Local celebrities from Quinnipiac University helped the United Way of Milford kick off its annual fund-raising campaign Sept. 26 at Subway World Headquarters.

Brian Smith of Milford, host of WQUN’s The Brian Smith Afternoon Show, is the 2018 campaign chairman. The speaker was Tricia Fabbri, Quinnipiac University women’s basketball head coach.

Gary Johnson, president of the United Way of Milford, was the emcee of the event.

Smith said that Johnson asked him several months ago to be the campaign chairman, but he said “no” because he was too busy with his new job at WQUN. Smith said Johnson asked him to think over the offer, and then invited him to the United Way office to discuss the request.

“I brought my own notebook with three sheets of paper, so I would have my own notes if Gary used his mind tricks on me,” said Smith. “He had me saying ‘yes’ within the first five minutes of being there and now I am the campaign chairman and I love it.”

Smith said the United Way is thinking of ways to get new people involved, which includes working with local high schools. The United Way has two campaign co-chairs, Cora Sula, a senior at Jonathan Law High School, and Trevanna Kandrach, a junior at Foran High School.

Sula was unable to attend the kickoff. Smith had Kandrach announce the campaign goal, which she said is $825,000.

“We wanted to bring it up a little bit, but keep it realistic,” said Smith, joking that if someone in the room had $825,000, the campaign would be over. He said with 50,000 to 52,000 people in Milford, it would be about $16.50 per person. He said $825,000 is roughly the cost of 300,000 cups of coffee.

Michele DiNello, senior director of communications and events for Subway, said that Subway is trying to raise awareness of the United Way. DiNello announced that the Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation would kick off the campaign with a $50,000 donation.

Guest speaker Tricia Fabbri

Fabbri has been named three times as Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Coach of the Year. She has coached for 23 years at Quinnipiac with 407 career victories.

Fabbri thanked Diane and Tony Candido for their support of her career over the years, both as a player at Fairfield University and as a coach at Quinnipiac. Diane Candido is a United Way board member; Tony and Diane led several United Way campaigns. Fabbri said that Tony Candido has been asking her for years to speak at the fund-raiser, but she kept saying “no.”

“Seeing the teamwork that is here, and a passion that everyone in this room has for the City of Milford has been so impressive to me in just the few hours that I have been here,” said Fabbri.

Fabbri talked about the opportunities she had over the years, including “the Title IX wave for women’s sports,” the support of her parents in driving her more than an hour to play in basketball games, meeting her husband Paul at Fairfield University, raising her three children in Stratford, and coaching at Quinnipiac, including coaching her daughter Carly in basketball.

“What you’re all here doing is providing those opportunities to others,” said Fabbri. “My opportunity was through sport. Your opportunities are through all your constituents and everyone else that you help here to make this day the best day it can be.”

Caroline Contreras spoke about how she wants to help the United Way because it helped her get through a difficult time in her life. Contreras said she is a U.S. Army veteran who was treated at the Veterans Hospital in West Haven for trauma resulting from sexual assault she experienced in the military.

Upon her discharge from the hospital, she was informed she was going to a shelter in Milford. Envisioning being sent to a dirty, beat-up facility, like she has seen on television, was “my worst nightmare,” said Contreras.

“When I ended up at Beth-El shelter [one of 20 local agencies supported by the United Way], it was one of the most welcoming, clean places I have ever been,” said Contreras.

She got a job at the former Xpect Discount store, saved up her money, and got her own place to live.

“I was so moved by the help that I received that I wanted to be on the other end. I wanted to give the help that I needed,” said Contreras.

She said she started by donating personal hygiene items to the shelter, and was then offered a job there. She said that inspired her to go to her college, and in May, she finished her master’s degree in social work. She said she now works as a senior clinician with people who have mental health and addiction issues.

“I just turned 60 this month. It’s never too late to absolutely come back. I plan on another 20 years of being back,” said Contreras.

Dan Prestin, chairman of the United Way Board of Directors, commented that during his drive to the event, he heard bad news on the radio, but then said there are many good things taking place in the world and in Milford.

“A lot of the good stuff is because of what all you do here in support of this great city of Milford,” said Prestin.

While the event was the kickoff for the United Way’s annual fund-raiser, Prestin said the agency realizes it cannot rely on just the campaign alone and is looking to other ways to raise money, such as the duck race in Milford, done in partnership with the YMCA.

Prestin said the United Way is also looking to get out the message of what the agency does, which is helping people in need, by moving into social media through Facebook and other methods. He said there are also two junior members to work within the school system to see if there are ways to reach students.

Mayor Benjamin Blake said the United Way has been a partner with the City of Milford for more than 60 years.

“The United Way is a real strategic investment in this community because it directs the funding to those people and organizations that need it the most,” said Blake. “A lot of the folks that are the most vulnerable in our community, from our homeless to our sick to our students, and our seniors that really need the extra help, the extra support. That’s what this organization targets.”

Johnson finished the event by thanking volunteers and board members of the United Way.

Speaking as president of the United Way, Johnson said, “It’s the success stories we have seen day in and day out. People that are so down on their luck so often, really rising up and becoming such sustaining and positive members of society. That’s what is so great about their work, to see people getting a hand up, not a hand out.”