniors
by Lisa Lelas

Being eligible for Social Security and Medicare at age 65 are the milestones that many people think mark the end of “middle age” and the beginning of “old age.” But as we live longer and healthier lives, and as the baby boomer generation begins to age, the way we view and live past age 65…the very notion of old age…is being challenged. Many seniors want to stay involved in activities and work into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s.

In this economic time of uncertainty, one thing seems to be certain: the cost of living keeps rising and many retirees in the area still need extra income to help pay their bills.

So, what does retirement look like in today’s world? There is increasing evidence that the full-start/full-stop model of paid work is no longer feasible. Many people are not financially prepared to stop working at 65, and even those who are may miss the intellectual stimulation and social benefits of working. In addition, some companies are beginning to experience a shortage of talent for skilled jobs, just as experienced workers are beginning to retire. To help address these changing forces, both workers and employers are experimenting with new models of work.

One such solution that has proven successful in the area is the Seniors Job Bank, a non-profit community resource, helping to match up senior residents’ job skills to paying jobs, full time and part time.

In 1974, resident, Pat Newton, first established the Seniors Job Bank, but following her retirement after a 34 year run and eventual lack of finances to keep the service going, the office door was eventually locked up and the Job Bank closed down. An empty office sat in the town hall for years, still filled with furniture and dusty old computers.  Eventually, the West Hartford Senior Advisory Commission formed a task force to investigate and recommend whether the Seniors Job Bank should be re-introduced using a different business plan. The answer was ‘yes’.  Fast forward to 2013: financial resources are gathered and the office re-opens, under the direction of Board President, Bob Cave. A key to the town hall office is handed to Bob from Mayor Scott Slifka and the local job referral service is back in full swing!

“It’s a service that has helped over 30,000 people find paying jobs,” notes Bob, “for many people, like me, it can help pay bills.”

Residents in the community actually found funds to re-open the business. This year’s budget is more than $40,000, with 100% of the money donated by foundations, such as the Hartford Foundation, several banks and other sources. If you or your business would like to make a donation, you are encouraged to visit their website and click the ‘donate’ button. The Seniors Job Bank is run by about 45 volunteers, one part time office manager, Bill Stachelek, and a board of directors, with Bob Cave serving as board president. The board has two committees: Fund raising and Volunteers. The job bank concentrates on being one of the best and most helpful job referral services for seniors, which helps seniors live independently and continue to live in their home.

“Our goal is to keep the service free. There is absolutely no fee for companies looking for help or to the client or service provider.” He assures.

“Its primary emphasis,” Bob continues, “is for those who want to work but cannot seem to find jobs. Many people are retired or have been laid off.” Residents in the greater Hartford area must be at least 50 to use the resources offered by the Job Bank.

Just this year alone, more than 10 people have been hired by local businesses through the Job Bank. Residents looking for work can go to their website and register while providing a list of the type of work they are looking for, whether it be occasional odd jobs, such as gardening, driving, and painting to full or part time work at established companies. Volunteers select names to best match the top people for the jobs available and interviews are set up. People simply register, set up an appointment, partake in a quick interview and await jobs. There are no resumes or qualifications required.

Testimonials come in daily from residents who have benefited from their services, from local businesses who have hired employees via the Job Bank, and from associations, who have made donations.  Wells Fargo Bank posts: “We extend our gratitude to you for what you’re doing in our community.” The Rotary Club of West Hartford approved a grant to the Seniors Job Bank, after noting that one of their board members actually tested it out and used a referral from the Job Bank to complete repairs at his home. He was a very satisfied customer!

West Hartford resident, Carrie Bernabe is proof that it works. She fondly tells Bob, “Thank you for putting the seniors in West Hartford back to work! I got a call from a wonderful company in Berlin (Care 4 U Pharmacy). They said they got my name from the job bank. They interviewed me and I got the job. What a great experience it was for me to work part time in a very nice environment with perfect hours. More power to the seniors of West Hartford!”

That’s exactly what Bob likes to hear. It’s working. “We are trying to encourage seniors to stay active and encourage them to work.”

The benefits of remaining intellectually engaged as people grow older is an area of active investigation by neuroscientists and physicians. “Engagement” is defined as the behavior that involves a high level of both intellectual and social function, and there is growing evidence based on many studies that show leading an intellectually stimulating life seems to foster cognitive vitality. It is also well established that lifelong learning has a protective effect with respect to dementia.

Overseeing the Job Bank, Bob says is rewarding work. “Helping seniors is nothing short of phenomenal!” Bob, who is an experienced handyman, also takes advantage of help needed in the community for any in-home/office remodeling or painting jobs and is quick to point out that everyone has something they can offer. “Seniors are knowledgeable. They have life experience and a great work ethic. They are really a valuable asset to employers.”

And Bob knows first hand. He proudly smiles,  “I’m on my third job since my first retirement!”

For more information on the Seniors Job Bank or to register for employment opportunities, visit: wwwsjbct.org 

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Unique Healthy Therapy

Three Women Entrepreneurs keeping our Community Healthy.
by Lisa Lelas

What is the only place on the East coast you can find an authentic Himalayan salt cave, barefoot massage therapists walking on backs and Rolfing deep tissue massage therapy? You guessed it…West Hartford! Three very unique holistic experiences that are exclusive to central Connecticut and/or the entire state, are all offered within a few square miles of each other, right here in our town! Thankfully, because we live in a bountiful community of forward thinking and entrepreneurial vision, rare offerings are becoming the norm here! And, as an example of that infamous glass ceiling starting to shatter, West Hartford women are in the business limelight more now than ever before! That’s right…all three of these unique business niches were created by West Hartford women.

2013 was aptly labeled the “Year of the Woman Entrepreneur” nationwide, and with that, the momentum of female-owned businesses continues to skyrocket. It’s no wonder we’re seeing more and more unique and helpful services pop up in the community, developed by local women. It’s a win-win for all of us, as their businesses prosper and we, the consumers, get to reap the invigorating benefits!

Currently, women represent a growth market twice as big as China and India combined. The number of female-owned firms is growing twice as fast as all businesses in America today. Interestingly, research shows that female owners start companies more in line with what they are most passionate about and to better balance their work and family lives while male owners are more likely to start a business primarily to make money.

These three West Hartford women entrepreneurs exemplify these findings, as they each developed a unique business niche that blossomed from their passion, drive and mission to spread joy, peace of mind and good health to the community.

Erina Lander, owner of ‘A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa’, celebrates her new business venture joyfully.  To her, opening the doors to this one-of-a-kind spa signifies and solidifies the fact that she has finally been able to re-connect to her own happiness again after struggling through many years of emotional pain.

“The reason I put ‘bliss’ in the title was because that’s what is different about this place. It comes totally from a place of healing and love and joy. Born in Russia, Erina came to the United States in 1990. She had been a civil engineer back home but she was always passionate about helping others in some way. Erina continues, “Nine years ago I experienced a tragedy that turned my whole world upside down. It made me question my whole life.”

Long time residents may remember that her 15 year old son, Mark, a freshman at Hall High School at the time, died in a tragic car accident. Through her bleakest days, Erina fondly recalls the people in the community really embracing her with kindness.

“Even though I didn’t know them, they were sending me love and prayers every day,” she remembers. Unknowingly, it would be in this light of the outpouring of kindness that Erina would find a way to re-pay them.

She remembers clearly the day her entrepreneurial light bulb lit up. Erina had been a dental hygienist for 18 years but, after the loss of her son, she lost interest and joy in her job. It simply was not fulfilling enough for her anymore. One day, still feeling down, she treated herself to a facial at a local salon. She was pleasantly surprised when she actually felt rejuvenated. She couldn’t believe how good she felt after the facial. “I felt like I was taken care of for that hour. I felt re-charged even later on that evening. I believe that helped transform me into a new person. I understood that life can change tomorrow. I don’t postpone anything anymore. That day, I suddenly became aware of my life purpose. This is what I wanted to bring to others. I wanted to give love and peace and healthy rejuvenation back to everyone in the community.”

Erina quit her job two weeks later and started researching aesthetician schools and enrolled soon after.

Today, Erina is a popular facial reflexologist and Reiki practitioner but with the opening of her spa just a few months ago, she knew she wanted to offer full service experiences to her clientele. A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa is currently the only spa in Connecticut offering ‘Barefoot Ashiatsu Bar Therapy’ or the ‘feet walking on your back’ massage, whereby a trained practitioner uses her body weight to adjust pressure. “The benefits are phenomenal,” smiles Erina, “excellent for chronic back, neck or hip pain, professional athletes…really everyone can benefit!” Also offered is traditional Ashiatsu massage, a western adaptation of martial arts and medical massage from India, Japan and Thailand. “I hand pick all my staff professionals,” assures Erina, “making sure they are passionate about their skills and love to give. We receive much more from a place of giving,” she explains. Her professional massage therapist, Janette, has been practicing Ashiatsu massage for many years, and as Erina sums it up, “everything is done from a place of love.” Combined with traditional massage, Ashiatsu offers various unique ‘strokes’ of massage. “We work from a very holistic approach on every person that comes in, not just on their physical level, but also emotional, spiritual and psychological levels.”

Also unique to ‘A Touch of Bliss’ is a Hawaiian massage called ‘Lomi Lomi’, with Bradley, the therapist specialist who is actually from Hawaii. “This is all one would expect from the beautiful Hawaiian culture. Restoring on a physical and spiritual level, this is massage and energy combined in deep long strokes and loving touches to nurture one’s body and soul.”

A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa also features Thai massage, facial treatments, a holistic/organic skincare line from Hungary and even holistic workshops on various Thursday evenings.

Aside from being a new business owner, Erina is a devoted wife to her husband, Joseph and mother to her teen daughter, Veronica. She believes love is most important in life and reminds us that in this day and age of texting and electronics, people don’t touch as much anymore. “Touch has numerous health benefits. Regular spa treatments really improve your overall health.  People need to be nurtured in order to have optimum, balanced health. It’s not a ‘luxury’ anymore (expensive things not necessary). That has changed in today’s world. Now, it’s about experiencing, focusing and nurturing on one’s self!”

A Touch of Bliss Organic Spa is located at 88 Park Road. www.atouchofblissorganicspa.com. spamassage

Sharon Sklar is a certified advanced Rolfer. Actually the only Rolfer in central Connecticut and one of just a handful throughout the country, until fairly recently, when Rolfing centers suddenly started popping up throughout the world, as people began to discover this unique massage experience.

What exactly is Rolfing? As Sharon explains, “it’s a dynamic hands-on 10-session series of deep tissue manipulation and movement education which allows your body to unlock and integrate movement. Even one session works for immediate stress release but accumulative, over 10 weekly sessions, is best for attaining permanent change.” Each session is 1 hour and 15 minutes long.

Rolfing was developed by Dr. Ida P. Rolf in the 1960’s and she later founded the Rolf Institute in Boulder, CO in 1971, a place where Sharon was trained and still continues her education.

A graduate of Boston University School of Fine Arts, Sharon first obtained a degree in sculpture. “I’ve always been intrigued in the human form. And, I grew up with a love and interest in holistic practices.  When I heard about Rolfing, soon after graduation, I signed up for a 10 week series.” By her second session, Sharon explains her world suddenly opening up to a blue sky and she heard an inner voice chanting ‘you will be a Rolfer’!  “I just knew deep in my soul that this was what I was going to do with my life. Art school helped me with the foundation and I knew this was my path.”

Sharon has been a practicing Rolfer for 33 years now. Working out of her office just off West Hartford Center, she has expanded her offerings to other full services, such as Yamuna Body Rolling®, exercise coaching and nutritional advice.

“Rolfing was my first ever real job. I never really did anything else. I love it.” says Sharon, “I connected to it immediately. I was always creative, even as a child. I saw the world in a different light. My parents were supportive but really had no idea what I was doing until they watched it unfold.” Proof positive that true entrepreneurial vision and passion need to come from within, not from anyone else.

“When we are born,” explains Sharon, “we don’t come with an owner’s manual. We learn habits from our parents and everyone around us, which may not necessarily be structurally sound for our health.  We become the accumulative of everything…even every injury we ever had. Rolfing brings us back to neutral.”

With Rolfing, Sharon says that everything is taken into consideration. “Starting with their current lifestyle, and how they carry themselves. It’s not just someone’s current posture, but it’s more about changing structure so the body begins to align itself naturally.”

Sharon notes that Rolfing is great for people post-surgery, healing after an accident, with sports injuries, years of bad posture, or simply stressful living.

“At my practice, I am the one people deal with, no one else. I enjoy getting to know and need to know everything about my clients’ lives to see how I may best serve them. I believe in a personal approach. It’s an intimate process of personal evolution.”

Leading a fulfilled balanced life has always been important to Sharon. Together with her dog, Bosco Boy (a Whippet), they are a pet therapy team, making regular appearances at Hartford Hospital and the Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center to help and cheer up patients.

“It’s my way of giving back. I am a 7-year breast cancer survivor and also a mentor to West Hartford students. I used to travel a lot but find being home with my 3 cats and dog…I am complete. I am happy.” What’s on her bucket list? Simply “to stay free and happy.  Nothing’s better than a good meal, good health and good friendships.”

Reach Sharon at her West Hartford studio:
860-561-4337 www.SharonSklarRolfing.com  

elements0353psSarah Howes is the owner of Elements Destination Day Spa & Salt Cave on Farmington Avenue.  Imagine that…a salt cave right here in West Hartford!

Recently celebrating its one-year anniversary, Sarah is proud of Element’s success as its popularity continues to grow.

Sarah is no stranger to new business ventures. In the past she has run an organic restaurant’s wine cellar, was a designer, and even had her own clothing line. But it was when she had her first salt cave experience in Killington, VT, that she knew this was something she needed to bring to Connecticut. Now, a trained massage therapist, Sarah studied at the Pyramid Massage School in Vermont.  “My teacher there still remains my biggest inspiration.” She says, “She actually built the very first salt cave in the country. There are only about twelve in the United States.”

The benefits of being in a salt cave are plentiful. “We have the salt imported from the Himalayans,” noting that this unique pink salt has the best healing properties and is packed with natural minerals and nutrients. “It’s anti-inflammatory, helps with respiratory issues like asthma, various skin irritations and conditions, and it’s anti-bacterial so it helps with infections. It’s fine for everyone, adults and children.”

But perhaps the biggest reason so many flock to West Hartford to experience the salt cave for themselves is the calming environment it offers. The rock-like salt walls and beach sand-like salt flooring with fiber-optic dim lighting provides instant calm for anyone’s stressed out lifestyle.  There are anti-gravity chairs available to relax in and even yoga classes are now offered in the salt cave. Many call ahead to reserve the cave for their own group. One recent group came out noticing their congestion had cleared and they all felt wonderful.

In addition to the salt cave, Elements offers special Infra-red saunas, light therapy, and a wide variety of spa services in a healing environment. Elements is often referred to as ‘a resort-like feel in an urban setting’.

Sarah was born in Vermont and lived in various places around the country until settling into her new home in West Hartford a couple of years ago.  In addition to her holistic and business training, Sarah taps into her natural love of nutrition, exercise and health. The oldest of six kids growing up, Sarah was introduced to an organic life early on. Her mother was into good nutrition and the family maintained an herb garden throughout her childhood.

As a wife and mother of two (Jacob, 7 and Ava, 3) leading a healthy and balanced life is necessary for being successful as an entrepreneur. “When I need to re-charge, I go out for a run or use the sauna. And I love CrossFit.” She says.

And Sarah has even bigger plans for Elements. “Within the next year, we are going to expand into a full organic hair salon upstairs, create an oxygen bar, and include various detox and weight loss programs including juicing and cleansing, and even the installation of an outdoor Zen garden.”

Advice for up and coming business entrepreneurs? Sarah firmly states, “Follow your heart. Do what you’re passionate about. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Sarah’s life is at a good place. But she notes, “I pretty much eat, sleep, work-out and work here”…and the attention she puts into the business she loves so much is exactly the reason business is booming!

Elements Destination Day Spa & Salt Cave,
945 Farmington Avenue. 5elements4u.com  

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Radiant Recognition

Local jeweler, John Green appointed to International Position

By Lisa Lelas

Photography by Jane and Michael Shauck, Iris Photography

 

John Green, of Lux, Bond & Green, appears to have gemstones in his DNA. He is a certified gemologist appraiser and now embraces yet another prestigious title, as he is named the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Gemological Institute of

America. As one of the country’s leading experts in the field of diamonds and colored stones, his selection really comes as no surprise.

The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) is a non-profit worldwide organization, known as the leading source for education, research and laboratory services for gemstones. Established in 1931, the GIA is considered the authority on diamonds, colored stones and pearls.

“It’s the number one source in the world for rating a gemstone,” John explains, “Any gem you see auctioned at Christies or Sotheby’s is usually accompanied by an official GIA report.”

World headquartered in Carlsbad, California, the GIA has other offices throughout the world, including New York City and Hong Kong.

“Not all jewelers are gemologists, although many of the better ones are,” he says, “Like in any profession, the more knowledge you have the better you can help clients. Most of us in the jewelry profession understand the need and took correspondence or residency programs offered through the GIA to become a gemologist.”

The GIA offers Graduate Gemologists degrees, as well as individual courses of study, such as learning about diamonds or colored stones. After college, John went to California to take classes, full time at GIA. Even today, as a certified gemologist, he is required to take annual exams to keep up with changes, since there are always new discoveries and new gemstone treatments.

John has been a member of the GIA board since 2008. There are 16 board members, from all over the world, such as Hong Kong, Israel and Dubai. He is only one of three retailers on the board…the rest are comprised of other experts in the industry as well as experts in the fields of compliance, finance, education and research.

“We have two in-person board meetings each year. One is always held in Carlsbad and the other in various locations around the world. This year we met in Botswana, Africa…the largest diamond producing country in the world.”

John was born and raised in this profession. “We are the fourth generation in our family business. In 1898, my great-grandfather, known as M.A. Green, opened up our first storefront in Waterbury. Interestingly, in years prior to that, he originally started in the business selling jewelry from a horse and cart!”

The second generation of Greens came to Hartford in 1932 and took over a company called, at the time, Lux Bond & Lux Jewelers. In 1933 it became Lux Bond & Green, and in the 1960’s, after John’s dad bought a store called Philip H. Stevens (sellers of fine china, glass and jewelry) and merged the two stores into one, it became ‘Lux Bond

Green & Stevens’, located on Pratt Street, eventually turning into Lux Bond & Green.

“I was always intrigued with jewelry and gemstones,” he explains, “at 7 years old, I started out as a gift wrapper in the family’s store. If I wasn’t in school, I was helping out at the store.”

Currently Lux Bond & Green stores are in 8 locations, six in Connecticut and two in the Boston area (they are the official jewelry sponsor of the Boston Red Sox). Their flagship store is on LaSalle Road in West Hartford center.

“Even with 8 stores, we like being a ‘family business serving a local community’,” he says. John and his wife, Norma Jean, have four kids, Dan, Debbie, Allie and Charlie.

“Our company and our family have been leaders in the jewelry industry. We are passionate about it and are lucky enough that the industry has recognized us for what we do. We are helping the world, one community at a time,” he says referring too much of the world profits from the diamond mining industry given right back to the people of Africa. “A lot of good happens with profits made from diamonds, whether here in our own community or around the world.”

 

So, what’s trending for this year’s holiday season? John says colored stones are very much back this year. “A woman wearing reds, pinks, greens or blues…it’s very much a part of her fashion wardrobe.” But, there are some jewelry items that are forever timeless. Lux Bond & Green is the #1 diamond engagement store in all of New England. “We always keep a full supply of good quality diamonds and settings. While we do have bigger inventory during the holiday season, we are pretty consistent throughout the year.”

Also, this month, you’ll find many special holiday gift items, such as Santa cuff links and many specials under $100 celebrating the season.

“The old slogan of my great-grandfather was ‘M.A. Green-Famous for Diamonds’. We continue to keep that tradition!”


Tips to help you shop this season…

• Gold is a perfect metal in jewelry because it will never rust, tarnish, or corrode, and it is very strong. Furthermore, gold is extremely malleable, allowing it to be made into virtually any shape. Because of this, gold jewelry comes in all shapes and sizes.

• Platinum is pure, an expression of integrity, a reflection of inner truth. Platinum’s purity endows it with a brilliant white luster. Due to this luster, platinum helps to reflect the true radiance of diamonds.

• Pure silver, also called fine silver, is relatively soft, very malleable, and easily damaged so it is commonly combined with other metals to produce a more durable product.

• Each setting has its own personality. Knowing your way around these selections will help you determine which setting suits your personal style and tastes. Find out more about settings at: http://lbgreen.com/Education/Settings

 

“Our company and our family have been leaders in the jewelry industry. We are passionate about it and are lucky enough that the industry has recognized us for what we do.”

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People and Pets

Don’t forget about your furry friends this holiday season!

By Lisa Lelas

Photography by Ira Nozik Photographers


Despite this being the season of joy, the holidays can bring stress to all of us, and pets are no exception. When routines are disrupted and new activities occur, your pet may be the first to notice.

More than half of all families in America today are pet owners. It’s important to give pets special attention during the holiday season. Many will get stressed with the added hustle and bustle of holiday guests and new routines. Always provide plenty of food and water and a quiet room where they can escape the social commotion and get some Z’s.

While the holidays are a popular time for welcoming a new furry friend into your home, make sure your entire family is on board with the decision. Surprises are not best for the pet involved. Consider opening your heart to the many homeless animals waiting for adoption right now at your local animal shelter and/or donating pet food and supplies to the shelter.

With the premier of this new annual feature, West Hartford Magazine welcomes you to send in a favorite pet photo pictured with you or as part of your family. Deadline for submission is June 30. Selected photos will appear in next year’s Holiday issue.

Submission details listed below

Photo Submission & Contest Rules

Send us your favorite pet photo pictured with you or as part of your family and your photo could be chosen to appear in our next Holiday “Pets & Their People” feature story!

Deadline for submission is June 30, 2014.

Send to: Operations@westhartfordmagazine.com, and put “Pet Photo” in subject.

Please include your name and address. You must be a West Hartford resident to submit. Don’t forget to include a photo caption of pet’s name, age, breed, and any family members included in the photo.

Four notable ‘pets and their people’ from the area offer a few words of wisdom on taking good care of your pets this holiday season!

NICKY WITH KAREN JONES

Nicky, an adorable 2-year old terrier mix, shares an important message with everyone this holiday season:

“A short while ago, I was petrified, roaming the streets of West Hartford with no where to go. The Animal Control Center took me in, giving me food and a warm place to sleep. I am now happy go lucky, playing with my toys and awaiting a new home and loving family to adopt me! Please don’t forget about us this holiday. My furry friends and I at the shelter all need permanent homes!”

Thanks to animal control officer, Karen Jones, Nicky at least now has a temporary roof over his head. Despite sometimes being depicted as the bad guy in Disney movies, Karen assures us that animal control officers really have compassion for animals in their community. Rather than having a stray animal endanger itself or others, they are taken into their facility and cared for.

“We feed them and advertise to find their owners. Our number one mission is to find the owner. Only then, after waiting a period of time, we will put them up for adoption.” Karen reminds pet owners that all dogs in Connecticut must be registered in their town. No license registration is required for cats. There are many animals waiting to find permanent homes. Interested parties can log onto www.petfinder.com with links to local pets in the community or throughout the state and farther. Each pet listed has photos and a description of their personality or needs. There is a $50 adoption fee, which includes a voucher for spay/neutering and some vaccinations.

“Now, with the internet,” she explains, “getting a pet is so much easier but it doesn’t mean it comes without head-aches. People are getting animals they’ve never met. They have no idea what their behavior is or how they would blend in with their family. And people should not forget that there are so many pets available locally right here in the West Hartford community.”

Karen adopted her own pets from a shelter, too. Her dog, Giada, a Mastiff mix and Dharma, her cat, came from her facility. “Even my first dog as a child came from a shelter. ‘Dusty’ was a collie-shepherd mix I got when I was about 12 years old. I loved collies because of ‘Lassie’!”

“If anyone is considering a new pet for the holiday, make it a group decision.” Karen says to make it your grocery list (priority list) of what’s important for your family, whether a dog that is active, quiet, good with kids, and so on. “Like shopping for cars. If you have a family of 5, a tiny sports car is probably not the best decision.”

The animal control facility in West Hartford has many different animals for adoption throughout the year, aside from dogs and cats, including bunnies, guinea pigs, exotic birds, parakeets, and reptiles. The town of West Hartford does things right, according to Karen, “the animal control facility here is part of the town’s law enforcement.” As a division of the West Hartford police department, animal control officers are armed. They undergo extensive background checks, must pass lie detector tests and be finger printed. “It’s a long process,” admits Karen, “but one worth the time!”

“I love my job!” she smiles, “I always knew I wanted to work with animals and wildlife. I especially love dogs.”

 

With a degree in biology and looking for a job, Karen responded to a help-wanted ad for an assistant animal control officer at the West Hartford facility along with 300 other job applicants… and she landed the job. Karen, now the senior animal control officer, has been at her job for 19 years. The Animal Control center is a division of the West Hartford Police Department. www.petfinder.com

Best advice from Karen for adopting a new pet: “The personality of the pet needs to fit the personality of the family to make a life long success story. We want it to be a win-win situation for all involved!”

 

TYSON [THE “üBERDOG”] WITH DAN O’BRIEN

Meet Tyson O’Brien. Tyson is a big lovable 7-year old yellow lab that helped inspire the creation of überdog!

Many might say that other people helped them kick start a new career. For Dan O’Brien, owner of überdog, a pet care facility, inspiration came from a different source. He explains, “the catalyst for my business was my dog, Tyson and his needs.” When he and his wife needed to find pet daycare for Tyson, they were unhappy with the facilities available in the area. Soon after… überdog was created. What started out as a necessity for Tyson turned into a wonderful gift to the community.

“People in West Hartford have very high expectations. We know they want the very best for their pets. We don’t let them down.” Dan says.

¨überdog is an ever-expanding facility offering overnight care, grooming, and ‘play-care’ during the day. Currently, under expansion, the center will soon boast 13,000 square feet.

“It will soon be the largest pet care center in Connecticut.” Dan says, “We were simply running out of space.”

“It’s the alternative to typical kennels. We don’t believe in an old fashioned stale environment. Everything is over-sized at überdog. Plenty of room for each dog to run and play. There are even luxury dog dens with people beds, complete with chandeliers!”

überdog is unique in that each dog has its own indoor and outdoor play area. “We let dogs out by groups”, he explains. Divided into age, breed or size, careful that each dog in a playgroup gets along well with the others. All pets are supervised by “wagologists”, trainers that are all fully experienced and knowledgeable in pet first aid, CPR and animal behavior.

überdog runs on a very transparent policy. There are look-in windows and even webcams so people can check in and see their dog while on vacation. Just as people can get stressed when schedules get busy, Dan reminds us, “over the holidays, people don’t always take into account that when they travel or have extra guests and swarms of people at their home for parties, dogs get stressed out also! Give them a vacation too! They need quiet time. Time to rest.” Just ask Tyson!

He warns pet owners to keep an extra eye on their pets this time of year. Dogs can get sick from drinking tree water and table scraps.

 

Need a special holiday gift idea? überdog has gift certificates available…think about giving your pooch a fun weekend retreat while you have a house full of guests or need to do some holiday traveling.

überdog, 635 New Park Avenue in West Hartford. www.myuberdog.com.

Dan admits he was always an animal lover but never had a pet growing up. “The first thing I did when I moved out was to get a dog.” Tyson came into his life at that time. Now, seven years later, his family also includes his wife, Isabella and their two sons, 2-year-old Finn and 3-month-old Tate.

 

BELLA & PHINNEAS WITH JASON AND MARCIE HUMPHRIES

It is estimated that 52 percent of all households in America have pets and although Bella and Phinneas are two very happy English Labs, pictured with their family, there is an increasing number of pets that are homeless and available for adoption.

Jason Humphries, owner of Bella and Phinneas…and Pet Supplies Plus, offers advice for people thinking about getting or giving a pet as a holiday gift: “Families need to think about the well being of the pet for the life of the pet. Think about their medical expenses, exercise, nutrition, spay/neutering…everything. This should not be a decision made on a whim.” Because there are so many pets in need of homes in shelters throughout the community, he doesn’t want to rule out taking in a pet as a holiday gift, as long as it’s a family decision.

When the snow starts falling, Jason reminds pet owners to use pet-safe snow removal products, such as Safe Paws, for melting ice on your walkways. Always keep fresh water out for your pets and never leave them out in the cold, whether in your yard or in a parked car.

Jason proudly works with several local pet charities, including making regular pet food donations to the Hartford Food Pantry.

Providing the community with healthy, reliable pet friendly supplies and services has been Jason’s mission for almost 20 years. Known as ‘the neighborhood retailer’, Jason explains they take care of their neighbors with the best products at great prices. “We even have carry-out service, where we’ll carry bags right out to your car!” With almost 9,000 square feet and over 60,000 products, Pet Supplies Plus is more of a grocery store for holistic and health food supplies for pets. If you are looking for virtually any brand, chances are good that they will have it. For example, in a regular grocery store, Fancy Feast, the number 1 selling cat food in the world typically carries 12 flavors. “In our store, we have 57 flavors!” he says.

Everything you need for your dog or cat can be found at the store, including some small mammals and reptiles, such as fresh water fish, bunnies, and iguanas. “We don’t sell dogs or cats,” he explains, “but we promote local adoption agencies for new pets.

We also have licensed vets and technicians that visit the store for affordable vaccines.”

“There is a full supply of gift ideas for pets now throughout the holiday season,” Jason says, noting that business picks up this time of year because even non-pet owners shop for their pet-lover friends. “We have a wide selection of Christmas and Hanukkah themed toys for dogs and cats, as well as a great apparel selection and our exclusive ‘made in America’ section of rawhide products.”

Jason opened the first New England franchise back in 1996, and was the youngest franchisee at the time, being just 27 years old. “My wife, Marcie and I were living in

Michigan when I was introduced to Jack Barry, the original founder of Pet Supplies

Plus. I had been contemplating a career change and I saw this as a good opportunity. We came out to Connecticut on a fluke and loved it. We’ve lived here in West Hartford ever since!” Soon after the grand opening of the West Hartford store, and one in Manchester, he opened several more stores around the state. Most recently, last month, he opened another store in Wethersfield. But it doesn’t stop there, as Jason has his sights on more locations throughout middle Connecticut and the shoreline. Between his stores, Jason employs more than 150 team associates, assuring an extremely knowledgeable, fully trained staff available at every location.

Pet Supplies Plus is located in West Hartford at Bishops Corner, 2480 Albany Avenue. Open Mon-Sat 9-9, and Sundays 10-6. www.petsuppliesplus.com

“Marcie and I have always had a love for animals. I remember my first childhood pet was Dickens, a Yorkshire Terrier.” Now, Jason, Marcie and their two teen daughters, Stephanie and Ilana share their home with Bella and Phinneas, as well as 2 cats,

Americat and Ashley.

 

SALLY & SHELBY WITH DR. LAUREN MASCOLA & FAMILY

Sally and Shelby are two very appreciative rescue dogs. They have found the perfect family! A mom and dad with three active hockey-playing boys…life couldn’t be better! And to top off their lucky charmed life, mom is an animal doctor!

Dr. Lauren Mascola, of Pet Care Veterinary Services, says she was one of those girls who always had the dream of someday becoming a veterinarian.

“I definitely was a child who loved animals but I wasn’t sure I could do it.” She explains, “I went on to be a psychology major at UConn but didn’t love that. One summer I worked at an animal shelter in Nantucket and fell in love with the idea.”

From there, she enrolled at Tufts Veterinary School and eventually captured her dream. Lauren has been a veterinarian now for over 17 years, taking over her Pet Care clinic, here in West Hartford, in 2005. “It’s important to give your pets special attention during the holiday season,” the doctor reminds us, “dietary indiscretion is much more prevalent during this time.

Holiday plants, decorations and party food platters should be kept away from pets so they are not ingested. Put lights up a bit higher on your Christmas tree to keep your cats away from them. Also, I don’t recommend tinsel or sparkly garland, which can cause intestinal blockages if pets chew on them. Keep in mind that pets sometimes drink the water from the tree, which may cause it to dry out quickly, leading to a fire hazard.”

The holiday season is a time when many families welcome guests, who may feed your dog food he’s not used to. Food allergies in pets are also on the rise. Be careful and diligent with pet food choices. Never feed them grapes, raisins or onions which can be hazardous to their health. Uncooked cookie dough and chocolate can also be harmful to an animal’s digestive system. Lauren suggests all pet owners keep the toll free phone number to the Animal Emergency Control Center handy, 1-800- 213-6680 in case of any unforeseen pet emergencies.

Giving a pet as a holiday gift only works if the whole family is on board with it. “You can’t surprise somebody with a pet,” she states, “Do your research ahead of time. Know what kind of pet your family can handle. Parents of younger children need to be aware that they will be the ones who take care of it. But, that said, we should remind people that are many animals in shelters right now that need homes.”

Pet Care Veterinary Services, located at 64 Raymond Road in West Hartford.

www.petcarevetwh.com

Thinking back to her childhood, Lauren fondly remembers her very first family pets, “Max”, a Doberman and “Cinderella”, a Weimarana, and has made sure her own children would also experience the joy of family pets. Lauren and her husband, John Swift have been married for 16 years, and with their 3 sons, Cooper, Baur, and Easton, they share their home with Sally and Shelby, as well as a cat named Dory.

teensfeature

Terrific Teens To Watch

West Hartford Magazine’s Third Annual Assemblage of Noteworthy West Hartford Graduates

As the new school year begins, we take pride in our annual review of outstanding high school graduates. While there are countless others, we have selected eight students from four West Hartford high schools as an example of excellence to their peers, validating their worthiness!

What makes these terrific teens stand out? They are each a role model in their own right. From overcoming incredible challenges from childhood to simply standing out as award winning athletes or scholars, you are sure to agree that these eight teens are to be admired.

They all have an admirable work ethic and understand that you cannot accept opportunities life gives you without paying it forward. Having that unstoppable drive to accomplish what they set out to achieve…all while taking time to give back to their community. It’s their collective compassionate and philanthropic spirit that we all can learn from.

Each of these eight terrific teens gives credit to their family, school and community for helping to pave the way for them, in order to succeed. They are truly our new rising stars in the community. An inspiration to all!

BLAKE RANDALL “the performer”

BradThe world of musical theater is certainly going to be enlightened in the near future when Kingswood Oxford graduate, Blake Randall takes the stage professionally. As a musical theater major, Blake is enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, a place where  he already feels very much at home.

“I was born in Oklahoma but used to live in Texas so I’m accustomed to the area.” He explains. He is enjoying his time in college honing his skills in musical theater, as he plans on becoming a professional actor for stage or film in the future.

Blake’s years at Kingswood Oxford were especially instrumental in shaping his future goals. He had performed in the school’s winter musical over the last three years, was in the full school choir all four years, the select school choir and even performed as a member of the renowned all-boys acappella group, ‘Crimson 7’. Blake loves to sing and jam on his guitar in his free time, as well.

Not to be out-shadowed by his musical abilities, Blake is also an impressive football player. He not only played on his high school football team, ‘the Wyverns’ (a type of dragon), but he was also senior captain of the team and even had the role of playing the school mascot, for which Kingswood Oxford was ranked 3rd place in USA Today for best mascot, an honor that provided Blake an exclusive appearance, in costume, on NBC’s ‘The Today Show’ last winter!

Favorite memories of high school are already engrained in Blake’s mind.

“Winning the first football home opener as a senior and as team captain is something I will never forget. But also, an unforgettable memory was the opportunity to experience a foreign country with friends from high school.” Blake refers fondly to his two service trips to Paraguay, where he and other KO students donated shoes and clothes, built and refurbished classrooms, bathrooms, and even school buildings for the less fortunate.

Who does Blake attribute for his drive and passion in life? He answers without skipping a beat, “My parents.  They have been a huge influence on me. They have given me inspiration and have been exceptionally supportive in all that I do.” He adds, “I hold a certain standard in which to live by. Growing up in the south has taught me to see things differently. I am grateful for everything I have. My opportunities have come because of the many great people who came before me. If you choose to be an honest and good person, don’t hide any of it. Get out there and take risks.”

Despite his passion for all things musical, Blake’s favorite subjects in high school were history and English, attributing that to the excellent teachers at Kingswood Oxford. His favorite food is grilled cheese sandwiches and his best local hang-out with friends is Moe’s. “Ever since it opened, when I was in 8th grade, it’s offered me a great place to meet friends, hang out, talk and grab a bite to eat!”

Words of advice for up and coming high school students? “My favorite quote comes from a Tim MCGraw song, ‘Live like you were dying’. It’s simple and straight forward. Everyone should live their life that way!”

ALISON CONNORS “the basketball enthusiast”

AlisonHonor student, Alison Connors, a recent graduate of Northwest Catholic High School, truly understands what it means to be a contributor to her community and her school. She has achieved all her accomplishments through focus and hard work but is also aware that is it important to pay it forward through selfless acts of volunteerism.

Alison was the senior captain of her school basketball team. “I also coach two different basketball teams in my community,” She notes, “through the West Hartford travel program and the CT Rebels AAU program.”

Despite being so busy on the basketball court, Alison always made time for her school and community service. She served as a student leader for freshman orientation at her school and taught CCD at her church, St. Helena in West Hartford. Through her ACTS class (‘A Chance To Serve’) she set up various charity drives for different causes through the Catholic Worker House. “It was a great opportunity to give back.” She says, adding that her favorite school memory was a camping trip she took through the ACTS class at school. “We were in this very rustic campsite for four days. Nothing was pre-done. We stayed in tents, lit fires to cook food. It was pretty cool.”

A member of the National Honor Society, Alison says her favorite subjects in school were always the sciences…biology, in particular. Her dream is to become a physical therapist with special interest in kids and athletes. She is currently majoring in biology at Springfield College.

But Alison isn’t all work and no play. She knows the value of keeping balance. She loves going to the beach with friends and family and loves babysitting because she adores children.  Laughing at a good comedy, whether in a book or at the movies, is a great time. Her favorite local hang-out? The Coolidge gym in the old field house of Kingswood Oxford. “It’s a fun place to shoot hoops with friends!”

Her favorite food is pasta, her favorite color is blue, and her most favorite possession in the world is a small stuffed kangaroo toy that her best friend gave her.

She points out that her biggest role model has been her dad, Ed Connors. “He has always been there for me and my sisters. Well, so has my mom, but, my dad and I seem to have so much in common, such as all things sports. He has coached me in basketball all the way up to high school.” He always used to tell me, ‘The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel’ which inspires me to always keep going.” After all, she surmises, “the more work you put into something, the better it will be. Nothing easy is really worth it.”

KATIE NEWTON “the athletic scholar”

katieIt has been proven that high academic ability really can go hand in hand with incredible athleticism. Conard High School graduate, Katie Newton is a shining example.  As an All-State athlete for gymnastics and as an All-State academic, Katie was the only female at Conard to receive the prestigious ROTC National Scholar Athlete Award.

“It was quite an honor for me to receive the award,” reflects Katie, “A former soldier actually presented me with a certificate and a medal!”

But it should come as no surprise to those that know her. Katie has always been a high achiever. This AP scholar is a member of the National Honor Society and the Latin Honor Society. In high school, Katie was the captain of both the gymnastics team and track team.  She has been a gymnast for most of her childhood. Now attending UConn, she is majoring in physical therapy with a focus in sports recovery. “My favorite subjects in school were always math and science. And I loved psychology. I find it interesting to see how everything works for me and those around me as far as how people are acting and what is trending in the world.”

Her best role models have been her parents. “They always showed me right and wrong and what to do in order to be successful.” The West Hartford community may know her mother, Ronni, as the former regional editor for Patch.com.

Katie has also been an active part of her community through volunteer work. She is most proud of her mission trips to New Orleans, as part of the St. James Episcopal Church’s youth group. “We built, renovated and cleaned out post-Katrina water damaged structures and helped families get their homes back.” During the summer, Katie worked full time as a camp counselor at ‘Camp Funtastic’, held in various town parks. “I love being part of a team.” She says, “A sports team, a club or as a camp counselor with a team of children.”

In school, she was the co-president of the ‘Kids helping kids club’, whereby she spearheaded fundraising campaigns to teach special needs children in the community how to ride two wheel bikes. “It’s incredible. Very rewarding!”

Katie’s favorite food is blueberry muffins and her favorite color, as she describes it, is “yellow…always a happy color!”

Her favorite fashion accessory these days is a bright turquoise blue purse she treated herself to while on a recent trip to Italy, a cultural trip she took with fellow Latin students at her school. “It was an incredible experience to share the memories with so many of my classmates. So nice. Very cool.”

A lover of romantic comedy books and movies, Katie prefers to keep all things in her life very positive. “My favorite thing to do is visit my grandparents, who live in Nantucket. We spend many summers and holidays there. It makes me happy.”

She lives with purpose and clarity. She reminds everyone of her favorite quote:  “Don’t let your dreams become dreams.”

GLYNN BARON III  “the rebounder”

GlynnGlynn Baron III is a proud Conard High School graduate, as well as a graduate of the Greater Hartford Math and Science Academy…completing both schools simultaneously, with honors. To really appreciate this accomplishment, it is especially important is to understand the challenges Glynn had to endure as a young child.

“When I was just seven years old, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” Glynn explains. “I had to move to Tennessee for treatment at St. Jude’s Hospital. I missed a year of school.” His fighting spirit was always a part of who he was. “I’m ten years out of remission now. Thankfully my MRI’s are clean. On a personal level, I don’t see myself different than others but I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore!”

Attending Stetson University in Deland, Florida, Glynn is hoping to go into the pre-med program with aspirations of one day becoming a sports medicine doctor.

At Conard High, Glynn always leaned toward math and science, which is why he also enrolled at the Greater Hartford Math & Science Academy, a regional school for kids with an excelled interest in math and science. “Going to both schools made for a very long school day,” he reflects, “but being a part of two such great schools made it all worth it!”

Glynn was an honor student and member of the Bio-diesel club, where he worked on projects such as turning algae into oil to convert into usable diesel fuel. “It was a completely student run club. It was a great experience. We got to manage grants and a slice of the real world. We had total control!”

The people he is most thankful for in life is his grandfather, Henry and his grandmother, Maria, who never left his side at the hospital when he was hundreds of miles away from the rest of his family, living in Memphis. “They were literally always there for me. They gave me full support. They always assured me that I was going to be okay.”

Glynn is every bit a typical teen now. A lover of baseball, Glynn enjoys life to the fullest. He was on the baseball team, played basketball rec league and hockey for fun. He loves to get out and play sports with friends and doing volunteer work as a tutor at Webster Hill Elementary school.

His favorite local hang-out? “Since I live nearby, I like playing basketball on the courts at Webster Hill Elementary.” Glynn’s favorite food is mashed potatoes and his favorite color is blue. He loves suspense and fantasy movies.

“One place I’d like to visit in the near future is Italy, because of its rich culture, history and food.” He says, “I would like to meet some of my cousins living there. My grandmother was also born there.”

Getting a second chance at life has changed Glynn’s outlook forever. He appreciates all of life’s moments, big and small. He took time this summer to go fishing with his dad in Canada. He vacationed in Hawaii with his family before leaving for school.

He reminds us of Michael Jordan’s quote, which is a favorite saying of his: “I can accept failure but I can’t accept not trying.”

GRACE KAUFMAN “future photo journalist”

GraceCreativity simply abounds in Kingswood Oxford graduate, Grace Kaufman. As an aspiring artist, photographer and journalist, Grace wrote and illustrated her first book manuscript in the 5th grade! She has her eye on someday working professionally for a magazine.

Now attending Boston University, Grace is wrapping her major around art, communication and design. Her love of the arts is an integral part of who she is.

“When I’m not studying, you can find me painting landscapes at the beach or traveling to take interesting photos.” She says.

While at Kingswood Oxford High School, Grace was the photographer for the school newspaper and on the yearbook committee. She also loves swimming and playing lacrosse.

Her favorite subject in school was French. “I liked French class a lot. The way it was structured was like you were actually in a different country for that class period!”

One of her favorite role models was her Kingswood Oxford swim coach, Mr. Kraus. “He just had a way to calm me down when I was anxious before a swim meet. He always knew what to say and was always there for me if I needed to talk.”

As a future journalist, Grace knows how to step in and get involved. She participated in The Team Tobati community service trip to Paraguay with her school, and was part of The Shield and Dragon Program, touring perspective families around the school. She volunteers year after year at the Hartford Marathon, doing whatever was needed, collecting runners’ backpacks, organizing them in the trucks, or handing out waters. Over the summer, Grace helped children as a swim instructor at Renbrook Day Camp.

Grace won the Hemmingway Parody Award through her English class in her junior year, after submitting a paper she wrote. She was also senior swim captain of her team and placed second in New England.

But her best school memory was seeing first hand, how the smallest of gifts can help people in need. While on her mission trip to Paraguay, she went into a classroom and gave the kids toothbrushes and taught them how to brush their teeth.

“Things we take for granted here are a luxury in other places. These children never knew basic hygiene. We really made a difference.”

Grace admits her favorite foods are ice cream and chocolate muffins. She loves the color turquoise and her favorite hang-out place in town with friends is Elizabeth Park. “You have to go toward the top of the park so you can see the Hartford skyline. I love looking at cities.”

Her dream is to someday visit Israel, a culture she says she has learned about for many years.

So many things set this creative soul apart from her peers, but Grace attributes her unique vision to her family. “My dad’s side of the family is especially artistic. Like my dad, I see things differently. I don’t really follow trends. I like to step back and really look at the beauty in everything!”

RYAN COURSEY “future business executive”

RyanFor Northwest Catholic graduate, Ryan Coursey, the business world is very intriguing to him after working several years as a community volunteer and being able to land a birds eye view of the needs of organizing a non-profit business structure.

Currently attending Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, Ryan is a business major with hopes of working at his father’s company as a financial planner.

Ryan integrated his love of sports into much of his community volunteerism. “I was a part of Catholic Worker House, which helps under-privileged kids have a place to go after hardship. I would play basketball with them, help them with their school work and more.” Ryan was also the West Hartford representative for the CT Boys State for the American Legion held at Eastern CT State University. “It was a great experience. In five days, we set up a mock government system, electing senators, judges and mayors. I was a part of this program for both my junior and senior years of high school.”

A member of the National Honor Society, Ryan is proud that he made honor roll every quarter for all 4 years at Northwest Catholic. His favorite subjects were AP U.S. History and AP U.S. Government. “Mr. Fitzpatrick was my Government teacher. He was great. Always the most interactive with students during class, making it fun.”

Probably as a result, he became an active part of the ‘model UN Club’ whereby each club member researched topics in particular countries. “I focused on environmental issues in Cuba. We got to go on a field trip to the United Nations and even got to meet with a Cuban diplomat.”

Although his favorite sport is baseball (he was on his high school baseball team all four years) he enjoys all sports, especially golf and town league basketball. His favorite local hang-out is Rockledge Golf course. His favorite team is the Red Sox, favorite color is purple and his favorite food is mussels.

Best memory of high school? “The day I turned a triple play in baseball during my junior year. I ended the game with bases loaded! That will stick in my mind forever!”

To relax, Ryan says he enjoys going to the movies with friends. “I go to movies a lot. I love all types of movies, especially comedies.”

“My biggest role models in life are my parents.” He says, “especially my dad. To see how hard he worked in his life and in college and to open up his own practice in the financial world, I have learned what hard work can do. I admire my dad’s work ethic.”

While settling in as a freshman at college, Ryan sees good things in his future. “I know if I work hard, I can accomplish anything I want. I enjoy spending time with my family in Cape Cod, but want to someday travel the world. I would love to go to Sweden. Most people don’t realize much of that country is just wilderness. I’ve always been intrigued.”

PIERCE HIGGINS “king of determination”

PiercePierce Higgins, a graduate of William H. Hall High School, exemplifies the true meaning of an achiever. Aside from being very involved in his school, his church and the West Hartford community, this honor student had a personal challenge that kept his determination always in focus.

Already a success story at age 18, Pierce is happy to share his challenge to help inspire others to succeed. “I have a speech impairment but I have dedicated the last fourteen years of my life to improving my speech.” In his early school years, he admits that his speech impairment started affecting his academic goals and even his social interactions with classmates. “I received a lot of support and guidance from my teachers, speech therapist and my parents. I studied very hard and really applied myself to obtain good grades. My hard work paid off.” Pierce was an honor roll student at Hall and was able to graduate on time with his peers. He is now a student at Manchester Community College majoring in Health & Exercise Science.

Captivated by the Chinese language, which was his favorite class in high school, Pierce would someday love to speak Mandarin fluently and work in the health care industry in China, because he advocates a healthy lifestyle. He now knows all things are possible.

At Hall, Pierce played soccer, tennis and wrestling. He notes that his favorite school memory was when he achieved his goal of making varsity tennis. He achieved the Central Connecticut Conference All Academic Team Award Varsity Letter/Two sport award. He was active in the Anime club, chess club, video game club and social club.

For his community, he volunteered with the Salvation Army at the annual block party in Hartford. He volunteered at the St. Joseph Church annual tag sale to help raise money for people who suffered from drug and alcohol abuse.

“My mom always said to me, ‘Pierce, the opponent does not exist!’ She inspired me to believe in myself and I will be the best in whatever I aspire to be.”

It should come as no surprise that Pierce’s favorite food is Asian Cuisine. His favorite color is green and his best hang-out for meeting friends in town is at Blue Back Square.

In his free time, when he is not studying, he enjoys guitar playing, rapping, exercising and dabbling on Chinese Facebook.

He says he will most remember his high school trip to China last spring. He dreams of one day expanding his Asian experience by discovering other countries, such as South Korea.

“I am equipped with the knowledge of how to advocate for myself. I have learned in my very young life that hard work pays. My motto in life is ‘Failure is not an option’!” His advice for kids in school, “No matter what the obstacles are, always keep working towards your goal!”

CLAIRE O’BRIEN “the soccer stand-out”

ClaireWilliam H. Hall High School graduate, Claire O’Brien is more than just your typical soccer enthusiast.  Her passion for the sport and her natural athletic ability for soccer secured her a place on her college soccer team, recruited by Stone Hill College in Massachusetts as an outstanding soccer player. This summer, Claire was in Kansas for a National Soccer competition.

There’s no stopping what this honor student can do. She gives everything her all and possesses an admirable winning spirit. Claire is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. She was captain of the Hall soccer team and also played basketball and indoor/outdoor track during her high school years.

Claire received the 3-sport athlete award for all four years of high school. She also received the ‘Spirit of Hall’ award, for her work in supporting athletics. She received an academic award, as well, for receiving a 4.0 GPA all four years of high school and the Board of Education Award for leadership.

She invested much of her time to the Top Soccer team, serving as a mentor to teach and play soccer with special needs kids in the community.

She was also a member of the Empty Bowls club, raising money to feed the hungry through area soup kitchens, and a part of the school’s Link Crew, whereby upper classmen would help freshman get to know each other during orientation.

Claire spends much of her free time playing soccer, but also enjoys writing, reading and traveling. In college, she is leaning toward English and communications and would like to one-day write for a newspaper or magazine, especially if she could incorporate her love for travel into her job.

As a celebrity role model, Claire looks up to world-renowned soccer player, Alex Morgan. “She’s so inspiring. She is the youngest person ever to be on the women’s national team and a great role model for all young kids!”

“One of my fondest high school memories will always be our soccer team’s bonding weekend. Getting to know, trust and respect each other is so important.”

Despite being primarily a seafood lover, Claire mentions that her mom makes an amazing pulled pork, her favorite meal. Claire’s favorite color is blue and her best hangout in West Hartford is the movie theater at Blue Back Square. “I also love hanging out on Hall turf, playing soccer and working out with my sister and friends.”

“One of my favorite vacations was a family reunion in Ireland with my entire extended family. We rented a tour bus and drove all over the country. It was totally awesome! Closer to home, we have a home in Narragansett, RI, a place I love to visit. My dream destinations, however, are Paris, Brazil and Portugal.”

To understand Claire’s active life, so full of accomplishment, even at the age of 18, she gives a nod to her parents. “My parents always did sports. It became a natural part of me. They were always active. You become what you live.”

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Peter Dante

Secrets of A Comedic Actor

by Erin Zeidenberg
photography  courtesy of by Mark Aston , Joan Dante  & Peter Dante

On the day of our interview, Peter Dante’s morning began with meditation and prayer, as it does almost every day of his life.  Immediately, I’m intrigued by his casual style and find myself relaxed as he engages me in conversation about the usefulness of quiet time and reflection.  “Prayer is a way to connect.  It helps keep things balanced and real.”  Honoring a genuine existence is what Peter Dante is all about.  Although he is unhesitatingly comfortable in his own skin, he does not like the word celebrity or being referred to as one.  “Celebrity has too much that goes along with it.  There are actors and there are celebrities.  People want to be celebrities but they aren’t honest and sincere.  I’m simply a guy from a small town who likes to act and sing and enjoy life.”

Such a modest statement coming from an actor who has been bringing laughter and joy to the masses for well over a decade.  In the mid 90’s, Peter had a small part on The Jeff Foxworthy Show and Larry Sanders Show.  In 1998 he appeared in the films ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘The Water Boy’.  From there he continued his comic relief in Happy Madison productions such as ‘Little Nicky’, ‘Mr. Deeds’, ‘Grandma’s Boy’, ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’, ‘Strange Wilderness’, ‘Jack and Jill’, and ‘Big Daddy’, for which he was nominated for a GLAAD award (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).

Peter has fond memories of growing up in West Hartford and connects the fine balance of his life today to his roots that were cultivated just four miles west of Hartford.  “West Hartford is a beautiful town with great neighborhoods and great families.  There was a sense of loyalty to what you had and what you did. I learned that very early on.”  Being the fifth of six children, Peter quickly figured out a way to shine by being involved in both sports and the arts.  “I was always trying to follow in my older brothers’ shoes, who were athletes, and my brother, Tony, who loved to sing.  I found the Elmwood Community Center and started doing plays at a young age.  I was also in the choir at Duffy Elementary and Conard High School.  It was a great balance for me.  I played basketball with friends and then did the Best of Broadway.”  Peter’s early work experiences included landscaping, caddying for his father and other members of the Wampanoag Country Club, and roofing alongside his brother-in-law, Jim Carroll, JP Carroll Construction.

Flashing back to third grade, Peter conjures up the memory of when he was first introduced to his life- long passion of lacrosse. “I remember being at recess. My friends had lacrosse sticks in their hands and they were like ‘C’mon you’ve got to try this’.  The following year I put the baseball glove down, picked up the lacrosse stick and haven’t put it down since.”  After graduating high school, Peter attended Hofstra University where he continued to play lacrosse.   “All of the parallels of lacrosse that I learned then, I teach now as life lessons.  Lacrosse is the smartest game for any athlete as far as team sports are concerned.  You need to be a student of the game to be great at it.”  Today Peter coaches a Professional Lacrosse Team called LXMPRO which tours the nation helping grow youth lacrosse.  In addition, he coached lacrosse at Loyola Marymount University and has been coaching both of his sons’ teams for many years.

Bubbling with pride, Peter discusses his favorite role of being a dad.  You may be surprised to know that Peter’s wife, Cynthia, is Brad Pitt’s manager and publicist.  Peter and Cynthia have two sons together , Jake and Lucas.  Jake is fourteen and already almost six feet tall.  He plays tackle football and hits homeruns on the baseball team.  “He’s a strong kid.  A beautiful boy.”  Lucas is ten, plays lacrosse, flag football and sings in the choir.  “He’s a great kid with a beautiful voice.”    On the night of the Oscars, Peter stayed home and cooked dinner for the boys while his wife attended the Academy Awards with Brad Pitt.

Peter met Brad when he was working on the Larry Sanders Show.  At the time Brad was shooting the movie California and needed an assistant.  “I was Brad’s first assistant ever.  I worked with him for two and a half years.  He’s a great guy from a small town in Missouri and hasn’t changed a bit.  He taught me a lot about the auditioning process and continues to be a huge part of my life.   He’s Jake’s Godfather and we continue to do a lot of stuff together.”

It was also during his time on the Larry Sanders show when Peter met Adam Sandler.  “I was playing basketball on Gary Shandling’s basketball court one Saturday when Adam walked up.  He asked me where I was from.  I told him I was from Connecticut .  He then told me he was from New Hampshire.  I said, ‘oh, you shoveled more snow than me.’  He laughed and said we should play one on one afterwards and we did.  From that day on we’ve been best friends.”  Peter and Adam continue to play basketball three times a week to stay in shape.  They also sing together in The Adam Sandler Jam Band.  It’s not a comedy thing.  It’s a real band that they perform in twice a year.  “It’s all intertwined with what I used to do growing up in West Hartford.  We sang in bands as kids.  My neighbor, Steve, and I used to perform at the Legion Hall and sing at house parties.”

PeteMrDeedsLast summer, Peter was on the Cape with Adam Sandler shooting the film “That’s My Boy” which premiers June 15th. Peter has a small part in the film as Tony Orlando’s son.  I asked Peter how much fun he actually has shooting these films.  He laughed and said, “We’re having the time of our lives or we’d never continue to do it.  But we’re also working hard.  Adam writes tirelessly and always worries about how much better he can make things.  The beauty of working with Adam, however, is that he gives you creative freedom between his writing.  If you come up with additions that are funny, he’ll add it.  He’ll change things on the spot.  He’s also great at giving you a back up story to help set the stage.  For example, in the ‘Wedding Singer’ my character gets a little kid drunk at a wedding.  Adam whispered in my ear ‘pretend you’re back in New England and you just got one of your cousins drunk at the wedding but stare at everyone like you’ll beat them up if they look at you.’  And that’s how it’s always been.”

With his affable brown eyes, disarming grin and ability to swiftly pull you into his force field, it’s no wonder why people like Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler enjoy being a part of Peter Dante’s world.  When he’s not being husband or dad, acting in films, coaching lacrosse, skateboarding, playing basketball or volunteering his time at a homeless shelter, Peter also writes and records his own music.  His current album is titled “Peace, Love and Freedom” which you can find on iTunes or peterdante.com.

Peter’s latest success is about his mother, Joan, who recently overcame her challenge with breast cancer.  You can sense Peter’s ardent love for her in his gratitude for her triumph.  “My mom’s loyalty to the Catholic Church and the way she’s been a dedicated mother her whole life  helped her beat breast cancer.  Her faith, good health, and bike rides around the cemetery, which we used to take together, have kept her free of cancer.”

It doesn’t take long to figure out that, like his mother, Peter’s most powerful talisman is his faith.  He knows life is a gift and what we do with that life is our gift back.  Each week Peter gives back by counseling those who have lost their way at the Blessed Sacrament Shelter in Hollywood, by nurturing his own children, by inspiring the youth in lacrosse, by writing and sharing his music, and by continuing to bring humor into our hearts and homes.