Celebrating Everyday Heroes During Black History Month 2023: Part I

Feb 19, 2023

For this Black History Month, we created an opportunity for organizations participating in Fairfield County’s Giving Day to celebrate contributions by their Black colleagues – and to amplify the work of these everyday heroes who are working to create a better future. Thirteen organizations submitted 23 entries highlighting their staff and the contributions they make to the mission of their nonprofits – and each organization is entered to win one of four $500 Giving Day prizes for their participation.

We hope these (and the ones in Part Two) inspire your interest to learn more about these and other nonprofits participating in Giving Day this Thursday, February 23, 2023. This 24-hour virtual event raises much-needed funds to help our community’s nonprofits build capacity. Every donation – the majority of which are less than $100 – goes directly to programs and services that strengthen and enrich life in Fairfield County.

In addition to the everyday heroes highlighted below, learn more about the almost 400 nonprofits participating in Giving Day by visiting FCGives.org – and be inspired to “give where you live.”


The Cardinal Shehan Center

Lorraine Gibbons, Executive Director
Cardinal Shehan Center
Our mission is enriching lives through learning. We provide recreational, educational and wellness programming that empowers our young people so they can achieve success inside and outside of the classroom.

Funding from FCCF’s Giving Day is going to help us with all of the beautiful programs that we’ve started this year, from our storytelling and robotics LEGO league programs to our podcasting and skilled trades programs, as well as our financial literacy program.

Learn how you can support the Cardinal Shehan Center on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.

The Carver Foundation of Norwalk

Shannon Bates, Recreation Coordinator
The Carver Foundation of Norwalk
Our Recreation Coordinator, Shannon Bates, is an all-star that has made The Carver a center point of Norwalk Basketball. While she coordinates all our recreation and athletics, her stewardship of our home and travel basketball leagues in particular has created lasting opportunities for our kids. Students who excelled on Carver’s court have gone on to play competitively in high school, college, and beyond on professional teams.

Shannon has also recently established the Norwalk Carver Center Girls Basketball Association. She is taking our girls’ league to the next level while still prioritizing the safe positive environment Carver is known for. Shannon is a Carver and Norwalk pillar, and she so richly deserves credit and distinction.

~ Submitted by Elizabeth McLaughlin, Development Coordinator

Tremain Gilmore, Teen Center Manager
The Carver Foundation of Norwalk
Tremain Gilmore is our Teen Center Manager as well as a beloved security guard at Norwalk High School. Whenever I ask anyone about Tremain, they say the same thing: “He is the heart and soul of the Carver.” Our blog overflows with articles featuring Tremain. He has been honored in the Norwalk community time and time again for his work. He annually organizes our holiday toy drive and Breakfast with Champions, where he consistently connects our kids to their dreams.

Beyond that, Tremain is deeply kind. His presence is felt in every room he is in, and he serves as an unbeatable role model for the young people of our city. There is no amount of gratitude that could be enough to truly thank Tremain for all he has given us.

~ Submitted by Elizabeth McLaughlin, Development Coordinator

Novelette Peterkin, Chief Executive Officer
The Carver Foundation of Norwalk
Novelette has been captaining the Carver since June 2004, which makes this her 18th year of bringing life-changing programming to Norwalk kids. When Novelette came to the Carver, it was a vibrant community center. Under her leadership, that vibrant community center has grown into a citywide network of before school, after school and summer programming that equips students for global competitiveness and success. That same leadership is now preparing us to expand even further.

I’m only seven weeks into this job, and already, I know Novelette as a poised, fearless leader who’s equally exuberant about bringing these opportunities to kids as she is serious about making sure what we do leaves an impact not only in our organization and the communities and families we know, but in future families and cities. I really can’t understate how lucky we are to have her as a leader.

Learn how you can support the Carver Foundation of Norwalk on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.

Center for Children’s Advocacy

Karrol-Ann Brown, Director of the Racial Justice Project
Center for Children’s Advocacy
The Center for Children’s Advocacy’s (CCA) mission is to fight for the legal rights of low-income children and youth to ensure their basic needs are met and help them access the services they need for good health, well-being and educational achievement, including services from the child welfare, health care, education, social service and juvenile and criminal justice systems. CCA carries out its mission through legal services, legal rights and advocacy training, and work to bring about reforms to improve systems that serve children and youth.

As the Director of CCA’s Racial Justice Project, Attorney Karrol-Ann Brown spearheads legal advocacy for children and youth of color who are harmed by policies that have created and continue to perpetuate racial and ethnic disparities in educational outcomes and juvenile justice involvement. She co-chairs the Bridgeport Racial and Ethnic Disparities Reduction Committee, working to identify and eliminate causes of racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline and juvenile justice involvement for Bridgeport youth, and also advocates for reforms to state agencies and state laws to increase equitable opportunities for children and youth of color.

Karrol-Ann represents individual children and youth in the juvenile justice system on child welfare issues, bringing to each of these relationships empathy, cultural responsiveness, and sensitivity. The children and youth she represents know how much she believes in their potential. To help others become skilled advocates for children who encounter discrimination and other barriers to opportunity, she provides legal rights training to parents, professionals, and other lawyers.

Funds raised through Fairfield County’s Giving Day will remove barriers to opportunity for Fairfield County children and youth by supporting CCA’s legal services for children who are not receiving appropriate educational services, for foster youth who need special services and support, and for immigrant children who have been abandoned or abused and are at risk of deportation to life threatening conditions.

Learn how you can support the Center for Children’s Advocacy on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.

The Child & Family Guidance Center

Hyacintha Bernard, Director of Reunification & Therapeutic Family Time
The Child & Family Guidance Center
Hyacintha Bernard, M.S. is the Director of Reunification and Therapeutic Family Time (RTFT) and Director of CFGC’s Visitation Center. RTFT provides parenting education, parent-child relationship building, safety planning, supervised therapeutic family time and case management to parents after children have been removed from the home. Using a visit coaching model, RTFT works toward long-term family reunification. The Visitation Center offers a safe and comfortable environment for a non-custodial parent and child to visit together as well as a neutral and monitored exchange of children from the custodial to non-custodial parent.

Hyacintha — who has devoted her career to making a difference in the community — is a true advocate for and vocal supporter of families within her program and her program staff. Hyacintha has had a 23-year career at CFGC that gives her perspective on many of CFGC’s programs. Starting as an intern, Hyacintha began in CFGC’s Outpatient Clinic, specifically working with HIV/AIDS affected children. Today, she helps families better connect and build healthier relationships. She is an active volunteer in Bridgeport, devoting over 19 years as a Girl Scout Leader and receiving the Helping Hand Award.

“Hyacintha is a powerhouse,” said Virginia Lopez, Director of Family Support Services at CFGC. “After many years in the field she remains driven and determined to help families; always at the forefront of any situation that threatens their success.”

~ Submitted by Kate Czaplinski, Director of Development & Communications

Teneika Brown
Program Director, Greater Bridgeport Home Visiting Partnership
Clinical Supervisor, Early Childhood Consultation Partnership
The Child & Family Guidance Center
Teneika Brown, MSW, is the Program Director of the Greater Bridgeport Home Visiting Partnership (GBHVP) and Clinical Supervisor of the Early Childhood Consultation Partnership (ECCP). Both programs offer an array of support services to caregivers of young children, with the goal of helping infants, toddlers and preschool-age children thrive and develop in a healthy environment.

ECCP, specifically, is focused on preventing expulsion of children from head start programs by giving caregivers and teachers tools to meet the social, emotional and behavioral needs of children. GBHVP supports at-risk parents of young children (prenatal to age 5) to ensure they develop early heathy relationships with their children and have the resources and skills to raise children who are physically, emotionally, and socially healthy.

Teneika has been with CFGC since 2000, when she started as a medical records clerk/receptionist. Teneika later became a home visitor and began furthering her education, eventually obtaining her MSW and becoming a leader in the agency.

“I love helping families reach their fullest potential. There are times when families do not understand how resilient they are and overlook the accomplishments they achieve daily,” said Teneika.

“Teneika’s passion for her work shines through in all she does,” said Virginia Lopez, Director of Family Support Services at CFGC. “She has a natural gift for working with parents and young children with ease and always a positive attitude. “

~ Submitted by Kate Czaplinski, Director of Development & Communications

Shirley Gadson, Supervisor of the Community Support for Families Program
The Child & Family Guidance Center
Shirley Gadson is Supervisor in CFGC’s Community Support for Families program (CSF). CSF assists families in strengthening natural and community support systems to maintain a safe and healthy home environment. Families referred to CSF may be facing a number of challenges, including: domestic violence, homelessness, food insecurity or untreated mental illness. CSF, with Shirley’s leadership, works to build trust with families, helping them build up support systems and identify their own strengths.

Shirley has been with CFGC for nearly 30 years, helping families succeed and being a source of wisdom and insight for all CFGC staff. Shirley has been a mentor to countless case workers — many of whom are just beginning their careers when they join CSF. Outside of CFGC Shirley is a devoted adoptive mother of seven children with special needs, in addition to her two biological children and grandchildren.

CSF Director Lizette Ortiz-Nash and Family Services Director Virginia Lopez agree that Shirley’s impact is immeasurable.

“She coaches all of us,” said Virginia. “It has nothing to do with job title, it is experience and wisdom. When someone has that, you listen.”

~ Submitted by Kate Czaplinski, Director of Development & Communications

Gina LeVon Simpson
Clinician, Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic for Children
The Child & Family Guidance Center
Gina LeVon Simpson is a clinician in CFGC’s Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic for Children (OPCC), specializing in the Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) model. CPP is an intervention for children aged 0-5 and their caregivers who have experienced at least one traumatic event. Her work is often with children who are survivors of abuse and with caregivers, who are healing from their own abuse and traumas.

“She is trusted by her clients and families, and her soothing persona works as a calming antidote to the traumas that they have experienced,” said OPCC Supervisor Jonathan Spears. “Gina is a truly wonderful and unique person; she is grounded in her community, and contributes to it in a multitude of ways. She is generous with her time, gentle in her demeanor and honest in all her interactions. She walks, and lives, in the footsteps of her ancestors; CFGC Staff have been privileged to enjoy her expressive singing, storytelling, and drumming.”

Gina completed her clinical internship at CFGC in 2019, before coming onboard as a counselor. In addition to her work at CFGC, Gina is a proud grandmother, and well known for her artistry as a storyteller and drummer. She brings almost 25 years as a Leadership Outreach Worker in the Bridgeport schools and is a National Trainer and Lead Teacher for the Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI).

“Gina is an accomplished advocate who is confident in her purpose and unafraid of consequence,” said Ken Lacilla, CFGC’s Behavioral Health Unit Director. “She is an attentive observer and listens to all intently and with compassion. She possesses a depth that exudes wisdom and openness. She is also, simply put, very cool.”

~ Submitted by Kate Czaplinski, Director of Development & Communications

Learn how you can support the Child & Family Guidance Center on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.

Housatonic Community College Foundation

E’zhana Smith, Equity Project Coordinator & HCC Alumna
Housatonic Community College Foundation
I have been supporting students at Housatonic Community College through the HCC Foundation. The Foundation is an important partner to the college, with the mission to expand access to affordable higher education, especially for those who are part of low-income marginalized populations. I am the coordinator for our equity programs, and find much joy helping students who are juggling many aspects of their lives while trying to be successful at Housatonic.

Fairfield County’s Giving Day is an important way for us to raise funds to support these students. Gifts to us mean helping students with their basic needs such as putting food on the table, making rent this month, getting the car fixed, and making it to class on time. Funds raised will remove these barriers so that students can focus on school and stay on track to improve not only their lives, but the lives of their families.

As a Housatonic Community College alumna, I am passionate about giving back and helping students most in need to achieve their dreams.

Learn how you can support the Housatonic Community College Foundation on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.

Kids Helping Kids

Jennifer Bentley, Executive Director
Kids Helping Kids
Jennifer Bentley has been with KHK for six years and she is an incredible asset to the organization! She is success-driven, organized and highly committed professional equipped with broad background in IT, education and non-profit management; complemented with exceptional people skills, tenacity and attention to detail. She excels in long term planning, community engagement and building relationships. She has proven leadership capabilities, initiative, and project management skills. She is also one of the hardest working and most loyal people I have ever met.

She has a Bachelor of Arts (BA) focused in Psychology from Boston University and is devoted to helping make the world a better place. She continues to improve her own skill set. She obtained a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate from the USF Corporate Training and Profession Education in May 2021 as well as Nonprofit Essentials Certificate in April 2020.

She does this while being an incredible mother of 8 lovely children!

~ Submitted by Kids Helping Kids Staff Member

Jen is a remarkable leader at KHK! Her passion to make a difference in the communities KHK serves, her vision to execute various events and drives for her volunteers and her deep desire to see each student volunteer in her program grow up to be caring, responsible, contributing members of their communities is evident in all that does.

As a Board member, I am blessed to see just how strong of a leader she is. Having a Black woman lead a nonprofit in Southwestern Fairfield County is a great thing to see as she serves as a role model for so many of her students volunteers. She is so deserving of this recognition.

~ Submitted by Kids Helping Kids Board Member

Jennifer Bentley is a rockstar! I have been working with her both as a mentor and now as a Board member of Kids Helping Kids since 2020. Every time I see her with the student volunteers from KHK or her interactions with the Board, I am left in awe.

She has that rare ability to connect with people of all ages. She leads the student volunteers into each project with an insatiable desire to do their best for the benefits of others. The unselfishness of our student volunteers makes everyone in the organization so proud. Jen models this attitude and behavior in all she does.

When with adults, Jen speaks with authority and conviction when advocating for the youth volunteers. At Board meetings she constantly shows that she is one of the smartest in the room, especially when it comes to what is best for the children.

I feel that Jennifer Bentley is incredibly deserving of recognition for her tireless work to make the communities in Southwestern Connecticut better places for all through the generous time and efforts of our youth volunteers.

~ Submitted by Kids Helping Kids Board Member

The mission of Kids Helping Kids is to facilitate the development of leadership skills through youth-led service projects. Why? Because there is nothing like it. KHK gives students a voice, the tools, the belief in themselves, and a path to take their power and positively impact others!

We empower kids to turn empathy into action by designing and implementing service projects that benefit other children in the community. All of our projects are created, planned, and led by youth. They provide meaningful and enriching experiences, foster personal connections, help our youth develop critical 21st-century skills, and fill a need for kids throughout the community.

Our volunteers are elementary through high school students who are looking for opportunities to make an impact in their community. Kids can sign up to participate in any project based on their availability or choose to spark a project based on their own interests. Our unique model provides an opportunity for kids to become actively engaged in their community while developing critical skills, finding their voice as leaders, and making service a part of their lives. Kids Helping Kids is sustained by our eternal enthusiasm to help all young people find their unique ability to make a difference in the world.

Jennifer Bentley has been part of the KHK team since 2016. Initially, she started as a parent volunteer when her teenage children were part of KHK. In 2017, she was hired as the Program Director where she nearly tripled the number of youth-led service projects, developed the Youth Advisory Council and cultivated relationships with community partners.

Jen was promoted to Executive Director in January 2021. As the ED, Jen has worked to diversify revenue streams, build our presence in the community and support our youth volunteers in their leadership development. She is often recognized for her ability to connect with the volunteers and for her enthusiasm for the mission of Kids Helping Kids.

During Fairfield County’s Giving Day, Kids Helping Kids will be raising money for three things: our general operating expenses, our programming expenses and to cover the cost of working with a consultant to help us create a strategic plan. Now in our 14th year, we are eager to develop a strategic plan that will encapsulate our vision for the future. As part of our mission to support our youth, the additional funding we receive from Giving Day will allow us to provide formal leadership training and resources as well as fund their unique project ideas.

Thank you for your consideration.

Learn how you can support Kids Helping Kids on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.

Read more in Part 2 of our Black History Month series spotlighting everyday heroes whose nonprofit organizations are taking part in Fairfield County’s Giving Day on February 23, 2023. Want to see inspiring stories as they are shared? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram or join our email list.


Thank you to our champion sponsor Bank of America for a full decade of support for this amazing annual day of philanthropy which invites Fairfield County to come together and “give where you live.” Since launching in 2014, Fairfield County’s Giving Day has raised more than $13.75 million for local nonprofits. Learn more.