Torrington's United Way of Northwest Connecticut celebrates women's achievements with awards

TORRINGTON — The United Way of Northwest Connecticut celebrated women and their contributions to the community Thursday night at the Torrington Historical Society, during a reception and awards ceremony given by the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Initiative.

The committee, whose membership includes Kara Muth, Lisa Ferris, Kathy Briggs, Angela Calabrese, Emily Cole, Cathy Coyle, Lida Currier, Deirdre Houlihan DiCara, Margaret Kwasniewski, Katlin Marchand, Candy Perez, Jenna Reichen, Chelsea Rimbach, Colleen Sullivan, Carla Dubois, Jordan Hosein and Executive Director of the United Way of Northwest Connecticut Owen Quinn, presented each recipient with an engraved glass plaque during the reception.

This year’s recipients were Sharon Dante as Woman of the Year, Gail Olsen for the Lifetime Achievement Award and the League of Women Voters of Litchfield County.

Dante is the founder of the Nutmeg Conservatory of Dance and is its executive director. The school celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. She was joined by Nutmeg’s artistic director Victoria Mazzarelli, guest teachers and graduates Natasha Fielding Brooksher and Donna Mattiello and operations director Holly Hawk.

“How lucky am I to have some of my own students running the Nutmeg now?” Dante said. “I am very fortunate to be part of this and I thank everyone.”

Dante has coached dancers who have pursued many successful careers in dance, competing internationally and some returning to teach the latest generation of students at the Nutmeg, such as Brooksher and Mattiello.

“Sharon Dante is celebrated as a visionary and a ‘Pride of Torrington’ star,” said Lisa Ferris. “This award is given to a deserving member of the community who has displayed tireless commitment and has made a considerable impact to the Greater Torrington/Litchfield County area ... Sharon is committed to continuing her long time relationships with Nutmeg Alumni and current students whom she mentors on dance and career planning.”

The Organization of the Year award was presented to Kerry Meyers, president of the League of Women Voters of Litchfield County. LWV members Doreen Deary, Denise Butwill, Jackie Miller and Bernie Harrington, a former LVW president, also attended.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been awarded before like this,” said Meyers. “I’m overwhelmed.”

The LWV was founded in 1920, just six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified and women won the vote. The league was created by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.

“League members have fought for election protection, democratic reforms and equal access to the ballot through voter registrations - to ensure honest and open government — such as holding candidates’ forums and debates — all while maintaining their commitment to non-partisanship,” Ferris said.

Olsen was described by Ferris as “an outstanding Northwest Connecticut career leader and for a lifelong dedication to community service.”

Olsen and her husband, Charles, owned Ducci Kitchens Inc. since 1982. In celebration of Ducci’s 25th anniversary, the couple decided to honor the community by gifting $2,500 to 10 different agencies in the NW CT area.

“This generosity of heart also is reflected in her lifetime of sharing her leadership abilities through community service and volunteerism,” Ferris said, listing Olsen’s service to numerous boards and committees. “Gail Olsen exudes kindness and graciousness as she gives of herself through acts of good works. She is a role model of organization and ability as she makes an impact on her greater community.”

“I’m a woman, and I”m not young anymore,” Olsen said. She retired from the business several years ago, and has since relocated to New Hampshire with her husband. “I made my share of mistakes over the years, and I got married young, had three kids and divorced when I was 23. I floundered after that, but every step of the way, I got a hand up, encouragement, open doors and support. We are responsible to lift others up to find their light; offer a helping hand or a smile.”

“I’m impressed with the committee and their awards,” Quinn said. “I’m pleased to see that the committee chose people who make a difference, and the money they raise every year shows that difference during the eighth-grade summit, where eighth-grade girls are given tools; about relationships, learning, communicating. It covers A to Z.”

The United Way of Northwest CT created the Women's Leadership Initiative in 2012, “to mobilize the power of women to advance the common good in our communities,” Ferris said. To learn more about the committee and the United Way, visit https://www.northwestunitedway.org/