Written by Julianne Bass
Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Nunez, second from left, with winners of Eastern's Latin American Distinguished Service Award (left to right) William Rivera, Lourdes Montalvo, and Michael Pina.
Willimantic, CT - Eastern Connecticut State University honored William Rivera, Lourdes Montalvo and Michael Pina on April 20 at this year's Latin American Distinguished Service Awards. The ceremony was held in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.
The Latin American Distinguished Service Award honors those who have demonstrated initiative within the Willimantic community by exhibiting a personal commitment to positive Latino youth development; providing leadership in serving the needs of the Latino community; and promoting and advancing the Latino community.
"Bienvendios a Eastern," said President Elsa Nunez in her opening remarks. "Every child up until nine months is developmentally the exact same. Every child is born with the same chance to succeed, however not every child is given the same resources to do so. People work hard in this great state of Connecticut to succeed and we need to do a lot more to provide the resources so that those families of lower income can also prosper. Tonight, we honor those who have overcome these barriers to make a difference, and I thank you all for what you have done; we are all greater for it."
Michael Pina, a sophomore from Everette, MA, majoring in sociology, was honored as the student recipient. Susan Heyward, director of the Advising Center describes Pina as a student who is "well-rounded and engaging and an extraordinarily bright, articulate and mature young man." As a freshman, Pina spent 10 days in Kingston, Jamaica, helping children with cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome; served as president for Winthrop Residence Hall; as secretary on the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) student club; and as a senator in the Student Government Association, where he became vice president during his sophomore year.
Pina currently serves as the head student advisor of the Dual Enrollment Program; is a member of Men Achieving Leadership Excellence and Service (MALES), the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) and the Willimantic Rotary Club; and is a program coordinator and office assistant in the Intercultural Center.
The faculty and staff award was presented to William Rivera, a custodian in Eastern's facilities and management and planning department. His devotion to service began when he went on a trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua at age 18 to rebuild churches.
In 2009, Rivera became a junior chaplain of the United Chaplains for the State of Connecticut Inc., an organization designed to help alleviate the burden of those in need and develop programs to address needs of the community. As a junior chaplain, Rivera has counseled youth in crisis and has traveled to nursing homes and hospitals, providing comfort to patrons.
Lourdes Montalvo '06 received the community member award. Montalvo serves as a commissioner for the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, which fosters progress and development in Latino communities in Connecticut. Arriving in Willimantic from Puerto Rico in 1984, Montalvo's activism began when she became the first student at Windham High School to secure funding to lead a group of students to Washington, D.C. for an official visit to the White House.
Montalvo has been involved with the State Employee Independents Union, where she developed strategies for better Latino voter registration and participation. She also is a member of a number of organizations such as Connecticut Organizing Political Elections and Democracy Works, whose purpose is to ensure consistency of voting rights for Latinos and other minority groups.
"There is no one in the Latino community who has not been touched by Lourdes' advocacy and her efforts on their behalf," said Walter Pawelkiewicz, former state representative from the 49th district. "She is loyal, honest and very committed to improving the quality of life in Connecticut, and engaging the Latino community to become an active partner in the political and voting process."