New Canaan agency honored for work in helping troubled youngsters
Two lower Fairfield County non-profit organizations and their leaders have been honored for their work in helping troubled youngsters in Connecticut.
Shari Shapiro, executive director of Greenwich-based Kids in Crisis and the Tow Foundation, of New Canaan, are the winners of the 2011 Fairfield County Champion of Children awards. Presented annually by the Hartford-based Center for Children's Advocacy, the award recognizes "ongoing outstanding effort in support of Connecticut children and youth who suffer without stable homes, without health care, without necessary educational supports, without families," according to the organization's website.
"These agencies have taken a chance on at-risk kids," Martha Stone, executive director of the CCA, said. "They stick their necks out for vulnerable children. It's important for them to be recognized."
The awards were presented during the center's Sunshine in February fundraiser, which took place Thursday at Trump Parc in Stamford.
The executive director of Kids in Crisis since 1980, Shapiro has led the organization to become one of the state's most important resources for infants, children and teens suffering from abuse, neglect and family crisis. The organization provides free, round-the-clock crisis intervention counseling, access to emergency shelters and prevention programs.
"It's a very humbling experience," Shapiro, a Stamford resident, said of the award. "I'm just the one who is in the portrait, so to speak. The people I work side by side with are the true champions of our kids."
Shapiro is sharing the spotlight with the Tow Foundation, a nonprofit organization that addresses juvenile justice reform and other social issues through grants and policy advocacy. Emily Tow Jackson, the foundation's executive director, said there was a "tremendous need for change" in the legal system when her parents, Leonard and Claire Tow, founded the organization in 1988.
"The system was deeply flawed," recalled Tow Jackson, of Pound Ridge, N.Y. "Since we've been involved, we've seen tremendous legislative victories that have improved conditions for young people caught up in the justice system."
She cited the 2008 Raise the Age legislation, which lifted the age, from 16 to 17 years, at which juveniles automatically enter the adult criminal justice system. By 2012, the threshold will be raised to 18 years.
"We want these teens to become civic participants, instead of a liability," she added.
The awards were given at a time when nonprofit social services agencies across the state are facing budget shortfalls. It is the result of both a drop in private donations and in some cases, state funds, Stone said. In recent years, the Center for Children's Advocacy, Kids in Crisis and Tow Foundation have made cuts to staff and services.
However, the agencies are pressing on. A large part of their continued success is partnerships between the agencies, Shapiro said. The CCA, for example, provides attorneys from its law clinic to train staff and provide legal counsel to children in residence at the KiC. And, in the past, the Tow Foundation has awarded grants to the CCA.
It is a collaboration born of a necessity, and one that will continue for years to come, Shapiro said.
"What we're really looking at is a renewed energy," she said. "We have to go that extra step, to be more creative, to find more ways to work together."