The volunteers who set out to make a difference in the lives of children have affected hundreds, even thousands, throughout the region. Over many years, the has seen individuals give a great deal of their time and energy.
Some acts of volunteerism arose from the singular act of a child who inspired others to do the same.
Mary Korin, of Bethel, has worked at Santa's Workshop on Spring Street next to the in Danbury for the last six years. “Santa's Workshop grew out of a CCD (Catholic religious education) class at . The kids wanted to do something, so they went home and cleaned up their own toys and donated them.”
That event was responsible for the enormous undertaking that now happens each year. Korin said this year, toys were donated by St. Mary's Church, Toys 4 Tots, and Praxair. and Canondale provided 150 bikes, most of them refurbished.
“When I get there the day of the event, it's 7 a.m., and most of the people have been waiting there since 4 in the morning. They are standing in the freezing cold to get a toy. If there wasn't a need for this, they would just go to a store and buy something,” Korin said.
Toy drives inspire children when they know another child has to do without. In Danbury, Elizabeth Schretzenmayer, 6, and her twin brother, Noah, showed support for the children of and the homeless. Their desire to help others helped them each raise a $100 donation for the charity of their choice. They raised money by helping out around the house with chores, by straightening up the books on the bookshelf and feeding the family’s three kittens.
Their mother, Kristen Schretzenmayer, said somethimes the children would find coins and put them in their donation box. “I think it is a good lesson for them to learn. They have a lot given to them and it teaches them others don't have what they have.”
Elizabeth agreed. “I help people feel better. We did this for people who are poor and feel hurt. I wanted them to be happy, it makes me happy because kids get to play with toys.”
Volunteers find all sorts of ways to impact the lives of others.
Susan Murphy, of Brookfield, is on the board of Healing Hearts, through the , in Danbury. “It's such an important element of our town. When teens have lost a parent, it's so hard for them. They close up and they don't open their hearts to grieve.”
Murphy's husband, former First Selectman Jerry Murphy, was on the board of Healing Hearts. He told a story about a five year old girl whose teenage sister took her own life. “This little girl was at Healing Hearts for a long time, and she felt she was responsible for her sister's suicide. Her sister had to babysit for her, and had said, 'If it weren't for you, I would be out with my friends.' Can you imagine if that little girl had carried that with her her whole life?"
In Newtown, Rob Frangione coaches youth basketball, baseball and football at the . He has volunteered as a coach with kids for the last 18 years. Having also lost family members to cancer, Frangione has made volunteering a lifetime practice.
“There are so many people who need to know other people care about them,” he said. “It can be bringing them food, giving them some time, it's not just about giving money.
Frangione said there are so many opportunities to help other people: There's the food pantry; chemotherapy patients who need rides; other patients who need rides to the hospital and need grocery shopping done. Also, the elderly need yard work done and their driveways shoveled. "It's great that we help Africa and other countries but there is never a time when people don't need help locally,” Frangione said.
In Danbury, Romina Faccennini, has also combined her work as a teacher with her volunteer efforts. Having met people at the at the Danbury Fair mall in 2009, she became interested in their efforts to increase literacy. “I started helping them out at events last Halloween at the mall. The main purpose is to involve families in reading with their children. I also work at the in Danbury and we are always encouraging families to read,'' she said. "I am doing the Imagination Library for my own kids, and as a teacher of literacy, I do this for other people because it is a good way to give back.”
Volunteer efforts even support the work of volunteers. Thanks to Help Photo and the for volunteering to document the event Santa's Workshop and providing those families with portraits, and donating those photos to this story.