On Saturday, April 19th, 2014, Tribuna Newspaper held its 15th Anniversary Gala and 1st Annual American Dream Awards at the Ethan Allen Hotel in Danbury. The elegant evening, in benefit of the Western Conn Health Network (WCHN), featured esteemed speakers, and inspiring awardees that were joined by over 300 glittering donors and supporters.
The pre-dinner cocktail hour was abuzz with people from all walks of life showing support to all American Dream Awards recipients, and the evening’s main beneficiary WCHN. A moving video message from Tribuna’s Publisher Celia Bacelar kicked off the event, making the connection between the publication and Danbury Hospital where the publisher herself over the years has been a patient.
“I wanted to give back to the hospital somehow, so in our 15th anniversary I had this idea to raise funds for the hospital to thank them for all they have done for me,” said Bacelar.
The keynote speakers of the evening were Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and former World Champion boxer, political figure and social activist Acelino "Popó" Freitas from Brazil. Senator Blumenthal has been a champion for immigration reform and spoke on the Spirit of the American Dream through Tribuna’s own American Dream story, and our nation’s need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Freitas shared of his challenges growing up in extreme poverty in Brazil and his rise as a world champion calling on all present to never underestimate the power of their dreams, opening up the American Dream Awards ceremony.
Over 130 nominations of individuals from nine different countries were received. Nominees for the American Dream Person of the Year and Student of the Year were immigrants or children of immigrants, 16 years or older, who have overcome tremendous odds and adversity to make their American Dreams come true.
All 17 finalists of the awards were honored, followed by the reveal of the life stories of the Student of the year award winners.
Abigail Andrade Solis, nominated by family friend Mary Tracy, migrated to the United States at the age of 6, from Vera Cruz, Mexico with her mother, and her two conjoined sisters. Solis struggled with the emotional stress of watching her sisters undergoing treatment and her mother concerned about the financial stress of the medical bills that were ongoing. Despite these losses and stressors, Solis excelled in school graduated from New Milford High School in 2013 and is now attending WesConn in Danbury majoring in accounting. She works part-time to pay her bills for tuition because she is not eligible for financial aid. She received a $2,000 scholarship furnished by Western Connecticut Health Network.
Angelica Martins, a Brazilian native, nominated by her friend Regina Pollack, struggled to support herself and pay for tuition, managed to earn her associates degree in Business Management from Naugatuck Community College in May of 2014 while both working and attending college fulltime and dreamed continuing her education. She received a $2,000 scholarship furnished by Western Connecticut State University.
Felipe Bruno, another Brazilian native, nominated himself for the award. Bruno lived all of his childhood in Danbury, CT and at age fifteen had to move back to Brazil with parents after his grandmother had developed cancer. “When I landed in my own country it was so different from the United States. I felt like a tourist, an outsider, it is a place where I didn’t belong. It was at that moment that I realized I’m an American.” He realized the next prospects for his future was to continue his education in the United States. Before his senior year he was offered a scholarship to play soccer at South Kent School in Connecticut. He accepted and once again left his family in Brazil to pursue his American Dream. Bruno received a $2,000 scholarship furnished by Amazon Concrete, Inc.
Perhaps the most touching and heart-rending part of the program was when the recipient of the Person of the Year Award was revealed.
Silvia Osdranus, originally from Ecuador, is the fourth child of twelve brothers and sisters who grew up in extreme poverty and a very abusive environment. She nominated herself for the award as a way to share her story and inspire others, and so she did.
“My life had been a tough journey and I had to overcome many obstacles. I have been discriminated because I did not speak English. I had defeated tobacco addiction, alcohol addiction, depression, the illness of my youngest son, the agony and pain of not having my other children with me... Today I am stronger than ever with only one vision in mind, the wellbeing and happiness of my family. I have accomplished many of my dreams; for example, I have become an American Citizen. I have learned the language, I am going to school, I have a job, I have purchased my first home, and what is more important I have my children with me. When we lived in Ecuador I couldn’t work, I could not go to school, and I did not have friends. Today my life has turned around, and is filled with opportunity and hope. I can enjoy life, wear comfortable shoes, enjoy music, new foods, and have different beliefs, wear different clothes and, most importantly , I can express myself without any fear of being criticized, beaten, or condemned for my opinion.” She wrote in her nomination.
Osdranus received a $2,000 award furnished by Ventura, Ribeiro & Smith Attorneys at Law who were also the presenting sponsors of the event.
The award also featured the category of the Nonprofit of the Year chosen by Tribuna staff, Multicultural center of Western CT, formally known as the Hispanic Center of Great Danbury, which received a $3,000 donation furnished by Savings Bank of Danbury. And a Team Member of the Year category presented by event partner Ethan Allen Hotel who honored Executive Chef Claudio Portuense, a Brazilian native, who was first hired by the hotel in 1998 as a line cook and progressed up the ladder to the most senior position in kitchen.
“The Tribuna started as our family’s American Dream. To be able to celebrate its 15 years by identifying and honoring others in the community who share our determination was an honor. We could not be prouder of the work of the selection committee in choosing these individuals whose stories are an inspiration to us all,” said Bacelar.
All winners have their names permanently displayed on a plaque in Danbury City Hall honoring Tribuna’s American Dream Awards .