Club to honor champions of the community

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NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Exchange Club will recognize five outstanding members of the community at its 16th annual Community Champions Dinner.

This year’s community champions are Charles Marenghi, who was named educator of the year, Stephen B. Hebb, who was named firefighter of the year, Kevin Zainc, who was named police officer of the year, and Kevin and Sondra Zak, who were named co-citizens of the year.

The annual dinner, which is also one of the club’s main fundraisers, is March 14 at the Crystal Room, 98 School St. Cocktail hour is at 5:30 p.m. and dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the dinner are $40. For more information or to buy tickets, call Nancy Buckmiller at 203-232-8338.

Co-citizens of the Year

Kevin and Sondra Zak, husband and wife, are diligent advocates of the Naugatuck River and wildlife. They work tirelessly to clean up the river, promote its natural beauty and protect it from harm.

Kevin Zak, 57, started by picking up litter along the river and went on to become one of the founders of the Naugatuck River Revival Group. He helped to establish the first Naugatuck River Canoe & Kayak Race in 2008.

In 2012, the Naugatuck River Revival Group received an $11,000 grant to buy video cameras and computers to document wildlife along the Naugatuck River. Kevin Zak launched Over The Edge Productions and has spent thousands of hours filming wildlife in and around the river. He has produced videos about the Naugatuck River, local homelessness and bird of prey rescues.

Sondra Zak’s work with the Naugatuck River also began by cleaning it of trash and debris, often by herself. She has been recognized for her work with the Housatonic Valley Association’s Montgomery Hare Environmental Defender Award and by the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut as their Environmental Champion.

Sondra Zak, who is executive director of the Naugatuck River Revival Group, also rescues, assists in treatment and releases birds of prey for A Place Called Hope in Killingworth. She has volunteered at the Ansonia Nature Center and the Naugatuck Historical Society.

She does all this, including picking up trash along local streets and highways, in her spare time.

Sondra Zak works for Clean Earth in Plainville making sure contaminated soil is properly processed.

She is currently exploring the Pequabuck River in Bristol on foot and looking for ways to clean this river as she has the Naugatuck River. She has created her company’s first Clean Earth Day 2017 and will lead employees into the Pequabuck River to clean it.

Educator of the Year

Charles Marenghi, a sixth-grade teacher at Cross Street Intermediate School, moved to Naugatuck from Massachusetts when he was 7 years old and is a product of Naugatuck public schools.

Marenghi, a Naugatuck resident, graduated from Naugatuck High School in 1986 and went to study music education and trombone performance at Western Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut, and Central Connecticut State University. He served in the 102nd United States Army Band from 1990 to 1996.

Marenghi began his education career in Naugatuck as a long-term substitute and tutor in 1997. He earned his Master’s Degree in educational leadership from Central Connecticut State University in 2007.

Marenghi is very active in the community, including with the Union City Little League, the Howard Whittemore Library Board of Trustees and the Naugatuck Arts Commission. He has received multiple recognitions over the years, including the Naugatuck Alumni Association Award, Paul Harris Fellow Rotary Award, Robert Genovese Patriotism Award, and the Franklin Johnson Citizen of the Year Award. Most recently, he was selected as Naugatuck’s Teacher of the Year for 2016-17.

Firefighter of the Year

Stephen B. Hebb, a lifelong resident of Naugatuck, began his emergency services career in 1987 by joining the Naugatuck Volunteer Ambulance Corps as a way to fulfill the community service requirement to graduate from Sacred Heart High School.

Hebb became certified as an EMT in 1988 and licensed as a paramedic in 1991. While volunteering as an EMT, he also volunteered with the former Naugatuck Volunteer Fire Company #1 and the Naugatuck Volunteer Rescue Squad.

In 1997, Hebb was appointed a career firefighter for the Naugatuck Fire Department. He was promoted to firefighter/assistant mechanic two years later. He is also as a part-time emergency services dispatcher for Northwest Connecticut Public Safety and for the Naugatuck Police Department.

Hebb has assisted the fire department with a few large projects, including working to place AEDs in both firehouses in Naugatuck, all fire apparatus as well as numerous town buildings.

Hebb has received numerous awards and recognitions over his 29 years in the emergency services, including include a Naugatuck Fire Department Unit Citation, EMS Life Saver Award from Waterbury Hospital and Paramedic of the Year from VEMS.

Police Officer of the Year

Detective Kevin Zainc has spent the past 12 years with the Naugatuck Police Department.

He started in 2005 working patrol on the evening shift. In May of 2008, Zainc was selected to serve as the police department’s first narcotics canine handler. Zainc and his partner “Pete” served as a narcotics detection canine team until Pete’s retirement on Dec. 31, 2012. The following day, Zainc began his current assignment with the department’s detective division. His primary focus is on narcotics activity and other vice-related crimes.

Zainc, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp., has earned two Unit Citation awards and a Meritorious Service award during his career.

He received his first unit citation for his actions on Aug. 28, 2009 when he assisted in apprehending an armed and barricaded subject, who had fired a handgun from inside his residence and intended to take his own life. The second unit citation was awarded for his actions on Oct. 19, 2012 when he assisted in locating an armed suicidal male party in a wooded area off of Water Street.

Zainc received the Meritorious Service award for investigating a homicide that occurred in Naugatuck in January of 2013 in which the victim was thrown from a fourth-story window. His efforts during this investigation resulted in the arrest and conviction of two men.