Picking up a beloved tradition after a Covid hiatus, the town celebrated its most dedicated volunteers with an outdoor ceremony on June 1 on the lawn in front of the Center Building.
Calling volunteers the “town’s most valuable asset,” Human Services Department Director Jeanette Glicksman handed out citations and recognitions to those who have given freely of their time and talents, many of them for years, to improve the lives of their neighbors. As Master of Ceremonies, Glicksman had the help of several announcers, including State Senators Jorge Cabrera and James Maroney; First Selectman Beth Heller; Human Services Commission Chairwoman Ssuan Davidson; as well as the department staff, Woodbridge Center Director Kristy Moriarty, Senior Clerk Ellen McDonald, and Youth Services Director Nancy Pfund.
Special recognition went to the Living Treasures Committee, which worked hard to put on a major fundraising event for the department. Committee members are Susan Davidson, Bob Garofalo, Lynn Piascyk, Janet Onofrio, Cathy Austin, Ellen McDonald, Jeanette Glicksman, Kristy Moriarty and Margaret Hamilton. Also recognized were those who worked at the event, including “celebrity servers.”
Despite Covid restrictions, the event managed to raise $10,000 for the department, Glicksman said. The funds will be added to the grants received for the Center renovation project.
Another warm recognition went to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers who, due to the Center rooms being under construction, met with clients in the hallways of the Center Building, and any other nook they could find. In all, they managed to assist with 164 tax returns, said Ellen McDonald, who made the presentation. VITA volunteers include Michelle Ditzian (site coordinator), Vincent Spino, Mariano Degregorio, Kelly Bosenberg, and Alberta Davis.
Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci accepted a recognition on behalf of the Volunteer Fire Association. In 2021, the fire department responded to 446 calls, and during periods of power outages made sure there was food, water and power available to the most vulnerable in the community.
State Sen. George Cabrera read a state citation and presented a plaque to Human Services Committee Chairman Nancy Davidson for her countless hours of supporting the Human Services Department in its work. She was one of five “outstanding volunteers.” The other honorees in that category were Cathy and Tim Austin, who took emergency shelter training and helped with the distribution of test kits and masks; Alice Lippman, who was honored for sewing more than 100 stylish masks at the height of the pandemic; and Teena Arbo who was honored as a long-time supporter of the Youth Services.
Community organizations and businesses who were singled out for their support of the department and the population it serves were the Friends of the Town Library; Coachman Square, and Hamden Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.
PJ program: A special recognition went to Gabriella and Chase Durso, 9 and 12 years old, respectively, who founded “Goodnight Sleep Tight PJ Program, Inc.” The Durso Family collected books, slippers, PJs and stuffed animals for children in various regional hospitals.
Gabriella Durso had some personal experience of staying in a hospital when she was suffering from asthma, and her inspiration was to make kids “feel warm and cozy,” she said. The charity has grown since it started in 2020, and now includes deliveries to other states, as well as donations for residents at the Beth El Center in Milford. The program contributed over 90 PJs to the Christmas baskets that the Human Services Department distributes around the holidays. It also collected for Ukrainian refugees in Poland and for children in Ukraine itself.
The Woodbridge Center Award went to Linda Caffalette for her many years of help, first with the annual holiday fair, and now with the Living Treasures event.
The other Center Award honoree was Sandy Faggiana, an avid pickleball player, who is a “cheerleader for all.”
Youth Award: First Selectman Beth Heller presented this year’s Youth Award to Ava Shanbrom, a rising Junior at Amity High School. For the past two-and-a-half years Ava has helped an elderly neighbor with the laundry, which is set up in the basement. The neighbor’s family did not want her to navigate the steep stairs anymore, so every Sunday afternoon Ava would walk over to help her out. Over time they developed a friendship.
“I just love listening to her stories about her husband and where they’ve gone, the places she’s lived,” Ava said after the presentation. She never accepted any money for her service. “It is something I wanted to do,” she said. Their connection became particularly important once the pandemic left many elderly isolated and without help. It was thanks to Ava’s support that made it possible for her neighbor to stay in her home, said People’s Bank’s Scott Zimmerman in making the presentation. He presented Ava with a $200 certificate in recognition of her volunteerism.
Other organizations that were recognized included Woodbridge Rotary Club, Massaro Farm, Friends of the Woodbridge Library, Scouts and their troop leaders from troops 63, 907 and 410, and Troop 60865 and 167884; representatives from Bethany Community School, Spartan Academy students, Recreation Commission members, Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen liaisons to Human Services Commission; Friendly Visitors; members of the Youth Advisory Board, and volunteers for the Youth Evening Program; the food pantry volunteers, and craft group members.
In addition to Coachman Square and Hamden Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, both of which support the Center’s programming, several local businesses were recognized, namely Joyce Printers, Progressions Salon, and Surreybrook School.
State Sen. James Maroney in his presentation cited a stoic saying, “Don’t argue what a good person should be; just be one.” And, living up to his word, he was seen folding chairs at the close of the ceremony.
- The Durso Family, Gabriella, 9, and Chase, 12, here with their parents Melissa and Marc, were recognized for their “Goodnight Sleep Tight PJ Program”
- First Selectman Beth Heller (at the podium) presented this year’s Youth Award to Ava Shanbrom
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent