In recent years, the Gunnery has established a tradition of honoring people of Washington who have contributed to the well-being of the town through their volunteer efforts with the Friends of the Green Award.

This year's honoree was JoAnne Torti, who founded the After School Arts Program 15 years ago.

The Gunnery, a private school in Washington, recently kicked off the holiday season with a gathering among residents and students, honoring the school's longstanding relationship with the town and its inhabitants.

The party took place in Virginia Hamilton Solley Hall, which was festively decorated for the occasion.

Head of School Peter Becker announced the award for Torti.

"Whether it's participation in the annual Celebration of Young Writers (or Photographers), or participating in the myriad enrichment offerings of Region 12 or volunteering at some of the fundraisers, our students, faculty and faculty children have all benefitted from the creative drive of JoAnne's organization," he said.

Becker quoted from founder Frederick Gunn's correspondence regarding the importance of the arts and culture in the educational curriculum: "And we, his heirs, honor these important traditions today."

For her part, in recounting the history of her organization, Torti acknowledged the many people who had helped her along the way.

"The idea came from Anne Burton, Marlene Smith, Lisa Powers, Ann Bazos and Jeanne Paparazzo, a committee formed by the Connecticut Community Foundation, who felt there was a dearth of artistic and cultural enrichment for young people in a region where resources abounded: international dance companies and renowned artists, writers, and musicians," Torti said.

In the early days, Torti organized and promoted ASAP from her home under the Washington Parks & Recreation umbrella.

"We've really grown from that first year, when we had 72 middle school students at Shepaug," she said. "Last year we had 730 participants in 86 towns."

About five years into the program, Torti sought the advice and counsel of John Millington, of Washington, to help her establish a nonprofit group to support her efforts.

In her remarks, Torti recognized several employees and board members among the guests, including board president Jill Lloyd.

"It's all about collaboration. JoAnne's late husband, Jonathan Wolken, was a member of Pilobolus, which has always been a strong supporter," said Chris Smith, chairman of the board and someone who has been with Torti almost from ASAP's start. "JoAnne was the perfect person to undertake this program because of her tenacity and willingness to take risks," Smith said.

Past winners of the Friends of the Green Award include town volunteers and employees of Washington, including the fire department, with First Selectman Mark Lyons and Fire Chief Mark Showalter accepting (2012); Phil and Gretchen Farmer, board members of the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum (2010); and Kirsten Peckerman, board member of Steep Rock (2011).