Meet the Light a Fire 2023 Honorees: 10 Fairfield County Residents Making a Difference in Our Community



Every year we ask our readers to nominate their Fairfield County neighbors who selflessly and tirelessly devote themselves to giving back. Three years ago, we honored the brave residents who refused to cower to Covid and went out and made a difference—however they could, whatever the risks. At that time, Liz Salguero, founder of Circle of Care, feared funds would run dry and she would not be able to support parents coping with pediatric cancer, just when they needed reassurance most. But then something unexpected happened. The general public, new to a life of wearing masks and fearing germs, gained a better understanding of what it must be like all the time for parents of immunocompromised children. Donations increased. Circle of Care grew—by 400 percent.

This story is a reminder of how kindness flourishes; it’s not picky about the soil that feeds it. Even the most parched or rockiest foundation serves kindness just fine. It burrows down into any little crevice of compassion it finds, plants roots and spreads like ox-eye daisies. This year we are recognizing kindness in 1,920 Genevieve Lau Loved necklaces, 5,000 Flower Again arrangements, 500,000 Undies Project undergarments, twenty-plus Flinn Gallery exhibits, $25 million raised by Bank of America, a dozen historic buildings preserved, 13,000 immigrants served, forty-seven kids sent to camp, seven wishes granted … and the list goes on, reassuring us that the flow of nomination letters will never ebb. Keep ’em coming.

Chris & Rachel Franco

Greenwich Point Conservancy

“Twenty years ago Chris and Rachel Franco were walking through Central Park with their toddler when inspiration struck. “We were both stunned by how beautiful the park was,” says Chris. “It had gone through a metamorphosis over the previous twenty years through the Central Park Conservancy. We stopped and bought a book about it. We said to each other, it would be amazing to do something like this at Greenwich Point. Central Park is the crown jewel of the New York City park system; Greenwich Point is the crown jewel of the Greenwich park system.”

Chris, who is in real estate development, and Rachel, formerly on Wall Street (now a realtor at Sotheby’s) and raising their family at that time, dove in with gusto. They talked to the Friends at Greenwich Point about the idea.

“It was too ambitious for them,” says Chris, “so a handful of us carved off and created the Greenwich Point Conservancy in 2004.”

The team began restoring the historic buildings at Tod’s Point. “What we hear all the time is that we have enhanced Greenwich Point—not changed the things that people love about it, but brought back these historic buildings and also made them useful,” says Chris. “That has been enormously rewarding for us. It’s really the anchor of the nonprofit work Rachel and I have done.”
The projects they have completed include the preservation of the historic buildings at Tod’s Point: Innis Arden Cottage, the Old Barn, Gateway and the Sue H. Baker Pavilion. Next to be restored is the Chimes building.
The pair have also restored The Feake-Ferris House, The Boat House on Ollie’s Creek, 44 Sound Beach Avenue and The Nathaniel Peck Jr. House, among others. “We do it because we love giving back to the community by saving these old treasures,” says Chris.

“We want to continue to do the preservation work, but we are also thinking about working with children who are at risk,” says Chris.

Rachel has worked as a life coach in the past, and she volunteered at Liberation Programs’ Families in Recovery Program, which serves homeless and drug-addicted mothers.

“Once a week I would go and teach them positive psychology and how to use it in their recovery,” explains Rachel. “Chris and I have been really moved by all the press about human trafficking and what these young men and women are going through. We are interested in helping them rebuild their lives.”

“Chris and Rachel Franco are passionate visionaries who have spent their energies preserving the Town of Greenwich. They respect the historical importance of buildings and properties from days gone by. They find resources and inspiration to preserve and repurpose these structures to save them from demise. Their unique ability to identify and navigate the often complicated paths needed is one that our entire town has and will continue to benefit from.”
Greenwich Point Conservancy
Board of Directors
Vice President

Jennifer lau

Pink Aid
St. Baldrick’s Foundation
Boston Children’s Hospital
Evan’s Fund
Capalbo Strong
Center for Family Justice

“Nine years ago my husband, Steve, was undergoing chemo at Yale Treatment Center in Fairfield,” recounts Westporter Jennifer Lau. “I saw what people were going through. I thought, what can I do to make this process easier? I rushed out and got meals for everyone, so they could serve their families dinner. It struck me that these people needed to feel loved.”

Jennifer had a new jewelry business, Genevieve Lau, and she decided that for each 14-carat-gold “Loved” necklace sold, she would donate one to a woman battling cancer.

“I gave one to each of the staff at Yale helping Steve,” she says. “A year later, we were at Sloan Kettering, where Steve [who survived] was getting a stem cell transplant. I gave everyone there one, to give them the hope and strength to fight.”

Lau spoke to Andrew Mitchell and linked up to Pink Aid, an organization the retailer cofounded to help underserved women throughout their breast cancer treatment journeys. Soon word of mouth and social media began fueling a nonstop flow of Loved.

Lau has since pivoted to donating to “whoever is really in need of feeling loved.” She continues to be inspired by the stories that illustrate how the Loved necklace is much more than a piece of jewelry.

Lau has donated 1,920 necklaces, including 150 to frontline workers during the pandemic. She donated twenty-nine necklaces to those affected by the tragic death of hockey player Teddy Balkind at St. Luke’s (karma struck and, coincidentally, an order for exactly twenty-nine Loved necklaces came into Mitchells the following week). She also donates Clover necklaces to children battling cancer through St. Baldrick’s Foundation and word-of-mouth.

She donates “Imperfect yet perfect heart” necklaces to Boston Children’s Hospital, inspired by a Westport boy born with an “imperfect” heart. Her “Joy” necklaces are donated to those wrestling with mental health issues. Hopeful necklaces go to victims of domestic abuse, via the Center for Family Justice. “Always” necklaces are for those with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Collectively, Lau has donated 250 of these other pieces, with a one-sold-one-donated ratio. If someone is in need, she gives a necklace whether that ratio is met or not.

“I love seeing women wearing my designs and feeling beautiful. These pieces make them feel even more beautiful, because someone else is wearing one because of them,” says Lau.

“I hope for all of these movements to continue to grow, particularly the Loved Movement,” says Lau. “I hope to make the world a lighter, brighter place, one Loved necklace at a time.”

Jennifer gives to those who are suffering or struggling, signaling to them that they are seen, cared for and loved in their most trying times. She has made close to two million dollars in donations quietly and selflessly.
JOLINE MCGOLDRICK, Jennifer’s sister

Bill Tommins

Catholic Charities
New Covenant Center
The Center for Family Justice
Fairfield Museum and History Center
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation

“As a banker, early in my career I learned the importance of giving back to the community where you live and work,” says William “Bill” Tommins, president of Bank of America in Southern Connecticut. Tommins has served on various nonprofit boards through the years. His commitment to giving back deepened as a result of two events: the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis.

“I realized how quickly life can change for people for reasons outside of one’s control, and the critical role nonprofits play in delivering services at a time of real need,” he explains. “Many lives were turned upside down after these events: losing a loved one, losing a job and even losing a home. These events focused me on supporting organizations that are there for people at the time they need it most.”

“I’m fond of the proverb, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,’” says Tommins. “I’ve been privileged to lead Bank of America in Southern Connecticut for the past sixteen years. During this time, our team at Bank of America helped create and sustain Fairfield County Giving Day as lead sponsor, and by so doing, raised $14 million for area nonprofits.”

Bank of America has also served for ten years as Presenting Sponsor of the Closer to Free Ride, supporting Smilow Cancer Center, helping to raise over $10 million for cancer research and patient care. This past year, Bank of America awarded a $1 million grant to Fairfield Bellarmine, a new two-year associate-degree program targeted at preparing underserved youth for the transition to a bachelor’s degree at a university or to find meaningful employment.

“My hope is that the clients of these organizations can move toward self-sufficiency and lead fulfilling lives with purpose,” says Tommins.

Bank of America is a dedicated supporter of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, as well as a number of other local organizations and causes. Bill Tommins exemplifies true commitment to his community through his personal efforts and those of Bank of America. Bill is a champion of its corporate mission to support initiatives and programs that address the root causes of inequality through a company-wide commitment to advancing racial equality and economic opportunity. He has empowered his team to bring Bank of America’s local support mission to life here in Fairfield County. In addition to the work with FCCF, Bill and his team are consistently seeking new ways to invest in innovative ideas and partnerships to address issues like affordable housing, income and wealth building, health and more—issues that are at the core of a thriving community.
KRISTA CARNES, Communications Director,
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation

Kathleen Walsh

Building One Community (B1C)

“I am the child and grandchild of immigrants myself, so I can remember hearing stories of the challenges my grandparents and mom faced when they first came to the United States,” says Kathleen Walsh, who is trained as a sociologist and city planner.

“In the course of my work with the Stamford Partnership, I was seeing an increasing number and diversity of immigrants coming to Stamford. My responsibility was to identify emerging issues and trends and bring the community together to address them. I was inspired by the Partnership’s mission to have a positive impact on the community. That’s how the germ of the idea for Building One Community (B1C) developed.”

As its founder, Walsh played a key role in forging B1C’s partnerships with Family Centers, Community Health Centers, Stamford Health, River House Adult Day Care Center, DOMUS, Person-to-Person, Stamford Public Schools and others. B1C opened its doors in 2011 with two employees and a budget of $455,000.

The organization now has forty employees and a budget of over $3.5 million. B1C has served immigrants from 117 different countries.

Walsh highlights two accomplishments that fill her with pride: her contribution to developing affordable housing in New York earlier in her career and her work at B1C.

“Those couple hundred units of affordable housing in New York were life-changing for those families,” she says. “I’m equally proud of the 13,000 people who have come through B1C’s doors and received language training, legal services, help with registering their kids at school and finding housing. I believe our obligation is to make the world a better place.”

In 2016, Walsh spearheaded the effort seeking authorization for B1C to provide low-cost immigration legal services and then completed the rigorous training to become an accredited Department of Justice representative, allowing her to represent clients before government agencies, including U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. B1C’s ILS department has managed over 2,100 consultations; 500 were handled by Walsh.

“I hope that B1C will continue to be sustainable over the very long term,” says Walsh. “I’m so pleased that we have a group of people willing to serve as board members, staff and volunteers, delivering services that newcomers to the community really need. I hope over time the kinds of services people need will diminish, because they won’t have to work so hard to access them. But as long as they are needed, I hope B1C will be there for them.”

In a quiet and steadfast way, Kathie Walsh has been an extraordinary contributor to the Lower Fairfield County community, professionally as CEO of the Stamford Partnership and in a volunteer leadership capacity with many local nonprofits. Her work with Building One Community, an organization she helped found and led as board chair for five years, stands out for the positive impact that organization has had on the lives of thousands of immigrants and on the entire community.
ANKA BADURINA, B1C Executive Director

Jill Robey

Flower Again

“The beauty of flowers and how they evoke a smile in most everyone was my greatest inspiration,” says Jill Robey, founder of Flower Again, which receives floral donations from weddings and other events and repurposes them into bedside bouquets to be delivered to low-income seniors.

“I love choosing flowers, arranging them and sharing them with others,” explains the New Canaan resident. “I had participated in flower arranging and delivery on a small scale at my church. When I learned about organizations in other parts of the country that were doing this on a much larger scale, I thought, I can do that.”

“I’ve created an organization that reimagines donated flowers from events and CT Flower Collective by creating bedside arrangements for those who could use a lift of spirit,” says Robey, who is especially grateful to the twenty-five women at CT Flower Collective in Meriden, who make a weekly donation of flowers.

Since its inception in April 2022, Flower Again has created and hand-delivered over 5,000 arrangements to over 1,800 individuals at twenty-eight different facilities in Fairfield County.

“I have met so many individuals who I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to know and have a group of over seventy volunteers who enjoy the community this has created,” she says.

“I also care deeply about our environment. By reusing flowers from weddings, funerals, florists or corporate events, we are ensuring less floral material is added to our landfills. Flower Again is trying to do our part to keep our planet healthy and beautiful.” She adds, “But really our greatest accomplishment is spreading joy, which is hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it.”

“I hope to inspire others to remember those who could benefit from more human connection,” says Robey. “We all have gifts and talents and should be using our natural abilities to support each other—finding ways to work together, rather than against each other. I hope that Flower Again will continue to grow and maybe inspire others to join the movement. There are a lot of beautiful flowers out there and many, many people who would be thrilled to receive them.”

Jill has always had a love for flowers and initially channeled her skills through her church flower ministry. In 2022, Jill decided to take her passion for florals and her love of spreading joy to another level by founding Flower Again. Flower Again is now in its second season and has expanded like crazy! It just goes to show that a tiny little idea can make a big impact in the lives of many. Jill is one of the most compassionate, organized and dedicated women I know, and I’m privileged to work alongside her on the board of Flower Again.
LESLEY COUSLEY, Board member

Barbara Richards

The Flinn Gallery at Greenwich Library

“When I first arrived in Greenwich and happened upon the Hurlbutt Gallery [now called the Flinn Gallery], one of the gallery members asked if I would be interested in joining the art committee,” recounts Barbara Richards.

“Once I started, I never looked back. Every day was a learning experience for me, and my law background was very helpful in contributing in many ways to the gallery.”

Richards has been involved with the gallery for thirty years, taking on the challenge of keeping up with technology and upholding a level of sophistication that has made the gallery desirable to artists and art lovers alike. Through closures for construction and Covid, Richards remained determined to keep a committee of forty members motivated. She also has been involved with the Friends of the Greenwich Library—another preeminent institution in Greenwich that brings her great pride.

Richards has served as board chair of the Flinn Gallery and on the board of the Greenwich Library.

“I took on many different roles at the Flinn and the library,” she says. “I have curated twenty to thirty exhibits. Each one was exciting. It’s difficult to pick the most interesting, but I’m very proud of the Robert Motherwell show, The Tony Walton set design show, The Cambodian show with a pop-up diner and The Great American Landscape.”

She has served on numerous committees over the years and says, “The gallery and the library are my second career. The Flinn Gallery is a unique volunteer institution. It is open ten months a year, seven days a week. Every moment it is open, it needs to be staffed primarily by our volunteers. We need to have curators take on each exhibit of the season, which entails months of work.”

“The website needs to be kept constantly current. The selections committee needs to find artists to put shows together for the calendar for the following year—five or six shows that are exciting and salable.

“Marketing needs to promote our shows. We have to design and print our invitations, posters and banners. We need to constantly remember that our volunteers are our most valuable treasure. They need to always know that.”

Richards’ goal is to continue to keep members motivated and committee members engaged for years to come. “I don’t have an art background,” she says. “I’m a policy wonk. My goal is to keep the committees working and make members feel happy and valuable.”

Barbara Richards has provided exceptional leadership to the Flinn Gallery and has made a permanent impact on the availability and visibility of the visual arts and arts education in the Greenwich community.
The Friends of Greenwich Library Chair

Robyn Whittingham

Make-A-Wish, CT
Ferguson Library
Mill River Park
The Palace & Avon Theatres
Stamford & Norwalk Hospitals

“I lucked into a family that believed in giving back,” says Robyn Whittingham. “My in-laws, Jean and Tony Whittingham, were a true rags-to-riches story—first generation immigrants from Jamaica, who came to the U.S. in the early 1950s with nothing except hopes and dreams, when discrimination was rampant. Through constant hard work and perseverance, they built a great life here and shared the benefits of their strong work ethic with their communities. My husband and his brother continued the tradition, and now I, along with my son Adam and his wife Catalina, have the privilege of supporting causes that resonate with us. Make-A-Wish CT [which changes the lives of critically ill children and their families], The Ferguson Library, Mill River Park, the Palace and Avon theaters, and Stamford and Norwalk hospitals remain at the top of our list.”

“I love my role on Make-A-Wish’s board, because there are literally dozens of ways I can contribute to their mission,” says Whittingham.

“I volunteer at Ferguson Library’s bookshop and plan to help them build more community awareness of the importance of libraries in our lives. Anyone can choose to be active and show their support, regardless of financial status or time constraints.”

“My fervent wish is that my favorite nonprofits expand their outreach in our communities to help everyone find a small or big way to give back—adults, seniors and kids alike. We have such worthy organizations in Fairfield County that deserve our support,” says Whittingham.

She hopes the long list of children waiting for wishes will have them granted through Make-A-Wish, and she emphasizes that it is community involvement that’s vital to making that happen.

She adds, “Our libraries offer an incredible array of programs that many don’t know about. Mill River is a superlative city park. Stamford and Norwalk hospitals offer wellness programs for all ages and stages of life.”

Robyn Whittingham and her family have a longstanding record of exceptional philanthropy in their local community and beyond. She is a dedicated advocate for both physical and emotional wellness and is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. Her extensive philanthropic endeavors are guided by that focus, and Robyn’s generous spirit and caring nature shine through in everything she does. A dedicated supporter of Make-A-Wish Connecticut since 2019, Robyn is a valued and active member of the Board of Directors. Through her involvement on the board coupled with her generosity, she has helped grant seven wishes and bring to life The Wishing Place, Make-A-Wish Connecticut’s home for hope and healing. From advancing healthcare, bringing people together and enriching communities to creating hope and making wishes come true, Robyn Whittingham is the epitome of a philanthropic leader.
—KRIS MORAN, Make-A-Wish Connecticut,
Director of Marketing Communications

Lucy Langley & Laura Delaflor

The Undies Project

“Initially the inspiration came from me volunteering at Neighbor to Neighbor on the clothing distribution side,” says Lucy Langley, cofounder of The Undies Project. “I had a light-bulb moment when I was purchasing a bra for myself. I realized we didn’t get undergarment donations.” Langley’s friend Laura Delaflor, another active community volunteer in Greenwich, agreed they should be able to fill this gap in the donation market.

“We both volunteered in the school system and with our kids,” says Delaflor. “When we became empty nesters, we thought, What are we going to do? We didn’t see ourselves going to coffee and lunches.” They pitched their Undies Project idea to various organizations and received resoundingly positive feedback.

“When we saw how big the need was, we just wanted to help more people,” says Delaflor, who hails from Mexico and has a background in public relations; Langley, from England, brought a marketing background. The duo was unstoppable.

“We now donate to over fifty-three organizations in the tristate area,” says Langley. “We’ve just hit over half a million donations of undergarments.” The pair constantly hears stories from the nonprofits they serve of tremendous gratitude from those in need.

“A gentleman in Stamford had been homeless for four months. He had been in the same clothes with no shower for four months,” recounts Delaflor. “He walked into New Covenant, an organization we work with, and he couldn’t believe he was being handed a pack of clean underwear.”

Langley adds, “It’s amazing how something as simple as that can put such a smile on someone’s face and make them feel human again. It gives them dignity.”

By helping to fill a need for their clients, The Undies Project enables organizations to allocate more of their budgets to other areas, like food insecurity. “We’ve discovered clothing insecurity is a huge thing,” notes Langley.

While some charities floundered during the pandemic, Langley and Delaflor decided to forge ahead. “It was great to be able to help during that time,” says Delaflor. Soon after, their organization took another big leap, renting space in the Diamond Hill Methodist Church.

“We want to help as many people as we can,” says Delaflor. “We’d love for The Undies Project to be in every state.”

Langley adds, “In the short-term, we are looking to expand our programs and our volunteer base. We would love to get more sponsorship. The more funds we can raise, the more underwear we can donate.”

Running a nonprofit has meant countless hours building a stable of reliable volunteers, managing fiscal and fundraising operations, securing office and storage space, and working with manufacturers, all of which has led to an enormous expansion in the number of items The Undies Project is able to provide. Their impact on our community is utterly unrivaled for an organization that is only eight years old.
Undies Project volunteer

Robert Russo

Curtis Summer Camp Fund

“I was inspired by John Curtis, who taught me for ten years at Fairfield Country Day,” says Rob Russo, founder of Curtis Summer Camp Fund. “He was such a large part of my life and had a profound impact on the man I turned out to be. He taught me how to lead and to prioritize my fellow students’ and teammates’ best interests as well as my own.”

Russo also attended the summer camp that Curtis’s family ran in Maine, Camp Pinehurst, for ten years. There he enjoyed a classic summer camp in the great outdoors with a strong sense of community.

“I was thrilled when my twin boys decided to go to Pinehurst when they were nine,” says Russo, “and it occurred to me that the Pinehurst experience was something I wanted to give to more children than just my own.” Russo put his altruistic idea into action and founded Curtis Summer Camp Fund three years ago.

“We sent fourteen kids the first year and fifteen last year,” he says. “This past year we sent eighteen kids from St. Augustine’s school in the Hollow neighborhood of Bridgeport to Camp Pinehurst, each for a two-week session. They all had the exact same camp experience my boys had [and a few were in the same cabin]. They had an amazing time and brought as much to the camp as they got out of it.”

Russo’s grandfather, Robert D. Russo, Sr., grew up across the street from St. Augustine’s and attended church there. “He taught us all the importance of generosity and supporting others,” recalls Russo. “It feels good to be doing a good thing in his old neighborhood.”

“One of the things I love about the Curtis Summer Camp Fund is that it’s relatively simple,” says Russo. “I can raise $50,000 a year and send eighteen kids away to summer camp for a two-week session. How cool is that?” The school principals advise which kids are ready to go away to camp. “I hope to be able to grow and send even more kids, but I want to keep the process simple,” he notes. “I think it’s important for small nonprofits to maximize what they do with their donors’ money.”

Rob does a lot of work with local nonprofits. He really loves his community. Whether it’s serving as vice president of the Bridgeport Fire Commission or president of the board of trustees of Fairfield Country Day School, Rob is always happy to be involved. Through his own nonprofit, Curtis Summer Camp Fund, he sends deserving kids from Bridgeport to summer camp in Maine. Very few people know what he’s up to, and two weeks at this camp have a really big effect on these kids’ lives.
Attorney at Russo & Rizio

Liz Salguero

Circle of Care

“The impetus for Circle of Care, which is now a thriving 501c3, was my two-and-a-half-year-old son’s cancer diagnosis in 2001,” says Liz Salguero. “We went to the hospital and didn’t go home for two weeks.” The Salgueros were far away from friends and family, in an unfamiliar urban setting, without even an overnight bag. Then they learned their little boy would face two and a half years of treatment. (Today he is a healthy, thriving twenty-four year old.)

“That was the second sucker punch to the gut,” says Salguero. Two years later, she joined a support group and met another mom from Wilton going through the same ordeal.

“We’d never met,” she says. “That was a glaring example of how incredibly isolating a pediatric cancer diagnosis is.”

Circle of Care is Salguero’s way of ensuring no family going through this feels as alone as she did. “I get out of bed every day grateful for the ability to help one more family,” she says.

In 2003, Salguero pitched her idea to the American Academy of Pediatrics of giving day-of-diagnosis care packages and creating a parent-to-parent support group for families coping with pediatric cancer.

“Our story is typical,” she says. “You go to the hospital and don’t go home. The care package includes essential items, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, and comfort items like a handmade, bright fleece blanket and our Purple Pages, edited by other parents, that includes resources for all stages of treatment, like wigs, alternative therapies, summer camps. So, on the first horrible day, someone who has been through this reaches out to say, ‘We are here for you.’”

Circle of Care delivered its first bags in 2004. It now has six full-time staff members and provides: Bags of Love care packages; a Lifeline Emergency Fund that provides non-medical needs assistance; Lifeline Parent Community support network; Art from the Heart, an in-home room makeover program; a volunteer program at Yale to support families in crisis; and an Adolescent and Young Adult program, connecting peers for emotional support and social outings—from beach volleyball games to a smash room event to “smash the heck out of” medical equipment. Circle of Care has reached over 3,000 families in Connecticut.

“We have grown 400 percent in the last three years and just went through a rigorous strategic planning process to expand our services and regionalize to Westchester and southwestern Massachusetts,” says Salguero. “My hope is to ensure the sustainability of Circle of Care, so that it’s here long after I’m not.”

Circle of Care has provided over five million dollars in program services, giving patients and families the support they need from diagnosis, during treatment and throughout survivorship. Liz, since its inception, has never taken a salary, as she is devoted to providing these much-needed programs and services
to this vulnerable population.
—LISA WILLIAMS, Circle of Care

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