MERIDEN — A former police officer, a city councilor, an advocate for autism and a group of veterans who brought clean drinking water to Puerto Rico were among the Latino leaders honored at a recent ceremony.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, handed out plaques recognizing their efforts at the event “Juntos Podemos” or “Together We Can” in the Board of Education meeting room.
“All of the people who are being honored here today are people who have helped communities,” Esty said at the Monday event. ”I wanted the chance to recognize them. You have become part of my family and my life and for that I am terribly grateful.”
The honorees came from throughout the district, which includes Meriden and Cheshire.
The group included Hector Cardona, who retired from the Meriden Police Department after more than three decades of service. Cardona came to the U.S. at the age of seven so his father could work in the tobacco fields in Wethersfield. He has been active in many community groups, including the Meriden Human Rights Advisory Board, the Meriden Housing Authority, the Meriden/Wallingford Substance Abuse Council board of directors, the Meriden/Wallingford Hospital Board of Governors, the NAACP, the Meriden and state Puerto Rican festival and parade committees, and the Meriden Hispanic Foundation. Cardona is being inducted into the Meriden Hall of Fame on Sunday.
City Councilor Miguel Castro serves on the Finance Committee and is active in his neighborhood association. He was appointed to represent Area 1 in 2012 and won re-election in 2013 and 2017. The owner of a construction company, Castro has a network of business, community and civic contacts throughout the states and overseas.
Also honored were members of Veterans 4, including Ray Guasp of Chester, Danny Torres of Meriden and Pablo Soto. The group is made up of veterans, first responders, medical professionals, and technologists who provide immediate support and relief to those affected by disasters.
After Hurricane Maria struck more than a year ago, Veterans 4 made frequent trips to Puerto Rico, where they delivered water purification systems to more than 20 communities. They also brought health care and supplies to the island.
Veterans 4 has since helped hurricane victims in North Carolina and Florida.
“I’m in a room full of heroes,” Guasp said. “We are paving the road for the youths out there who need to know there are opportunities for all of us.”
Gary Ruiz, UPS business manager in Waterbury and chairman of the Latino Business Resource Group, was also honored along with MaLisa Blasini, who established the non-profit FreeTHEM Inc. to assist youth who have been exposed to addiciton.
Honorees also included Waterbury resident Melissa Adorno, a newly-elected Board of Education member; Elvis Novas of Danbury, the founder of the Dominican Club of Connecticut; and Gloria and Roberto Cepeda, who founded Bomba Ashe, a group of musicians and dancers committed to teaching and preserving African-based music from Cuba and Puerto.
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