on Tuesday honored three local volunteers with the United Way’s highest awards - the Community Leadership, Tocqueville Society Philanthropy and the Community Service awards - during the group’s annual meeting in Haddam.
Willard McRae of Middletown, a former member of the Common Council who has an exhaustive resume of volunteer activities reaching back many years, was the recipient of the Community Leadership Award during the morning meeting at the . About 200 people, representing dozens of companies and organizations from throughout Middlesex County, attended the breakfast meeting.
A retired licensed clinical social worker who served as a child welfare program supervisor, caseworker and district director for the state, McRae also formerly served as administrative director at Middlesex Hospital’s Mental Health Clinic.
Some of his volunteer efforts have included work with the Foundation, the Middlesex County Community Foundation (where he was a founding director), Middlesex Coalition for Children, Middlesex Collaborative for Children and Opportunity Knocks, to name a few.
McRae also is a co-founder of the NAACP – Tutorial Program, was a member of Middletown’s Human Relations Commission, and was a volunteer with the Salvation Army and the Greater Middletown Negro Scholarship Fund.
Kevin Wilhelm, the United Way’s executive director, said McRae’s long list of accomplishments is almost overwhelming and that his impact on the region has been tremendous.
In accepting the award, McRae thanked the agency for the recognition and also acknowledged his wife, Kathy, for helping him for so many years.
He said he intends to continue his volunteer efforts.
“I am very much aware that to whom much is given, much is expected,” he said.
The group bestowed its Tocqueville Society Philanthropy Award on Herb and Sherry Clark of Essex. Besides their many volunteer efforts throughout the region, the couple is credited with establishing several grant programs through United Way and encouraging others to match their generosity.
“Sherry and I are extremely grateful to be sharing this award,” Herb Clark said. “It takes a lot of people working together to improve the lives of people in Middlesex County.”
The recipient of United Way’s Community Service Award was Linda Ann Morales of Old Lyme, a longtime volunteer with Middlesex United Way and a human resources professional who has served with numerous regional volunteer agencies and committees, including Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Southeastern Connecticut, Ocean County YMCA and the Reach Out to Youth campaign.
“Linda has always felt that society has an obligation to catch you when you fall,” her brother, John Morales, said in introducing his sister.
Linda Morales said her parents taught her the importance of caring for others.
“They taught me to value others and what you have and not to take things for granted,” she said. “These are values that I continue to live by.”
Also honored at the meeting was the HOPE Partnership of Old Saybrook, which was given the United Way’s Community Impact Award. HOPE is a nonprofit organization created in 2004 that seeks to provide affordable housing throughout the region. One of the group’s successes is a 16-unit apartment complex recently completed in the Ferry Point neighborhood of Old Saybrook. The group has received 100 applications already from families seeking to rent the apartments, some of the first to be completed under a state program that encourages towns to help encourage affordable housing developments.
Tony Lyons, president of HOPE, accepted the award on the group’s behalf. He said he was initially skeptical whether shoreline communities would accept affordable housing proposals and is pleased by the success of HOPE’s initiative in Old Saybrook. Housing those in need, he said, can solve “a multitude of problems.”
During its annual meeting the Middlesex United Way also elected several new members and new officers. The group elected Gary Simonsen as president, Clifford Straub as first vice president, William Holder as second vice president and Allison Dowe as treasurer.