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Hometown Heroes

The United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWC) has recently chosen Hometown Heroes and Emerging Hometown Heroes for the region, including two residents each from New Fairfield and Sherman. Hometown Hero award winners are Theodore “Ted” Hollander of Sherman and Noah Alviti of New Fairfield. Emerging Hometown Heroes are Jeremy Perillo of New Fairfield and Avery Putnam of Sherman.

The 4th annual Hometown Heroes program aims to recognize and applaud local residents who have a strong history of community service. UWWCs website describes a Hometown Hero as someone who is “distinguished through their philanthropy and volunteerism.” The Emerging Heroes category is new for this year and celebrates the successes of young adults in community service.

Nominees were selected based on a number of criteria, including achievement, action, commitment, impact, and initiative. UWWCs CEO, Kim Morgan, says of the award selection process, “I am always struck by the incredible impact everyday people have in their communities. They see a need or problem, oftentimes due to personal experiences or tragedy, and find a way to make it better for others. It instills hope and a confidence that each one of us can make a difference no matter who we are, and that our communities are great places to live because of all the hometown heroes.”

Ted Hollander is described by UWWC as being “active and engaged in the Sherman community …for more than 40 years. A distinguished author, he is the current president of FISH (Friends in Service Here), a current member of the Sherman Planning and Zoning Commission (former President), past chairman of the Sherman Board of Education, past chairman of the New Milford Hospital Board of Directors, past president of the Naromi Land Trust and past president of the Sherman Library.”

Ted believes that “there are endless opportunities to serve neighbors in need and to participate in community organizations and charities, both of which rely on volunteers. Most of us spend a certain amount of time on social and recreational endeavors…we can certainly adjust our schedules to devote a few hours here or there, or an evening every week or month or so, helping others.” He went on to say that “Once involved in community service, we find that, not only are we providing much needed assistance to others, but, while faced with the day to day difficult challenges in our lives, we achieve a sense of satisfaction just knowing that we are accomplishing something worthwhile when we help out in our community.”

Hometown Hero, Noah Alviti, is described by UWWC as “A 2017 graduate of New Fairfield High School who…led a complex and challenging project to construct a multi-purpose turf field in New Fairfield to benefit all members of the community across all ages. The field will be named in memory of 2011 New Fairfield High School graduate and standout All-State lacrosse player John Pendergast, Jr., who passed away in June 2013 at the age of 21…Noah, in his senior year at New Fairfield High School came up with the idea to construct the field in memory of John Jr. and has raised more than $130,000, to cover all the costs. He worked diligently through the Town’s permitting and approval processes to see this project through. In addition to fundraising, he has spent more than 500 hours physically working on the field and operating various equipment throughout construction.”

Noah says that he started the project for several reasons, “I recognized the two existing turf fields in town were the result of hard work, dedication and investment by prior generations which I benefited from while playing lacrosse and soccer as a youth and in high school.” He went on to say “I wanted to give back to the community by enhancing our facilities (as other towns were expanding and increasing their turf fields) and leave a legacy for future generations.” And finally, he noted that “The Pendergast family has done so much for the town. The passing of John John Pendergast was a tragedy and this field would be created in his memory.”

Alviti went on to say that the project wasn’t always easy, “This initial individual project truly turned into a community project with so many people financially contributing, providing labor, equipment, supporting us in town meetings, etc. The project could not have been completed without the generous help of so many people such as Coach Marty Morgan, John Pendergast, my father, my Uncle Jeff and so many others that the list of people would be over a hundred. With this support, I learned to finish what I started and not give up. The most important insight I have realized about myself from this project is that when I start something, I will finish it.”

Jeremy Perillo, a senior at New Fairfield High School, is receiving the Emerging Hero Award for New Fairfield. UWWC pointed to Jeremy’s accomplishments “conducting crutch drives for the past four years, collecting unneeded crutches, walkers and other mobility devices in New Fairfield and other surrounding towns. Jeremy has been successful in collecting more than 400 devices, which he delivers to the Americares warehouse in Stamford for distribution around the world. In addition to serving as class president and captain of the cross-country team, Jeremy is also an Eagle Scout with Troop 42 and Junior Assistant Scout Master.”

Jeremy points to Boy Scouts as his inspiration for community service, saying it “is something that we do all the time. Whether it is within the troop or individually, it becomes a part of who you are. I believe that many students see community service as a chore or requirement which is why they don’t get involved. I think there is an opportunity to change that mindset. Students can find a cause that they are passionate about and get involved. If there is something you are interested in you can figure out how to use your skills and talent to give back.”

He described the impetus for his rolling crutch drive, “After my first Crutch Drive in 2013, I reached out to the Crutches 4 Kids organization to get an idea of where my collected items went. They told me that some of my items were sent to help people in the Colorado flood in addition to being sent overseas. This was eye opening to me and has stuck with me ever since. To think that my small collection drive, in a few small towns in Connecticut, was helping people who were experiencing a horrible disaster was truly something I will remember and cherish for a long time. I was able to change peoples’ lives by collecting something that someone was going to throw away, influencing me to do the drive year after year.”

A fellow senior at New Fairfield High School, Emerging Hero Avery Putnam from Sherman, is described by UWWC as having “distinguished herself as committed volunteer. She has participated in the Youth Volunteer Corps since 2015, serves on the Youth Advisory Board and was recently called to serve on the Youth Advisory Corps International Youth Board. Avery has traveled and volunteered with Rustic Pathways which integrates education, travel, and philanthropy in a world where all people are connected by a shared humanity. Through this organization, Avery has traveled to Fiji, Peru, Southeast Asia and Tanzania.”

Avery hopes that other students will “volunteer in communities within their local town as well as in places that are unfamiliar to them.” She went on to say that “I believe that stereotypes are one of the largest issues that youth face today. This occasionally discourages them from branching outside of their comfort zone. I have made friends locally, nationally, and even internationally through service trips and workshops, and I maintain contact with them despite the distances. Service is greatly centered around teamwork and problem solving. This results in a great sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life. Most people view community service as a graduation requirement. I would instead challenge my peers not to focus only on getting past graduation – but to give back and make a difference to benefit both themselves and others.”

She says that as she looks “…toward the future, I hope to work with nonprofit organizations and volunteer as much as possible. One of my favorite volunteer events is the Special Olympics Time Trials, which I do with my mother every year. I hope that when I am an adult, I continue this volunteering tradition with my friends and family. I also plan to promote community service to youth and to educate them on the importance of service. An increase in volunteerism will ultimately promote kindness among the next generation of students, and create more peaceful and accepting communities.”

The local heroes will be honored at the Hometown Heroes Benefit Dinner, on Saturday, December 2, 2017 at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury. Proceeds from the Hometown Heroes Benefit Dinner will benefit United Way’s ALICE Enrichment Fund, which provides funding for children from struggling households to engage in extracurricular activities. Tickets for the event are now available at www.uwwesternct.org/hometownheroes.

By Sarah Opdahl