Bank of America honors local heroes

JOHN BURGESON jburgeson@ctpost.com

Article Last Updated: 11/14/2007 11:30:39 PM EST

Marianne Laska

Mercy Learning Center supporter and volunteer Marianne Laska, third from left, receives a "Local Hero" award Tuesday night from Bank of America for her work at the center. Also, from left, are Beth Davis, the center's board chairwoman; Laska's husband, Robert H. Laska, the publisher of the Connecticut Post; and Jane Ferreira, the center's president. (Contributed photo)

Local heroes are people who give back to the community, and Marianne Laska is no exception.

The Bank of America has presented the Milford resident with one of several Neighborhood Excellence Awards, naming her a "Local Hero" at a Tuesday ceremony and reception at the Palace Theater in Stamford.

As a Local Hero, she will direct her $5,000 grant from the Bank of America Foundation to the Mercy Learning Center at 637 Park Ave. in Bridgeport. The center, where she is a frequent volunteer, teaches chronically under-employed and unemployed women the skills needed to find a job.

Laska, wife of Connecticut Post publisher Robert H. Laska, was recognized for volunteering as a reading tutor and nurse consultant at the center. She also volunteers at other nonprofit organizations, including the Bridgeport Public Education Fund, the Bridge Building Association, the St. Vincent's College and Housatonic Community College foundations, and the Norma Pfriem Breast Care Center in Fairfield, among others.

She also is the board chairwoman of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony.

The ceremony also recognized two nonprofit organizations — one in Bridgeport and the other in Stamford — as "Neighborhood Builders." Each will receive $200,000 over two years.

The Bridgeport recipient is the McGivney Community Center, which offers programs that promote academic success and self-esteem for local youth from the city's East Side.

The other is Stamford's New Neighborhoods Inc., which addresses the shortage of affordable housing by building new homes, rehabilitating existing homes, and managing rental properties for those unable to afford market-rate housing.

Also honored at Tuesday's event were four other Local Heroes: Joyce Gumbus, who opened a food pantry for the Wilson Memorial Church of God in Christ in Stamford; the Rev. Albert Dancy, co-chairman of the Norwalk Urban Youth Initiative; Bob Lindquist, a volunteer at Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County for 22 years; and Alicia McAuliffe-Fogarty, who founded the Circle of Life Center in Stamford.

The award winners each receive $5,000 grants that they will direct to a nonprofit organization of their choice.