Ridgefield Spring Stroll helps reunite community amid pandemic

RIDEGFIELD — Hundreds of residents milled about Main Street Saturday for the annual Spring Stroll organized by Downtown Ridgefield. The event encourages people to come into town to patronize local businesses, participate in activities and celebrate the community.

“Spring Stroll started many years ago as the sister to the Holiday Stroll, (and) has been tremendously successful,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “The group of merchant organizers (at Downtown Ridgefield) led by Kathy Graham, Bill Craig and Mary Jones (work) to get people into town to keep the town alive.”

The daylong affair kicked off with a ceremony outside Town Hall, honoring local Eagle Scout Ryan Adams, who died in a plane crash his freshman year in college. Members of Boy Scout troops 431, 76, 116 and 19 spent the remainder of the morning cleaning, planting and mulching flower beds on Main Street between Governor and Prospect.

The day also featured professional chalk artist Mark Panzarino who assisted students and families in creating sidewalk chalk motifs all over Main Street. Participants were also encouraged to locate a series of chalk leaves as part of a scavenger hunt organized by Compassionate Ridgefield. Carnival performers, stilt walkers and jugglers entertained residents throughout town, and local DJ Big Daddy Sean McKee provided tunes.

Later in the afternoon, residents gathered outside Town Hall as Marconi signed the international Charter for Compassion. Compassionate Ridgefield Chairwoman Carol Mahlstedt began by listing examples of how the town’s residents, businesses and organizations have been committed to creating a more compassionate Ridgefield over the past year, but explained that people could do more.

“If kindness is inviting everyone to the party then compassion is making sure everyone is ... encouraged to dance,” she said. “We can create a village where the vulnerable are kept healthy and safe and difference is not only welcomed but embraced and celebrated.”

Ridgefield’s poet laureate Barb Jennes read a cento entitled “Compassion Impels Us” — a direct line from the international charter — and executive committee member Daniel C. Levine led attendants in reciting the pledge.

“Today, Ridgefield becomes one of the over 200 towns and cities in the United States to sign the Charter for Compassion,” he said. “While most of us already live our lives with these sentiments, it is never a bad idea to recommit ourselves to these principles.”

Marconi explained the difference between compassion and empathy and encouraged residents to employ an acronym from Chris Kukk’s book “The Compassionate Achiever.” LUCA teaches those practicing compassion to “listen,” “understand,” “connect” and “act” to effectively help others.

Over the coming months, Compassionate Ridgefield will invite families to create copper leaves that will be added to a life-size tree and hung in Town Hall as a piece of public art. The project was supposed to move forward last year, but was postponed amid the pandemic.

“Today couldn’t be a better time (to do this) as we … evaluate what incredible compassion Ridgefield has had for one another this past year,” arts committee member Joanne Hunter said.

To learn more about the project, visit the Compassionate Ridgefield website.