Kennedy Center honors supporters, consumers

Dr. Robert Chessin, who for more than 35 years served as a volunteer, advocate, and adviser to The Kennedy Center, received the organization’s highest honor, the Evelyn Kennedy Silver Bowl Award, during the organization’s annual business meeting and awards presentation Thursday, April 20, at the Holiday Inn in Bridgeport.

The event also marked the passing of the gavel from Daniel J. Long to new Kennedy Center Board Chairman Michele Macauda.

Chessin is an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine, and chief of child development and director of the Learning and Developmental Disability Clinic at Bridgeport Hospital. Since 1978 he has been in private practice with Pediatric Healthcare Associates in Bridgeport and Huntington. He has been a member of The Kennedy Center’s board of directors, chairman of the Legislative Committee, a member of the Marketing and Strategic Planning Committee, and a member of the Autism Project Advisory Committee.

“The Kennedy Center is a better organization because of this person,” CEO Martin Schwartz said as he surprised Chessin with the honor.

Electri-Cable Assemblies of Shelton was named Supported Employer of the Year.

“Those who work at this company are treated so well that they don’t want to even consider other job sites,” Schwartz said.

The Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball team was named the Competitive Employer of the Year.

“This generous employer also donates an area on their concourse (at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard) every May for The Kennedy Center to promote mental health awareness and our employment services,” Schwartz said.

Shaileen Ramirez was named Supported Employee of the Year. She has been described by her job coach and co-workers as “someone who is always on task, takes initiative and demonstrates a willingness to try different job sites and opportunities,” Schwartz said.

Michael Lombardo was named Competitive Employee of the Year. He was a student at Trumbull High School in 2011 when he was recommended for transitional services through The Kennedy Center’s Partners Program. He now works at Chip’s Restaurant in Fairfield as a busser, where “his managers greatly appreciate his exceptional attendance, flexibility and willingness to take on more responsibility,” Schwartz said.

Sandye Mann and her dog, Bosun, accepted the Bob Brown Volunteer of the Year award. The name of the award was changed last year to honor Brown, Schwartz said, and the first Bob Brown Volunteer of the Year Award was presented at last year’s Kennedy Center Charity Golf Classic. It will now be presented at the annual meeting.

Mann and Bosun, her chocolate Lab pet therapy dog, have visited consumers in more than 10 Kennedy Center programs, from Stratford to Bridgeport.

“Not only does she provide pet therapy for our consumers, but she also finds unique ways to teach the individuals about the world around them,” Schwartz said. “She brings in various types of plants and teaches the consumers how they are grown, often using her knowledge and love for gardening and cooking as a fun learning opportunity for others.”

Brendan Flynn, who has dedicated the last four years to working with children in the Autism Project and Lighthouse Program, was named Youth Volunteer of the Year.

“He is great at motivating children to keep trying when they feel like giving up, and in return, this has helped build their self-esteem,” Schwartz said.

Vera Gjidoda was honored with the James Rebeta Client Achievement Award. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an accident in 1982, she was left with the inability to move her right side, the inability to speak, and deficits in understanding what was being said to her. For 30 years, her family assumed the role of caring for her, as there were very limited supports for people with brain injuries for much of that time,” Schwartz said.

She was referred in 2015 to The Kennedy Center’s Acquired Brain Injury Department, where she “quickly began to regain a level of independence,” Schwartz said. “With the help of speech therapy and determination, she expanded her vocabulary from 15 words to 74 spontaneous words and relearned skills such as problem solving, scheduling and planning; she even took steps to learn new technology to help manage her life.

“Not only is this person committed to improving her own life,” he continued, “but she is passionate about helping to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In the summer of 2016, she began volunteering at My Sister’s Place and My Sister’s Attic of Ansonia, which benefits victims of domestic violence.”

Alan White of the Trumbull Public Works Department received the Kennedy Center Community Service Award.

“After meeting with The Kennedy Center a few years ago and learning how our consumers could help him in his pursuit to fill open positions within the town of Trumbull, he has gone above and beyond in providing mutually beneficial opportunities.”

White helped The Kennedy Center get cleaning contracts with companies in Trumbull and, most recently, a large scanning contract with the town of Trumbull. He was also instrumental in successfully working with the town of Trumbull to arrange for The Kennedy Center to use its garage for the center’s landscaping company, Cutting Edge, while a new facility was being built over a two-year period.

The HAN Network received the Kennedy Center Media Award.