River Brigade

The Trustee Fund Awards, annual honors conferred by current and former trustees of Connecticut Community Foundation to recognize exceptional innovation and collaboration that benefit communities in Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills, were awarded to Greenwoods Counseling Referrals, Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL), and Naugatuck River Revival Group. Each award includes a grant from the Trustee Fund to further the missions of the recipients. The trustees presented the 2019 awards at the Foundation’s annual meeting on August 1 in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Litchfield-based Greenwoods, a 27-year old organization which provides mental health treatment for anyone who lives or works in Litchfield County, was lauded by the Trustees for teaming with the Litchfield Prevention Council and Litchfield Public Schools to improve students’ access to mental health services. Their efforts, supported by an earlier grant from Connecticut Community Foundation, empowered faculty and staff in the schools to refer children in need to Greenwoods for mental health assessments. In turn, Greenwoods matched the children with a clinician from their network of 130 providers for continued services for as long as the students needed it.

John Simoncelli, executive director of Greenwoods, said of Litchfield County schools, “We’ve seen an increase in anxiety among school-aged kids over the last few years. There’s plenty of research to show that when kids reach college, they’re under more stress and suffering from more anxiety than ever before. Our idea for the school program was that if you could assess and intervene early, you can prevent more significant mental health problems from presenting later on.”

Waterbury PAL and the Naugatuck River Revival Group were recognized for creating and organizing a youth “River Brigade” to clean up the Naugatuck River. Officer Querino “Q” Maia, PAL coordinator, and Kevin Zak, PAL project supervisor and executive director of the Naugatuck River Revival Group, led the work of 14 youth aged 16-20 who applied for summer jobs with the brigade. In the past two summers, the brigade has removed from the river an astonishing array of trash, including washing machines, motorcycles, bowling balls, car engines, trolley tracks and cash registers.

Connecticut Community Foundation provided a grant, and local businesses and Waterbury and Naugatuck mayors lent their strong support to the River Brigade’s efforts.

Martha Bernstein, a former board chair and trustee at Connecticut Community Foundation, presented the Trustee Award to Waterbury PAL staff and River Brigade youth.

She said, “The River Brigade is a shining example of the power of collaboration to move not just mountains, but mountains of trash! And kudos to Officer Maia and Kevin Zak for their ingenuity in weaving mentoring and teaching about the environment into the River Brigade’s work, so youth emerged with new skills and knowledge about protecting our natural resources.”

Read the stories of the 2019 Trustee Fund grantees.

At top: Youth from the River Brigade pull trash from the Naugatuck River. Photo courtesy of Waterbury PAL by Zak Robushi.