Eastern President Elsa Núñez poses with the winners of Eastern Connecticut State University's Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Award. Left to right; Christy Calkins assistant program director at the Journey House; Núñez; Eastern alumna LaShawn McBride and Eastern student Ashley Lovett '12 of Marlborough.
Ashley Lovett, a junior from Marlborough majoring in sociology; Eastern Connecticut State University alumna LaShawn McBride; and Christy Calkins, assistant program director of the Journey House in Willimantic, were named recipients of Eastern's 2012 Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 28 at an award ceremony in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library. The award recognizes leaders who have made contributions towards advancing women's rights and issues of gender equality in memory of former Connecticut Governor Ella T. Grasso.
"In just four short years, this award has become a cherished tradition at Eastern," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez as she opened up the ceremony. "We are an institution built on values. Among those are the values of inclusion, empowerment and integrity. I believe that protecting women's rights and recognizing women leaders is fundamental to upholding the values of our institution . . . Sometimes I have moments when I worry. I read the news, as you do, and wonder if we have lost sight of the fight for women's rights. It's not done. The struggle continues." Núñez then gave a plaque of one of Grasso's famous quotations to Jim Grasso, Ella's son, who is an Eastern alumnus.
Núñez told the awardees, "Through your leadership and service, our campus is a better place to learn, our community is a better place to live, and our state is stronger."
Teresa Younger, executive director of the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, delivered the keynote address. She encouraged the audience to model the career of Grasso. "Push the limits and go one step further." She said the honorees "have stepped up with power and moved forward with honesty. They kept plowing ahead."
Lovett has committed her time to service both on and off campus. Currently a resident assistant for Niejadlik Hall, Lovett develops leadership skills and fostering personal self-esteem by devoting large amounts of her time to Journey House at Natchaug Hospital, a transitional living community that provides intensive, comprehensive mental health treatment and special education for adolescent girls. Lovett also serves as the president of Eastern's Best Buddies student chapter. During summer 2011, Lovett served as an Eastern orientation counselor and helped incoming students learn methods for academic and social success. "Nothing that I do feels like work," said Lovett. "I love every part of what I do. This is what I'm supposed to do; I'm supposed to use the resources I have obtained to give back to the community."
McBride is a 1993 graduate of Eastern with a bachelor's degree in sociology and applied social relations. She has been employed at Eastern since November 1989, and currently serves as the coordinator of human resources programs. Recognizing the need for young women to develop self-esteem and leadership skills, McBride became committed to organizing and advising Females Excelling Maturing to Achieve Leadership Excellence and Success (FEMALES), a group of female students on campus. Since 2005, McBride has served as the FEMALES advisor. "Although the task isn't always easy, it is very rewarding to see the transformation of students from their freshman year up to when they graduate," said McBride. McBride also serves as secretary, treasurer and youth Sunday school teacher at Stanley Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. She is married to Derrick McBride and is the mother of three daughters, Turquoise, Taylor and Tamia.
Calkins is the assistant program director at the Journey House at Natchaug Hospital, where she is a tireless advocate for residents, always looking for new ways to develop new opportunities for them to grow and thrive. Thirteen girls receive a variety of treatment programs, where the mission is to build healthy relationships and participate in meaningful activities. Through Calkins' leadership, the program has helped more than 90 girls achieve personal success through building self-confidence, positive self-image, healthy relationships, academic success, and management of anger and stress. "I would like our kids to experience this community of women and the community of Eastern at its best," said Calkins. "I am blessed to be a part of Journey House, Eastern and the Natchaug community." Calkins also has been involved with the success of the Sisterhood Project, a program developed by Eastern Health and Physical Education Professor Nannette Tummers.