By JOHN GORALSKI
Some people were still milling around the auction tables at the back of the Aqua Turf and others were finishing their meals when United Way President Jack Eisenmann stepped to the stage to quiet the room. On Thursday, March 17, most of the world was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in various ways, but Eisenmann was kicking off a celebration for local volunteers.
The United Way of Southington is one of just three independent United Way organizations in Connecticut. Devoted to Southington charities and organizations, it seemed fitting that their annual meeting was an opportunity to recognize individuals that share their goal with the presentation of three Hometown Hero awards.
Sure, officials discussed their fundraising and grants. Sure, they introduced officers for the coming year, but the biggest applause was reserved for the Dave Salvatore, Melissa Sheffy, and Kate Sirignano. The trio were recognized for their grassroots level footwork.
“We’re a big town with a small town mentality,” Sirignano said as she accepted her award. “I feel lucky to be part of this community, and I feel that it’s my duty to give back to this amazing community.”
Community Services Manager Janet Melon kicked off the awards ceremony by recognizing Salvatore for his efforts with Southington Community Services. The co-owner of D&D Carbide in Berlin volunteers as a worker in the food pantry each week and prepares food bags for shut-in clients.
Along the way, he has helped individuals in needs with personal purchases, home repair projects, and emotional relief. He has purchased and donated everything from bibles and groceries to flowers and fans.
“Dave went to Vietnam and served our country,” said Melon. “When he came back, he’s been serving Southington ever since.
Salvatore has built garages, fixed leaky roofs, and has personally contributed almost 7,000 pounds of food to the local food pantry last year, alone. During Thanksgiving deliveries, he’s often the last to leave.
“When you live in a large family, you learn right off how to share, how to sacrifice, and how to give,” he said.
YMCA Executive Director John Myers presented the next award to Melissa Sheffy, and he read a litany of quotes from people that have worked with Sheffy over the years.
“I could write a novel about all the ways that knowing Melissa has changed my life,” Myers said, reading from one testimony. “I’m proud to be part of her team, proud to know her, and hope that at some point in my life I can be half the woman that she is.”
For 12 years Sheffy has served in various roles for the local YMCA Board of Directors, as secretary, vice president, and president. She served on two YMCA Capitol Campaign Steering Committees and oversaw capital projects totaling over $8 million.
“She is enthusiastic and brings a lot of energy into any group she’s working with,” said Myers. “She’s caring and generous and gives selflessly to those close to her heart.”
Along the way, Sheffy has served on the town’s middle school building committees, as a volunteer, and as a mentor with the Southington High School Technology Advisory Board. She has supported various organizations from the Calvanese Foundation to St. Francis Hospital.
“I’m really not that great, but thanks,” she said to the crowd. “It’s easy to look good when you surround yourself with good people.”
Rob Flood, a member of the United Way Board of Directors, presented the final award to Sirignano for her work with the March of Dimes.
When Sirignano’s son, Anthony, was born 15 weeks prematurely, he weighed less than two pounds. The newborn endured more than 100 days in the neonatal ICU at UConn, but Sirignano never flinched. Her son was barely home from the hospital when the local entrepreneur turned her attention to the organization that helped her the most.
“When the email went out looking for this year’s volunteers, I think I was the first one to respond to it,” said Flood, who also works with Sirignano at the Southington Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t think it took me 20 seconds to know that I had to nominate Kate.”
As the owner of Image Consultants in Plantsville, Sirignano was recognized by the Hartford Business Journal in 2011 as one of Connecticut’s “40 Under Forty” winners. She has managed marketing teams for a number of resorts and companies and has volunteered at a number of local organizations from the rotary to the chamber of commerce.
But after the birth of her son, Sirgnano and her husband turned their attention toward the March of Dimes. Her efforts raised over $120,000 for the organization.
“If you wake up every morning, and you think the way that Kate thinks, and you go after it, and do something so spectacular… Guess what?” said Flood. “You get a small award from the United Way as a hero of Southington, Conn.”
Sirignano said that it was an important way to give back after surviving the ordeal. “I’m so proud to be part of this town,” she said.
The United Way of Southington also recognized their new and continuing board of directors: Dr. Angelo Coppola, Rosemary DeFeo, Terry D’Onofrio, Joanne Fabrycki, Flood, Brendan Goodrich, David Harrington, Taylor Hartz, Mark Hushak, Ralph Ingriselli, Denise Lewicki-Wiseman, Barbara Mackay, Cynthia Martel, Mary Morgan, Joanne Muralo, Marc Pelletier, Art Secondo, Gail Sckrzypiec, and Ruth Warner.
“We look forward to continuing our partnership with you as together we live our mission of ‘Southington People Helping Southington People,’” Eisenmann wrote in the evening’s program.