SOUTHINGTON - YMCA staff were joined by a large crowd of community supporters Wednesday as they honored exemplary residents and celebrated its 90th anniversary.
The annual meeting at the Aqua Turf Club was attended by parents, teachers, Town Council members, Southington Chamber of Commerce members, members of nonprofit organizations and numerous other community stakeholders.
Tables were decorated with YMCA Camp Sloper history books and wooden tents made by kids at the YMCA’s after-school programs. They were decorated with things they liked about the Y, including “hike,” “smile,” and “fun.” Binders were also laid out on tables with newspaper articles and photos from the Y over the past 90 years.
There was also a stage show featuring “The Greatest Gifts of 1949.” These included Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a minimum wage increase, the Mercury 8 car, the local YMCA installing a bowling alley, the Yankees winning the World Series, the birth of YMCA staff member Nancy Bauman, the birth of Billy Joel, the invention of Silly Putty - which was given as gifts at each table - and the donation of the land that would become YMCA Camp Sloper to the Y in Cornelia Sloper Neal’s will.
YMCA CEO Mark Pooler and YMCA Board President Dan Daigle welcomed the guests. Daigle also reported on the YMCA’s many recent successes in a business report.
“2018 was another great year, which we ended in a positive position for the 19th time in 20 years,” Daigle said. “We added many new programs - like pickle ball for seniors - and services and saw a significant increase in members. YMCA Camp Sloper broke records with more than 800 children in two sessions and 3,388 over the summer. We’ve also added disability programs and our childcare numbers are up. We brought in $500,000 in contributed income which we put right back into the Southington community.”
Sarah McAuliffe, a junior at St. Paul Catholic High School and one of the Youth Leadership Award recipients, then spoke about how the YMCA has helped her to grow as a person.
“I’m so honored to have received this award and to be counted with the people who received it in the past,” she said.
McAuliffe said that she and her family have volunteered at the Y for many years. She has helped out with the annual Race4Chase and worked her first year as a counselor at YMCA Camp Sloper last summer.
The other Youth Leadership Award recipient, Caitlin Mulligan, later provided remarks to close out the meeting.
“It’s an honor I’m very happy to get,” said Mulligan. “I work hard at the Y and do a lot of volunteering over the holidays and during the Apple Harvest Festival and I close three times a week. I’ve had a lot of good experiences.”
John DeMello Sr. was named the Y’s Person of the Year for years of service to local veterans. A longtime member of the Veterans Committee, DeMello and his team work to make sure veterans know what resources are available to help them and how they can access them.
“We’re a resource to veterans and their families,” said DeMello, who attended the event with his son, who had just joined the Air Force. “We help them to navigate the VA system and also direct them to town resources that help them such as Community Services and Bread for Life.”
DeMello said that receiving the award was “amazing.”
“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I remember I used to go to the Y in the ’60s for roller skating. It was a lot different back then, but the YMCA is just an amazing asset to the community. I’m really honored to be the recipient, but I’m just one of many people who do a lot of great work in this community. I can’t take all the credit.”
Youth development awards were presented to Best Buddies, Unified Theater and Unified Sports.
Susan Albert, Natalie Foligno, Kate Barner, Josh Maccione and Michal Maino accepted the award for Best Buddies. Maccione explained that Best Buddies is a friendship club at Southington High School that has been running for 15 years. It gives students of all ages, with and without disabilities, a chance to play games and go to sporting events together and have fun socializing.
“We put in a lot of hard work to get everyone together and plan parties,” said Maccione. “It feels good to be recognized.”
Marguerite Maddalena, head coach of Unified Sports, said she founded the program 13 years ago. It sees students with and without disabilities playing soccer and basketball, bowling and doing track and field together. About 100 students participate each year.
“I was shocked to hear we were receiving this award,” said Maddalena. “It’s a nice recognition. What we do has an impact on kids on and off the field. They stay friends and go to movies and parties together and have lunch together. It’s all about inclusion and acceptance.”
“I’m very excited for the program to be highlighted,” said Karen Cavanaugh of Unified Theater. “It’s such an amazing program where kids are treated as equals. This is our ninth year and we have close to 100 students of all abilities including 12 student leaders.”
St. Paul’s Common Good Garden received the Healthy Living Award. The Rev. Suzannah Rohman, Christie Kuriger and Paula Leibowicz were there to accept it.
“The garden, which is in its third year, grows vegetables to help Bread For Life prepare hot meals and deliver them to the homebound,” said Rohman.
Leibowicz added that she and Kuriger are “master gardeners” and use the garden as an opportunity to mentor local teens and promote healthy eating.
“We are very humbled to receive this award,” said Leibowicz. “It was totally unexpected. We just have a passion for gardening so it’s not a job for us.”
Fancy Bagels was given the Social Responsibility Award.
Jackie Gaultieri of Fancy Bagels accepted the award along with her son, Dominick Gaultieri, who co-owns Fancy Bagels with Sal Becaro.
She said Fancy Bagels, which has been in town for 30 years, has done fundraisers for local sports teams, drama clubs, veterans and more.
“It’s an honor,” said Gaultieri. “We do everything from the heart and we didn’t expect any of this. It’s amazing.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.