NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Exchange Club will recognize four outstanding members of the community at its 13th annual Community Champions Dinner.
The annual dinner will be held March 11 at the Crystal Room, 98 School St., beginning at 5:30 p.m.
During the dinner the club will present an award to the Citizen of the Year, the Police Officer of the Year, the Firefighter of the Year and the Educator of the Year.
Exchange Club President Nancy Buckmiller said each of the award recipients was chosen by their peers. She said the dinner is the club’s way of recognizing the great people in the Naugatuck community.
“The Naugatuck Exchange Club recognizes that we have a great community. Our community supports our club and we want to give back to them,” Buckmiller said.
In addition to recognizing the members of the community the event is one of the club’s four main fundraisers throughout the year.
The event helps the club raise money to aid in its support of the community, which includes donating to the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank, supporting a youth basketball team, working towards the prevention of child abuse and providing scholarships for two Naugatuck students.
The event had 300 tickets available and they were selling fast, Buckmiller said last week. Tickets are $40 and can be bought by calling Buckmiller at (203) 232-8338.
“It’s our way of showing what great citizens we have in our community. The community speaks in volumes in the way they come out and embrace the banquet,” Buckmiller said.
Citizen of the Year
Wendy Murphy, president of the Naugatuck Historical Society, is the 2014 Exchange Club Citizen of the Year.
Murphy, 43, moved to Naugatuck from Chicago, Ill. 21 years ago.
Murphy said she first became involved in volunteering in the community while her children were in school — helping out at fundraisers, flea markets, bingo, concession stands.
Murphy joined the Naugatuck Historical Society in 2007. By 2008, she was secretary of the Board of Directors.
In 2010, Murphy became the president of board, a position she has held ever since.
According to a release from the Exchange Club, Murphy has added social media, including the Charles Goodyear Facebook page, a monthly electronic newsletter and other online marketing tools to the historical society.
Murphy has also helped increase family programs, added evening hours to the museum, and connected with local businesses though events such as Savor CT.
In addition to the increased programs at the museum, Murphy also holds school programs on a variety of topics.
Murphy said she was surprised to learn that she had been chosen as the Citizen of the Year.
“It means a lot,” Murphy said. “I’m not from Naugatuck. I’m originally from Chicago. I’m here by choice. I’m quite honored to be considered a Naugatuckian. It’s quite humbling to be accepted and welcomed into this community.”
Educator of the Year
Carolyn Laurentus, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at City Hill Middle School, is the 2014 Exchange Club Educator of the Year.
Laurentus, a 53-year-old Woodbury resident, has been teaching in Naugatuck public schools for 28 years. For the first 25 years of her career, Laurentus taught at Hillside Intermediate School. She moved to City Hill three years ago.
“I just always wanted to be a either a teacher or a nurse,” Laurentus said.
While attending Marquette College on a basketball scholarship, Laurentus chose to pursue a career in teaching.
Laurentus graduated from Marquette in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing. In 1985, Laurentus earned her master’s degree in curriculum from Western Connecticut State University. She earned her sixth year degree in administration from Southern Connecticut State University in 1994.
Laurentus’ passion for teaching caught the attention of her peers.
“A professor once told me that as teachers we wear many hats. It wasn’t until I met Carolyn that I truly understood what my professor was talking about,” eighth-grade science teacher Mario DiLorenzo wrote in a letter nominating Laurentus for Teacher of the Year. “Carolyn is a mother to those who need one, a mentor for those who need a guide, and a counselor assisting our students through what is quite possibly the most challenging time of their lives. She gives up her own lunch periods most days to have lunch with some of her students as a way to connect with them and let them know she cares about their lives in more than just an academic sense. Carolyn also has a natural way of making her students feel loved, cherished, wanted, welcomed, and special all while teaching them the skills they need in order to become successful lifelong learners.”
Laurentus said she was stunned when she found out she had been named Educator of the Year.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s so humbling. I just never thought I would win an award like this,” Laurentus said. “It’s the shining spot in my career.”
Laurentus said the award isn’t just hers, but a reflection of everyone in the district.
“It’s not just an island here, it is everyone working together,” Laurentus said. “I share it with everyone.”
Police Officer of the Year
Naugatuck police Officer Americo Tavares is the 2014 Exchange Club Police Officer of the Year.
Tavares, 46, has worked as a police officer in the borough for 17 years.
Tavares, a Naugatuck native, said he became interested in being a police officer because he wanted to work with people and the community he lived in.
“Since I grew up in Naugatuck I wanted to reach out and serve and protect the town I live in,” Tavares said.
Tavares said he was honored to win the Police Officer of the Year award.
“It’s a great honor because, working as a Naugatuck police officer, it shows that I’m very happy with what I am doing,” Tavares said.
Other members of the department are also happy with what Tavares has been doing.
“Officer Tavares has spent the majority of his career on the midnight patrol shift, earning the continued respect of his peers and supervisors as well as the Department’s Medal for Meritorious services twice in 2008 — once for his involvement in the apprehension of three armed suspects in a violent home invasion and once for his diligent patrol work, which led to the significant recovery of stolen property,” Chief Christopher Edson wrote in a letter nominating Tavares for the award.
Edson wrote that Tavares also earned three commendatory letters in 2006 and 2007, each for the “skilled apprehension in burglaries and motor vehicle thefts in the borough.”
Tavares said he was excited to receive this award and he looked forward to continuing to work as a police officer serving and protecting the residents of the borough.
Firefighter of the Year
Fire Chief and life-long Naugatuck resident Ken Hanks is the 2014 Exchange Club Firefighter of the Year.
Hanks, 53, has been a firefighter for 32 years, serving the first three years as a volunteer in Naugatuck before being hired by the Naugatuck Fire Department. He was promoted to chief in 2010.
Although he has been with the department for more than three decades, Hanks said, the time has flown by.
“It doesn’t feel like I’ve been there this long. It goes by quick,” Hanks said.
Although he has risen through the ranks of the department, this was not a job Hanks saw himself doing when he was young.
“Every kid wanted to be a firefighter, but that was the last thing on my mind,” Hanks said in a previous interview.
However, after a few of his friends convinced him to volunteer with the department, Hanks knew it was the place for him.
“I joined up and got hooked,” Hanks said.
In addition to working in the borough, Hanks is an instructor for the Wolcott Regional Fire School and the Connecticut Fire Academy in the Hazardous Materials and Fire Officer programs.
Paul Russell, second assistant fire chief, said Hanks never takes a day off from working on behalf of the community.
“He puts the town ahead of everything in his life, besides his family,” Russell said. “The Naugatuck Fire Department is his full-time job, his part-time job, one of his loves and his passion.”
Hanks said he’s honored to receive this award.
“It means a lot because it was something my peers nominated me for. That means a lot, to be recognized by your coworkers,” Hanks said.
The Republican American contributed to this article.