SOUTHINGTON — Always making time to improve the lives of his fellow residents through social civic organizations, the Southington UNICO chapter recognized Mike Soltys with its annual Gold Medal Award.
“We’re thrilled because he represents what UNICO stands for, which is service above self,” said Sharon Williams, the chairperson of the committee organizing the Gold Medal Award Dinner. Soltys will be formally recognized at the dinner, scheduled for Sept. 22 at the Aqua Turf Club.
Having been involved in Bread For Life for over a decade, Soltys said it’s been rewarding to help the organization grow its mission of making sure no residents go hungry. As chair of the organization’s Board of Directors for the past six years, he oversaw the consolidation of its operations into its own dedicated building on Vermont Avenue, the hiring of Executive Director Donna Ayer and growth in its staff and volunteers.
“It plays such an important role in our community and doing such great work that there’s the satisfaction to be able to help the organization grow and meet the needs. It's also socially, you get to meet so many great people in all walks of life and it's a great opportunity to get to know a lot of our staff and volunteers and board members, so there's real value for me in that,” Soltys said.
UNICO has been an important partner in the success of Bread For Life, Soltys said, through the organization’s financial support for the food pantry and its members volunteering their time. The needs of the Southington community have only increased, especially throughout the pandemic, but residents have risen to the occasion.
“Bread For Life is able to do what it does because of the support we get from community organizations and community members. We’re not a town organization, we rely on donations of time and resources,” he said.
Soltys has also served on the Southington Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, played a role in the opening of the Imagine Nation Children’s Museum in Bristol as a member of its advisory committee and helped organize a food program at St. Dominic Church — where he is a lector. He continues to advise students through the Youth Journalism International program and is a mentor at the University of Connecticut.
He has accomplished all this while managing a busy day job as ESPN’s vice president of corporate communications, Soltys manages the network’s social media, publicity and issue management for its news operations, including SportsCenter, according to an announcement from UNICO. He said becoming involved in so many programs allowed him to not only put “service above self,” but grow as a person.
“Serving in your community is good from a spiritual level and it's also good from an intellectual level as you get introduced to new things. I wouldn't think in my lifetime I would help open a children’s museum and a soup kitchen … it opens a lot of doors for interesting possibilities in your own life,” he said.
The reach of Soltys’ volunteerism made him an easy choice for UNICO’s Gold Medal Committee, said co-chair Bill DellaVecchia. The committee chooses recipients based on more than half a dozen factors, all of which Soltys scored highly on.
His leadership of Bread For Life helped bring the organization to the forefront of the community to help many residents receive food every day, DellaVecchia said. Soltys may work behind the scenes, but he touches the lives of residents and he’s an example of the volunteers who give their time to keep vital organizations functioning.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, UNICO postponed the dinner from being held in May 2020 and Soltys will be its 2019 recipient of the Gold Medal Award. He will be the 75th inductee to a long line of residents who’ve made an impact for the betterment of Southington. The Gold Medal Award was started in 1945 as the highest award the local UNICO bestows onto residents.
“It's one of the most prestigious awards someone can receive in the town of Southington,” DellaVecchia said.
He’s also received the Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce’s Gail DePaolo Community Spirit Award in 2011 and the Catholic Citizens Award from the Knights of Columbus in 2015, according to the announcement from UNICO. Alongside his wife Teresa, he received the Compass Award from the Southington YMCA in 2013.