Kennedy Center honors four Fairfield residents

The Kennedy Center’s 67th annual Awards Dinner and Meeting recently was held at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn. During the event 12 awards were given to area employers, volunteers, staff and persons with disabilities. These awards pay tribute to those who have made outstanding personal achievements or significant contributions to people with disabilities.

Four award recipients were from Fairfield: Fairfield University won The Corporate VIP (Very Important Partner) Award, Bear Hugs Child Care Center was named Competitive Employer of the Year, Chris Hasak received the Supported Employee of the Year and, the Exercise Science Club at Sacred Heart University was honored as Volunteer of the Year.

The Corporate VIP (Very Important Partner) Award — Fairfield University

The Corporate Very Important Partner Award is given to a community partner who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to The Kennedy Center and to the individuals they serve.  Fairfield University epitomizes the criteria of this award to its fullest.

For over 30 years, Fairfield University has hired The Kennedy Center’s maintenance crew to care and maintain the grounds of its beautiful campus.  Currently, they employ three Kennedy Center workers. Serving on the crew has given them many opportunities for job growth and satisfaction.

In addition, The Kennedy Center and Fairfield’s Campus Ministry have partnered together on the Best Buddy Program.  For over 20 years, students have been paired with individuals from The Kennedy Center and participate in monthly campus activities and individual outings.  Lifelong friendships have developed from this program.

Many Fairfield University students also have volunteered, interned or participated in service learning at The Kennedy Center.  These volunteer opportunities range from special education students who intern in the Autism Project to film students who made a video of The Kennedy Center’s Maggie Daly Arts Cooperative.

Most recently, The Kennedy Center and Fairfield University launched an innovative project last year to address an unfilled need for high school transition students with autism.  The Kennedy Center’s Children’s Department partnered with Dr. Robert Hannafin, Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Applied Professions, and Assistant Professor, Dr. Alyson Martin to develop T.O.P.S. – Transition Opportunities for Post-Secondary Success.  Now into the second semester, T.O.P.S. meets weekly at Fairfield University utilizing the campus as a classroom to help young adults with autism gain independent living skills and social skills. Both graduate and undergraduate students assist in this class gaining valuable experience for those planning a career in special education.

Competitive Employer of the Year — Bear Hugs Child Care Center

Since 2012, Bear Hugs Child Care Center in Fairfield has provided working evaluations and direct placements for many individuals at The Kennedy Center.  Moneca Harrison, Executive Director and Head Teacher and her staff are very deserving of the Competitive Employee of the Year Award.

Currently, the Work Services program has two individuals working on site. One individual is in the process of returning to school to further her education in child care, while the second individual continually learns new skills.

Bear Hugs exemplifies all the attributes of a great employer and community partner.

Supported Employee of the Year — Chris Hasak

Chris Hasak of Fairfield has been working with Supported Employment at Fairfield University for 34 years. With excellent attendance and a great work attitude, he has eagerly accepted numerous job coaches and co-workers over the years.

He diligently works five days per week, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., keeping the campus clean. He starts his day by independently loading the truck with the necessary tools to complete his work. Within minutes, he is emptying trash, sweeping sidewalks and picking up litter. He also “jumps” right in to assist his co-workers and staff without any need to ask. When he observes someone struggling with any task, he is right there to help. He even directs new staff around the large campus, which he knows inside out, until they are able to navigate it on their own.

As a friendly, outgoing person with a great sense of humor, he is well- known and well-liked by all Fairfield University employees and many students. He will retire in February 2019 after 35 years of service. He will be remembered for his patience, perseverance, humor and his presence.

Volunteer of the Year — Exercise Science Club, Sacred Heart University

The Exercise Science Club at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield was recognized as Volunteer of the Year. Members of the Science Club volunteered in two Kennedy Center programs this past year.

Their first volunteer project was an exercise class for a Kennedy Center day support program, Project Impact. Each week they plan and instruct different exercise programs to fit the needs of the individuals, all with a positive and encouraging approach.

They are also involved in organizing Healing Water Swim Lessons for The Autism Project. Club members work alongside the program’s certified Occupational Therapist to assist with swim instruction to create a safe and fun swimming experience.  One of the club members is now employed by The Kennedy Center’s Autism Project after enjoying this volunteer assignment.

Members of the Exercise Science Club are a true asset to The Kennedy Center’s Internship and Volunteer Department.  The students made time for these programs while balancing academics, sports and other jobs.

Dr. Alyson Martin, Dr. Emily Shamash, Dr. Robert Hannafin, all from Fairfield University, celebrating the special moment with Jo Ann McMullan of Wilton, far right, Vice President of Development at The Kennedy Center.

Dr. Alyson Martin, Dr. Emily Shamash, Dr. Robert Hannafin, all from Fairfield University, celebrating the special moment with Jo Ann McMullan of Wilton, far right, Vice President of Development at The Kennedy Center.

Richard E. Sebastian, Jr., of Shelton, left, President and CEO of The Kennedy Center and Samurie Robinson, Work Services Employment Specialist, center, presented this prestigious honor to Faith Villegas, right, a board member at Bear Hugs.

Richard E. Sebastian, Jr., of Shelton, left, President and CEO of The Kennedy Center and Samurie Robinson, Work Services Employment Specialist, center, presented this prestigious honor to Faith Villegas, right, a board member at Bear Hugs.

The Exercise Science Club at Sacred Heart University was recognized as Volunteer of the Year for their outstanding community service involving two Kennedy Center programs. Kelly Spellman, Intern and Volunteer Coordinator, left, presented the award to Evan Qatani, Club President, center, and Juliana Merighi, Club Vice President, right.

The Exercise Science Club at Sacred Heart University was recognized as Volunteer of the Year for their outstanding community service involving two Kennedy Center programs. Kelly Spellman, Intern and Volunteer Coordinator, left, presented the award to Evan Qatani, Club President, center, and Juliana Merighi, Club Vice President, right.

Chris Hasak of Fairfield, center, displays the Supported Employee of the Year Award he received at The Kennedy Center Annual Awards Dinner. He has worked in supported employment at Fairfield University for 34 years and will retire next year. On stage sharing his excitement are Job Coaches, Denzel Williams, left, and Freddy Williams, at right.

Chris Hasak of Fairfield, center, displays the Supported Employee of the Year Award he received at The Kennedy Center Annual Awards Dinner. He has worked in supported employment at Fairfield University for 34 years and will retire next year. On stage sharing his excitement are Job Coaches, Denzel Williams, left, and Freddy Williams, at right.

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