Seven community builders saluted for making a difference

Milford’s very own Santa Claus was among a group of seven people that the United Way of Milford honored recently for helping to build the community.

Rick George, former animal control officer known for filling in for Santa during the busy holiday season, received a Community Builder Award Wednesday, April 27, at the Costa Azzurra Restaurant. George received the Lifetime Achievement award.

The other six community builders are Scott Moulton, who received the Spirit of Milford award; Thomas Isaac who received the Meeting Critical Needs award; Betty Gerner who received the Strengthening Families award; State Rep. Pam Staneski who received the Champion of Caring award; Linda Ball the Distinguished Service award; Diane Razzaia the Nurturing Children award, and Sasha Somuah, the Youth Leadership award.

Scott Moulton, a former Devon Rotary president, was the first of the seven to receive his award at the United Way event. Described as a man committed to his community, Moulton also was honored recently with the Norman K. Parsells Award for “Service Above Self.”

Thomas Isaac is part of the Emma Davis Medical Equipment Ministry at the First United Church of Christ. The group rehabs medical equipment like wheelchairs and walkers, as well as other hospital-type equipment, and makes them available for people to borrow.

“It’s sort of like a library for medical equipment,” Isaac said.

He also volunteers with the American Cancer Society, driving people with cancer to their doctor appointments, and he encouraged others with spare time to do the same. “You meet so many wonderful, courageous people,” he said.

Tami Jackson, director of the Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut, nominated Betty Gerner for her award. Gerner volunteers at the literacy center, drawing on her experience working with the Peace Corps when she was younger. While stationed in the South Pacific, she worked with the Tongans, teaching them English.

“I know what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land,” Gerner said. “This is my way of giving back.”

The United Way honored State Rep. Pam Staneski for her volunteer efforts in Milford that date back many years. Co-founder of the Milford Prevention Council, Staneski jumped into volunteer work when her children attended elementary school, starting a publishing center and working with her friend Ann Fabian as volunteer school traffic directors.

Staneski is also a founding board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Milford. “She leads from the heart,” said former alderman and mayoral candidate Paula Smith.

Linda Ball runs a number of programs as a supervisor with the Milford Recreation Department, but her favorite is the Benson Crump Memorial Community Gardens, which consist of 135 garden plots at Eisenhower Park. She and some of the gardeners there oversee a plot that supports Plant a Row for the Hungry, and Ball recalls delivering some of the vegetables harvested to a soup kitchen in New Haven one year. A young man came out to help her carry in the produce and was mystified by a green bell pepper: He’d never seen one. He bit into it, ate it like an apple, and said it was delicious.

“That really touched me,” Ball said as she accepted her Distinguished Service award.

Diane Razzaia is a Girl Scout leader: She led her daughter’s group and now leads her granddaughter’s group, and has overseen and participated in a number of community projects through Scouting. She accepted her Nurturing Children award with a smile, and said, “Girl Scouting is about a whole lot of people. I do it because I get back more than I give.”

Sasha Somuah is a junior at Lauralton Hall who leads her class like a champion, running a number of activities and participating in diving, plus volunteering at her church and a soup kitchen...despite the fact that she has macular degeneration. “So she has to work harder to compensate,” said Lauralton guidance director Yvonne Fosse-Previs. She predicted that one day the hard working young woman will be the U.S. Secretary of State.

Marcia Hallman of Bic talked about why Rick George was being handed the Lifetime Achievement award.

She said when he was growing up there was a sign over his door that said, “I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man with no feet.”

Hallman said that kind of message made him the man he is today, which is, especially around December — Santa Claus.

The retired animal control officer, who now works as a greeter at one of Milford’s elementary schools, has been playing Santa at charity events for years. This past year he built a mobile Santa workshop, which he takes to community events to spread holiday cheer and to hear the wishes of children.

“It behooves us,” George said, “as occupants of this planet, to try to make a difference.”