The 5th Annual Friendship Dinner and Award Ceremony organized by the Connecticut branch of Peace Islands Institute (PII) was held at Hartford Marriott Downtown Hotel on Thursday, March 26th, 2015. The theme of this year’s dinner was “Global Perspectives on Environmental Awareness: Challenges and Opportunities.” Jeevan Vittal, from Fox CT News, hosted the program as the Master of Ceremonies. Following the reception, the program started with the welcoming speech of Mr. Mehmet Erdogdu, director of the PII, Connecticut branch. After a brief video on the vision and activities of PII, the dinner was served in accompany with the live music performance of Bronwyn and Carlton Burns.
The first award presented was the “Statesperson of the Year Award” to Representative Andrew Fleischmann, who is serving his tenth term in the 18th district as a Chairman of the Education Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee for Elementary and Secondary Education, and also serving as the president and CEO of Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters. PII advisory board member and State Representative Kevin Ryan presented Rep. Fleischmann with his award and certificates from Congressman Richard Blumenthal and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman recognizing his outstanding commitment and contributions to education through encouraging improvement in school settings; receiving the perfect score for voting record on environmental issues and for his commitment to protecting Connecticut’s environmental sources. Next, the “Businessperson of the Year Award” was presented to Ms. Fran Pastore, who is the founder, president and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council in Stamford for her dedication to help women be economically self-sufficient. The Award Committee honored her accomplishments for support of women’s economic security through financial education and entrepreneurship. Advisory board member of PII and Professor of International Business at Quinnipiac University, Dr. Robert Engle presented Ms. Pastore her award and certificates from Congressman Richard Blumenthal and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, acknowledging Ms. Pastore for her accomplishments. Last but not least, “Outstanding Contribution to Environmental Awareness Award” was presented to Ms. Beth Shluger, who is the founder, CEO and Executive Director of Hartford Marathon Foundation. The Award Committee honored her outstanding commitment and contributions to environmental issues. She has worked to assure that the Hartford Marathon and related events are among the most green in the nation. PII advisory board member Dr. Seyma Aslan presented Ms. Shluger’s award and the appreciation certificates from Congressman Richard Blumenthal and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman.
Following the award ceremony, the guest speaker, Father Anthony Ciorra from Sacred Heart University delivered his speech. Fr. Ciorra shared the story of him first meeting the Hizmet movement volunteers, and emphasized the importance of such constructive efforts promoting interfaith/intercultural dialogue and building the culture of service in our society. He referred to the documentary “Love is a Verb” and mentioned that actions with love and mercy naturally results stewardship for the environment. He drew parallels between the messages of Hon. Fethullah Gulen and Pope Francis on environmental awareness. He also mentioned that Pope Francis is currently preparing a letter on stewardship and environmental awareness.
At the end of his talk, PII advisory board member and president of TABID, Mr. Gokhan Ozkok presented Fr. Ciorra a gift.
The keynote speaker of the event was Daniel C. Esty, who currently is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. Professor Esty was a former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In his speech, Prof. Esty stated that climate change is a serious global issue, and we will be too late to act if we wait a scientific consensus on its measures and timeline. It is very unfortunate that discussions on climate change are usually kept bounded with national and international politics. We should leave all disagreements aside and act together on solving this issue. Prof. Esty also said that we failed on 1991 in DC thinking that we were mostly done. “The hardest part is not passing the environmental laws but the implementation. Now, we should follow a bottom to top approach and everyone should take responsible actions”, he said. Finally, Prof. Esty answered questions from guests, and the night concluded by the CEO of PII, Mr. Murat Kaval presenting Prof. Esty a gift.