The room at Costa-Azzura restaurant was filled with more than 200 of Milford’s movers and shakers between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Wednesday when United Way’s Community Builders Recognition Luncheon took place.
Subtitled “A celebration of our hidden treasures,” the event brought attention to the people, businesses and agencies whose volunteerism and financial generosity keep United Way of Milford’s partner agencies able to serve the community.
United Way President and CEO, Gary Johnson introduced Master of Ceremonies Raissa Katona Bennett, a Milford resident whose credentials as a singer, actress and recording artist include the first national tour company of Cats and a starring role in Phantom of the Opera.
An invocation by Reverend Anne Marie Meyerhoffer, pastor of United Presbyterian Church, and remarks by Mayor James Richetelli were followed by the keynote speaker, Laura Rivera Castillo, the first teenage mother to be helped by YPP (Young Parents Program.) Castillo, whose daughter, Destiny is now 15, went on to graduate from Foran High School with the help and support of YPP both during and after her pregnancy.
“I didn’t want to be a statistic,” she said.
Ray Vitali, Campaign Chair for 2010, announced that this year’s campaign raised $940,000.00, shy of the million-dollar goal, but an encouraging number nonetheless. According to Johnson, Milford’s record this year exceeds that of most other United Ways throughout the country, having raised close to exactly the same as last year. Vitali, who will chair the campaign again in 2011, is hopeful for the new drive that will kick off in July.
“The turnout this year was the largest in 10 years,” Johnson said. “The community really came through this year, both financially and in other support.”
Agencies and businesses recognized for their successful fund-raising efforts included Beth-El Center, Bic Corporation, Bridges…A Community Support System, Calf Pen Meadow School, Harborside Middle School, Ikon Office Solutions, Mathewson Elementary School, Milford Fire Department, Milford Police Department, Orange Research, Platt Vocational Technical School, Schick, Shoprite of Milford, Spectrum Associates, Stevens Ford, The Academy and Milford Bank. Most of these campaigns showed a significant increase from the 2009 totals.
Individuals recognized with Community Impact Initiative Awards included:
Meeting Critical Needs Award for reaching out to families and individuals with troubled housing issues including hoarding: Sonja Devitt and Lesley Darling of the Milford Health Department; Nurturing Children Award to Dr. Chris Cogguillo for his years of service with the Woodruff YMCA; Strengthening Families Award to the Milford Youth and Family Services/Department of Human Services for meeting the requirements of families with critical needs; Distinguished Service Award to Seamus Warakomski; Youth Leadership Awards to students Maggie Cole and Jesse Viscardi, both of whom have participated in community and school activities for the benefit of all; Lifetime Achievement Award to Sandy Koorijian, executive director of the Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven.
In her more than 25 years, Koorejian has seen the public attitude toward domestic violence change dramatically. Public awareness has increased as has local and state support for shelters and counseling. Koorejian pointed out.
“Gary (Johnson) has always been there, not just with financial support, but with sensitive understanding of the issues around domestic violence,” she said.
The Champion of Caring award went to Joe Della Monica, Sr. Formerly a city alderman and member of the Inland Wetlands Agency and Permanent Schools Facilities Building Committee, Della Monica now concentrates his efforts as vice chairman of the Concerned Citizens for People with Disabilities. In that capacity, according to Johnson, “He has worked tirelessly to assure that Milford is accessible to all citizens.”
“There is a prejudice against people with disabilities,” Della Monica said. “I volunteer because, if I can help someone who can’t help themselves, it makes me happy.”
Finally, the Spirit of Milford Award to went to Gary Montano.
“(It's) bestowed upon a person who freely chooses to give his time and effort without ever being asked or obliged,” Johnson said in his introduction. “He is easily touched by the challenges and misfortunes of others and will extend his hand to help make life a little better.”
“I plan to retire soon,” Gary Montano said in his acceptance remarks. But my daughter, Mickel will run the business and carry on in the way my parents taught me…to ease the suffering of people.”
“We make a good team,” Mickel Montano said later. “I know he has made a big footprint, but I would love to follow him.”