Darien YWCA names 2021 Women of Distinction Award honorees

DARIEN — The YWCA of Darien/Norwalk recently announced its honorees for its 2021 Women of Distinction Awards.

Josephine Anderson, Katharine Calderwood, Kyla Johns, Lauren Mallet and Iliana Zuniga Miranda were honored this year, along with three Young Women of Distinction — Sophie Curtis, Lindsay Ferretti and Gillian Riordan.

Organizers said the women were selected for their community leadership, contribution and focus on issues that are related to racial equity, social justice and strengthening the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

The award is given in recognition of the achievements of a select group of women who live, or work, in Darien and Norwalk.

The honorees were recently celebrated at the Women of Distinction Awards event June 8 at the Tokeneke Club, along with six women who were selected as Women of Distinction honorees in 2020, who, because of the pandemic, the YWCA was unable to formally honor at an event last year.

The 2020 honorees were Kim Dickinson, Lily Genovese, Shelly Skogland, Shieva Ghofrany, Susan Marks and Susie Flaherty.

Anderson has dedicated her career to mentoring and advocating for the undeserved and those in need. She is an active member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Norwalk, where she serves as a steward and church school superintendent. She has a 33-year tenure of employment at the Ferguson Library and is the supervisor of the South End Branch and the bookmobile. She is a certified Parent Leadership Training Institute facilitator and a certified Biblical Storyteller.

She has served on community boards including the National Jackie Robinson Scholarship committee and the Person to Person Scholarship Committee. She is president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association CT Chapter and was appointed to Connecticut’s African-American Affairs Commission by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. She is also the co-founder of the Stamford Kwanzaa Association, coordinating the mayor’s Kwanzaa in Stamford for the past 20 years. She has taken her passions abroad to South Africa to set up libraries and share her love of reading.

Anderson is the recipient of the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County Community Service Award. Recently, she was honored and awarded the 2021 Outstanding Librarian of the year by the Connecticut Library Association.

After acting as a parent volunteer for several years in town, Calderwood started her own website design and development business called Calderwood Digital and also began offering family portraits and commercial photography. She has also volunteered with organizations such as The Darien Foundation, the Darien Athletic Foundation, the Darien Depot Youth Center, Norwalk/Stamford Grassroots Tennis and Education, among others.

When the pandemic and lock down began in our area in late March 2020, Calderwood learned about the Front Steps Project, which was started in Massachusetts. She decided to bring the project to Darien to raise awareness and donations for Corbin Cares in partnership with The Darien Foundation. Corbin Cares provided meals to seniors and families suffering from food insecurity during the pandemic by hiring local restaurants to prepare the meals, also providing employment for restaurant workers, sending business to local restaurants and caterers. She personally photographed 175 families in two months.

Johns is an activist, poet and educator who was a 2015 graduate of Darien High School. She has helped organize and lead protests in Connecticut and New York for Black Lives Matter and to end police brutality, followed by creating and teaching an activism program through the non-profit organization LiveGirl, called So You Want To Be An Activist?

Through this program, she said she hopes to light the fire in future agents of change and promote a lifestyle fighting for equity and the inclusion of marginalized groups. In 2020, LiveGirl presented her with the Mentor Impact Award for her work teaching the program.

Johns is president and co-founder of R.A.G.E.T.I.M.E. (Reform and Amend General Education to Teach and Integrate Minority Experiences), and with online and vocal content, she works to ensure that Black history and the contributions of minority groups are integrated into school curricula.

Mallet has a background in public health and a passion for human rights. She holds a bachelor's degree in international studies and master's in public health from EHESP, the French School of Public Health.

A Norwalk resident, Mallett has started a mutual aid movement where neighbors could help neighbors to meet their basic needs.

Miranda is a digital strategist for a global company and after work, she uses her skills as an activist. In March 2020, she founded Latinos Unidos Norwalk which has almost 1,500 members in Norwalk and the greater Fairfield County area.

Initially created early in the pandemic to support the Latino community, the group provides members with information and resources in Spanish on issues including education, food distribution, social services and health — including vaccination — and testing access. Food and clothing drives are organized through partnership with other grassroots organizations.

Miranda is also a core member of several women’s rights organizations in the U.S. and in Mexico. At Norwalk Women Who Vote, she works to identify, inspire and support women who align with democratic ideals to hold positions at all levels within the local and state government. She is also a mentor and an advisor to the Board for Womerang, a Mexican Non-Profit organization that fights for women's empowerment and equality.

She was recently appointed Commissioner for the City of Norwalk with the Historical Commission. She has also been a part of various committees for the Board of Education over the past few years and, more recently, the Norwalk Public Schools Reopening committee and the Student Governance Council for P-Tech, where her oldest son is a freshman.

About a year ago, when Curtis was a freshman at Darien High School and quarantine first started, she and her family created a Facebook page called "Rescue Main Street Darien." The premise was that each person who participated would buy a $50 gift card to any Darien store and would receive one in return at the end of the campaign. They originally thought only a few people would participate in it, and created it so they could support local businesses and help Darien during the pandemic. Curtis and her family were thrilled to see an overwhelming response as many joined the campaign and purchased gift cards. In the end, She helped raise $11,000 for local businesses and had extra gift cards to donate to the Department of Human Services.

Ferretti is currently a high school junior at the Marymount School of New York. She is an active member of the Scouts BSA Troop 219 in Darien, where she is the senior patrol leader, has recently earned her Eagle Scout Rank and was elected by the Scouts in her troop to the Order of the Arrow, which is a Scouting Honor Society. In addition to the Scouts BSA, she has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten where she achieved the Girl Scout Silver Award and will begin working on her Girl Scout Gold Award project.

In addition to all of her Scouting, Ferretti is also a volunteer probationary firefighter at the Noroton Heights Fire Department. She is active in her faith and has volunteered at Saint John Church in Darien as altar server and Sunday school assistant, and at Marymount she is a Eucharistic minister. She has also served those in need in Puerto Rico, helping a family to rebuild their home destroyed in Hurricane Maria. Ferretti has attended many Student Diversity Leadership conferences to help gain knowledge on social issues and has brought back awareness to her community, combining her interest in helping those in need and the ever important issue of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Ferretti has advocated for marginalized youth by writing a grant with two of her classmates at Marymount for the Hetrick Martin Institute in lower Manhattan. As a result of her advocacy work, her group was awarded a $10,000 grant to expand the Institute’s services to help youth.

Riordan will be returning this fall to the University of Mississippi, where a full load of coursework is only part of what she’s prepared to undertake. She will hold three positions in the American Cancer Society club on campus — Survivorship Chair, Secretary of Operations and Presidential Adviser. This past year, she was president of operations, planning and running the general membership meetings to teach members about different cancer related jobs and cancers in general. Also involved in her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, she focuses philanthropic efforts on the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, Tenn. While home during the pandemic this past year, she joined Noroton Heights Fire Department and will take the Firefighter 1 class in Fairfield this summer.