Learn more about area recipients of Middlesex United Way’s philanthrophy awards

In a little over one week, on Jan. 30, we will gather at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam to honor volunteers and community leaders, in addition to celebrating a year of many accomplishments at our annual meeting.

We hope you will join us as we honor this year’s recipients of our five distinguished awards.

We are proud to recognize Matthew Stillman with Middlesex United Way’s highest volunteer honor, the Community Service Award, which lauds volunteer service to Middlesex United Way and considers length and continuity of service.

Stillman’s involvement with Middlesex United Way is far-reaching. He first started as a member of the Endowment Committee in 2001 and went on to serve on the Nominating Committee and Board of Directors in 2002. Stillman served as a Board Director until 2010 and continues to serve on three board committees. He has also served as a key member to the Marketing Committee, Finance Committee, Strategic-Self Assessment Committee, Endowment Committee, and the Audit Committee.

By serving in these committee in different capacities, Stillman has demonstrated not only his commitment, but also his incredible capability to serve.

He has been involved in a wide range of community activities, including serving as an honorary member and on the Board of Directors for the CT NAELA, CBA Elder Law Section on the Executive Committee, chairman of the Killingworth Board of Assessment Appeals, accredited counsel for the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and past chairman of the CBA Veterans Benefits Workgroup.

Stillman is a local attorney who practices in the areas of estate planning, trusts, and estates drafting and elder law. He received the CTNAELA President’s Award in 2016, and was honored by CTNAELA as the Elder Law Attorney of the Year in 2017.

The New Haven Register recently chose him as one of the “Best Lawyers in New Haven County” for 2020.

We are pleased to announce Dr. Michael Conner of Middletown Public Schools as the recipient of our 2019 Community Leadership Award. This award recognizes his outstanding leadership in strengthening communities. Conner is the Middletown superintendent of schools and sits on the Middlesex United Way Board of Directors.

Since becoming superintendent, Conner has made it his personal and professional mission to close the achievement gap in Middletown through kindergarten readiness, a focus area especially near and dear to our hearts at Middlesex United Way. Through the Bridge to Brilliance program, Conner has helped lead the reshaping or priorities to early childhood education.

Bridge to Brilliance prepares prekindergarten students with the use of technology and by introducing more vocabulary words to students. Middlesex United Way is a critical community partner in this initiative.

Conner has proven himself as someone with incredible passion and tenacity, and for his overall efforts, he was recognized by the Network Journal as a Top 40 Under 40 recipient. He was also recognized by the Connecticut NAACP (100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut), Middlesex NAACP (Education Award), Eleven28 Entertainment (100 Men of Color Award), and the Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Rev. George E. Battle Senior Education Award).

Under his leadership, Middletown Public Schools was recognized as a 2019 AASA/SPN National Innovation and Transformational District — only 17 districts nationally received this distinction. Dr. Conner was also featured in AASA’s School Administrator Magazine for his article, “What Mentoring Means to a New Superintendent of Color.”

Middlesex United Way is pleased to present the Community Impact Award to Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, recognizing the organization’s outstanding commitment to improving lives and community conditions.

Since 1809, the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut has nurtured children and families to develop their strengths through its service, partnership, and advocacy. CFA breaks down barriers to care by focusing on mental and physical health services and providing families with high-quality programs and accessible resources.

Its ultimate goal is not only to nurture children and families, but to support the communities these families live in.

The award is being issued to CFA in part because of its long-standing partnership with Middlesex United Way. They have been a United Way funded partner for decades, and impressively continue to grow their programs and services. Last year, there were over 10,500 children and families served by over 500 volunteers and 200 staff.

Middlesex United Way is pleased to present the Tocqueville Society Philanthropy Award to Laura Pedersen, president and CEO of A.R. Mazzotta Employment Specialists, for her significant role in inspiring philanthropy. Pedersen and A.R. Mazzotta Employment Specialists are longtime supporters of the Middlesex United Way. Through Pedersen’s strong leadership and personal giving, Mazzotta has always been incredibly supportive of Middlesex United Way, from running an excellent workplace campaign, to matching employee contributions to participating in our corporate sponsorship program as a silver corporate sponsor.

Pedersen is involved with several United Way partners, such as serving as vice chairwoman (and past chairwoman) for the St. Vincent DePaul Middletown board, a corporator of Middlesex Health, and a member of the Women’s Wellness Fund. She has past served in numerous capacities at The Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Gilead Community Resources, and Middlesex YMCA. She is a member of the Westbrook Economic Action Initiative and was a past recipient of the Rotarian of the Year award.

Pedersen is an excellent example of someone who can not only get involved in the betterment of a community but someone who can lead others to help as well. Through her company, her employees contribute to over 30 nonprofits, including many United Way partners, such as the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore, and Oddfellows Playhouse.

Laura inspires her employees to donate through their employee donation program, where each employee selects a nonprofit special to them at the end of the year, and A.R. Mazzotta donates in honor of that employee. During the holiday season, A.R. Mazzotta contributes to various nonprofits selected by their clients. Their clients are awarded the opportunity to choose a nonprofit special to them, and Mazzotta donates in their honor.

In addition to inspiring philanthropy throughout her company and its employees, Pedersen also gives personally to over 10 nonprofits, including the CT Humane Society, Middlesex Health and St. Vincent DePaul Middletown.

Middlesex United Way is pleased to present the Justin Wilkie Next Generation Award to Eric Kane, who is on the steering committee of the Middlesex United Way Young Leaders Society, and was a past chairman of the committee for two years. During that time, Kane successfully led the committee through various events such as Stuff-a-Cruiser, which helps to collect gifts for teenagers in need to be distributed during the holiday season, and Putts for a Purpose, which collects much-needed school supplies for children in Middletown, so they will have whatever they need at the start of the school year.

Kane’s thoughtful leadership and commitment has helped inspire the next generation of community advocates. In addition to his involvement with Middlesex United Way, Kane has been involved with Special Olympics CT and is the assistant coach for Middletown Youth Softball.

Kane is a business transformation manager at TD Bank and recently completed TD Bank’s Operation Leadership Academy. We look forward to continuing our work with Kane as Middlesex United Way continues its focus on developing the next generation of leaders.

We hope you will join us in honoring these outstanding people and organizations for their work in helping to create a better Middlesex County.

The Middlesex United Way Annual Meeting will be held Jan. 30 at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station. Tickets are $20. A full hot breakfast will be served at 8 a.m., and the program will begin at 8:30. To attend, email maria.wood@Middlesexunitedway.org or call 860-346-8695.

Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.