Borough honors activist on Earth Day

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Naugatuck’s 2015 Earth Day Mayor for the Day Melissa Leonard addresses the crowd during a ceremony in front of Town Hall on April 22, Earth Day. –LUKE MARSHALL
Naugatuck’s 2015 Earth Day Mayor for the Day Melissa Leonard addresses the crowd during a ceremony in front of Town Hall on April 22, Earth Day. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck’s 2015 Earth Day Mayor for the Day has a message for all borough residents: you can make a difference.

“I once heard about a state representative who got a phone call about a bill to prevent school bus idling. Initially he knew nothing about the bill, but by the time the fifth person called him, he’d become a co-sponsor. The fifth person. There are 3.5 million people in the state of Connecticut. And all it took was five phone calls to get this representative to sponsor the bill. Please remember that the next time you think you don’t have any power,” said Melissa Leonard, an environmental activist.

Leonard was honored April 22, Earth Day, during a ceremony at Town Hall.

Leonard, a Naugatuck native, is the former president of the Naugatuck Land Trust. She also serves on the Naugatuck Environmental Network and the Committee for a Cultural/Environmental Center on Gunntown Road.

Leonard said her involvement helping the environment came about in part from growing up in Naugatuck.

“As a Naugatuck native, I appreciate how far this town has come environmentally. I’m not sure what’s made me the conservationist that I am today, but I suspect that seeing the polluted river and smelling the fumes from the chemical may have played a part,” Leonard said.

Leonard said she expects every person to care for the environment as much as she does.

“I’ve been told that I have very high expectations of people. Of course, I don’t think they’re high. I just want everyone every day to think about how they can help our planet,” Leonard said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said the borough is lucky to have someone like Leonard fighting to take care of the environment.

“There’s no other person who’s been as consistent and dedicated of an ambassador at promoting the environment than Melissa Leonard,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said Leonard has been working for a cleaner environment since he was serving as a burgess.

“She is a pleasure to work with and she is one of those folks that, when she speaks on an issue, you pay a lot of credence to what she says because of that passion she has, because of the knowledge she brings,” Mezzo said. “We may not always agree on every issue, but she’s always going to be there for the right reasons. Those are the kind of folks that make a community special.”

Leonard said people often feel they are too busy, but taking care of the environment is something everyone needs to choose to do.

“And so today that’s what I’m asking people to do — choose to make a difference. ‘Every day is Earth Day’ isn’t just a cute slogan. This planet that sustains us is being mistreated and we need to do something about it now,” Leonard said.

Leonard said even small actions can make a big difference.

“You don’t have to go climb an oil rig in the Arctic with Greenpeace, just start small,” Leonard said. “Speak up about something that concerns you, or teach a child how and why to recycle or drive your car less or buy local, organic produce. Change is not coming from Washington, D.C., it’s coming from people like you and me and we can make an impact.”