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Friday, April 27 News

Awardees' volunteer roots are deep

Six women will be honored at the YWCA Darien/Norwalk's fifth annual Women of Distinction awards and luncheon Thursday, May 29, at Woodway Country Club, Darien.

The honorees are Jenny Schwartz, Mary Genco, Rhonda Kiest, Patricia Phillips and Maryann Lehmann. Sloane Bessey will be honored as a Young Woman of Distinction.

The Women of Distinction Award recognizes the achievements of a select group of women. Local residents and business owners nominate women whose contributions have made a difference in the Darien and Norwalk communities.

The luncheon takes place at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased by visiting www.ywcadariennorwalk.org.

Sloane Bessey

Bessey, a Darien High School senior, is the lead volunteer tutor at A Better Chance's Darien house. A National Honor Society student for the last two years, she tutors students in English to chemistry, and she coordinates four volunteers to ensure the scholars' academic needs are met.

She is a member of the DHS varsity field hockey team and was named an All State Scholar-Athlete in 2013 as well as an All-FCIAC East athlete in 2012. She also participates in the Fairfield County United Field Hockey Club and is on the DHS track team. She is a Sunday School teacher at Noroton Presbyterian Church.

Mary Genco

Genco, formerly a vice president at Morgan Stanley, began her volunteerism with the YWCA Newcomers Club, New Canaan Community Nursery School and Ox Ridge School.

She also joined the Council of Darien School Parents in the 1990s.

She oversaw the development of the organizational and operating structure of the Darien Technology Foundation. She served as a volunteer executive director and a member of the board for eight years. Some of the projects she helped facilitate included a teacher training lab; Middlesex music, art and design lab; mobile science computer labs; authentic science research center; mobile laptop carts, a technology room at Darien Library; and computer workstations and classes at the Darien Senior Activities Center.

She also has served on allocation panels for several years at The Community Fund of Darien. She is the treasurer and a member of the executive committee of the board. She has also been a long-term member and multiyear board member of the Darien League of Women Voters.

Rhonda Kiest

Rhonda Kiest, president and CEO of Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk, is responsible for creating interactive environments where children can learn about the world through play.

In 2006, she helped start Healthy Children, Healthy Communities, an initiative of more than 50 organizations to promote the health and well-being of children and families.

She also led a strategic planning initiative for Norwalk ACTS, a support network of 60 community leaders and organizations working to better the lives and futures of Norwalk children and youth. This led to the development of the Early Language and Literacy Initiative in 2012, founded in partnership with Norwalk Community College, the Norwalk Housing Authority and Literacy How.

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She serves on the advisory board of the Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk and served on the search committee for Norwalk's superintendent of schools. She has served on the Connecticut team for the Children's Outcome Project based in Washington, D.C., and is a board member of the Association of Children's Museums as well as a national peer reviewer for the Museum Assessment Programs of the American Alliance of Museums.

Maryann Lehmann

Maryann Lehmann, a dentist who has a Darien practice, has spent many weekends volunteering at the Connecticut Mission of Mercy providing free dental care to uninsured patients with limited incomes.

She enlists the help of high-school-aged students to volunteer alongside her at CMM.

She also regularly visits area preschools to teach students about good dental hygiene. She is a former teacher of religious education at St. John's Roman Catholic Church and St. Thomas More. She is a founding member of Doctors4Darien.

She also spearheaded an initiative to make custom mouth guards for Stamford High School's and Stamford Academy's varsity football players to protect their teeth during games. She also participates in Women's Career Day at Norwalk High School and once mentored a college student who went on to attend Harvard Dentistry School.

Patricia C. Phillips

Phillips has worked for a half-dozen nonprofit organizations in Stamford, Darien and Norwalk over four decades.

Her volunteerism began as a member of Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk. She co-founded Shelter for the Homeless, a regional shelter in lower Fairfield County serving Stamford, Darien, Greenwich and New Canaan. She was board chairman from 1997 to 2003 and now serves on the advisory council. The organization dedicated one of the homes the Patricia C. Phillips House.

She also created the Stamford Mayor's Task Force on Domestic Violence in 1979, and worked with the Council of Churches and Synagogues in Stamford to provide training and develop safe houses for victims of domestic violence. She founded and served on the board of Domestic Violence Services, a program of YWCA Darien/Norwalk that became the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Norwalk in 1997. She is an advisory council member.

She joined Person-to-Person's advisory board in 2005 and became a board member in 2006. She is the recipient of the Liberty Bell Award, the Community Lifetime Award, the Ray of Hope Award and Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award.

Jenny Schwartz

A lifelong equestrian competitor, Schwartz discovered New Canaan Mounted Troop in 2002 while searching for a quality riding program for her daughters. In 2010, she joined the board of directors as president.

In 2012, she recognized an opportunity for the troop to launch its own therapeutic riding program for children and adults with special physical, emotional and cognitive needs. "Super Troopers" complements the troop's traditional after-school children's and adult riding programs. Seeing that the program would enrich the group on many levels, she became development director in 2013 to forge necessary strategic partnerships, raise the funds and hire the staff.

Schwartz also served as chairman of the Darien Housing Authority for four years.