Darien Times: Community Fund honors volunteers on annual recognition day

Front) Connor Baity, MacKenzie Coughlin (Back) Connor Mulliken, Felix Rooney, Alex Berardino

Front) Connor Baity, MacKenzie Coughlin (Back) Connor Mulliken, Felix Rooney, Alex Berardino

By Kevin Webb on May 22, 2015

The spirit of volunteerism flows freely through Darien, empowering the many projects, programs and organizations that give the town its identity. Each year, The Community Fund of Darien creates an opportunity for those special individuals who give their time and energy to receive the appreciation they deserve, during Darien Volunteer Recognition Day.

Friday, May 15 marked the 36th annual Darien Volunteer Recognition Day as proclaimed by First Selectman Jayme Stevenson. Volunteers and local leaders convened at the Darien Community Association for a celebratory luncheon, sharing words and hors d’oeuvres during the warm spring afternoon.

“Darien’s volunteers educate, motivate, activate and inspire people in our town to get involved and make a real difference, thus enriching the lives of all who give and receive, demonstrating that ours in a giving community,” Stevenson wrote in a proclamation read by State Rep. Terrie Wood.

Wood added, “our community is so blessed with so many people who bring so much good spirit, and thank you to everyone in this room for doing what you do,”

Masters seamstress Babs White was honored with the Obie Harrington-Howes Community Spirit Award, which is given each year in recognition of a lifetime of volunteer work. White has donated her skills to the Darien Historical Society every week, dating back to 1970. Over the last 45 years, she has helped to craft generations worth of costumes for Historical Society exhibitions, organizing a team of a dozen fellow volunteers to make events like Ladies ‘ Night Out possible.

When the work is done behind the scenes, White steps forward to curate the shows as well, leading hundreds of vistors through history of the exhibits. She is involved in other areas of the town as well, serving on Darien’s Architectural Review Board and on the DCA’s Art Lecture’s Community. In 2011, White received the Garden Club of America Appreciation Award for more than 50 years of service to the Darien chapter.

Darien’s volunteer spirit has been proven to possess both young and old, as evidenced by the efforts of Darien High School students like Connor Mulliken, who was honored for his work with the Carver Center. During the course of his time with the Carver Center, Connor has helped with major projects like the Thanksgiving Food Drive and Halloween Party, but also helps students with their homework assignments.

Perhaps the giving youth of Darien learn it from their parents, who volunteer their time both at home and in the community. Darien High School Parents Association co-chair Margot Congdon was recognized for her contributions to the school, having led the organization for the last two years. DHS Principal Ellen Dunn thanked Congdon for being “generous with her time and talent,” in her nomination.

Volunteers can often act as ambassadors for the town, selflessly putting forward goodwill in the hope that it will spread. The Board of Selectmen chose to nominate Geri Genovese after she helped organize a group of volunteers to welcome visitors to the Mather Center and give tours of the newly built facility. Mather Center nominee Cathy O’Berle is one of several faces that greet guests at the welcome desk and has been working with the Darien Senior Program for more than 15 years. A longtime teacher in town, O’Berle now instructs crafting activities at the center as well.

Some of Darien’s volunteer activities require the efforts of a full team or even a full town to accomplish.The Darien Youth Commission managed to organize more than 500 people to set a Guiness World Record for the world’s largest arms-linked toast. Led by Connor Baity, Alex Berandino and Felix Rooney and advised by Youth Director Alicia Sillars, the DYC project brought the community together quite literally. Beyond putting Darien down in the record book, the toast also collected donations for Person-to-Person’s food pantry and Stuff-a-truck.

Of course, these are just a handful of the humble volunteers honored last week, but they all set a tremendous example of what can be accomplished with just a bit of time, effort and outreach.

“When you start to feel hopeless or worried about the future, toady’s the day to look back on,” Community Fund Executive Director Carrie Bernier said at the luncheon. “Because today is about how, it’s about the power and difference that one person can make. And this collective power in the room is impressive.”