2016 Women of Distinction Honorees

Whitney Ball

Whitney BallWhitney Ball knows what it means to take grass roots action. In August 2015, Whitney initiated the “Drop It & Drive In Darien” campaign to increase public awareness in the Darien community about the dangers of distracted driving, in particular of cell phone use. She established and personally funded the campaign, which has received endorsements from the Darien Police Department, Darien’s First Selectman, and the Darien Police Association, among others. “The “Drop It & Drive" campaign is relevant to the general health and wellness of families in our community by making roads safer and by encouraging responsible behavior among adults that can be modeled by their children,” said Cecilia Huss, who nominated Whitney for the Women of Distinction award. “It's a multi-factor, multi-generational initiative to make the community safer and stop a “preventable” town tragedy”.

To date, the “Drop it & Drive in Darien” car magnets have been distributed to over 2,000 people through a number of distribution points in town, and the campaign has been featured in several, local media outlets, including print and television. Darien Chamber of Commerce members have also received window stickers with the campaign's logo. Whitney partnered with the Darien Police on a funding application for school safety signage and the signs have just been installed at Darien schools. For her contributions to public safety, in April Whitney was presented with a Community Service Award by the Darien Police.

Whitney’s holds Masters degrees from The London School of Economics and the Irish Centre for Human Rights in international development and international human rights law. Her past humanitarian work carried her to countries including Sierra Leone, Albania, and Uzbekistan where she worked with refugees, local nonprofits, and former child combatants. She has worked only for non-profits in her lifetime and currently does freelance work as a non-profit consultant. For several years, Whitney has been heavily involved with Connecticut’s largest non-profit refugee resettlement and immigration services organization, the International Institute of Connecticut (IICONN). Whitney's contributions at IICONN have included starting and managing the IICONN annual toy and blanket drive for resettled refugee children for the last five years, chairing an executive search committee, and conducting refugee home visits for recently-arrived refugees. Until last month, Whitney chaired for two years the Missions and Social Action committee at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, which currently supports approximately 5 nonprofits in Fairfield Country and 2 in Kenya.

Strengthening the fabric of our local communities could almost be Whitney’s personal motto.

Elizabeth ‘Leelee’ Klein

LeeleeKleinNo one knows the joy and heartache of ‘tiny miracles’ better than Leelee Klein. As President of The Tiny Miracles Foundation (TTMF) since 2007, Leelee has helped hundreds of families in Lower Fairfield County welcome premature babies into their lives. She helped develop the TTMF family resource rooms at Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport hospitals; sanctuaries in the NICU open 24/7, where families can spend time in comfortable surroundings to access support services through volunteers, educational resources or supplies provided by The Tiny Miracles Foundation. She has also trained many TTMF volunteers to be mentors for new parents.

Leelee, herself a mother of premature twins, has been the TTMF Lead Mentor from the inception of their programs and in 2013 she led the expansion of their programs to the NICU at Danbury Hospital. “She is there 24/7, providing an informed and compassionate shoulder for parents during challenging times”, said George Colabella, Executive Director at TTMF.

Through the years Leelee has also given her time and endless energy to other non-profit organizations in the area including Person to Person, the New Canaan Mounted Troop and the American Cancer Society.

Leelee is a well-recognized advocate for premature babies and their health and wellness and has spoken widely in the community to raise awareness, support and funding. Not only does she ensure parents get the emotional support they need, she has worked tirelessly to ensure they can access information and resources to meet the wide range of medical, educational and developmental needs of their babies.

Leelee’s dedication and devotion to the most vulnerable in our community makes her a most deserving Woman of Distinction.

Ceci Mahe

ceci maherUnder Ceci’s leadership, Person-to-Person has grown significantly, and the agency has increased the delivery of services and programs to a larger geographic area. She instituted standards and practices to professionalize the agency, track outcomes through data collection, and increase marketplace awareness of the P2P mission and accomplishments.

A Stamford native, Ceci is a Licensed Master Social Worker. She began her career in fashion marketing and was involved in product development overseas. Post graduate school, Ceci was a clinical social worker at Four Winds Hospital, working with children and youth, and served as Executive Director of Horizons National Student Enrichment Program for five years. A graduate of University of Massachusetts and Columbia University School of Social Work, Ceci has been Executive Director at P2P for 11 years.

Ceci serves on the Advisory Boards for Norwalk ACTS, Volunteer Square, and Community Plates, and as a college coach/mentor for A Better Chance (ABC) in Wilton. She has completed the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University and professional training at the Stanford Social Innovation Nonprofit Management Institute and the Harvard Business School Executive Education program.

In addition to her professional capabilities, Ceci is guided by personal experience. Having lost her Norwalk home to a fire in 1986, which displaced her, her husband and their two small children, Ceci has experienced firsthand the type of situational crisis that many P2P clients face.

Actively involved in the community throughout her adult life – serving in a leadership capacity on initiatives for Neighbor’s Link Stamford, the Collaborative Alliance of Non-Profits and the Junior League – Ceci is a committed advocate for increasing the range and availability of basic services in Lower Fairfield County.

There is no doubt that Ceci Maher is on a mission to serve her community and is a most deserving Woman of Distinction.

Callie Sullivan

Callie SullivanPublic service dedication could not ask for a better spokesperson than Callie Sullivan. Callie has been an advocate for the people of Darien and Fairfield County for decades.

“Callie is an example of leadership for women of all ages and she works to find the best outcomes for women, children and families in Darien, Norwalk and the great Connecticut community,” said former Board of Education running mate, Shannon Silsby.

Callie first joined town government in 1999 as a member of the Darien Town Representative Meeting. Elected chair of District 2, Callie also became a member of the RTM’s Finance and Budget Committee. Representing the families of District 2 who expressed concern about the dangers of truck traffic on Tokeneke Road, she worked tirelessly with local officials to ban trucks.

In 2007, Callie was recognized for her community leadership when she was elected on the Board of Selectmen for Darien. Her efforts to secure funding from the State to revitalize Darien downtown is a perfect example of her civic contribution. Callie continued her focus on our local schools when she ran for Darien Board of Education in 2013, currently serving in her third year.

Callie is also an active volunteer in a wide variety of community organizations such as A Better Chance Darien, Planned Parenthood Southern Connecticut, Save the Sound and Darien League of Women Voters.

Callie was president of Westwood Press, where she published "the survival series: practical guides for young adults" and the international journal of instruction media (IJIM) a distance learning journal, for 17 years. After the death of her husband Tighe in 2012, Callie closed her business, and subsequently went to work at HMSDesign, where she is Vice President of sales.

Callie is a graduate of Williams college. Her 3 children, Jessie, Lila and Tiger, are all currently attending Colgate University in Hamilton NY, their late father's alma mater.

Nikki Albutt (Honorary Women of Distinction)

Nikki AlbuttThe 2016 Women of Distinction Nominating Committee has chosen Nikki Albutt as a 2016 Honorary Women of Distinction. “As a staff member of the YWCA Darien/Norwalk she was technically not eligible to receive a Women of Distinction Award,” said Board Co-President Justine Ryan, “However, we can think of no greater asset to our organization and as she retires after 14 years of service it is only fitting that we appropriately honor Nikki.”

For over a decade now you cannot mention the YWCA Darien/Norwalk without the name of Nikki Albutt being associated with it. While Nikki prefers to think of herself as a behind the scenes person who is “simply the bookkeeper” she is much, much more. Board members, staff and volunteers alike all refer to Nikki as the most dedicated volunteer they have ever known and the glue that has held the YWCA together for more than a decade.

Executive Director Susan Betsworth shared, “Since joining the staff of the YWCA Darien/Norwalk there has been no greater resource than Nikki Albutt. Every day I learn more about Nikki’s contributions to the organization and am humbled by them.” There is truly no way to quantify all that Nikki has meant to the Association over the years. Besides being a walking history of the YWCA, Nikki personifies a love of the organization and its mission that words cannot properly reflect. From simple things like taking a role in a PANTO production, to contributing furniture during the office remodel, to the countless hours she has worked gratis because something needed to be finished. To some Nikki’s contributions may seem small but over the years they all add up and are immeasurable.

Nikki Albutt is a deserving Honorary Woman of Distinction.

Helena “Ellie” Cush (Young Woman of Distinction)

Ellie CushOur Young Woman of Distinction is a recognized leader. She has been awarded both Postie of the Winter by her fellow Post 53 Officers and Depot Spirit Award by the Depot Student Governing Board. Her involvement in those two organizations is only the beginning.

Ellie also serves a tutor with Norwalk Grassroots Tennis, a Link Mentor at Darien High School and is involved with Unite for Africa as well as the St. Thomas More Catholic Youth Group. She has also been involved in organized basketball and tennis in the community.

A Crews officer and in her third year of being a member of Post 53, Ellie Cush is already living a life of service. As a high school Senior Ellie could be sitting back and floating through the second half of her senior year. That’s just not her style!

Her community service extends to our international community as well. Over the summer Ellie traveled to Jamaica to serve with Sophie’s Place and worked with children and young adults who suffer from Cerebral Palsy, HIV/AIDS and other disabilities.

Come the Fall Ellie will head off to Georgetown University where she will study nursing and hopes to have the opportunity to study international health. When asked about her favorite quote, Ellie cited Gerard Way. "One day your life will flash before your eyes, make sure it's worth watching"

Ellie is a Young Woman of Distinction who is already making her mark on the world. We certainly look forward to watching the seeing the story of her life evolve!