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Courage Award presented to young Windsor mother who helped herself and now helps other victims of domestic violence


Heather Major, recipient of the United Way Community Campaign’s 2004 Courage Award

Heather Major, recipient of the United Way Community Campaign’s 2004 Courage Award is shown here with her daughter and Community Campaign Chairman Grant Kurtz, chairman emeritus of Advest Group.

(Hartford, Conn.), Heather Major of Windsor received the United Way Community Campaign’s eleventh annual Courage Award on Friday, June 18, 2004. The award is presented annually to an individual who has triumphed over adversity with the assistance of an agency funded through the United Way Community Campaign.

Major is a family violence victim advocate who works in the courts for Interval House, the state’s largest nonprofit domestic violence intervention and prevention organization. She knows how to help victims and their families, in part, because she received help for herself and her young daughter five years ago.

After three years of being in an abusive relationship that began when she was 17, Major called the Manchester police after receiving a threatening phone call from her young child’s father. “Making that phone call was the single most courageous thing I’ve ever done,” says Major. “Up until that day I was scared of the repercussions, but on that day, I knew I had to do something to get my daughter and myself out of that situation.”

In addition to a restraining order being issued against the father, Major was contacted by one of Interval House’s victim advocates who talked to Major about safety planning and actions she might want to consider. Her resolve was shaken but not broken when the restraining order was violated on the very same day it was served. But with continuing help from Interval House and personal determination, she followed up on warrants and worked her way through the criminal court system, the family courts and Department of Corrections to make sure she kept herself and her daughter safe.

After resolving her issues, Major felt she wanted to share what she knew about the court system and safety planning with other victims and their families. She enrolled in Manchester Community College and graduated with an associate’s degree in social services in May of 2003. She is currently enrolled at Springfield College, where she is an honors student. She expects to graduate in May of 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in human service.

Four months ago, Major was hired at Interval House. On her first day in court, an accused abuser twice threatened the woman Major was accompanying, right there in the courthouse. Knowing her role as an advocate, Major notified the opposing lawyer, the prosecutor and testified about the threats, resulting in a stiffer sentence being handed down by the judge.

“Today, my daughter and I are happy and safe. She knows I help women who get hurt, as she puts it,” says Major. “Honestly, it’s the best feeling in the world to help someone get out of an abusive relationship and help them feel safe and happy as well.”

The Courage award was presented to Major during the United Way Community Campaign’s training conference for local campaign volunteers entitled Jumpstart 2004. It was held at Capital Community College in Hartford. Grant W. Kurtz, chairman of the 2004 United Way Community Campaign, presented the 2004 Courage Award. Kurtz is chairman and chief executive officer of Advest Group.

United Way created the Courage Award in 1994. Five judges selected this year’s recipient:  Jeffrey Blumenthal of Hartford Life, a member of the board of Community Health Charities; Lisa Curran of the Lincoln Financial Group Foundation; Ricardo Jones of Hamilton Sundstrand; Helene Shay with AFSCME Council 4; and Hartford Courant Columnist Stan Simpson.

Through the United Way Community Campaign, individuals have the opportunity to support the causes and nonprofit organizations that are important to them. In 2003, the United Way Community Campaign raised more then $26 million to help children to succeed, families to be strong and healthy and communities to thrive in our 40-town region.

From offices in Simsbury, Hartford and Manchester, Interval House provides comprehensive services ranging from community education to crisis intervention in 24 towns from Avon to Andover. Interval House staff and volunteers have offered their expertise to victims of domestic violence and their children for more than 26 years. Since 1990, Interval House has helped 140,000 women and children, an average of 10,000 a year.

Courage Award recipients and the agencies from which they received assistance
1994 Harrison McKinstry Greater Hartford Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center
1995 Margaret Khoury East Hartford Visiting Nurse Association
1996 Janet Norton American Red Cross – Central Connecticut Chapter
1997 Randy Moody Connecticut Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse
1998 Joe Roberto American Red Cross – Greater Hartford Chapter
1999 Christopher Montes Lyme Disease Foundation
2000 Patty Haynie North Central Counseling Services
2001 Addie D'Agui Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford
2002 Philip Lual Ajok and Abraham Deng Catholic Charities/Catholic Family Services, Inc.
2003 Jose Gonzalez Boys and Girls Club of Hartford
2004 Heather Major Interval House


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Courage Award presented to two of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan


Pictured above, left to right: Philip Lual Ajok; Chandler J. Howard,

Pictured above, left to right: Philip Lual Ajok; Chandler J. Howard,
who presented the award; Sister Dorothy Strelchun of Catholic Charities/Catholic Family Services, Inc., the agency which nominated the young men; and Abraham Deng. The United Way Community Campaign presented the 2002 Courage Award during Jumpstart 2002, a training conference for local campaign volunteers.

Recent media coverage, such as a story on the CBS news program “60 Minutes,” has brought attention to the “Lost Boys of the Sudan,” a group of refugee children separated from their parents in their country’s civil war.


However, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services has been aware of the boys’ plight for years and has been working to resettle the refugees in this country. In June, Chandler J. Howard, chairman of the 2002 United Way Community Campaign and president of Fleet Bank – Connecticut, the Community Campaign’s Courage Award to two of the refugees, who are brothers. Philip Lual Ajok and Abraham Deng, polite and soft-spoken young men, currently reside in New Britain. The two brothers left horrendous conditions in the Sudan to begin a new life in a country for which none of their previous experiences could have prepared them.


Their story begins in the Sudan in the late 1980s. Forced from their homes and separated from their parents by a violent civil war, 33,000 Sudanese boys, including Abraham and Philip, lived as a migratory city of children for 13 years. The group of boys fed and protected one another, fought off wild animals and enemy soldiers. They walked, hungry and afraid, eventually crossing over into Ethiopia. In 1991, Ethiopia was engulfed in its own civil war, and the children were forced to march back into Sudan. This time, they walked another 300 miles, into Kenya. Eventually the remaining 5,000 boys who survived and stayed together settled in a refugee camp in Kenya. Many of them, including Philip and Abraham, have no idea what became of their parents. Thanks to a U.S. State Department plan to resettle many of the boys across America and with the help of agencies like Catholic Charities, many of the boys found homes across the United States. Philip and Abraham are particularly lucky. They have been reunited with their sister and now live with her in New Britain.


For Philip and Abraham, everything about life in the U.S. was initially a new experience – the language, food, customs, even basic items, such as refrigerators and can openers, were a surprise to them. The first time they encountered snow was a shock. They were taught British English in Sudan, so many American phrases and idioms were difficult to understand. Both brothers are beginning college at Central Connecticut State University in January. According to Sister Dorothy Strelchun, director of the local Migration and Refugee Services chapter, “the Lost Boys have a saying that ‘education is my mother and father.’”  The young men often volunteer their time to speak to groups about their experiences. “They have a great sense of their history,” says Sister Dorothy, and “promoting knowledge about their experience is important to them.” They also eventually want to return to the Sudan, she says, because, “there is this desire to become educated and bring their expertise back to the Sudan to help their countrymen.”


Since 1975, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services has worked to resettle more than 20,000 refugees. The program strives to provide employment to the refugees within four months of their arrival to the U.S. English as a second language classes and a food pantry help in the adjustment to a new way of life. The program also helps the refugees find housing and provides household and furniture items to help them get started on their new life. Catholic Charities/Catholic Family Services provides many other services to the community, including youth after-school programs, senior centers, and job training programs.


“We were given the opportunity to transform our lives. Our life in Sudan was desperate,” says Abraham Deng. “Here we’ve found security, an education, supportive people, and lots of friends.”


The Courage Award was created in 1994 to recognize individuals who have triumphed over adversity through the assistance of an agency funded through the Community Campaign.

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A Courageous Hero: Addie D'Agui

Photo of Addie D’Agui, an adult student in the basic reading program at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford.


One of our local heroes is Addie D’Agui, an adult student in the basic reading program at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford. In 1997, with minimal reading ability and no writing skills, she made a commitment to herself and her education. And she continues on a journey of learning that inspires everyone around her.


Born with Cerebral Palsy, Addie was misdiagnosed as an infant with mental retardation. Medical professionals considered her a "hopeless case", and at three months old, she was institutionalized at The Mansfield Training Center. As a teenager, Addie moved to the Hartford Regional Center, where she learned independent living skills.

Addie came to Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford four years ago, with Sister Mary Bello as her first tutor. "I just wasn’t getting it at first," Addie remembers. "But Sister Mary kept telling me to study my vowels, practice my vowel sounds. After about six months, it all clicked. I felt such a sense of accomplishment." Since enrolling in the Basic Reading Program, Addie has made remarkable progress, beginning her autobiography and setting long-term goals, such as acquiring her GED. She leaves each class regularly requesting extra homework from her tutors. And while doing this, Addie has managed to maintain a perfect class attendance record. "I have never met anyone else with such a commitment to learning," says CJ Hauss of LVGH.


Addie has shown her tremendous courage not only in stepping up to the tasks of learning to read and write, but by doing so while dealing with challenging health issues. Recently, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent a mastectomy and has started chemotherapy. However, her attitude in dealing with her cancer is typical of the spirit with which she has approached the many challenges in her life. "I’m going to beat this and I’m learning a lot from it," Addie says.


On June 22, 2001, the United Way Community Campaign presented Addie D’Agui with the 2001 Courage Award. United Way created the Courage Award in 1994 to recognize an individual who has triumphed over adversity through the assistance of an agency funded through the Community Campaign.

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