United Way boosters honored at Builders’ Reception

By LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

Last year marked a record-breaking volunteer effort for the United Way of West Central Connecticut’s 15th Annual Day of Caring: 600 volunteers completed 55 projects for 25 local non-profit organizations.

Sponsored by United Way, this all-day event is planned by the Day of Caring 25 Committee—a group of 12 individuals from all walks of life who bring hundreds of folks together to make a difference in Bristol, Plainville, Burlington, and Plymouth/Terryville—all of the communities that United Way serves.

Last Thursday, all of these communities came together at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bristol to celebrate the collaboration of the committee, which was one of four honorees recognized during the United Way’s 15th Annual Community Builders’ Reception. The committee received the Special Initiative Award, which recognizes the collaborative impact of a special initiative in the community.

From reading to children to painting to sprucing up an outdoor facility, Day of Caring volunteers join hands in countless ways every year. Last year, the committee held a special 25th anniversary volunteer appreciation night for Day of Caring volunteers at a Bristol Blues game.

Committee member Bob Caggiano of GE said the event brings major change to these communities in just a short period of time.

“In the morning, we get a bunch of people on site and by the afternoon, we’ve done a lot of work,” said Caggiano, who recruited 120 GE employees to participate in Day of Caring. “When you step back and you look at all the amazing work done in one day—it really just warms your heart to see that kind of effort.”

Many of the volunteers who take part in these projects are not only professionals from a variety of industries, but also students from the communities served by United Way.

Committee member Mark Ziogas of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame has seen the hard work done by local youth on Day of Caring.

“The sooner we get them involved with the community, the better chance we have them being involved with the community as they become adults,” said Ziogas.

Hosted by United Way board member Jena Doolittle, this year’s reception featured the theme, “Let’s Talk United,” honoring those who truly “Live United” by giving, advocating and volunteering.

Like the Day of Caring 25 Committee, other honorees shared how being involved with United Way has made an impact on their lives, including Bristol Preschool Child Care Center, Victor Baez of GE Energy Connections and Bristol Development Authority member Michael Rivers.

Providing early care and education in the Bristol community for 47 years, Bristol Preschool received the Award for Excellence for its commitment and long history of supporting the United Way Community Campaign. The non-profit not only has supported

United Way with special event sponsorships, but also with its campaign, which has experienced a 69 percent increase since 2014.

What motivates Bristol Preschool staff, said Executive Director Shirley Anderson, is looking at what the organization has accomplished in the community.

“We have created community partners. We have reached out and exceeded. We have explained everything that we do with United Way,” said Anderson. “Once they got out into the community, they really saw what United Way does.”

Funded by the State of Connecticut, Office of Early Childhood and United Way, Bristol Preschool is a full year educationally based program that aims to assist children in their healthy, emotional, social, mental and physical development for lifelong learning.

Today, Bristol Preschool has grown to include subsidized infant and toddler care at its newly opened location at 291 Burlington Ave. (the former Jennings School).

Grants Manager Marilyn Lobaczewski recognized United Way for its support.

“Bristol Preschool relies heavily on the Bristol community, including the school and district leaders and community organizers, such as United Way. Our success would not be possible without this partnership and support,” said Lobaczewski, who also thanked Bristol Preschool staff.

Currently a partner and senior vice president of Tracy-Driscoll Insurance and Financial Services, Rivers received the Spirit of Caring Award for his generous spirit of community volunteerism and his efforts to ‘Live United.’

From serving on the Community Builders’ Reception Planning Committee to serving as campaign chairman for the city of Bristol to previously serving as chair of the United Way Board of Directors, Rivers has a 38 year-plus history with United Way activities. Outside of United Way, Rivers has served on other boards and committees, including the Bristol Hospital Parent and Child Center’s Advisory Board and the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce Economic Development Committee.

When asked how he finds time for all those volunteer hours, Rivers said it begins at home, where his wife and children have supported his community efforts. Besides his family, he also thanked his team at Tracy-Driscoll.

“We have a culture at Tracy-Driscoll that breeds volunteerism. Without them allowing me to be out on the streets doing what I do, it wouldn’t happen,” said Rivers.

Another workplace that has bred community service is GE—where Advanced Manufacturing Engineering Executive Victor Baez led a United Way campaign that incorporated team competition and team building despite a diminishing employee rate at the company’s Plainville facility. Teams that met or exceeded their goals received awards along the way. As a result of this team approach, GE was able to increase the amount per pledge by 22 percent and total participants by 36 percent, beating its internal organizational challenge.

Baez received the Lou Bachman Award for his extraordinary leadership of GE’s United Way Campaign. The award is named in honor of Lou Bachman, who was a managing editor at the Bristol Press who cared for his community professionally and through his volunteer work.

Although he was not able to attend the reception, Baez thanked his GE team in a recorded video message that United Way shared during the event.

“We decided to set it up as a team competition,” said Baez in a video message.

“We had the same goal for the organization, but each team then had small rewards as they met and exceeded their goals.”

This year, GE kicked off its United Way campaign with a site sponsored Ice Cream Social, where employees had a chance to hear from United Way—as well as those who have been served by the non-profit.

“The more you can touch the community you’re influencing and helping, it feeds,” said

Dick Jackman of GE, who accepted the award on behalf of Baez. “Competition builds passion, but passion back into the community is the biggest thing.”

Attendees gathered at the selfie station at the United Way of West Central Connecticut’s 15th annual Community Builders’ Reception held at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bristol. (AMY JOHNDRO)