Maxine Smith, a seventh-grade guidance counselor at West Hartford’s Sedgwick Middle School, was honored with the ‘Build No Fences’ Award at the 33rd annual ‘Breakfast on the Bridge’ Wednesday morning.
By Ronni Newton
Sedgwick guidance counselor Maxine Smith was moved to tears as she embraced her husband, mother, and sister after her name was announced Wednesday morning as the recipient of the “Build No Fences” award at the 33rd annual Breakfast on the Bridge.
“This is for everybody. This is for all us,” a shocked, surprised, and speechless Smith said as she accepted the award. “I love what we do, I love my Sedgwick team.”
Smith said she has lived in West Hartford for 25 years, and her children attended West Hartford Public Schools. She moved from Jamaica to Canada as a teen, and moved to Connecticut when she married her husband, Tony, at age 21. Back then he insisted they had to live in West Hartford “for the school system,” Smith said.
“I’m so happy to be part of this community … I accept this for all of us. We have a great team,” said Smith.
Doreen Tarascio, director of communications for the Bridge Family Center, had the privilege of announcing the Build No Fences award – an honor presented annually to an individual with a collaborative spirit who goes above and beyond in serving the children and families of West Hartford. The presentation is the highlight of the breakfast, and the name of the winner is a surprise to the winner and kept a closely-guarded secret from all but a handful of those in the room.
Before revealing the name, Tarascio said that this year’s recipient “exemplifies this spirit and embodies our vision of ‘Every Child, Every Family, Every Time.'”
“Following tradition, I called some of the recipient’s colleagues to ask them to share a few words. Upon learning who was receiving the award, each person had the same reaction – the Bridge could not have chosen a more deserving individual. They were so genuinely happy and even a few tears were shed,” Tarascio said.
“Maxine is not one to like the spotlight on her, at all. She is your quiet leader who works exceptionally well behind the scenes, which is why this is truly a testament to the Bridge’s focus on celebrating those who put children and families first,” noted Sedgwick counselor Sandra Lopez, who has worked with Smith for the past 17 years. “[S]he is one of the most humble, genuine, giving, compassionate, composed, and caring human beings that I know. To add to all this, she is always so classy and nothing ever seems to rattle her! Maxine always puts children first, and one of the things that I always took away from her was ‘If this was your own child, how would you like them to be treated?'”
Pat Tyler, who formerly worked as director of Youth and Family Services at the Bridge and is now a crisis team social worker with West Hartford Public Schools, commented that Smith is a “class act” who is “consistently kind, calm, steady, professional, engaged, caring, and responsive. Maxine does her job with the best interest of kids at the forefront at all times. Despite being super busy, she is a willing collaborator with the Bridge in terms of referring students for counseling or mentoring, helping our counselors put together a support for Sedgwick students, or attending the West Hartford Community Network for Children and Families.”
“Maxine is patient and eager to support the Sedgwick staff with their questions and concerns,” commented Sedgwick Principal Andrew Clapsaddle. “Parents have communicated to me how grateful they are to have Maxine as their child’s counselor. She is a positive light within our school community.”
Jonathan Merritt, Youth Services coordinator for the Bridge Family Center noted that Smith is positive and inspiring, goes above and beyond,”and always has an open door to be available for the youth we serve.”
“The first sentence of the ‘Bridge Core Beliefs’ statement is ‘children and families are the center of our work,” said Executive Director Margaret Hann, who has worked for the organization for 32 years, 21 of them in her current position. “It is our touchstone. We are drawn to others who consistently put the needs of the people we serve at the center of their work. We call them ‘Bridge people.’ Maxine is certainly a Bridge person. We are truly blessed to work with her and are so pleased to honor her today with the Build No Fences Award.”
Smith is “a true collaborator whose heart is with the families we serve,” Tarascio said.
Bridge Board of Directors President Susan Hamilton said she is always amazed at the turnout and energy in the room. The organization’s reputation as a community and service provider is unparalleled, and she knows that anyone receiving services from the Bridge is in good hands.
The 33rd annual Breakfast on the Bridge, held at St. James’s Episcopal Church, was attended Wednesday by a crowd of administrators and principals from throughout West Hartford Public Schools, social service professionals, Mayor Shari Cantor and Deputy Mayor Beth Kerrigan, West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick and Assistant Chief Dan Coppinger, West Hartford Fire Chief Greg Priest and Assistant Chief Hugh O’Callaghan, town staff, Bridge staff, and others from the community. The event celebrates commitment to children and families and collaboration, and has come to be considered the informal kick-off for the new academic year.
Hann said she is always “drawn to the positive energy in the room, the best of the best.” Quoting Fred Rogers, she said she considers all of the people in the room “my heroes.”
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