UNCASVILLE — The Connecticut Sun women’s basketball team honored three 2014 Women of Inspiration, including Newtown resident Rebecca Kowalski, during a pregame reception and halftime ceremony when the Sun hosted the Indiana Fever at Mohegan Sun Arena June 7.
Ms Kowalski was honored alongside former governor Jodi Rell, who received the Margo Dydek Award. Heather Ciarletto, who inspired and led a social justice and diversity initiative at Wethersfield High School, was also honored during the event.
“We are so pleased to recognize these three individuals,” Connecticut Sun Vice President and General Manager Chris Sienko said. “All of them, in their own way, are changing lives and positively impacting people and we are honored to have them as our 2014 Women of Inspiration.”
The centerpiece of the Inspiring Women Program, the Margo Dydek Award is named in honor of the former Connecticut Sun All Star who died unexpectedly in 2011 at the age of 37.
Ms Dydek was an accomplished professional who finished her WNBA career as the career leader in blocks, but she was better known for a warm and open spirit that endeared her to so many women’s basketball fans around the world.
“I have heard a lot about Margo, and one of the things I’ve heard is that she was an extra special, nice person,” Ms Rell said in a release. “There’s nothing wrong with being nice. You can be more civil in politics, you can be more civil in a game, you can be more civil anywhere. The fact that she was such a nice person, and that she was able to garner so many friends with a smile and a happy face speaks volumes for her. I’m honored.”
Ms Rell became the second female governor in the history of Connecticut when she was elevated from her post as lieutenant governor to replace John Rowland in 2004. Shortly after taking office, she engaged in a very public battle with breast cancer, undergoing surgery in December 2004.
Long an advocate for breast cancer screening, Ms Rell became a role model, sharing her story in an effort to help publicize the importance of early detection. She won reelection in 2006, and served until 2010.
As the Margo Dydek Award winner, Ms Rell planned to donate the $1,000 she received from the Connecticut Sun Foundation to the Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut.
After losing their son Chase on 12/14, Ms Kowalski and her husband, Stephen, established the nonprofit Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski Sandy Hook Foundation to inspire community healing through family and children-focused initiatives.
Chase was a budding triathlete, and one of the primary components of the CMAK Foundation is Race4Chase, a campaign to encourage grassroots fundraising. It was inspired by the gesture of a former Masuk High classmate of the Kowalskis, Kevin Bresnahan, who founded “1,000 miles for Chase,” collecting pledges and donations as he ran 1,000 miles in memory of Chase.
Through the Greater Waterbury YMCA, CMAK also sponsors need-based financial support for preschool scholarships. Ms Kowalski believes the opportunity to attend preschool played a key role in Chase’s ability to overcome a speech delay because it provided a positive learning environment where he could grow and make friends.
In 2013, CMAK provided a grant to the Greater Waterbury YMCA preschool education program that assisted more than 130 children in the program. In addition to the preschool scholarships, CMAK is also funding the Race4Chase Kid’s Tri program, which will provide 30 children, ages 6–12, with the opportunity to learn about being a triathlete.
In 2014, this program has been adopted at YMCAs in Waterbury, Trumbull. and Danbury.
Lastly, Ms Kowalski envisioned the Chase’s Place initiative to create rooms or spaces set aside at locations such as YMCAs where families can play together.
“There’s a lot to be said about CMAK and our programs,” said Ms Kowalski, who donated the $500 she received from the Connecticut Sun Foundation to CMAK. “The most inspirational thing is that Chase is changing the world. He is the inspiration and we are all just facilitators.”
Visit chasekowalskifund.com to learn more.
Ms Ciarletto, a Wethersfield High senior, is leaving an impressive legacy as the driving force and leader of the Student Wethersfield Action Team (SWAT), a club dedicated to encouraging social justice and a tolerance for diversity.
What began with ten students last September has now grown to roughly 50. The club received a huge boost this past January when Hudson Taylor, the founder of Athlete Ally — an organization focused on ending homophobia in athletics — spoke at the school.
An athlete who has played volleyball, field hockey, and tennis for Wethersfield, Ms Ciarletto’s interest in social justice was sparked as a sophomore when she attended ANYTOWN, a weeklong program conducted by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).
Students attending the program participate in workshops and dialogue groups highlighting the importance of inclusiveness, awareness of the social justice issues.
“I just felt really empowered by the workshops and activities,” she said. “I became passionate after my sophomore year.”