Smart Investment: Community Spirit

The Alpaca Gnomes kicked off the first week of Celebrate Shelton’s Downtown Sounds in July 2018 to a full house.

A community is defined by what its people share both individually and collectively. Whether it is entertainment, special events, or holidays celebrated by municipalities, these positive experiences shared amongst participants strengthen the fabric of the Valley, deepen relationships, and build community spirit.

While it can be difficult for families to find low or no-cost opportunities to participate in community events, there are many local nonprofits, organizations, and small businesses that play a role in providing something for everyone. The Valley’s rich history of industry, close proximity of towns, and diverse population creates a unique opportunity for communities to come together.

Tom Simonetti, founder and Executive Director of the Valley Shakespeare Festival, knows how powerful community events can be. “Seniors, kids, families, and neighbors come together at our shows with a great sense of spirit and love. Last year, a woman told me about her friend who grew up in the Valley but now lives in Texas,” he said. “This friend plans her trips home to see family in Shelton around our shows because of the community spirit she experiences at our performances. I hear stories like that again and again. People return to see what we’ve put together because of what it means to them and how special it is to reconnect with others or create new friendships on a lovely summer night in the park.”

Before each show, Tom makes time to enjoy a peek from the wings of the stage to see members of the audience waving to one another.

Valley Shakespeare Festival founder and Executive Director, Tom Simonetti, organizes performances in front of a range of different audiences and settings.

He added, “Through what we do, everyone in the Valley has the opportunity to experience a free, professionally-produced show with Equity performers. Not everyone has the time or resources to go to Broadway and anyone in the theater can tell you how important it is to reach a broad audience.”

This year, three performances of Shakespeare’s play, King Henry VII, will come to life at Veterans Memorial Park in Shelton on July 11th-14th. While there is no charge to attend, donations of $10 will be gratefully accepted.

Classic literary works however are not the only entertainment available to the community.

Nicole Heriot-Mikula, Co-Founder of Celebrate Shelton, said, “We work hard to bring quality events into our area to be another option for everyone to enjoy what’s taking place in our own city - like the quality theatre, local festivals, small businesses and local restaurants to show our children why we’re proud to raise them in these Valley towns.”

Heriot-Mikula described, “Celebrate Shelton is a city-wide, private initiative that began in 2014 to create low to no cost events while highlighting the best our area has to offer. Through Celebrate Shelton, we’ve created a series of events that we hope excite individuals, families, and music lovers.”

Events in 2019 will include: Food Trucks on the River on June 21st and September 13th from 4-9 p.m.; the Downtown Sounds Summer Concert Series on July 19th, 26th and August 2nd from 5-9pm, featuring live bands, artisans, food trucks, and a Kids Hour; and the Community Tree Lighting on December 6th at 6pm. All events take place at Veterans Memorial Park in Shelton.

“We’re a proud part of this community and we value our small businesses and the thriving community which surrounds them.” Heriot-Mikula said.

Ansonia Mayor, David Cassetti, encourages Valley residents to participate in local community events.

Ansonia Mayor David S. Cassetti commented, “Participation from local government and residents is important in making any town successful. It’s not just to boost the local economy but to boost spirits, too. I want to keep that spirit up and continue the trend I’ve helped foster since coming to office. We have something to do from spring to fall, like the Easter egg hunt, the enhanced Memorial Day parade with more school participation, and our Veterans Day celebrations.”

Generating ideas, pulling together volunteers, selecting a location, cooking food, and booking the entertainment is not enough to create community spirit. One critical ingredient is communication. How do potential participants in the Valley learn about these opportunities to have fun and make plans to attend events where they can meet others? Informing the community at large about upcoming opportunities to celebrate and participate in local happens is arguably just as important as the events themselves.

Ralph and Patti Villers have taken on the job of spreading the news through The Valley Voice website and newsletter.

Founders of The Valley Voice website and newsletter, Ralph and Patti Villers, report on local happenings in the Valley.

Ralph is also involved with the Ansonia Cultural Commission, which is responsible for events such as the Harvest Festival that typically generates an attendance in the thousands. Rock the Valley attracts even more visitors with vendors and multiple bands such as The Cast of Beatlemania in 2017 and Draw the Line, a Boston based Aerosmith tribute band.

“Events like the tree lighting and the raising of the Irish flag on St. Patrick’s Day draw large crowds.” He noted that community members oftentimes do not immediately disperse following the ceremonies. Many join their fellow residents at a local restaurant to savor a buffet organized by the commission.

Ralph said, “The goal of the Valley Voice is to inform others about what’s going on in Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Seymour, and Shelton. We are always looking for news, events, and content, and welcome anyone who wants to share stories with us.” He continued, “It’s important to have access to information and the Valley Voice is filling a void. We focus on local news and help promote some unique events.”

Valley Independent Sentinel Editor, Eugene Driscoll, interviews a local guest about community events on the Valley Navel Gazing Podcast.

Similar to Ralph and Patti’s blog and newsletter, the Valley Independent Sentinel is the region’s online newspaper, which since 2009 has been reporting Valley news. In addition to sharing stories about “All Valley. All the Time.” the Valley Independent Sentinel’s Editor, Eugene Driscoll, maintains a community calendar. It is on this page where local organizations can post events available to those in the Greater Valley and surrounding areas. Sharing local happenings in such a small, engaged community has never been easier.

Now that spring has arrived, these events will take place in full force until the cold weather comes again. Because of the countless hours invested by volunteers and compassion for those who call this region home, the Valley community will be defined by a spirit of friendship, culture, and fun.






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