By LINDSAY CAREY
The Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA honored local “super heroes” for their numerous positive contributions to the community at the YMCA’s 86th Annual Meeting at the Aqua Turf Club on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
Three Southington High School (SHS) students who have been Advisory Board Members for the STEPS Coalition were recognized by the YMCA with Youth Leadership Awards.
“In keeping with our theme, we’re going to see how our local super heroes are not just adults,” said Reverend Dr. Suzannah Rohman, who presented the awards.
Rohman explained how these students stepped up as leaders and made an impact on the lives of their peers and the generations to come. Sarah Lamb, Trevor Rogers and Justine Griffin sought change and used their voices as student leaders to help pass two safety ordinances along with other members of STEPS Youth Council.
The tobacco ordinance prohibits Southington businesses to sell tobacco, nicotine and drug paraphernalia at the counter –where it would be in clear sight of impressionable youth. The other ordinance the student activists helped pass requires local businesses with happy hour or open bar events to visibly display that only patrons above the age of 21 will served.
Rogers, who has served on the STEPS Advisory Board for three years and the STEPS Youth Council for four years, shared an inspiring message at the meeting.
“I realized that if I want to change the world, I can,” he said. “I’m proud that I can say I’m from Southington, because in our town there are so many ways to get involved. Because of that I can say I got to help make Southington a better place.”
Another group of local super heroes that were honored for their service were four YMCA volunteers, Tina Asido, Lisa Whitaker, Tony Michaud, and Mary Yuskis.
Asido and Whitaker contribute to their local YMCA by helping out with the swim team.
Asido’s volunteer work for the swim team is surrounded by organizing volunteers for the meets and fundraisers. She has been responsible for setting up and organizing parking at the YMCA during the two weekends of the Apple Harvest Festival. She assigns volunteers to work twelve hour days during the festival. This fundraiser, alone, covers most of the swim team’s meet fees for the entire year.
Whitaker, the YMCA Swim Team Booster Club President, got involved with the pool when her children were young because she wanted them to, one day, be a part of the swim team. She helps organize events for the swim team and has also been officiating swim meets for several years as a certified YMCA Level 2 official.
Michaud was recognized for his volunteer work at YMCA Camp Sloper. Over the last year, he has helped with the renovations for the Myers Family Pavilion. Michaud donated and installed all of the electrical work for the building.
“His expertise and generosity were critical to the success of the project,” said Outdoor Center Director Mark Pooler. “Tony continues to share with us his time, talents, and treasure, and we are lucky to have him involved at YMCA Camp Sloper.”
The final volunteer to be honored was Yuskis, who has served as a board member, committee chairperson, and annual campaign chair for the YMCA. Yuskis has worked over the years to help to improve the YMCA’s programs and services. She also promoted offering more family programs at the YMCA and recruited her own family as volunteers.
Melissa Sheffy, who served as the YMCA Board president for the last three years, presented the 2015 YMCA Unsung Hero award to Southington educator Nancy Chiero.
“We are very impressed that you’ve dedicated yourself to positively impact the lives of literally hundreds, actually thousands, of our local youth,” Sheffy said about Chiero, the 14th Unsung Hero award recipient. “If there’s a common denominator amongst heroes, it’s that they believe in people and have an innate way to bring out the best in people. You certainly definitely define those traits.”
Chiero has a strong connection to the Southington-Cheshire YMCA. She has served for over 12 years on the YMCA’s Board and once served as Board president. She is also an active member of the STEPs Advisory Board and a member of the Asset Building Classroom Team through STEPS.
As an educator, Chiero is a member of several other boards and committees including the Construction Education Center, the Technology Advisory Board, Lewis Educational Agricultural Farm (LEAF), Architectural Construction and Engineering (ACE) Club at SHS, the Chamber of Commerce internship program, the mentoring program at SHS, and the Think Tank for parents of students with disabilities.
“She’s got boundless energy. No one can keep up with her,” said SHS principal Martin Semmel. “She does so much for so many kids. She’s a really significant part of what makes Southington High School a fantastic school.”
Beyond her commitment to serving in all of these capacities is her commitment to engaging with and encouraging students.
“Your real legacy is from the connections you’ve made with countless amounts of students,” said Sheffy. “You have the unique ability to make each and every student feel valued.”
Chiero said that she would like to share the award with all of the unsung heroes in her own life, like her family, friends, colleagues, the administrators and the Southington community, who have allowed her to make a difference in the lives of students.
“We all do what has to be done to get the job done, or better still, we do what needs to be done to help every student or individual that crosses our paths,” said Chiero. “Somehow I am up here receiving this award on all of your behalves.”
Semmel presented the YMCA Reaching Out Award to the Southington Education Foundation (SEF), a foundation funding projects that are not funded by the Board of Education. Since 2009, SEF has provided financial support to every school in town through 34 different grants, distributing over $165,000 through fundraising and donations.
SEF’s mission statement, “instilling a love of learning,” explains the foundations dedication to funding educational programs and learning initiatives.
SEF has made an impact on the YMCA, by partnering with the school district fund Science at Sloper, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program for fourth graders throughout the district at the YMCA Camp Sloper.
SEF donated $25,000 to this program, which allows fourth graders to travel to Camp Sloper twice during the school year for a full day of active learning. The foundation also donated $20,000 to fund a year round nature center at Camp Sloper, which would provide students with the opportunity to collect pond specimens and perform experiments incorporating nature.
Alan Debishop, treasurer and one of the original board members of SEF, accepted the YMCA Reaching Out Award.
The final award of the night, the 2015 YMCA Person of the Year, went to Town Council member Dawn Miceli.
YMCA Board President Joe Eddy, who was inducted at the meeting taking Sheffy’s place, presented the award to Miceli.
“For the past 23 years, the YMCA has taken this opportunity at our annual meeting to recognize and honor an individual in the community who is making an impact in helping make Southington a better place to live,” said Eddy of the Person of the Year Award.
Much like Chiero, Miceli is an active member on several committees and boards.
“Dawn, you have more than fulfilled your role as a Southington super hero,” said Eddy. “There’s no light in the sky, but without it we know Dawn is always there. In fact one of your super powers is that you have the ability to multiply yourself.”
Besides serving on the Southington Town Council, Miceli also serves on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, SEF, and the Southington Community Cultural Arts (SCCA).
She’s a member of the Strike Committee, the Chamber Central Business Alliance, Southington UNICO, the Greater New Haven Rotary Club, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, the Thalberg PTO Executive Board, and is also a judge for Connecticut Icon.
She also actively worked on the Southington Drive In series, the Southington ice rink and started ACT On It, an anti-vandalism campaign for Southington.
Miceli said that former person of the year Mary DeCroce inspired her to get more involved in town and led her to join SCCA. This connection prompted Miceli to support the SCCA effort to build a community arts center in town, which is currently in renovation and construction.
“It’s never just one person of the year,” said Miceli. “It’s the people over the years who deserve the credit… It’s [the people] who have all stood in the same spot and accepted this same accolade that ultimately inspired people like me to get involved and help make our little corner of the world a bit brighter and a bit better.”
Executive Director John Myers also shared how the Southington-Cheshire YMCA’s Extend the Legacy capital campaign has raised $3.5 million towards renovations the YMCA at the annual meeting. With the help of state legislators, the YMCA received $900,000 through the bonding commission towards the campaign.
Another significant donation came from the Main Street Community Foundation, which administers the Barnes Memorial Trust. The Main Street Community Foundation received a $300,000 grant towards the completion of an elevator that would make the pool at the YMCA more handicapped accessible.
When the YMCA realized that the cost of the elevator and handicapped accessibility was more than initially anticipated, they went back to the Main Street Community Foundation to see if they could help cover the cost. The foundation stepped up and awarded the YMCA an additional $130,000 to further fund the completion of the elevator.
“The YMCA in my personal opinion is the local gathering place in Southington providing service and support for people of all ages to maintain physical health, but more importantly provides a place that nurtures social and mental well-being for all who gather there,” said Susan Sadecki from the Main Street Community Foundation. “The foundation is proud to be a supporter of your work and believe that Bradley Barnes, if he was still here today, would have been very impressed with this project, which will benefit both current and future generations.”
The YMCA also received a $250,000 anonymous donation and $200,000 dollar for dollar matching donation from a family.
The locker rooms and renovation of the parking lot have already been completed and the pool renovation program is the final piece of the campaign to be completed.
Photos by John Goralski