United Way exceeds campaign goal

United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls President Yvette Wilmot, left, presents Campaign Chairman David Rotatori with the Campaign Chairman Award during the United Way’s 55th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner March 22 at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — As chairman of the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls’ annual campaign, David Rotatori spoke in front of groups, companies and potential contributors to drum up support.

Rotatori would tell stories about the benefits offered by the United Way’s partner agencies, and inevitably someone in the crowd would tell a story about someone who received benefits from one of the partner agencies.

His favorite stories, though, are the ones about people who received benefits, got to the point where they could help themselves and then gave back to the community.

That cycle is really why the United Way exists, said Rotatori as he addressed the crowd at the United Way’s 55th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner March 22 at the Crystal Room.

“The United Way is really the engine for that, making these things happen, helping people help themselves so that they can help other people,” Rotatori said.

None of that would be possible without campaign contributors, Rotatori said.

Rotatori announced the campaign not only met its goal of $415,000 but exceeded it by raising $450,000.

“I knew we were going to surpass the goal, but by how much I wasn’t sure. I knew that with David in charge we were going to get there,” United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls Executive Director Lisa Shappy said.

Through the campaign, the United Way distributed $251,520 to help fund 27 programs administered by 17 local nonprofit agencies, including youth athletic leagues. The campaign also raised funds that were designated by donors for agencies outside of the area, and a portion of the funds is used to run the United Way.

The reach of agencies funded by the United Way stretches well beyond the borders of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.

For nearly the last four years, Christine Tote has taken the ride from her home in Stratford to Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center in Naugatuck with her 8-year-old son, Phineas, on Fridays.

United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls Executive Director Lisa Shappy, second from the right, talks about Van Allen Medal recipients Howard Rosenblatt, left, and police Officer Caroline O’Bar, right, as United Way board member Marcelo Martins listens March 22 during the United Way’s 55th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Hidden Acres is a nonprofit located on a farm at the end of Gabriel Drive that provides therapeutic equine-assisted activities to people with physical, emotional or developmental disabilities, and one of the 17 local agencies to receive funding from the United Way.

Phineas has Angelman syndrome, a rare neuro-genetic disorder that includes developmental delays, lack of speech, seizures, and walking and balance disorders, according to the Angelman Syndrome Foundation’s website.

Phineas almost died when he was born, Tote said, and a physical therapist told the family he would probably never walk. But, last week, Phineas walked by his mother’s side as she made her way to the podium to address the crowd at the Crystal Room.

Tote said the program at Hidden Acres has helped her son physically and emotionally, and Phineas has stopped going to physical therapy because he gets more out of horseback riding.

“He has grown so much by riding,” Tote said.

Tote said programs like Hidden Acres are hard to come by. She credited the program for helping Phineas progress “from a kid who almost didn’t make to here he is now walking on his own, doing things people told us he wouldn’t do.”

The United Way also took time at the annual meeting to honor the businesses and individuals that support the United Way and the community.

Mary H. Connolly Community Caring Award recipient Pat Peterson speaks after accepting the award March 22 during the United Way’s 55th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Ion Bank received the Silver Bowl Award, which is given to the company that has the largest increase in employee giving, corporate giving and employee participation.

Paul and Lisa Fitzpatrick, Howard Rosenblatt and police Officer Caroline O’Bar were recognized with the Van Allen Medal, which is given to individuals who exhibit extraordinary community service.

The highlight of the evening’s honors went to longtime volunteer Pat Peterson, who received the Mary H. Connolly Community Caring Award.

The award is given annually to recognize an individual or individuals who have demonstrated outstanding support to the United Way and the entire community.

“I try to be passionate and intentional in what I do, and I truly believe from the very bottom of my heart that that will change lives and make a difference one person at a time,” Peterson said.

Peterson took a moment to recognize the United Way’s partner agencies. She said it’s these agencies and others in the community that work tirelessly to help people that are struggling.

“We do what we do because you do what you do,” Peterson said.