'Their answers were full of hope': Milford's Boys & Girls Club members show gratitude

Seated front, Thomas Marder, kneeling left and right, Lucia Garcia and Mirella Soto, and standing left to right Lissette Soto, Alexis Broderick and Tiffany Ialeggio pose in front of Milford Boys & Girls Clubs, in Milford, Conn. Dec. 3, 2020.

Seated front, Thomas Marder, kneeling left and right, Lucia Garcia and Mirella Soto, and standing left to right Lissette Soto, Alexis Broderick and Tiffany Ialeggio pose in front of Milford Boys & Girls Clubs, in Milford, Conn. Dec. 3, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Singing, dancing, karate and family campouts in the living room are just some of the things Milford youths are thankful for during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While adults have had to make many lifestyle changes as a result of the coronavirus, between adjusting to virtual learning, not getting to see friends, and wearing masks, children have had to make their own adjustments. But through it all they retain a sense of gratitude for the day-to-day joys in life.

Members of the Boys & Girls Club of Milford recently shared some of the things for which they are thankful. Megan Altomare, the club’s executive director, said planning the club’s reopening had been overwhelming.

“We had a responsibility to keep our members safe, while also giving kids and their families the ability to return to work, to rebuild their lives, and regain some sense of normalcy for their social and emotional wellness,” she said. “Within the first few minutes of being open all of my fears were put to ease. Our kids are amazing and resilient. They quickly adapted to every change, did not complain about the new requirements and eagerly joined in the new and safe ways they could all play together.”

While talking to the children at the club, Altomare said she began asking them what they were thankful for this year, and their answers amazed her.

“Despite the extraordinary challenges club kids and families have faced, their answers were full of hope,” she said.

Lissette Soto, 14, said although school has recently switched to full distance learning, she’s glad she and her classmates can still have some type of learning environment.

“I like that the teachers are trying to understand what we’re managing to do because we’re all going through the same thing together,” she said. Several weeks ago, her school’s freshman choir — about 100 students — was able to come together to perform together to perform on an interactive website, and it was a huge success, she said.

Other youths were thanful they were able to continue participating in their favorite sports.

Tiffany Ialegio, 13, said she’s thankful she gets to still practice basketball, even though the season has been canceled due to the pandemic. She practices the game three days a week at a park near her house and just started taking lessons at a basketball clinic. Her goal is to make the Jonathan Law team next year.

Seven-year-old Thomas Marder is thankful for being able to continue his karate lessons. The school he attends remains open and he just got his high green belt.

Other club members said they were thankful for things that could otherwise be taken for granted.

Lucia Garcia, 5, said she’s thankful for her family.

“I love them so much and I never want to leave them. They take care of me and do all things for me,” she said. “They make me food and they put me to bed.”

Lenny Ialegio, 15, agreed, saying he was grateful to have food to eat and a roof over his head.

“A lot of people in the world aren’t able to eat dinner or be with their family,” he said.

Enzo Altomare, 8, is also thankful for his family. Since the beginning of the pandemic, his parents and 6-year-old sister have done many activities together, such as visiting Santa Claus on Black Friday at Bass Pro Shops, having a family sleepover in the downstairs family room, and seeing 22 family members on Zoom.

Enzo’s sister Eva, 6, is thankful for FaceTime, where she got to meet her three-week-old cousin Runa, who lives in Guilford.

Alexis Broderick, 17, a youth development supervisor at the Bous & Girls Club, is also grateful for online connections...to retail websites. She said the pandemic has not stopped her shopping addiction — it just brought it online.

“I used to spend a lot of time in Target, now I go to the Target website several days a week,” she said. Recent purchases include a light gray hooded sweatshirt and red flannel pajama pants. But she earns everything she buys by working two jobs. In addition to her role at the club, she’s also a hostess at Stonebridge Restaurant in Milford.

Connor Francoeur, 7, is another youth who is grateful for his family. His father, a military veteran and corrections officer, spends his days “protecting everybody and keeping my family safe,” he said.

Five-year-old Mirella Soto is also thankful to have her family, who gives her “warm hugs and plays freeze dance and colors with me,” she said.

Altomare said that while working at the Boys & Girls Club, she has always felt it was the staff’s responsibility to positively change and impact members’ lives. But speaking with the children about their gratitude had changed her outlook.

“I have now learned that they positively impact and change our lives just as much,” she said. “Their smiling faces, the sounds of laughter in our hallways and the ability of our kids to adapt truly gives me hope that we will all come through this stronger, more resilient, and adaptable than we ever were before.”