Nearly 500 women and men came together at The Village for Families & Children’s Girl Within Luncheon on December 2nd, raising over $153,000 to support life-changing programs for at-risk girls and young women in the Greater Hartford area.
Attendees at the luncheon heard from Maria Rodriguez, a young woman who has overcome numerous challenges throughout her life. Maria took the podium with confidence to tell her story. She said, “I have received services from The Village for Families and Children for almost 15 years. It started when I was 5 years old and ended about last year.”
“What I went through did not break me apart, but made me stronger,” said Maria. “It is not how you start, but how you end.”
Maria received her associate’s degree last year – the first in her family to earn a college degree – and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Hartford.
Alison Coolbrith was named 2016 Woman of the Year by The Village. She had served as one of the first female vice presidents at Aetna and later was the first woman in the insurance industry to become chairman and CEO of an insurance company. With her husband, Barry Lastra, and the University of Hartford, Alison helped develop the Women’s Advancement Initiative, which provides female undergraduates with support and guidance to become leaders. Alison passed away last year. Barry accepted the award on her behalf.
“Alison cared deeply about helping others, especially women – that was one of her passions. She had high standards for herself, a very strong work ethic, and was an exemplary leader,” said Barry. “She understood that some people just need a little bit of extra help to be successful.”
Luncheon guests also heard from Sonia Manzano, who played Maria on Sesame Street for over 30 years, breaking ground as one of the first Latina characters on national television. She told her story of growing up in the South Bronx, overcoming countless obstacles to become a successful actor and award-winning writer.
Sonia’s book, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, details her experiences.
Beth Bombara, chief financial officer for The Hartford, and chair of The Village board of directors, also spoke, underscoring The Hartford’s commitment to the Asylum Hill neighborhood in Hartford. This includes support of The Village’s Community Life Skills for Girls program, which helps at-risk adolescent girls by providing them with the guidance need to achieve educational success and build critical social networks.
Irene O’Connor, weekday anchor of Eyewitness News This Morning on WFSB-TV, Ch. 3, served as emcee.
“It is wonderful to be in a room filled with people who are committed to helping young girls and women become strong, confident and healthy,” said Galo Rodriguez, president and CEO of The Village. “I wish all of the girls we serve could feel your love and support. It would mean so much to them – as it does to me.”
Galo also thanked the Luncheon Committee, led by long-time Village Board member Jeanmarie Cooper, for their incredible commitment and many hours of hard work in planning this event.
The Hartford was the presenting sponsor; gold sponsor was Fairview Capital; silver sponsors were All Waste, Cigna and Travelers; bronze sponsors were Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Deloitte, Hartford Hospital, Key Bank, KÔTA, Robinson and Cole, United Technologies, and Webster.