Tag Archives: Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants

Unsung Heroes #98

Unsung Heroes come from every corner of Westport. They’re in every walk of life — and of every age.

Today, “06880” honors 3 Westport students.

Brett Malizia is a 4th grader at Long Lots Elementary School. His friend and classmate Eden Kopreski was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

As soon as Brett heard, he told his mother — Westport native Ursula Richards Malizia — he wanted to help.

He says:

Before I learned Eden had leukemia, I cared about cancer, but not as much as now. When you learn a friend has cancer, it changes everything. I want to do this because I want every child to be healthy, especially Eden.

Eden has always always been very nice, kind, and funny. She’s such a good friend.

I also know how awful it is to experience being hospitalized and having needles because this happened to me when I was younger with stomach problems. This made me feel so bad for her, so I wanted to figure out how to help.

The 2 families met. Brett decided to run in the Faxon Law 5K Road Race at Jennings Beach on Saturday, June 1. Eden will join him. So will Eden’s twin brother Gavin, her older brother Lucas, and Brett’s mom.

The next day, Brett and his mother will be back — for the Faxon Law half marathon.

Brett Malizia trained for the Faxon races by running in last month’s Minute Man Race. He was joined at the Compo Beach finish line by Eden Kopreski.

They would love having fans cheer them on — or, even better, joining them as they run and walk. (Click here for more information.)

Eden’s family started a GoFundMe page. Part of the money raised will go toward her medical care. Some will also be donated to a leukemia survivor organization.  (Click here to help.)

“I want Eden to be healthy and have a great life,” Brett says. I hope a lot of people contribute to this fight against leukemia and mostly to help Eden.

Brett Malizia and Eden Kopreski: You are true heroes!

Eden’s supporters will wear t-shirts with this on the front, at the Faxon road races next month.

So is Julia Davis.

Though the Staples High School sophomore is busy with dance, Best Buddies, homework, family obligations and friends, she always finds time for AWARE.

That’s the great local organization (the acronym stands for Assisting Women Through Action, Resources and Education) that each year partners with a different non-profit, for a variety of events.

Julia joined AWARE KIDS — the youth arm — as a Kings Highway 5th grader. Her volunteer efforts included preparing diaper bags for new mothers at Malta House, and cooking international recipes with women at Caroline House.

Julia Davis

Julia also works at the annual AWARE fundraiser, and recruits friends to help. She began as a greeter. This year (June 1, Burr Mansion in Fairfield) she has a key role.

The event will help the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants. For over 100 years, CIRI has served newcomers to America, and helped them thrive.

Julia has played an active role in Staples’ CIRI Girls’ Club. Each month, CIRI girls ages 10 to 20 join high schoolers to practice English, and enjoy activities like yoga and arts and crafts. The Staples girls also provide homework help and dinner.

Strong bonds have formed. Julia texts her new friends between meetings. She sends them inspiring message. They in turn inspire her.

Combining two of her passions — dance and volunteering — Julia recently led a Girls’ Club dance session. She got even the shyest girls to participate — and 25 AWARE women, who had planned only to watch. Julia created a specially choreographed number just for them.

Right now, Julia is focused on making AWARE’s “Hope Starts Here” June 1 fundraiser a success. She tells everyone she knows about the food, dancing, raffle — and hearing the immigrant and refugee girls talk about their experiences.

Julia is a true Unsung Hero too. To support her efforts and help the AWARE fundraiser, click here.

(Hat tips: Lindsay Shurman and Amy Saperstein)

Be AWARE: Unique Photographer Honors Special Women

International Day of the Woman was last Friday.

But you can celebrate it this coming Friday.

And you’ll not only honor some outstanding women — you’ll help young refugee girls.

Rebecca Rose is a photographer. She specializes in “classical painterly portraits” — photographs that look almost like paintings. In fact, she provides dresses, gowns, hair and makeup for her subjects.

On Friday (March 15) she’ll open an exhibit at Suzuki Music School. She’ll show some of our state’s most remarkable women: senior journalists, presidents of non-profits, Mrs. Connecticut — you name it, Rebecca has photographed her.

Two Westporters are among those honored.

Amy Saperstein and her daughter. (Photo/Rebecca Rose)

Amy Saperstein is a founder and co-director of AWARE, both in New York and Fairfield County. The acronym stands for Assisting Women with Actions, Resources and Education. Each year, members partner with a local non-profit. They volunteer with that group, organize an educational event and host a fundraiser.

AWARE CT has already aided the International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education), Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans) and Malta House (pregnant and new mothers).

Previously, Amy — who earned an MBA at Columbia — was executive director of Project Sunshine. She grew the nonprofit, which serves children in hospitals, from a small community group to an international organization, with programs in the US, Mexico, Israel, Africa and China.

Nicole Gerber (Photo/Rebecca Rose)

Nicole Gerber will also have her Rebecca Ross portrait hung at Suzuki. With over 20 years experience in project management and event planning, she’s currently director of operations for AWARE CT.

Nicole also sits on the board of advisors for Unite the World with Africa, a foundation that provides opportunities for marginalized women and youth in Tanzania. She has raised over $25,000 a year for Unite, for the past 3 years.

Amy and Nicole’s connections with AWARE are not coincidences.

Soon, Rebecca will take photos of immigrant girls. They come from Eritrea, Congo, Tanzania and Sudan, and live in Fairfield and New Haven Counties. They’re sponsored by the Connecticut institute for Refugees and Immigrants — the organization that AWARE is partnering with this year.

Portraits are something tangible, Rebecca says, that they are their families and cherish for generations.

Portraits are dear to Rebecca’s heart. Her great-grandfather lived in Czechoslovakia, when World War II broke out. He prepared his family as best he could — including having a family portrait taken just before Germany seized the country.

That family portrait is all Rebecca’s mother knew of her grandparents. They were killed by the Nazis.

Rebecca’s mission is to ensure that all generations can admire their families, remembering them through portraits that bring out their true beauty and personalities.

(The portrait show opening is this Friday, March 15, 6 to 7 p.m. at Suzuki Music School, 246 Post Road East — the lower level of Colonial Green.)