Campaign a step in building ‘opportunity for all’

United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls Executive Director Lisa Shappy, center, talks with, from left, state Sen. George Logan, Waterbury native and former NFL player Christopher Ortiz, Laurie Yelding and David Brinckerhoff during the United Way’s 2018 Campaign Kickoff Sept. 20 at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Christopher Ortiz’s first introduction to the United Way came in the form of a turkey drive in New Haven when he was a student and football player at Southern Connecticut State University.

“It was an experience, meeting all the kids from the homeless shelters and seeing what they go through, and realizing what we have and how we should be able to give back,” said Ortiz, as he addressed those gathered at the Crystal Room Sept. 20 for the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls’ 2018 Campaign Kickoff.

Ortiz, who grew up in Waterbury and played wide receiver at Southern Connecticut, would go on to play professionally in the NFL, Arena Football League and the XFL. After his playing days ended, Ortiz’s path brought him back to Waterbury — he’s a teacher at Sacred Heart High School — and the United Way.

Ortiz credits his involvement with the United Way over the years for motivating him to not only start his own foundation — CO Sports Academy — but to expand it beyond sports to take on a larger community service role. The organization runs family fun nights for families in homeless shelters, works together with the Department of Children and Families, and gave out 25 scholarships and 35 awards to local students this year, including a few from Naugatuck, he said.

“The United Way has been a great inspiration,” Ortiz said.

That kind of lasting impact is what the United Way is all about, United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls President Yvette Wilmot said.

“The United Way is more than a short-term charity for a few,” Wilmot said. “We’re about lasting solutions that build opportunity for all.”

Dave Rogers, center, talks to United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls Campaign Chairman Ken Healy, left, and John Healy during the United Way’s 2018 Campaign Kickoff Sept. 20 at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Building those opportunities starts with the United Way’s annual fundraising campaign. This year, the goal is to raise $415,000, which is the same goal as last year’s campaign.

“I think that we have a great team assembled, and we have many partner agencies that we support that we’re really excited about what they do for our communities,” said Campaign Chair Kenneth Healy, a certified public accountant with Diversified Financial Solutions. “I feel we have an obligation to continue to support them.”

Through the campaign, the United Way helps fund programs at about 20 local partner agencies, including youth athletic leagues.

Wilmot stressed the money raised in Naugatuck and Beacon Falls, stays in the communities.

“The needs in our community are growing faster than we can raise funds,” said Wilmot as she addressed the crowd. “So I hope each of you will do what it takes to make the 2018-2019 campaign a success.”