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Community Impact

George Ducanic

george ducanic

Sponsor: GE

Giving back is a full time job for George Ducanic. The Korean War veteran and retired businessperson has been changing lives in southwestern Fairfield County for decades.

Ducanic’s service covers all ages and interests. From children to senior citizens, Ducanic helps to meet needs and strengthen communities.

Ducanic devotes considerable time to Veterans needs and issues. He is the longtime Commander of Stamford’s American Legion post and helps advocate on behalf of injured and disabled Vets. Ducanic also volunteers his time driving Veterans to medical appointments at VA Clinics, VA Hospitals and doctors’ offices. Ducanic fills many other roles at the Legion, including helping with their baseball program and organizing the Legion’s participation in Veterans’ and Memorial Day parades. Ducanic also works to ease deployments for active duty service members. In recent years he coordinated a drive that collected approximately 50,000 golf balls that were shipped to Iraq. VFW Post 9617 Commander James Santangelo wrote “George’s sense of humor became apparent when describing the troops hitting golf balls over the main river in Iraq. How many of those balls ended up in the river?”

For more than 20 years, Ducanic has led the Toys for Tots campaign in Stamford and surrounding towns. He has helped to collect an average of nearly 20,000 toys per year to support numerous church- and community-based organizations that help to ensure happier holidays for area children.

Seeing increasing needs for food in his community, Ducanic has been a tireless advocate for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, spearheading multiple food drives each year and mobilizing fellow Veterans to support the effort. Food Bank Executive Director Kate Lombardo notes that Ducanic also checks in around the holidays to see if there are families in need of toys. “Day after day, George seeks out those in need,” she wrote.

Ducanic is an active volunteer with the local Senior Center, where he is a member of the Veterans Committee and where he helped to secure a new freezer for the center when the old one broke.

Stamford Mayor Michael A. Pavia, who nominated Ducanic for this award, says, “George Ducanic takes pride in serving his community and his unselfish acts of service, dedication and guidance to all creates the desire in others to give of themselves and has made Stamford a better place to live.”

State Representative Brandon McGee

state rep brandon mcgee

Sponsor: The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.

State Representative Brandon McGee is a freshman legislator, but no stranger to public service. He is a member or leader of numerous community organizations with a focus on mentoring, character building, economic development and civic participation.

McGee brings his public spirit into the private sector, where he uses his leadership and organization development business, SPEAK! Consulting, to offer mentorship opportunities that expose young people to the business world.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, in nominating McGee, cited his dedication to community and his determination as instrumental to his success and to winning a tough election.

McGee describes himself as a “people and community developer.” That is easily reflected in his volunteer affiliations, which include Citadel of Love Church; Hartford 2000 (the coalition of Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committees and the City of Hartford); Hartford Action Plan; the Black and Latino Scholastic Achievement Consortium; the YMCA; and many more. McGee has also served as a mentor in several programs, including the Youth Alive program of the City of Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation. In 2009, he became the youngest ever to receive the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials Community Award.

Julia Maurer (Youth)

julia maurer

Sponsor: Dominion Nuclear Connecticut, Inc.

Julia Maurer is setting the bar high at an early age when it comes to making a difference. Last summer, she traveled with her mother to Kenya, where she worked for 10 days as part of an international Habitat for Humanity team building a house in the Eldama Ravine.

Julia had worked once before on a Habitat project, but it was very different. She spent one day at a construction site in Milford, helping with cleanup work.

On the job in Kenya, Julia helped in nearly every facet of the project, from digging the foundation hole for the house, to mixing concrete, setting foundation stones and helping to cook meals for the crew. The work was hard but satisfying.

Julia notes that “the most mechanized tool we used was the wheelbarrow.” Digging the heavy clay soil was hard work. By the end of the day, the crew had so much of the heavy soil caked on their boots that they were “two to three inches taller.” Julia says the experience changed her and “is making me consider career paths I never even thought of before.”

Nicole Pirrello, Julia’s counselor at Jonathan Law High School, nominated her for this recognition. She says that Julia “is one of those special students who I know do not come along very often… She is intelligent, funny, compassionate and extremely driven.” Pirrello notes that Julia was the youngest person on the project by 10 years.

Julia says she would do this work again “without a doubt.” She says that she and her mother have already considered other Habitat trips and hopes to do another within the next few years. She does not consider herself a hero. “I can not say that I am a hero. I think Habitat for Humanity is a hero, or the whole group in Kenya, but not myself individually.”

Lindsey Morton, Kelly Niznansky and Katie Boland

Lindsey Morton, Kelly Niznansky and Katie Boland

Sponsor: Sound View Community Media

When Hurricane Sandy struck Connecticut in October, many communities were devastated. Homes were lost, property was damaged and people were without power for many days. While the American Red Cross and other organizations stepped in with assistance in sheltering, feeding and other needs, there was such significant damage that much more could be done to help communities recover. Three Fairfield natives saw a need in their hometown and set about meeting it. The results exceeded their wildest expectations.

Fairfield was among the hardest hit towns in the wake of Sandy. Damage was significant, especially along the beach, where many families were displaced. Katie Boland, Lindsey Morton and Kelly Niznansky grew up together in Fairfield and are strongly connected to the town. They wanted to help the Fairfield Beach community they knew and loved.

“The impression we had was that the residents didn’t need food, clothing or supplies, but they could definitely use some manpower to get their lives back to normal,” the women wrote when asked about the project.

They came up with the idea for a volunteer Fairfield Beach Area Cleanup. Deciding to reach out to their friends and networks on Facebook, the women expected to gather a small group of friends and neighbors to help on November 11, Veterans Day. Within a day of creating a Facebook event notice, the trio found they had more than 100 volunteers. Realizing this was a bigger event than they first imagined, the team reached out to local authorities. Soon, Police Fire and Municipal officials were engaged in helping to make the event a success. Volunteer interest continued to grow.

On November 11, more than 1,000 volunteers showed up to help clean up yards in the community. They were armed with rakes, leaf bags, wheelbarrows and gloves. Supplies, meals, beverages and snacks for volunteers were donated by area businesses. The town and other organizations helped transport volunteers, equipment and debris.

By day’s end, it was apparent that the idea of three women to help friends and neighbors had become something larger. The army of volunteers not only improved conditions in the neighborhood but collected donations for others in need and lifted spirits at a difficult time.

Firefighters Donna Sanford and Harry Segerstrom, Sr.

Firefighters Donna Sanford and Harry Segerstrom, Sr.

Sponsor: Connecticut Natural Gas

Two volunteers with the Baltic Fire Engine Company #1 in the Town of Sprague are changing and saving lives not only as firefighters, but through their dedication and commitment to enriching the lives of seniors in their community.

Donna Sanford, a 10-year member of the department and Harry Segerstrom, Sr., a 40-year member, have developed a series of bi-monthly meetings with senior citizens that cover a range of health and safety topics. The team has built the meetings into well-attended events through a combination of good information and an enticing array of special gifts and home-cooked meals. Over the last two years, the meetings have covered CPR/AED and First Aid training; summer safety; carbon monoxide poisoning; emergency and storm preparedness; and heart health. The meetings have grown to a regular attendance averaging 50 people.

Seniors attending the meetings have been treated to hot, homemade meals and desserts that Sanford and Segerstrom prepare, including a full Thanksgiving turkey dinner. The seniors have also taken home First Aid kits; carbon monoxide and smoke alarms; flashlights; sunscreen; and more. The Heart Month meeting in February featured free cholesterol and blood pressure screenings.

The two do not limit their interest in community health to seniors. Sanford also offers free CPR and First Aid classes at the fire station open to the public throughout the year. A teacher trained in one of Sanford’s sessions was able soon after her training to save the life of a student choking during lunch at school.

Baltic Fire Engine Company #1 Chief Les Shull, in nominating Sanford and Segerstrom, said the pair has not stopped with these two initiatives. Other activities include presentations on town services available to the public and special sessions in Vial of Life training to help people create a medical record accessible in emergencies. The pair are also working on implementation of a Yellow Dot program to help local law enforcement and emergency officials identify seniors’ automobiles in the event of an emergency.

Chief Shull said in his nomination that “Our community would be missing out on so much if it were not for the foresight that Donna and Harry have shown.” He praised their “community spirit that goes above and beyond.”

Sanford and Segerstrom were both surprised and humbled to learn of their recognition. Segerstrom said he was just doing what he enjoyed.

Lieutenant Lionel Thompson

lt lionel thompson

Sponsor: Travelers

We all know that firefighters are heroes for rushing to a scene and extinguishing a fire, potentially saving property and lives. They are often called upon to rush into dangerous or potentially deadly situations and are many times required to make daring rescues. But there is a less heralded side of their work, and Hartford Fire Department Lieutenant Lionel Thompson is an example of the many facets of a firefighter’s role in making our communities better, safer places to live.

As a lieutenant in the department’s Special Services Unit, Lt. Thompson is charged with helping educate citizens about fire safety and prevention. He regularly meets with community groups from Boy Scouts to senior citizens to make presentations and answer questions. Lt. Thompson also helps to support the Hartford Fire Explorers and Cadet programs, designed to teach youth about the fire service and encourage them to become future firefighters.

Lt. Thompson also serves as lead coordinator of the Community Emergency Response Team, a citizen volunteer group devoted to helping support disaster response in Hartford. As part of the Special Services Unit, Lt. Thompson helps meet the “human need” in disaster response. Frequently he helps to arrange special services for residential fire victims, including transporting them to emergency lodging or to meet with Red Cross disaster caseworkers in special cases when they are unable to meet at the fire scene.

Lt. Thompson also supports other disaster response roles for the Hartford Fire Department, such as when Tropical Storm Irene struck the area and Thompson was among other firefighters who helped to rescue and evacuate vulnerable city residents and to support the city’s sheltering operations.

In nominating Lt. Thompson, Hartford Department of Health and Human Services Director Raul Pino noted Thompson’s commitment to his community. “Even on days when crisis is not present, Thompson is in the community, from delivering water to senior centers during a heat wave to teaching Boy Scouts how to develop a fire exit plan.”