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Meet the Forces of Change

A celebration of giving

Each year we invite our readers to nominate model citizens from their communities across Fairfield County. And we are always astounded by the generous, accomplished, talented human beings in our midst. For them, every season is the season of giving. In these pages you will meet Max, a nine-year-old who started a charity at age seven. You will also get to know Steve and Jennifer Czech, a couple who responded to the kind of tragedy that would make most parents lose hope, by giving hope to hundreds of families. The rest of the winners are just as inspiring. Read their stories of unwavering kindness. Admire their huge hearts. Thank them for making Fairfield County—and the world—a better place.

Light a Fire 2013
photograph William Taufic

Lifetime Achievement

James Naughton

Thirty-seven years ago, James Naughton was performing in Stamford, when he went to visit a friend in Weston. Naughton, who grew up in West Hartford, was instantly taken by the bucolic town. “I flew back to L.A., and I said, ‘Pam, I found out where we’re going to move.’” A year later the couple settled in Weston.

Weston is a good place for a star to hide in the woods. However, anyone who needs an MC for a charity gala or wants a big name to headline at a senior center fundraiser knows you don’t have to look under a rock for Naughton. He’s always eager to put himself out there and help.

Not a fluffy Hollywood type, Naughton played soccer and baseball at Brown, where he began as pre-med and graduated with an English degree. He then attended Yale Drama School and started working two weeks after graduation. His first big break came within a year, when he landed a part in Long Day’s Journey into Night in New York. It’s been a long, epic journey since then, and Naughton continues to work. He’s been shooting a new TV series, Hostages, sometimes arriving home at midnight. He spends quality time with his kids and grandkids. No matter. There is still time for much more.

Naughton has been involved in the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp since visiting the construction site with Paul Newman twenty-five years ago. He’s a member of the Westport Country Playhouse Artists Circle. He has performed for Stand for the Troops, to benefit soldiers with PTSD, and hosted the Maritime Aquarium’s Red Apple Awards dinner many times. Wildlife in Crisis, Naughton says, “is near and dear to my heart. If I can help shine a light on their extraordinary work, help them raise funds—why not?” He has helped them release “all sorts of raptors,” an owl, fox kits, and five bluebirds in his backyard (Wildlife in Crisis gave him a birdhouse dedicated to Pam Naughton, who passed away last year).

Anyone on the event circuit knows Naughton MCs pretty much everything, but he downplays his role. “I’m amazed by what people do,” says Naughton. “They don’t just show up at a gala; they are there all the time. Through my experience at Hole in the Wall, I realized when you give a little bit of your time, you wind up getting back a lot more than you give. We’re all trying to have a meaningful life. Giving adds meaning to life.”

Best Health Advocate

Lisa Lori

Last year Greenwich resident Lisa Lori and her son went on a medical mission to Panama with Operation Smile, a charity that offers free reconstructive surgery to children with clefts. “It was very emotional,” says Lisa. “It’s hard for anyone to see how people in the developing world live.” Her son Zachary was only twelve. “He bonded with one baby and mother, in particular,” continues Lisa. “He held the baby as they went into surgery. When the mom started crying, he went over and rubbed her back.”

That moment was so poignant because Zack is usually the one going into surgery. He and his two younger brothers were born with facial paralysis; they had no use of facial muscles, which meant an inability to smile as well as difficulties hearing and swallowing. The cause of the extremely rare condition is unknown and doctors offered no solutions.

“My husband wouldn’t give up,” says Lisa. “He found Dr. Ronald Zucker in Toronto. He had pioneered a muscle transplant surgery for children, to enable them to smile, close their mouths, eat better and speak better.” Each of the Lori boys has undergone several surgeries.

“The change was so remarkable that we had to do something to celebrate Dr. Zucker,” says Lisa. He was a medical volunteer for Operation Smile, so Lisa, who owned a successful PR firm, held a fundraiser for Operation Smile at her home in 2010. Her longtime friend Kathy Van Zeeland attended. Moved by the event, the handbag designer asked how she could help.

By 2011, the talented duo had created a trio of teddy bears, named Zachary, Luke and Griffin (after the Lori boys), intended to comfort children receiving cleft surgery through Operation Smile. “When children in the Western world go into surgery, they can take a blanket or stuffed animal,” explains Lisa. “Kids in the developing world often don’t even have toys.” Those who donate $240 to provide a surgery to a child receive a commemorative bear and the child receives one as well.

“Community service is not about checking a box. It’s a way of life,” says Lisa, who recently closed her PR firm to focus on family, writing and charity work. The Loris have raised more than $500,000 for Operation Smile through the bears, events, and the boys’ fundraising efforts.

“Lisa is an incredible woman, who has helped so many children,” comments Kristie Porcaro, senior VP of development at Operation Smile. “I’ve been on missions with the bears. I’ve seen the smiles they put on kids’ faces.”

Outstanding Grassroots Volunteers

The Mikey Czech Foundation

It was a Sunday, a normal day except that it was energetic, baseball-loving Mikey Czech’s eleventh birthday. A normal day except that it was the day Steve Czech suggested his wife, Jennifer, take Mikey from their home in New Canaan to the ER at Norwalk Hospital. Mikey had been experiencing double vision and looking sideways at the TV. Steve headed to 10 o’clock mass.

By the afternoon, the Czechs were sitting in a somber office at Yale Children’s Hospital, where Mikey had been transferred by ambulance. The head of pediatric neurosurgery explained that the Czech’s only son had a rare and deadly type of brain tumor. He told them, “At best, he has three months to live. There’s nothing we can do.”

“Hearing that felt like someone simultaneously hitting me in the stomach and in the back of the knees with a baseball bat,” recounts Steve. “I almost fainted.”

Only 150 to 200 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with a DIPG brain tumor like Mikey’s each year, so little research had been done on this lethal tumor, which grows in the brain stem and destroys the nerves that control eye and face muscles, breathing and swallowing. “The body gradually deteriorates, but the mind does not,” explains Steve.

Mikey participated in a clinical trial. Steroids caused a twenty-five-pound weight gain in three weeks, but the tumor began to shrink. He met Pope Benedict XVI and the Yankees. He started sixth grade at Saxe Middle School, where his older sister attended. Then, on September 7, 2008, nine months after his diagnosis, Mikey died.

The Czechs already had begun cementing their son’s legacy. Prior to his death, they founded The Mikey Czech Foundation to fund DIPG tumor research. Steve pledged a minimum of 10 percent of profits from his firm, Czech Asset Management. The foundation has raised over $2 million and is funding a groundbreaking clinical trial at Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“They are doing biopsies,” says Jennifer. “This is huge.” Steve adds, “Kids’ lives will be prolonged and eventually they will be able to survive. That could happen in ten-plus years.”

Dana-Farber’s Dr. Kieran comments, “Thanks to the Czechs’ generosity and devotion to this cause, we are making great strides in coming up with more effective treatments for DIPG tumors.”

“What matters in life is not what you have,” says Steve, ”it’s what you do with what you have."

Best Friend To Women & Girls

Jane Carlin

As a teacher, Jane Carlin has made a career of making a difference. During ten years at Sacred Heart University, she received the Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award twice. Before that, at Greenwich High School, Jane was honored as Connecticut Teacher of the Year runner-up. To her students, Jane is teacher, mentor and friend, but it is the title of the class she currently teaches at Southern Connecticut State University, Inspired Activism: The Power of One, that reflects the rest of the work Jane does.

For several decades, including six years as president, the Stamford resident has served on the board of The Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Stamford. For the past twelve years, she has been on the board of Project Return in Westport.

“It’s an incredible residence for seven young women, who arrive at the doorstep and live in a home where there is unconditional love and mutual respect,” explains Jane. “It really simulates family; it’s not an institution. It’s a place where young women can heal and recapture their lives.” Jane’s voice wavers. “I’m getting emotional just thinking about some of the struggles these girls have, and how they wind up on the other side as such strong women. They go on to college. They have families and great careers. Something happens at Project Return that is life-changing.”

In contemplating what drew her to these organizations, Jane explains, “When it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault, people are quick to blame the victim. They are not issues that people race to support financially. As a feminist, I believe that women need as many paths to equality as possible.”

Jane notes that her husband, Ben Gifford, is her “biggest fan. We talk about the issues and get excited about the potential for helping in any way we can.” Laura Bard, a staff member at Project Return, states, “Jane and her husband have consistently set an extraordinary example as major donors, but equally important has been Jane’s passionate voice for women.”  

Jane spends the summer in Nantucket, but her focus is not sunbathing. Jane is vice president of A Safe Place in Nantucket, which provides free services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; and she is also a member of the Nantucket Atheneum ESL staff.       

Corporate Good Neighbor

Kim Jeffery, Nestlé Waters North America

In our society, we are looking for a bit of inspired leadership and having a hard time finding it,” says Greenwich resident Kim Jeffery, chairman of Nestlé Waters North America. The people at Nestlé Waters, where Jeffery’s twenty-year tenure as president and CEO was as much about doing good as doing well, don’t have that complaint.

Jeffery has forged numerous relationships with charities over the years, including AmeriCares. “We’ve been part of their first responder program for disaster relief for a long time,” he notes. “People can’t live for seventy-two hours without water. We have a big network of manufacturing facilities across the country, and we work with FEMA, the Red Cross and AmeriCares. After 9/11, we were the only trucks that got into New York City. We were on the ground after Katrina. AmeriCares distributed a million bottles for us in Haiti.”

“Over the years, we have called on Nestlé for help hundreds of times and they have never let us down,” comments Curt Welling, president and CEO of AmeriCares. “Mr. Jeffery was the guiding force in developing such a unique and exemplary partnership.”

Jeffery estimates that Nestlé Waters donates 25 million to 50 million bottles of water a year. “We also provide financial support for environmental organizations and charities involving children,” adds Jeffery. “Just as an example, there are seventy charities we donate to in Maine. We have 100 facilities around the country, and wherever we are, we make a point to put back into the community. Nestlé is 150 years old and has roots in values-based behavior. I’ve had carte blanche to do what I think is right for the company and the communities we are in.”

Jeffery also believes strongly in personally modeling this philanthropic behavior. He and his wife, Mary serve on AmeriCares leadership council. They ran the capital campaign for Kids in Crisis and are honorary board members. Kim is on the board of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. The Jefferys also support the Boys &  Girls Club, World Vision and Greenwich Country Day School (where three of their children attend; their oldest has just started at Brunswick).

“It’s a simple concept that almost everyone misses, because we live in such a self-serving environment, but you get a lot more out of your people if they come to work inspired by the leaders and the values of the company,” says Jeffery. 

Most Dedicated Committee Member

Lynne Taikowski

A diagnosis of breast cancer is devastating. But if it had to happen to Lynne Taikowski’s mother, at least the fateful news was delivered near the Norma Pfriem Breast Care Center. “My mom was passing through [on a visit] and had a mammogram here,” says the Fairfield resident. When she decided to have her surgery here, Lynne’s husband, a surgeon at Bridgeport Hospital, advised she be treated at Norma Pfriem.

“They were the most caring community of caregivers I’d ever met,” raves Lynne. “I thought my mom was being treated really well because my husband is a surgeon. Then I realized everyone there is treated like family.” Soon the Norma Pfriem “family” would be raving about Lynne and her generous family.

“At the time, my younger daughter, Allie, was in middle school. She decided to have a bake sale to raise money for the center,” explains Lynne. “The following year she wanted to do something bigger, so we organized a mother-daughter tea.” Their next idea, Catwalk for a Cure, took their fundraising efforts to a whole new level. Every Sunday the Taikowskis hosted a house full of teens, who attacked every task from finding a venue to securing outfits, silent auction items and the famous DJ Nomad. Mothers and daughters and boys and girls strutted the runway together.

The first Catwalk for a Cure was such a hit that kids were clamoring to be a part of the next one, and the event evolved into a franchise. “Now 200 kids are involved every year in different communities,” notes Lynne, “and $300,000 has been raised.” Lynne credits the teens and cochairs who took over after Allie headed to college with growing the event she and her daughter started.

Lynne’s older daughter, Kate, also got in on the action, planning a Here’s to Your Health event at the Taikowski’s home to showcase Norma Pfriem Wellness Center offerings—from yoga and Pilates to acupuncture and naturopathy—which are available to anyone, not just patients.

Lynne is on the Norma Pfriem Advisory Board, is vice president of the President’s Council and has hosted its Rose of Hope luncheon for five years. “We are so lucky to have such wonderful volunteer support,” says Director Donna Twist.

Lynne also supports Near & Far Aid, Greenfield Hill Congregational Church and Horizons at Greens Farms Academy. “There is so much affluence in this area that you have to counterbalance,” states Lynne. “I can’t imagine any ‘real’ job that would be more rewarding.”

Best Friend To Seniors

Lyn Chivvis

In 2008, Dr. David Brown, a well-known doctor in New Canaan, asked family friend Lyn Chivvis to join the board of Staying Put, an organization that helps seniors remain comfortable and safe in their own homes. Describing Brown as “a magnificent human,” Lyn replied with a resounding yes. She has been saying yes ever since.

Yes, she would be secretary of the executive board. Yes, she also would take on the role of volunteer chairperson, host monthly coffees for volunteer drivers and annual recognition parties, spearhead a Phone Buddies project to ward off loneliness for solitary seniors, and be the first to raise her hand anytime other needs arose at Staying Put board meetings.

“Lyn has earned the nickname the Energizer Bunny,” says Nancy Helle, a friend and fellow board member. Donna Simone, assistant director of Staying Put, adds, “There is never a challenge for which Lyn cannot come up with a creative solution.”

A New Canaan resident since the age of two, Lyn’s first memory is of strolling in Mead Park. Now, she is doing everything she can to make her New Canaan neighbors’ memories of their Golden Years positive ones. “I’m delighted to get the word out about Staying Put,” she says. “Everybody on the board deserves this award.” The organization attracts big names—a recent fundraiser at New Canaan High School included the likes of Paul Simon, Harry Connick Jr. and Brian Williams.

With a staff of paid workers and volunteers, Staying Put offers “social events to get people out and having fun together, as well as high-tech and low-tech assistance,” explains Lyn. “We’ll set up your computer, change a lightbulb you can no longer reach, walk your dog. Giving rides is our biggest service. We started out giving thirty rides a month; now we’re up to 160. I host the monthly coffee for the drivers because I want to thank them. At one point we asked drivers to give reasons why they do it. Some like making a new friend. One replied, ‘There’s just so much tennis you can play in one day!’”

Lyn has her own business, so she doesn’t have trouble filling her days. “As a massage therapist, helping is in my nature,” she says. “Somehow there’s time, and somehow there’s always more that can be done.” Why does she do it? “We are setting the table for the next generation—David Brown said that. I want to set the table for the next generation.” And she certainly is—she is an inspiration to those who will follow in her footsteps.

Most Committed Philanthropist

Connie Silver

Connie Silver’s life is an American-dream story. She grew up in Maine with a generous spirit but no money. “In first grade, a very poor child came to school without lunch every day. I decided to take care of her and share my lunch,” recounts Connie. “My teacher called me her ‘little social worker.’” The vocation stuck.

Connie left home at seventeen, determined to go to college. She worked as a stewardess for Mohawk Airlines until she saved enough money to attend NYU, earning a Bachelor of Science in social work at thirty-five, her masters a year later and a Ph.D. in psychoanalysis in 1983. When the AIDS epidemic hit, Connie worked tirelessly counseling its victims. She was the one who hugged AIDS patients when their own mothers wouldn’t.

The costar in Connie’s movie-worthy life, is her husband of fifty-five years, Martin Silver. A poor kid from the Bronx, he enlisted, went to Korea, and attended NYU via the GI Bill. He founded a plasma collection firm, with Connie’s help, which became the ultra successful DCI Biologicals. Of her home on the Sound in Greens Farms, Connie comments, “Martin and I still drive down this driveway and wonder, Who lives here?!”

The Silvers have no children with whom to share their wealth. They have a deep passion for education, though, and have given to NYU, among others. “For every person you help educate, they change, their family life changes, their neighborhood changes, society changes,” says Connie. “Also, NYU gives the city 600,000 hours a year of work through student internships. I shudder to think if it weren’t there.” The sizeable pledge the Silvers made to NYU in 2006 will help ensure it always will be.

Connie prefers not to reveal a dollar figure for the transformative donation. Suffice it to say that the school where Connie attended (and also has taught) has been named the Silver School of Social Work, housing the McSilver Institute on Policy and Research, and a Constance-McCatherin Silver Fellowship has been established. Connie stresses, “Education is the only way to make a difference.”

“Connie is extremely philanthropic,” comments esteemed psychologist Dr. Dale Atkins. “She has had a practice as a therapist for years and she is also a wonderfully talented artist of significant surrealistic art.” The Silvers’ home is dotted with a lively cast of characters, in the form of whimsical paintings and sculptures, such as “Umbrella Man,” who stands outside the front door. “There are eighty-seven more in the garage,” notes Connie, who donates all profits from her prolific creations to NYU or NYU’s Cancer Center.

“There’s almost no altruism involved, because everything I do makes me feel good,” she says. “I have so much more than I ever need. It’s the right thing to do.”

Outsanding Youth

Max Konzerowsky

At the age of seven, Stamford resident Max Konzerowsky had a problem. He wanted to volunteer, but he couldn’t find a charity that would accept a child’s help. “Kids my age didn’t really have good opportunities for volunteering,” explains Max, now nine.  Solution? “I decided to start my own charity.”

A neighbor helped build a website and HappyKidsCare (HKC) was born, with the mission to “help kids live happier lives by encouraging them to give back and to volunteer in their community.” Max is close to his grandfather who suffers from Alzheimer’s, so he considered that cause, but a visit to the Inspirica shelter for the homeless in Stamford changed his mind. “We were sitting in the lobby and watching the kids on the playground,” recounts Max’s mom, Dawn. “He saw kids his age who looked just like him. He had a heavy heart after that and said, ‘I really want to work here Mom.’”

Now the thirty to forty homeless kids at Inspirica enjoy pizza and dance parties, ice cream socials, trips to Chelsea Piers, and sleepovers—all thanks to Max and the 200 volunteers he has recruited. “Kids are leading reading groups at the shelter; running chess clubs; organizing Thanksgiving dinners for forty families, even renting tablecloths and china to make it more special,” says Dawn.  When a girl at the shelter yearned to play the violin, HKC found a teen to teach her. When a boy had no one to come watch his football games, Max and his friends went to cheer him on.

Dawn credits the kids at the Brunswick School (where Max attends), Max’s hockey teammates, Greenwich Academy students, and many other local schools and friends for making HKC such a success. “Instead of receiving birthday gifts, some of Max’s classmates have donated school supplies to Inspirica,” says Dawn.

One Inspirica resident, whose anonymity is essential to keeping her safe from abuse, felt compelled to nominate Max despite the risk. “Max plays with all the children at the Youth Center like they are his brothers and sisters. He brings them joy,” she says.

Dawn stresses what the volunteers are gaining: “leadership skills, a good work ethic, empathy.”

“The kids at Inspirica teach us that we don’t need a lot to be happy,” says Max, highlighting the most wonderful lesson of all.

In January, HKC and Chelsea Piers CT are teaming up to launch the Get Up. Give Back. Get Fit Challenge, which encourages Fairfield County youth to take social action. 

Most Involved in the Arts

Bea Crumbine

Bea Crumbine’s voice has been heard around the world. She spent fourteen years in Europe and the Far East after college, singing in international choirs. Bea and her husband, Peter, then settled in Greenwich, where her voice continues to be heard, not only in song but also as a unifying force for countless arts organizations.

Bea spent five years working on the Greenwich Center for the Arts, a proposed major arts center in the Havemeyer Building, where the Board of Education is located. Ultimately the Board of Ed chose not to relocate, but Bea says, “The results were incredibly tangible for me. I met so many people in the arts.” Bea’s network includes Greenwich Ballet Academy, Greenwich Arts Council, Connecticut Playmakers, the Acting Company of Greenwich, Play With Your Food, Shakespeare on the Sound, instrumental groups, vocal groups…“It has been a great pleasure for me to try to meet their needs in other places,” says Bea. She proceeded to secure funding to restore St. Bede’s Chapel, which now serves as a performance venue for Backcountry Jazz and Palladium Musicum. Bea also has been a long-time supporter of Curtain Call, Connecticut Ballet and the Avon Theatre in Stamford.

In addition to twenty seasons with the Connecticut Grand Opera and Orchestra, Bea sang with the Grace Notes, a music therapy group, for years. “We sang in hospitals, day-care centers, nursing homes and at town functions,” explains Bea, not to mention at the White House. She sang in Carnegie Hall with New York Grand Opera and at the Vatican with the St. Gregory Festival Chorus. “The arts renew and expand our lives enormously,” says Bea. “It’s almost spiritual. The more I can bring that to people, the happier I am.”  

As a “great Italophile,” Bea also spent a year developing an exhibition, From Italy to America, with the Greenwich Historical Society. “I recognized that many Greenwich families have Italian surnames. I found that most came from two towns in Italy, going back to the 1880s, when stone masons and gardeners came to work at the massive estates being built here at the time.” Historical Society Director Debra Mecky comments, “Bea played a vital role in galvanizing the Italian community to participate.”

Bea helped declare the two Italian towns, Rose and Morra De Sanctis, Greenwich sister cities, and officiated at the induction ceremony in English and Italian. Not surprisingly Greenwich has named Bea its Ambassador-at-Large and friend and real estate mogul Peter Malkin describes her as “perhaps the leading volunteer supporter of the arts in Greenwich.”

Most Dynamic Team

Dawn Ladenheim & Liz Salguero

Fourteen years ago, Dawn Ladenheim’s ten-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer. Not long after that, Liz Salguero received the same devastating news about her toddler. The two Wilton moms met at a support group in 2002, where they listened to others caught in the turmoil of pediatric cancer. “Often it was frustrating,” says Liz. “We were sharing info that we wished we had known six months before.” The pair came up with a plan to form a parent network, and in 2003 they launched Circle of Care.

“Initially our goal was to make information accessible to all parents,” explains Liz. They reached out to families at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford (the only two hospitals in Connecticut that treat pediatric cancer) by creating a diagnosis care package, or “Bag of Love,” containing items like “food and parking vouchers, a flashlight, a toy, a pillow, a DVD—things that make a hospital room feel cozier—and a letter from us saying, ‘We’ve been there too. Please reach out to us.’”

Dawn and Liz then decided to donate computers and created their Connexions program. “These kids are in the doctor’s office all day sometimes,” says Dawn. “They are desperate to feel normal, to be able to just get their homework done.”

Next came the Lifeline Emergency Fund, which has supplied $300,000 to families in need. “Seventy-five percent of families going through this experience financial difficulties,” says Dawn. Liz adds, “Children are usually in treatment two to three years. It’s a long time. It takes a toll on the family.” To combat a sense of isolation, they initiated a volunteer program at Yale. “It’s nice to have a third party to talk to who is not a doctor or friend,” comments Dawn, “or someone to play with siblings.” The Lifeline Mentoring Program connects parents with someone whose child was diagnosed at a similar age. The Art from the Heart bedroom makeover program brightens the lives of kids who are home but still recovering.

Liz and Dawn estimate that Circle of Care helps 500 families per year. Board member Maria DiPierro says, “I am in awe of all that Dawn and Liz have done to make Circle of Care a vital partner and resource for families battling pediatric cancer.”

“I always say the cancer diagnosis was the worst thing that ever happened to us but also the best. It has been a tremendous gift to give back this way,” says Liz. Her son and Dawn’s are both cancer-free and thriving.