By Mackenzie Rigg – The-News-Times
A single mother, a veteran and three local students were honored on May 16, for their work in pursuing their American dreams.
The Tribuna, a Danbury newspaper published in English, Spanish and Portuguese, hosted its second annual American Dream Awards on Saturday at the Portuguese Cultural Center, where more than 300 people attended the awards gala.
Mercia Ordine, 52, of Fairfield, was named Person of the Year.
A single mother from Brazil, Ordine lives with her 12-year-old son, who has autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
When her son was diagnosed with autism at 5 years old, Ordine started attending a support group for parents of special-needs children.
She decided to create her own group to help local Brazilian families navigate the complex systems for those with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, since many have limited English skills.
When her name was announced Saturday night, she said couldn’t stop crying.
“It just makes you feel amazing, like you accomplished a lot,” said Ordine, who was awarded $2,000.
Lance Cpl. Carlos Mora Jr., of Danbury, was named Veteran of the Year, which came with a $3,000 prize.
Mora immigrated to the United States when he was two. He graduated from Henry Abbott Technical School and earned an associate’s degree from Norwalk Community College.
After he became a permanent resident, Mora decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He has been stationed in Japan and South Korea, and he is now training in North Carolina for a new mission in the Mediterranean Sea in September.
The three Student of the Year award recipients were Cindy Zhunio, Mohammed Alam and Jessica Manfredi, all of Danbury. They each received $2,000.
The event raised $10,285 toward the medical expenses of Carolina Bortolleto, who has been in the hospital since December.
Born in Brazil, Bortolleto moved to Danbury when she was nine years old with her parents and her twin sister, Camila.
Bortolleto co-founded Connecticut Students for a Dream, a statewide organization of young adults working for the rights of undocumented youths and their families, and she also served on the board of United We Dream, the county’s largest immigrant youth-led organization.
Because Carolina Bortolleto is undocumented, she does not have health insurance and her bills have already exceeded $100,000.
While at Danbury Hospital, she has undergone several major surgeries for a rare digestive blockage and was in a medically induced coma for 20 days. She was transferred to Yale-New Haven Hospital a few weeks ago.
Her family is very grateful for the money raised.
“It shows how much of an impact that she had in the community and that people are willing to help and donate so much,” said Camila Bortolleto.
In her own remarks, Celia Bacelar Palmares, Tribuna’s founder and publisher, said, “One of my core principles that I have tried to live by is to understand that while I cannot change the whole world, I can, however, make an impact in the world around me.
“That is why I created this event, in hopes to do just that.”