NORWALK — More than 200 Norwalk residents gathered at the Norwalk Inn Saturday evening to honor individuals and organizations that have had an outsized impact on the city’s community.
The Exchange Club of Norwalk’s “Salute to Outstanding Pillars of the Community” event aimed to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of everyday citizens who have “made a difference in our community, not because they are asked to, but because they believe in giving back and supporting those in need.”
“These individuals and organizations have devoted their time and energy to making the community stronger and the lives of countless citizens that much better. They do this with little fanfare and recognition, strictly because it is the right thing to do,” Director David Jaeger Jr. said.
Honorees were selected for their contributions across five different fields: Education, Business, Public Service, Faith and Lifetime Achievement.
Carleton Giles, who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement, served as police officer in Norwalk for 33 years. During that span, Giles became one of the first trained DARE officers in the state, served as a school resource officer at Brien McMahon and Briggs high schools and held the position of chaplain for the Norwalk Fire Department.
Since retiring from the police force in 2013, Giles has continued to leave his mark on the community by serving as the chairman of the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“I’m extremely humbled to be honored, particularly in the kind of company in which I’m being honored. Being in this kind of company, it’s really hard to be anything but humbled,” Giles said.
Thirty-year Norwalk public school veteran Cynthia Barnett was honored as a “Pillar of Education” for her work as an advocate for young girls looking to break into the science world.
Since founding Norwalk’s Saturday Academy in 2003, Barnett has dedicated her post-retirement time to supporting and accelerating STEM opportunities for girls.
“I’m just doing the mission that God sent me here to do, which is to inspire girls to go into the area of science, technology, engineering and math,” said Barnett, who has also been awarded the Connecticut Technology Council’s Innovation and Leadership Award for her nonprofit work.
To accept the award for the “Pillar of Public Service,” nine nurses from the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital were in attendance.
“At the end of the day, it’s a very challenging kind of work that we do, but it’s all about the people that we care for,” said Linda Versea, director of cancer services at the hospital, of the nurses’ jobs. “It’s our job to make their experience easier, so that they can live a better life and spend more time with their family.”
For his 52 years of serving communities all over New Canaan and Norwalk, Msgr. William Scheyd was honored as Norwalk’s “Pillar of Faith.”
Before retiring in December as pastor of St. Aloysius in New Canaan, Scheyd was appointed as the Episcopal vicar of the Bridgeport Diocese. Even in his retirement, Scheyd has remained a constant presence throughout southern Fairfield County.
“Helping people is just a part of my life. You never retire from being a priest; you’re always a priest. When there is a need or when people call you, you’re just inclined to do it. You just can’t turn that off,” Scheyd said.
Local businessman Anthony Aitoro took home the final honor, as the Exchange Club’s “Pillar of Business.”
Aitoro credited an upbringing rich in charity and community outreach as the reason why he remains so active in his surrounding community.
“Charitable giving stretches back to my roots, really,” Aitoro said. “My dad was a Kiwanis Club member, and when I was a little kid, I was taught the art of giving by him.”
After the event, Jaeger expressed hope that the “Outstanding Pillars” awards would become a yearly staple of the Exchange Club.
“This year’s Pillars are only a handful of the many, many other overlooked community advocates. Our hope, at the Exchange Club, is that this event catches on, so that we can bring these generous people the attention and accolades that they deserve,” Jaeger said. ptomlinson@hearst mediact.com; Twitter: @Tomlinson_PE
“These individuals and organizations have devoted their time and energy to making the community stronger and the lives of countless citizens that much better. They do this with little fanfare and recognition, strictly because it is the right thing to do.”