Craig Bergamo has quite a back story.
He grew up “everywhere,” he says — in and out of shelters. He and his brother were shuttled from place to place.
When Bergamo was 17, his parents died. He wanted to join the military, but for his brother to keep Section 8 housing, Bergamo had to live there as his dependent.
During tough times, police officers had always been nice to Bergamo. He looked up to them. To give back, he studied criminology in college.
In 2006 — just 22 years old — he was hired by the Westport Police Department. His duties include overseeing the car seat program, motorcycle instructor and field training.
Bergamo won the Medal of Valor, for his actions in the Westport force’s first shooting in 30 years.
He also earned a Community Service Award for his fundraising with LivFree, a pediatric cancer support group.
Giving back is a key part of who Bergamo is. He coached in Norwalk’s Pop Warner football program for 6 years.
Early in his Westport police career, PAL athletic director Carmen Roda suggested he get involved with the local program. He became head football coach for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, then volunteered as secretary and vice president.
Now he’s in charge of the entire Westport PAL.
Earlier this month, Bergamo succeeded Ned Batlin as president.
It’s a big job. PAL serves thousands of youngsters through football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, rugby, track and cheerleading programs.
PAL also runs a robust scholarship program, the ice skating rink at Longshore — and Westport’s annual Independence Day fireworks.
“This is an amazing organization,” Bergamo says. “The motto is ‘All about the kids and community.’ It’s safe and friendly. There are not many Police Athletic Leagues still out there. But ours is going strong.”
Bergamo is already planning new fundraising efforts — like a car show, digital events, perhaps a gala “when things are normal.”
For someone who grew up in shelters, and lost his parents as a teenager, offering hope and activities to youngsters is crucial. In addition to his PAL efforts, he coaches his daughters in softball.
“When I see 3rd graders I coached move up to high school, and then graduate. I get chills,” Bergamo says. “I’ve had great interactions with them, and their parents. That’s what PAL is all about.”
(To learn more about Westport PAL — and participate in the See’s Candy Shop fundraiser — click here.)