On Saturday, May 16, 2015, Tribuna Newspaper held the 2nd Annual American Dream Awards at the Portuguese Cultural Center in Danbury. The elegant evening, with the Center adorned in red, white and blue in honor of Memorial Day, featured esteemed speakers and inspiring awardees that were enjoyed by approximately 330 guests, donors and supporters.
The nomination process for the 2015 American Dream Awards began in March of 2015 and ended on April 16. One hundred and fifteen applications were received from candidates who migrated to our state from multiple countries: Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Portugal, Haiti, Bangladesh and India.
All 10 finalists of the awards were honored, followed by the revelation of the awardees’ life stories. The winners of the Student of the Year received $2,000 Scholarships: Cindy Zhunio, a Danbury resident originally from Ecuador, her award furnished and presented by Union Savings Bank, Jessica Manfredi, a Danbury resident originally from Brazil, her award furnished and presented by Western Connecticut Health Network and Mohammed Alam, a Danbury resident originally from Bangladesh, his award furnished and presented by Chick-fil-A at the Danbury Fair Mall. The Person of the Year winner received a $2,000 award: Mercia Ordine, a Fairfield resident originally from Brazil, her award furnished and presented by Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse. The Veteran of the Year winner received a $3,000 award: Carlos Mora, Jr., a Danbury resident originally from Mexico, his award furnished and presented by Tribuna Newspaper.
Nonprofit of The Year was awarded to the Danbury Public Library, which received $3,000, furnished and presented by Amazon Concrete, Inc.
The winners received also an American Dream Awards statue, and they will have their names permanently displayed on a plaque in Danbury City Hall honoring Tribuna’s American Dream Awards recipients, which will be presented this fall at a Danbury City Council Meeting.
A total of $14,000 was given in awards and scholarships through the generous support of the event sponsors.
During the gala, community leaders were also honored. The American Dream Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Attorney Americo S. Ventura. State Senator Michael McLachlan (R-24), Alessandro Piovezahn, founder and creator of The LivelyUp Project, an intergovernmental organization in support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) were honored with the American Dream Leadership Awards.
The highlight of the evening was the moment when Tribuna’s publisher Celia Bacelar handed over a check of $10,285 funds raised through individual ticket sales to pay down Carolina Bortoletto’s Danbury Hospital medical account.
Carolina is a local activist who co-founded Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), a statewide organization of young adults that works for the rights of undocumented youth and their families, and she serves on the board of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation. With sudden stomach complications, she has had to undergo nine major emergency surgeries and was in a medically induced coma for 20 days. She has been hospitalized since early December 2014; last month, due to further complications, she was transferred to Yale New Haven Hospital.
The night was a celebration of diversity, patriotism and the American dream.
One of the greatest contributions that immigrants give to the communities in which they live is - perspective.
Many immigrants have come to our country from places where the pursuit of happiness is not a constitutional right, where free speech is a luxury, where the freedom to speak up against your government, worship your God and fight for the causes you believe in can cost you your life. They are places where an individual can work his or her entire life and still be unable to lift a family out of poverty, where the nearest elementary school is a 10-mile walk on a dirt road and the possibility of collage education is even more distant.
Such is the perspective that the 2015 American Dream Award finalists and winners have given us as a gift – to be grateful for what we have and continue to strive every day to make our lives better.