United Way’s reach celebrated at meeting

Mary H. Connolly Community Caring Award recipient Karen Ambari Longo, right, talks with Laurie Yelding during the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls’ 54th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner March 23 at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — Over the years, Kathy Doran and her daughter, Kaleigh, have had their ups and downs — more so than the average mother-daughter relationship.

Kaleigh, who will turn 17 years old this year, was diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder at a young age.

Standing before the more than 100 people that came together for the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls’ 54th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner March 23 at the Crystal Room, Doran told the crowd about their journey the last 17 years.

Doran spoke of Kaleigh’s violent outbursts at home and at school. When Kaleigh was in first grade, Doran said, she told her pediatrician she didn’t know what to do. That’s when Kaleigh’s pediatrician referred them to the former Child Guidance Clinic of Greater Waterbury, which now goes by the name of Wellmore Behavioral Health.

Wellmore, a nonprofit organization based in Waterbury with an office in Naugatuck, provides a variety of behavioral health care services for children and adults. For the past 11 years, the organization has been there to help Doran and her daughter navigate their journey.

“When I thought there was no hope, Wellmore was a light at the end of the tunnel,” Doran said.

Whether helping to find the right medication to aid Kaleigh, providing outpatient services, or manning a 24-hour emergency phone line to call when things get out of hand, Doran said it’s a blessing to have somewhere to turn and she is forever grateful for Wellmore.

Without Wellmore’s teamwork and constant assistance, Doran said, she knows her and her daughter’s lives would not be as bright as they are today.

“Even though Kaleigh has had challenges in life, it doesn’t define who she is,” Doran said. “She’s sweet, funny and a beautiful young lady with a bright future.”

Doran then turned her gratitude to those in attendance. The United Way provides funding for Wellmore through its annual campaign.

“We thank you with all our hearts and want you to know that you have made a difference,” Doran said.

Pat Kelley, who chaired this year’s campaign, announced that the United Way anticipates reaching the campaign’s goal of raising $410,000. He said the campaign wouldn’t be a success without the contributors and donors.

“The United Way is working each and every day to address the lives in our community, but we cannot do it alone,” Kelley said.

Through the campaign, the United Way is providing funding for 22 programs at 16 organizations, including Wellmore, the Naugatuck YMCA, Naugatuck Youth Services and Hidden Acres Therapeutic Riding Center.

United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls Executive Director Lisa Shappy said the campaign raised 83 percent of the goal as of last week. She said the organization is waiting on other United Ways to report on donations designated for the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls and was confident the goal will be met.

She credited the work of volunteers with being able to report the good news.

“The hard work of those volunteers, really hitting the pavement, trying to get into new accounts, new donations,” Shappy said.

The evening was also a time to celebrate those companies and volunteers that have given of their time and money to support the United Way.

The United Way honored Karen Ambari Longo, a 52-year-old Beacon Falls resident with an extensive volunteering resume, with 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 share this award with each and every one of you,” Longo said. “You are my family, my friends, my mentors on this journey.”

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

The annual meeting was a bittersweet night for Kathy McPadden. McPadden, who served as president of the United Way’s board of directors, announced she is stepping back after 30 years of being involved with the organization.

“I’ve become so overwhelmed with the organizations that we serve and that we give to and the caring community that we live in,” McPadden said.

McPadden passed the torch to Yvette Wilmont, who was elected the organization’s next president.

“Following in her footsteps is a big job, I’m very excited to do so,” said Wilmont, who is CFO of Sarracco Mechanical Services in Naugatuck.