Noting that the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen was doing “something just a little bit different,” this year in terms of the Citizen of the Year announcement, First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder introduced the 2016 recipients as not one person in the traditional manner, but rather a group of people. She went on to name Lyme-Old Lyme High School’s (LOLHS) Life Skills & Transition Program Teachers, Aides & Students as the 2016 Citizen of the Year at the Old Lyme Annual Town Meeting held last night in the Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School (LOLMS) auditorium where around 50 people had gathered.
Reemsnyder explained, “A wonderful thing happens regularly in town hall,” and then added, reading from the 2016 Citizen of the Year citation, “Members of our community may be unaware of the important role played in our community by the teachers, assistants/job coaches, and especially the students from Regional District 18’s Life Skills program.”
She continued, “It has been nearly 10 years since the Town first began working with student interns from Lyme-Old Lyme High School. The relationship has been considered a success for the students and has proven invaluable for the Town.”
Adding, “Historically, Regional District 18 contracted with outside agencies to provide vocational experiences and transition services to students with Individual Education Plans,” Reemsnyder noted, “The decision made a decade ago to bring vocational experiences “home” to Old Lyme meant significant financial savings to the district and created a unique opportunity for our community. The Town Hall internships alone represent over 3,000 work hours.”
Old Lyme resident and LOLHS Special Education teacher Leslie O’Connor was coordinator of the Life Skills program when the Town Hall internship program was developed. Pointing out that, “The program was considered a chance for our community to really be a community,” Reemsnyder commented, “And, because of the success of the Town Hall internships, many other organizations and businesses have also welcomed Life Skills interns: OLPGN’s Book Cellar, the Big Y, Lyme Academy College, the Nearly New Shop, Elements florist, Old Lyme Veterinary Clinic, Bee & Thistle Inn, Rivers End Bait &Tackle, and Gladeview among them. Local attorney Greg Carnese has offered to develop a job in his office for interns.”
Reemsnyder added, still reading from the citation, “Students have worked alongside the Regional District’s maintenance staff as landscapers. In the Life Skills program, students work as the High School’s recycling technicians, and have run small businesses including making and selling gift tags, dog treats, and jars of tomato sauce and soups. They have also catered staff luncheons and meetings. According to Leslie, our community has supported them by buying every product offered.”
Reemsnyder cited one task that has stood out in terms of the award saying, “With the help of job coaches Elaine Niles, Gina Wohlke, and Elizabeth Watrous Stopa, Town Hall interns Taylor Saunders, Kelly Mastrianna, Leah Migliaccio, and Alexa Agostine took on the mammoth, ongoing task of converting paper records into electronic ones.”
Bilal Malik was also given high praise by Reemsnyder for performing an ADA accessibility assessment of the Town Hall. Reemsnyder described this project as, “work that continues to guide us through necessary changes to the building.”
Reemsnyder also acknowledged the exceptional role that her Executive Assistant Catherine Frank had played in both the establishment of the program in town hall and in its ongoing support and management.
In conclusion, Reemsnyder stated, “The students have gained vocational skills, practiced invaluable social and communication skills, and been able to create some impressive resumes,” while at the same time, “Through our work with the young interns, we have gained an appreciation for the dedication and caring of their teachers and job coaches, and a life-changing awareness of the limitless potential of our most exceptional citizens.”
The students present were given flowers and a certificate each and along with their job coaches and teacher Leslie O’Connor, they were all given a standing ovation.
O’Connor graciously spoke on behalf of the students and the coaches thanking the board of selectmen for the award. She also thanked all the businesses and organizations that have welcomed interns from the program into their places of work, adding with a smile that she would be happy to welcome any new businesses or organizations into the program immediately