Helen Rubino-Turco, West Hartford’s director of Leisure Services and Social Services, was honored with the ‘Build No Fences’ Award at the 35th ‘Breakfast on the Bridge’ Wednesday morning.
By Ronni Newton
The annual Breakfast on the Bridge is a time-honored tradition that has become synonymous with back to school – a celebration of those who support the town’s children and families as well as the opportunity to present the “Build No Fences” award – and this year West Hartford Director of Leisure and Social Services Helen Rubino-Turco was surprised with the coveted award.
Rubino-Turco is a regular attendee at the breakfast, and didn’t suspect a thing. When Doreen Tarascio, director of Development and Communication for the Bridge announced her name, Rubino-Turco, was shocked.
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members,” said Tarascio, reading the quote from Coretta Scott King as she noted that everyone in the room is dedicated to enhancing the lives of children and families, but noting that Rubino-Turco’s colleagues, who were aware she had been chosen, said “the Bridge could not have chosen a more deserving individual.”
Rubino-Turco, who was then joined by her husband and several very close friends, said she grew up learning the value of serving the community, and is also thankful for the support her own family has received from the Bridge.
“I do think it is the compassion of our community that sets us apart and I’m just grateful to be a part of it,” she said.
“The Bridge delivers hope. They lift so many children and families out of despair. Their handprints are visible in countless success stories in our community,” she told We-Ha.com. The award is a community award, and the Bridge has been so important in lifting so many people up – “over the fence and through the fence,” she said.
“I’m so pleased to be able to support them. This recognition is unbelievable,” Rubino-Turco said.
As is the tradition, Tarascio read a few excerpts of reflections she had received from Rubino-Turco’s colleagues and other community leaders.
“Helen works tirelessly for our community every day,” remarked Mayor Shari Cantor. “She is a champion for every family and child. Her work is always about how to serve our community’s broad range of needs especially our most vulnerable residents. Her collaboration, creativity, and effort make us a better community.”
Chris Dutton, clinical director of Community and School Services at the Bridge remarked that Rubino-Turco has always been a strong supporter of the organization’s work. “She is a caring collaborator, connecting and facilitating community partnership and collaboration. Her calm, thoughtful demeanor underlines her work on behalf of the youth in our community.
Bridge Executive Director Margaret Hann said she has worked with Rubino-Turco since she became director of Leisure and Social Services more than 10 years ago, and said she is a relentless advocate,
“Helen has become my respected friend and colleague. Her heart is always in the right place and it is never about her – it is always about doing the right thing for people who need us,” Hann said, adding that her kindness is not boastful but rather about giving quietly, “without hesitation.”
Town Manager Rick Ledwith has worked with Rubino-Turco for many years, and said he has “witnessed firsthand her unwavering commitment to breaking down barriers that separate residents from the support and resources they need.”
He noted that Rubino-Turco “embodies the spirit of the Bridge’s vision of ‘every child, every family, every time,’ in everything she does, approaching her work with a deep sense of empathy and genuine care for those she serves,” and has made a lasting and transformative impact on the town, even before she was in her current role.
“Helen is joining a long list of incredibly worthy recipients of the ‘Build No Fences’ award who have inspired tens of thousands over the years and I know she will continue to make the Bridge and town proud as she continues to advocate for those most in need every day,” Ledwith said.
Her teammates in Leisure and Social Services also shared some thoughts, noting that she “not only creates gates in the fence, but many times rips down the fence to create new opportunities” and is willing to roll up her sleeves and jump in.
Her role in creating the social work-police liaison role was also noted as an example of her collaborative spirit, and it’s a position that is now a national best practice model.
Her work over the years in helping grow Celebrate! West Hartford praised, and her tremendous leadership during the pandemic was also noted by her teammates. “She was always available and ready to innovate, brainstorm, pivot, and support the next approach to get us through this time of uncertainty and to support residents to the best of our ability.”
This year marked the 35th time the Bridge has held the annual breakfast, which after many years of being held at St. James’s Episcopal Church and two years of COVID-related cancellation was moved to the Town Hall auditorium in 2022. It will continue to be held at Town Hall, said Hann, who welcomed the crowd to the event and asked all in attendance to introduce themselves.
Peter Macdonald, president of the Bridge’s Board of Directors, also spoke to guests Wednesday morning. “I got involved with the Bridge because I saw what the Bridge does for this community and I wanted to help them do that,” he said, and the town is a great supporter of the Bridge.
Breakfast on the Bridge was attended by administrators and principals from throughout West Hartford Public Schools, social service professionals, Mayor Shari Cantor and other Town Council members, Town Manager Rick Ledwith, West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick and Assistant Chief Rob Riccobon as well as other department members, and Bridge staff and Board members.
“The Bridge is honored to host this wonderful event every year. And all of us look forward to another year of working together with all of you,” Hann said.
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