Annual breakfast honors volunteers, students
At this year’s annual Danbury Schools and Business Collaborative (DSABC) breakfast to honor mentors and their students, the Executive Director Ellen Meyst shared about a student who graduated in 2005, beginning with something he recently told her: “My mentor literally saved my life.” But Meyst didn’t finish.
Instead, the Danbury High School football star Glen Mourning stood up in the crowd after driving through the night from Virginia to attend the May 16 breakfast. Mourning took his place at the podium and finished telling his own story.
The oldest of five children with a single mother who quit high school, Mourning, now an author, educator and motivational speaker, grew up in the projects, fatherless and directionless. If it weren’t for Danbury schools, he said, he never would have made it to become the man he is today.
“Danbury did what Danbury does: recognized a challenge and recognized a need,” Mourning said. When he looks back on his humble beginnings, he said the outcome was an unlikely one, but for the mentoring program. Mourning first met his mentor, Herman Izzard, while a student at Hayestown Avenue School.
“I was the kid . . . you know the trucks that make frequent turns, they know where the construction site is, but they keep turning? I was that kid,” Mourning said. “Things would be going along smoothly, and then I’d make frequent turns – and then a hard left.”
He said it was during this time that he struggled with reading simple words, but soon learned the most important word: “time,” because it translated to “caring.” Mourning said he realized that in order to show up and spend time with a kid who needed so much guidance, Izzard must have really cared about him. And that made the biggest difference in Mourning’s life.
“When people don’t give up because of frequent turns, it’s the most important thing,” Mourning said. However, the DHS graduate didn’t urge the audience to become mentors. “But, if you do, you won’t regret dedicating a moment of time spent on that child.”
This year’s 29th annual DSABC breakfast was a way to thank mentors for their service. About 150 supporters attended the breakfast, held at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury.
“We hope to further collaborate with area businesses, community organizations and individuals so that together, we may strengthen the positive impact we can all have on Danbury Public School students. We will focus our efforts on making more of these meaningful connections,” Meyst said. “All of this is made possible through the tremendous support of many of you in this room.”
Six graduating senior students were awarded scholarships at the event: Daryus Cintron, Jhasuel Espinal, and Angelina Gentile from Danbury High School; Jake Smalls from the Alternative Center for Excellence; and Ashley Thompson and Andrew Vargas from Henry Abbott Technical School.
Those graduating seniors all shared that, like Mourning, DSABC had changed their lives for the better.
Thompson, who has been with her mentor Maria Fernandez for three years, said having a mentor is like having a friend who doesn’t judge her: “My mentor always knows what to say and how to say it. When you have a mentor it really does change everything in your life. It makes life manageable, so you don’t have to do it alone.”
For nearly three decades, DSABC, a non-profit organization, has matched students in the Danbury Public Schools and Henry Abbott Regional Technical School with mentors. Many businesses in the collaborative were represented at the breakfast, including Aires, Boehringer Ingelheim, Branson Ultrasonics, Cartus, City of Danbury, Collins Aerospace, Linde, Savings Bank of Danbury, Union Savings Bank and Wells Fargo. Seventeen mentors were honored for their longevity in the program from five to 25 years. David Cook, a retired City of Danbury employee, has been mentoring students for 25 years, and Jim Moretti, who works at Cartus, was recognized for his 20 years of mentoring. There are currently 175 DSABC mentors who volunteer to meet students on a weekly basis during the school year.
“We get into this profession, and we don’t always hear words like love and compassion,” said Superintendent Dr. Sal Pascarella. “Things like Herman does, you can’t buy – and the outcome is incredibly powerful. What you do impacts the heart. You can educate the mind, but if the heart’s not in it, it doesn’t matter. What you all do leaves a legacy. That you can’t replace and you can’t pay for.”