The eighth annual Beacon Awards were held via livestream due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Oct. 8, 2020 and honored 15 members of the shoreline community.
Jennifer Ryley Welsh
For 25 years, Jennifer Ryley Welsh has been involved with volunteer efforts in the town of Old Saybrook, most notably helping families and students. She has volunteered for Youth & Family Services and organized countless initiatives to make the town of Old Saybrook a better, more vibrant place to live. In addition to her work with families, she was also a part of the Glitter Girls dance group for many years and mentored young performers in the Community Variety Show. A certified yoga instructor, she has also offered free yoga classes to those in need of relaxation and movement.
A recently retired YNHH nurse, Joyce is a woman who lives by the motto “a person for others.” Ready, willing, and able to serve, as she stepped away from nursing, she continued to care for several elderly Clinton residents, providing grocery and medication delivery. She knows every neighbor’s name and will stop to make sure they’re doing well in this age of isolation and instilling a community spirit that is essential in our society. Joyce is also a volunteer for the Clinton Shoreline Food Pantry, Holy Advent Episcopal Church, and the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center.
When COVID-19 struck and the residents of East Haven were in lockdown, Michael Roy took to the streets to bring a little relief and joy to the long days. He drove his truck around town day in and day out, playing music and collecting donations for people in need of food and for the food bank itself, and then started a mask drive to help collect and distribute these life-saving items to residents. He focused on helping his community and giving support where it was needed most. Michael gave people exactly what they needed during a time of confusion and pain; he gave them a smile and support.
Ethan and Dylan Richmond
In the words of Dylan Richmond, “2020 is not the apocalypse; it’s the revolution.” Dylan and his twin brother Ethan, both recent graduates of Daniel Hand High School, have given voice to the experience of Black people in a town where they were always seen as different. They have experienced racism firsthand—Ethan shared that one time a White woman told a White man that he looked suspicious. The White man was his father. The twins’ shared experience has motivated them to speak up and educate the community on how we can all do better. They helped organize and spoke at a peaceful rally held in Madison on June 13. They say their work is not yet done and they are no longer afraid of speaking up.
Vanessa Flemming Redd’s motto is “love wins,” and it’s not just a saying. She has personally walked the streets of New Haven with her children, providing food for the homeless. Vanessa has also been a long time volunteer for Branford Early Learning Center, The Community Dining Room, Bridges of Hope, Mastering Motherhood, Mary Tisko Elementary School, The Diaper Bank and the Shoreline Community Church. She is also hard at work creating innCommunity, which is an organization designed to close the gap between social, economical, and racial statuses.
Mary Johnston is a five-year volunteer at the Community Dining Room (CDR) and serves as the kitchen coordinator and manager. Since COVID-19 regulations were put in place, she continues to organize meals but now with fewer volunteers and more guidelines to follow. The volunteer staff had to be reduced, and Mary found creative ways of handling COVID challenges. She arranged for meals to be prepared and labeled for curbside pick up as in-house dining was shut down. In addition to her work at the CDR, Mary continues is a 5k runner, raising money for various organizations close to her heart.
Monica Hatton recently moved to North Haven and has already made an immediate impact. She set up a group that advocates for the rights of special needs children, the North Haven Special Needs Advisory Group. Described as relentlessly optimistic, Monica is also a member of the CT State Advisory Council for Special Education and on the North Haven District Special Needs Steering Committee, Clintonville PTA, North Haven PTA Council, PATH, CT State Advisory Council for Special Education, North Haven Special Needs Steering Committee, and many others.
Gabi Garcia-Perez is the founder of the Community Integration Mentoring Program (CIMP), connecting young students from communities through Connecticut to empower then to become active members of society. The result is long-lasting mutually beneficial relationships. During COVID, she focused her resources and connections to address food and financial insecurity. She has personally helped people affected by COVID, and stresses that it has been really important to work within the framework built by local advocates and organizations to understand what is going on in people’s lives while seeking to make a difference. She’s also been active working with Unified Sports in Guilford and beyond, allowing those with disabilities to shine in the sports world.
Through his work at Middlesex Habitat for Humanity of CT, David Evangelisti has given meaning to the word selfless. He’s always generous with his time and talents, bringing light and life to every project he works on, including several Habitat builds and setting up the ReStore. He helps fundraising efforts and works tirelessly to bring affordable housing to the shoreline. Because of his dedication, there is now a Habitat home being built in Westbrook. This was David’s dream for the shoreline. He is also one of the founders of Sister Cities Essex Haiti whose mission is to sustain partnerships with the people of Deschapelles.
Known as the bike guy, Paul Egan has been providing free bicycles and bicycle repairs to the community. The idea grew out of frustration when he saw multiple bikes thrown away at the Clinton Town Dump. He began by fixing them up and putting them out on his front lawn with a FREE sign, and the bike guy has since turned into a shoreline phenomenon. In the next month, Paul will be giving away his 1,000th bike since he started. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he has provided even more bikes to families in need as biking is a safe and fun outdoor activity for people of all ages.
Peter Criscuolo has improved the lives of North Haven residents and firefighters alike through service in and beyond the Board of Fire Commissioners. When budgets grew tight, Peter developed creative ways to raise money for the fire department so they could purchase life-saving equipment, raising more than $100,000 for things like an all-terrain vehicle to rescue hikers, a drone to find folks who may be lost in the woods, and some bullet proof helmets to protect front line workers after a dangerous scene that occurred in town. He also helped the North Haven Fire Department join a collaborative to hire more diverse professional fire personnel.
As a volunteer, Dennis Culliton took on the full time job of Guilford Cares, shopping for seniors and coordinating drivers to help seniors in need during the pandemic. A retired teacher, He continues to work on the Witness Stones Project, listening humbly and adapting to new dialogue about race, and serving as an educational resource as educators grapple with these issues. Through this project, Dennis brought to light the history of slavery in our shoreline towns, helping our communities understand how many early settlers and residents were making wealth directly or indirectly from the buying and selling of slaves.
Kimberly Coppola’s motto is “Be a reflection of what you’d like to see in others.” As a volunteer for the East Haven Food Pantry, Kim has lived those words, worked tirelessly as a liaison between Stop and Shop and the pantry, transporting hundreds of pounds of food for those in need. When the store calls her, she picks up hundreds of pounds of salvage to donate to local pantries. She has also been a 911 dispatcher for over 20 years, serving East Haven, C-Med, and currently Madison. She is also involved in animal rescue and has helped at all hours of the day when she is needed.
#theellaeffect is named for the then-13-year-old Ella Copeland, who along with her dad, Grant co-chaired the 2018-2019 United Way of Greater Waterbury campaign. When the campaign ended, more than $4 million had been raised, nearly toppling the campaign’s record 75th anniversary mark of $4.1 million. And that’s just the start of her story. For someone who’s been involved with Guilford Public Schools Unified Sports and Connecticut Special Olympics programs since the 5th grade, and as a volunteer with therapeutic equestrian riding programs for just as long, getting involved in helping others comes naturally to Ella.