As we celebrate some of Connecticut’s Great Places to Work this month, we decided to also peel back the layers a bit and look at some individuals who are pursuing and achieving greatness themselves. We all appreciate a boss or colleague who goes the extra mile, especially when it makes the company as a whole a better place to work. Here are four who fit the bill.
Partner/environmental lawyer, Halloran Sage, Hartford
One of Catino’s early projects was the construction of the Meadows Music Theatre (now the Xfinity Theatre) just north of downtown Hartford in the mid-1990s. A crucial part of redevelopment is knowing what’s in the ground and knowing the history of the site. Catino worked hand in hand with consultants in the process of digging test pits and installing borings.
“When the earth moves,” Catino says, “you want to make sure you’re not exacerbating any contamination issues, and you’re properly protective of the workers who are coming on site to dig in those materials.” The Meadows was built on an old urban landfill, an area also known as a brownfield site. Catino points out that our state has a huge manufacturing legacy along railroad lines and waterways.
She was able to track the history of the site by identifying relics such as railroad ties uncovered during preliminary and exploratory investigations. “All [brownfield] sites are contaminated,” Catino says. “And in order to bring them back to productive reuse, you need to know and understand what’s out there so that all the contaminated materials or the pollution is appropriately handled.”
But not every case in environmental law is the result of a Mr. Burns-type CEO lining their pockets while releasing hazardous materials into the local waterways. Sometimes the intent was good. “When people were dying of malaria in Hamden from all these wetlands [in the late 1800s], they needed to fill them in in order to avert a public health threat,” says Catino, noting that the fill used was manufacturing waste. “Here we are 100 years later and we have another problem created because we tried to solve one problem.”
One of the biggest cases Catino ever worked on was also in Hamden. In 2001 she represented the town, which was going to be on the hook for a massive cleanup because industrial waste was dumped at the old middle school site.
“We were digging behind the old Hamden Middle School and the two public parks,” Catino says. “We started really seeing a profile of the waste that was buried in those areas. It was a lot of ash from the old Winchester Repeating Arms [factory in New Haven], but we also found in the pits, bolts from bolt-action rifles. We could date and determine the type of bolt-action rifle it was.”
A great amount of cardboard was found, as well, and Catino could easily date it based on the Winchester logo that changed over the years. Olin Corp., which owned Winchester, was proven to be the culprit.
“It’s really gratifying when you see a property that was a brownfield or a contaminated site brought back to productive reuse,” Catino says.
Architectural designer, Tecton Architects, Hartford
While inside a building, the most important thing to each person is that it is structurally sound. We can forgive a lack of natural light in exchange for walls that stay up and floors that hold. But new evidence is coming to light at a rapid pace regarding the correlation between physical spaces and the effects on the brain.
Ciaverella works for Tecton Architects, but is also pursuing her master’s degree in neuroscience at the University of Hartford. During her thesis year at Virginia Tech, she worked on a project at an Alzheimer’s care center. She studied how Alzheimer’s affects individuals and the people around them, and wanted to know what the community could do and how it could be structured differently to support these individuals in a home-like setting.
That’s when Ciaverella truly began to see the two worlds coming together. She began to network and discover like-minded people bridging the gaps between architecture and neuroscience. “I started finding my tribe,” she says, and she knew to fully realize her passion she would have to go back to grad school and learn as much as she could.
“Whether in a corporate environment or a health care environment, they’re finding that nature is a critical component to health and well-being,” Ciaverella says. “They’re studying a lot about color and memory. And there’s some really cool studies about how certain colors will evoke a certain mood, will evoke a certain emotional response. And if you can tie that to a memory and an individual, then they have a stronger connection.”
She points out there’s no magic space that will be the perfect room for everyone. Personalities and cultures vary, so there’s no one-room-fits-all solution. “Spatial variety is really critical, so that within a space, you’re providing room for individuals to resonate with one element or the other, one aspect or the other,” Ciaverella says. “That will give not only a richness but it will allow more individuals to really feel comfortable and at home.”
Ciaverella is in no hurry to get to the finish line at UHart. She’s taking it slow, one class per semester. She says it’s exciting to have the process drawn out because it allows for more breakthroughs and studies to come to light while she’s still in an academic environment.
Share a little knowledge with us, Antonia.
“We have a strong central bias, which means we tend to focus first on the center of an object or place when we visually explore. This could be why symmetry is so powerful, because it reinforces this natural inclination.”
If you want even more knowledge, Ciaverella is hosting a Fathom Sip Session, defined as “facilitated interchanges of ideas, perspectives, and beverages, all in service to having your design of the future realized,” about dichotomies on Nov. 14 from 6-8 p.m. at Tecton Architects (146 Wyllys St., Hartford).
Horticultural specialist, Mental Health Connecticut, six locations
As the son of a dairy farmer from upstate New York, Colarusso has been an avid gardener since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He’s always kept at least a little plot at every place he’s lived, and about five years ago he put up a large garden and really got back into the practice. Colarusso then brought his passion to work.
Then an employment specialist at Mental Health Connecticut — which provides programs and services for people with mental health conditions throughout the state — Colarusso took advantage of “lunch with a leader” and pitched his idea to Luis Perez, the president and CEO of MHC. “We have all these locations, we have all this property, we could be doing a little bit more,” Colarusso says. “And he agreed, because he is genuinely trying to help people too. We both saw an area where a mental health company could step out of its shell, do a little bit and really impact a lot.”
Just a year and a half later, the Gardening, Recovery, and Opportunities for Wellness (GROW) program has greenhouses and gardening classes at six MHC locations. “I find it to be very tranquil in the garden,” Colarusso says. “Scientifically based, you are breathing some of the most pure oxygen that you’re ever gonna get. Because in an enclosed place where everything is giving off oxygen, and you’re the only person breathing it in, it’s some of the best air you’re going to breathe.”
The payoff goes deeper than fresh air. For the people MHC serves, it’s also a distraction and a positive way to spend time that will yield positive results. “It kind of disconnects you from what is happening in your outside life, and kind of grounds you back to what’s important,” Colarusso says. “In that time you can wander through your mind and realize, ‘Alright, what was silly today? And what is actually going to affect me tomorrow?’ ”
Colarusso likens it to a great therapy session, but takes it a step further. He says a lot of the folks who come through MHC don’t have a sense of family or community, and the garden provides that. “If you don’t have children you really don’t have anything to follow every day, and to keep track of,” Colarusso says. “And a lot of our folks don’t. And with this garden now they have — and I don’t want to sound corny — but there becomes this sense of purpose. And they make this connection to another living thing.”
While Colarusso offers his support to so many, it was someone who supported him who helped make this possible. Craig Floyd, a farmer in Mystic whose community-based garden donates all its food, offered Colarusso a behind-the-scenes look at how he grows his products and runs his business.
“I see it as the beginning of something a lot bigger, with the trends of food, nutrition and health being so popular and the mental health trend really just on the rise,” Colarusso says. “I think with both of those, they’ll rise together.”
Executive director, The GeoVisions Foundation, Guilford
LeGrant couldn’t have imagined what he tapped into back in 2001, when he helped bring international college students to the U.S. on the State Department-run Summer Work and Travel program. They would come over, work at a theme park or resort for the summer, then go back. It was a diplomatic effort, but teaching them English was paramount. The hope was they would go home thinking more highly of Americans and our way of life, having improved their English.
“The natural next step was, let’s send Americans over there,” LeGrant says. “Everyone wanted native English speakers to teach them English. In 2006 we decided we would start sending English teachers abroad as a sort of reciprocity. It made sense to us.” What also makes sense is the reason why the demand for English teachers increased, even if LeGrant didn’t see it coming.
“We had a couple of hotels reach out and say they were getting more and more English-speaking tourists — ‘We’d like our staff, our waiters, our bartenders to learn English,’ ” LeGrant says. “In Costa Rica we heard from the San Jose tourist police and one of their EMT centers. They were picking up English speakers and they couldn’t communicate why they were in the ambulance.”
On the eastern side of Italy there is a community baseball center where America’s pastime is hugely popular. GeoVisions started sending summer camp counselors, and kids wanted to learn English in order to take entrance exams to come to college in the U.S.
LeGrant even went on an ambulance ride-along in Costa Rica. “We thought, ‘Oh, we’re going to be sending EMTs, they’re going to ride along for two or three weeks and they’re going to share EMT information.’ But then it morphed into not only that, but the guys in the rigs saying, can you come in two nights a week for an hour and a half and teach English. And it was EMT English. It wasn’t talking about the weather or somebody’s cat, it was, ‘How do I speak to an English-speaking tourist who’s having a heart attack?’ ”
As one might imagine, an American working overseas — especially in the Middle East — isn’t the safest person on Earth. “I was in Damascus, Syria, two weeks before their civil war in 2010,” LeGrant says. “And even then they smuggled me in, in the trunk of a car. As we worked those weeks setting this stuff up, it felt like there was some trouble coming. We had no idea. From there we went into Lebanon because of the refugee camps and ended up in Jordan. And it’s a horrible feeling to know how desperate those places are for native English speakers, and how dangerous it is for those native English speakers, so we’ve pulled out for now. I think all of us here wait for the day where we can send those teachers back in there again.”