Shelton Exchange Club members volunteer time to help the community

There is a group of Shelton residents that dedicates volunteer time to service projects throughout the city. They are members of the Shelton Exchange Club.

Club members support the students of the month at Shelton High School, volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, pass out flags at the Memorial Day parade, are planning a 5K run, and are preparing for their annual fund-raiser on Sept. 30.

The Shelton Exchange Club will sponsor the 2013 Scramble Golf Tournament at Brownson Country Club in Shelton on Sept. 30. This is the club’s major fund-raising event, said Tom Christiano of Shelton, club president.

Sign-in and lunch begins at 11 a.m., and a shot gun start is 12:30 p.m. A wine tasting, dinner and awards follow the golf. Individual registration is $190.

The cost of a foursome is $720, and registration for dinner only is $75.

Before the economic downfall in 2008, the golf tournament typically raised about $12,000 for the nonprofit organization. “We don’t see those kind of numbers now but it’s still a win-win situation for everyone who attends,” Christiano said.

The Bic Corp. is the tournament’s title sponsor.

Reaching more people in the community

Christiano said fund raising is crucial because it allows the Exchange Club to reach more people in the community.

This winter the Exchange Club plans to sponsor an 18-hole indoor golf tournament similar to the event held last February. The club raised almost $4,000, he said.

“It was fantastic,” Christiano said. “The mini golf tournament was at Molte Bene Restaurant. It was really a lot of fun for families. People came out in droves.”

Plans are also underway for the Exchange Club’s first annual 5K Fun Run fund-raiser.

Helping nonprofits

Organizations in the greater Naugatuck Valley often rely on the Shelton Exchange Club for support. This spring members helped to replenish clothing, books and furnishings that had been destroyed in a fire at My Sister’s Place, a nonprofit thrift store that assists programs for battered women.

This allowed the retail store to restock its inventory so that they could donate their proceeds to two shelters for battered women.

My Sister’s Place uses its proceeds to support local organizations for those who experience domestic violence. This is keeping with the National Exchange Club’s initiative to combat child abuse, Christiano said.

A Memorial Day tradition

Most recently, club members handed out 5,000 American flags at the Shelton-Derby Memorial Day Parade. This has become a holiday tradition that many attendees look forward to, Christiano said.

Members arrive early and begin to pass out flags as soon as people line up along the parade route.

“It brings such a sense of community,” Christiano said. “So many people wait for that flag to hold in their hand and wave.”

Recognizing outstanding students

In keeping with its focus on young people, the Exchange Club sponsors the Student of the Month program at Shelton High School. This program is spearheaded by Exchange Club member Steve Blanchette, according to Christiano.

Working closely with staff members at the high school, Blanchette selects two or three students each month who meet the club’s criteria for high scholastic achievement, community service and leadership.

The young people and their families are invited to one of the club’s meetings, where they receive a financial award. They are eligible to enter a district competition and compete in the National Youth of the Year Award.

“This is a great way to recognize the up-and-coming young people in the community,” Christiano said. “Our hope is that it will come full circle and when the kids graduate, they will come back to Shelton and join our club and continue to give back.”

The club is also involved in the Boys & Girls Club of the Lower Naugatuck Valley.

'Very moving and very rewarding'

The organization further assists those in need by providing a complete Thanksgiving dinner for four families in the city. In December, members participate in St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Adopt a Family gift-giving program.

“It’s very moving and very rewarding for us all,” Christiano said. “We’ve done this for a number of families now.”

With the assistance of the Shelton Boy Scouts, club members are responsible for putting together the Nativity and crèche on Huntington Green each holiday season.

About the club

Along with raising money to sustain Exchange Club projects, Christiano also would like to increase its members. There are currently 24 members from Shelton, Ansonia, Newtown and nearby towns.

“My goal is to double this number,” he said. “The more people who are involved, the stronger and more effective we will become.”

From the moment he heard about the club in 2005, Christiano was ready to sign up. “Based on conversations I had with its members, I became very, very interested,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘These people are fascinating.’”

Over the years, Christiano has met “a lot of great people” through the club. He also firmly believes in the work they do. “I think it’s been time well spent,” he said.

Established in 1959

The Shelton Exchange Club was established in 1959. Its goal is to promote Americanism, community service, youth activities and the prevention of child abuse.

The Shelton Exchange Club meets the first Wednesday and the third Thursday of the month at Wellington’s Restaurant in Huntington Center. Guest speakers from various local organizations talk at each meeting about upcoming projects that they would like the club to support.

Christiano said members are not required to attend every meeting nor participate in every service project.