NAUGATUCK — More than 20 years ago, Lee Schlesinger was working as an accountant at Naugatuck Valley Savings and Loan on Church Street when a woman named Mary Connolly asked him to get involved in the United Way.
“Nobody ever says no to Mary Connolly,” said Schlesinger, now 52, of Waterbury. “She just has that kind of personality.”
Connolly’s encouragement led Schlesinger to become deeply involved in charity work, which this year has earned him a community service award — named after Mary Connolly — from the United Way of Naugatuck & Beacon Falls.
Schlesinger, a borough native, said he was shocked to hear he was this year’s recipient of the Mary Connolly Community Caring Award.
“I was kind of bowled over,” he said. “I know some of the past recipients, and to be included with this group of people was very humbling.”
While working as an accountant at the local bank for 29 years, Schlesinger served on the United Way’s Board of Directors for two terms. He was treasurer for nine years and a member of the Allocations Committee, which controls the distribution of funds to local service agencies.
His involvement led him to meet Peggy Panagrossi, executive director of Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury, who offered him a job as her associate director. He left the bank and has been working since October for the organization, which supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Schlesinger said he will transition into the job of executive director when Panagrossi retires.
“It’s nicer to have a purpose at the end of the day,” Schlesinger said. “It’s the only program of its kind in this area.”
Schlesinger has also served as president of the board of directors of the Morris Foundation, which provided mental health and addiction services and is now part of Wellmore. For the past 12 years, he has been co-chairman of the finance committee for the Greater Waterbury Relay for Life, accounting for donations and submitting them to the American Cancer Society.
He has also volunteered for the Special Olympics Penguin Plunge.
Schlesinger was the only recipient last year of the United Way’s Van Allen Medal, which honors the chapter’s behind-the-scenes contributors. He has received awards from the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Morris Foundation.
“He’s just a good person,” said Lisa Shappy, executive director of the United Way of Naugatuck & Beacon Falls. “Well liked, knows his community, does a lot, if you need help and he’s available, he’s always ready.”
Schlesinger will be honored April 11 at the United Way’s 50th annual meeting at The Crystal Room, 98 School St. The evening’s guest speaker will be Trish Torello, actress and sales manager of WATR Radio. Van Allen medals will also be presented to 50 volunteers from the organization’s history to mark the United Way’s 50th anniversary and the Silver Bowl Award will be given to the company with the highest increase in corporate and employee donations and participation.
For more information, call the United Way office at (203) 729-1564.