Fairfield Awards Dinner, benefiting The Alumni Multicultural Scholarship Fund, features keynote speaker Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive officer of Harlem Children's Zone


Geoffrey CanadaGeoffrey Canada, the acclaimed president and chief executive officer of Harlem Children's Zone, Inc., will be the keynote speaker at the Fairfield Awards Dinner, taking place on Tuesday, April 8, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. The co-chairs of the dinner are Fairfield alumni, Nancy Altobello '80 and Doug Hammond '86. The annual dinner, benefiting The Alumni Multicultural Scholarship Fund, honors distinguished alumni and a member of the faculty or administration.

Funds raised will benefit The Alumni Multicultural Scholarship Fund, which has been strongly supported by dedicated Fairfield alumni who have embraced the University's commitment to becoming a more diverse community - a major goal of its strategic plan. The corporate community and friends of the University have also been great supporters of the Fund. Since the first fundraising dinner in 1988, nearly $8 million has been raised for the endowed scholarship.

Canada oversees Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, an interlocking network of social service, education and community-building programs for thousands of children and families in a 98-block area of Central Harlem. Founded in 1970, it is a pioneering, non-profit that works to enhance the quality of life for poor children and families in some of the most troubled neighborhoods. The group strives to rebuild the very fabric of community life with educational and recreational programs, and social services. Its 16 centers serve more than 13,000 children and adults, including over 10,000 at-risk children.

Canada has a national reputation as both an advocate for and expert on issues concerning violence, children and community redevelopment. He grew up in the South Bronx and has been working for the benefit of at-risk children and families throughout his career.

Canada is the author of the books, "Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America" (Beacon Press, 1995), and "Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America" (Beacon Press, 1998). He earned a bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College and a master's degree in education from Harvard University. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees.

Image: S LessingAlso honored at the dinner will be three distinctive members of the University community, Stephen M. Lessing '76, managing director, member of the firm's Executive Committee and head of Client Relationship Management of Lehman Brothers, with the Alumni Professional Achievement Award; Carolyn Vermont '82, M.A. '84, president of Urban Family Development in Bridgeport, with the Alumni Service Award; and Philip Eliasoph, Ph.D., professor of Visual and Performing Arts and director and moderator of the Open VISIONS Forum, the lecture series of Fairfield University's University College, with the Distinguished Faculty/Administrator Award.

Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., said each is being honored for their meaningful contributions to the greater good of others. "Through their service to others and involvement in their communities, informed by their time at Fairfield, these honorees represent the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis ("the whole person") in very concrete ways in the world."

To purchase tickets, contact Cindy Russo at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2927 in the Office of Corporate Relations. A cocktail reception will begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and the program at 7 p.m. The Grand Hyatt is located on Park Avenue at Grand Central.

Stephen M. Lessing '76 will be awarded the Alumni Professional Achievement Award. As one of the most respected and visible leaders in the financial services industry, he has a reputation for balance, leadership, and a spirit of generosity – all qualities that have no doubt fueled his 27-year rise at Lehman Brothers from associate in the Fixed Income Division in 1980 to his current position as managing director, member of the firm's Executive Committee and head of Client Relationship Management.

At Fairfield, Lessing was on the varsity tennis team while earning a degree in economics. He has remained connected to Fairfield, establishing a scholarship in his father's name in 1990, and volunteering his time and expertise as a University Trustee since 2000, as well as sitting on a number of other committees.

Inspired by his belief that athletics can enhance important life skills of persistence and focus, Lessing generously contributed the funds for the creation of Lessing Field in 2002, a grass playing surface for men's and women's soccer and lacrosse, complete with bleachers, lighting, sound system, and a quarter-mile perimeter track.

Besides being a member of the Fairfield University Board of Trustees, he serves on the boards of the University of Richmond, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the Investment Committee and Finance Council of the Archdiocese of New York, and many others.

Image: P EliasophDr. Eliasoph will be awarded the Distinguished Faculty/Administrator Award, in part for the University's hugely popular Open VISIONS Forum, which he conceived and had the vision and impetus to bring to fruition. Hosted through University College, Open VISIONS is now 11 years strong, featuring timely and provocative speakers each year from the worlds of art, culture, and public affairs. Guest speakers have crossed a wide cultural spectrum, from novelist Isabel Allende, the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, civil rights educator Mary Frances Berry, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert to commentator William F. Buckley.

From this bridge, Dr. Eliasoph was appointed last year as faculty liaison for Academic Cultural Engagement to enhance the University's interface with key local, state and regional agencies promoting cultural educational opportunities.

A professor of art history in the Visual and Performing Arts department since 1975, he is known and appreciated as an enthusiastic teacher to both undergraduates and adults, actively engaging his students with his love of art history. He has mentored many of his art history majors, steering them into careers in the art world at leading museums, art galleries, auction houses, and non-profit cultural institutions.

Dr. Eliasoph's other accomplishments on behalf of the University are substantial: He founded the Fairfield study abroad campus in Florence, Italy; he was the founding director of the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery; and he was instrumental in the development of the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies.

Carolyn VermontCarolyn Vermont '82, M.A. '84, will be awarded the Alumni Service Award. A focus on helping and mentoring youth has been a continuing thread throughout Vermont's professional life after graduating from Fairfield with a B.A. in theater arts in 1982, and an M.A. in educational media in 1984. A participant herself in the Upward Bound program at Fairfield, Vermont went on to become academic coordinator for the program at the University of Bridgeport, helping educationally disadvantaged and low-income students prepare for and apply to college. She is now president of Urban Family Development in Bridgeport.

Vermont's volunteer work for the University is notable: She was a member of the Board of Trustees from 2000-05, and a long-time volunteer on the Awards Dinner Committee. She has also served as a speaker and panelist at career fairs, and stays connected with Fairfield's Center for Multicultural Relations.

Vermont's commitment to volunteerism has led to extensive community involvement. She is Secretary for the Greater Bridgeport Branch NAACP, longtime board member of United Way of Eastern Fairfield County where she served as chair of Project Blueprint for Diversity, a member of the Workforce Investment Act Youth Council, a member of the Patient/Family Advisory Board at St. Vincent's Medical Center, board member of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, and also serves on various other non-profit committees in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She is the recent recipient of the United Way of Eastern Fairfield County Diversity Award, the Cardinal Shehan Center Volunteer of the Year, and the Girl Scouts of Housatonic Council Women of Distinction award, among numerous others.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 4, 2008

Vol. 40, No. 230