This past weekend, Kiwanis Club of Middletown, a service-based non-profit organization made up of professionals in Middletown who share a common interest in volunteerism and dedication to children in need, held its 60th anniversary dinner at the Middletown Inn.
The actual calendar anniversary of the club was in May. The club was founded in 1951. The anniversary dinner was dedicated to former City Councilman, Kiwanis member and past Kiwanis Lt. Gov. Jesse Salafia, who could not attend due o health reasons. Salafia is the oldest member at age 96.
Many of the current members Regional presidents and various chapter leaders were on hand to congratulate the club for staying active all these years and growing its list of annual charitable projects. Christopher Conely, a CPA, lifelong Middletown resident and Middletown High School graduate who is employed at Guilmartin, DiPiro & Sokolowski, was sworn in is as the new president.
Conely expressed his goals to continue the charitable projects of Kiwanis, such as the Children’s Bike Safety Rodeo, the scholarship fund and peanut sales. Conely also spoke of updating the club’s website to allow donations to be made directly online and engaging more members via social media to accommodate more complex work schedules.
Conely and Mike DiPiro, a partner at Guilmartin, DiPiro & Sokowski, survived the building collapse of the firm's Main Street office this past winter. I spoke to Conely in the days after this happened and his description of what happened was something out of a "Die Hard" movie — literal running from crashing debris.
At the dinner, DiPiro expressed his belief that the reason they survived was because of the positive energy and good karma the building held, having had so many great individuals who had occupied the space and positive memories. A truly remarkable note is that DiPiro has plans underway to rebuild the building in the footprint of the collapsed building this year.
Main Street will not be marked with a vacant trash-collecting lot, but will have a sorely missed facade built anew less than a year after the original building's demise. The new building closely resembles the historic design, but with updated materials.
Past president Guy Russo was master of ceremonies. Past president Christopher Holden was congratulated as the new District 22 incoming president — a position where he will serve as a leader to other clubs in the area. Holden was presented with a special club banner by New England District Governor Vesta Brown, who traveled from Vermont. Originally, the Meriden Kiwanis sponsored the Middletown branch of Kiwanis.
Mayor Sebastian Giuliano and Phil Caccicola were awarded for their 30 years of membership and service. Past president Guy Russo presided as master of ceremonies.
Extremely exciting for all members was the honoring of Mack Stewart with a coveted red jacket. A red suit jacket is awarded to members who have gone above and beyond the normal service of the typical club member as far as volunteering — and in Stewart’s case this is not understatement.
Stewart began the Warm the Children charitable project 12 years ago in Waterbury and brought the project to Middletown. The goal of Warm the Children — which has partnered with the Middletown Press — is to provide warm winter clothing to children whose families cannot afford to provide it for them.
The program is facilitated by the Middletown Press, which partners with schools and social workers to identify families in need. These children are then provided with $80 worth of warm winter clothing, such as pajamas, snow boots, hats, gloves, and coats purchased from the Cromwell Wal-Mart. The store works with Kiwanis and the Middletown Press so that all money is accounted for and parents and children just show up to Wal-Mart, meet with a volunteer Kiwanis shopper, choose items, and can go home with clothing for each child.
No money is given directly to families, and Kiwanis members help to ensure that no toys or other items are purchased, just warm clothing for that child. In all, 56 towns in 15 states are now running their own Warm the Children projects based on Mack Stewart’s model.
A special award was also given to the Cromwell Wal-mart and Middletown Press for helping to coordinate the project with Kiwanis. Last year, $56,000 was raised and more than 750 children in the area were provided with warm clothing that might otherwise gone without. In his honor, the local Kiwanis Club of Middletown gave a substantial donation to the Kiwanis Trauma Care Institution in his name and presented Stewart with the distinguished honor of his own red jacket.
Club member and also a past president Dr. Jeffrey Palmer closed the evening asking members to recall fond and historic moments in the club's history.
Giuliano recalled when the club became open for women to join. "That's really when we took off and grew both in club dynamics, and organization of our projects. If it weren't for the women, we would not be here today."
Linda Arrigoni was the first woman to join Kiwanis of Middletown. She also served as the first female president in 1991. Arrigoni was honored with flowers. George Dunn, a member for over 20 years, spoke fondly of showing children who were recipients of warm clothing through Warm the Children, the fire engines at the fire station where he was chief.
Many guests expressed gratitude to Maureen Darling, current club secretary and event organizer, and her husband and past president David Darling, who have spearheaded many projects over the last decade and have contributed tremendously in keeping the inner workings of the club functioning and charitable activities possible.
The Darlings have been past lieutenant governors of the club and red jacket recipients. Many members of the club spoke of memories of being involved with the club originally with their fathers or uncles — half a dozen current members are second-generation members and service with Kiwanis was a family tradition, something that has become lost of the years, but is greatly missed by members.
The entire club was honored with a plaque for distinguished service by state Reps. Lesser, Suzio and state Sen. Doyle, and a decree by Mayor Giuliano.
“Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time.”
Annual local Middletown Kiwanis Club projects include work with:
Warm the Children
Bike Safety Rodeo
Middletown High Key Club
Amazing Grace Food Pantry Food Drive
I have a Friend Program
Mount St. John’s School for Boys
Kiwanis International Fund
Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute
College Scholarship Program for Middletown Students
Valedictorian/ Salutatorian Awards
M.A.R.C. — The Middlesex Association for Retarded Citizens
Holiday Food Baskets Given to Salvations Army