Chair couples make Annual Appeal a priority

BRIDGEPORT—“It’s about spreading the word,” says Elena Schlegel, lay co-chair with her husband, Steve, for the Annual Catholic Appeal 2018. “It’s educating people about what the appeal does. Steve and I are fortunate to be part of this.”

The Schlegels are assisted by vice-chair couples Carol and Conrad Calandra and Jason and Roxanne Melaragno. The couples find themselves on a voyage of learning even as they tell others of the ministries and programs supported by the appeal.

“A woman we met at Catholic Charities in Danbury was involved in outreach to the homeless,” says Carol Calandra. “She was bringing them socks. Socks are such a need, because homeless people spend so much time on their feet. That’s something we take for granted.”

“When people understand where the money is going, they’re more willing to give to the appeal,” adds Jason Melaragno. He and Roxanne, whose son Justin will be one year old next month, are the youngest vice-chairs of the appeal.

“When we go over to St. Catherine Center for people with disabilities, we go to share the joy with them,” says Elena Schlegel.

The St. Catherine Center for Special Needs includes
St. Catherine Academy, a special education school for students impacted by autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities, founded on the principle that each person is unique and valued. An adult day program on the campus encourages adults through art, swimming, and music and assists them to become part of the wider community.

“You walk out of there and you think, ‘Wow! Our problems are so little.’ And yet they are so happy,” says Elena.

She and Steve volunteer at St. Catherine’s, and at Malta House for women with crisis pregnancies. They are in the process now of joining the Order of Malta.

In addition, Elena is a Eucharistic minister and Steve has become part of the parish council at St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, in spite of his demanding job as COO for Jones Lang Lasalle in Manhattan.

“We just make it a priority,” says Elena. “We just do it.”

With their three children moving toward adulthood, the Schlegels are pleased by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano’s emphasis on young adult ministry. All three children have been active in youth and parish activities and are dedicated to helping others, and their daughter Kathleen is also a Eucharistic minister at St. Aloysius.

Carol and Conrad Calandra, members of St. Lawrence Parish in Shelton, are also the parents of young adults, a son and a daughter. They had been appeal chairs at St. Lawrence and were vice-chairs for the 2017 appeal. “This has opened my eyes to everything the diocese is doing,” says Carol, who makes time for her appeal obligations and her role as trustee at St. Lawrence despite her position as a partner and Group CFO at Ernst & Young in Manhattan.

The appeal gives them the opportunity to share their enthusiasm. “We learned things upfront and personal,” says Conrad. “We were able to sit at a table across from young seminarians, and feel their enthusiasm for their life down the road.”

Other visits led them to see the assistance is provided by Catholic Charities to the homeless and the comfort offered to retired priests at the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy residence.

At a C4Y youth concert they saw the passion they put into their performance. “As we talked to them, we could see the way their faith grows,” says Carol.

Jason and Roxanne Melaragno were married in 2009. Jason works for Pfizer pharmaceutical company; Roxanne was an assistant principal in Seymour before Justin was born. They have been active at Holy Family Parish in Fairfield, where they were on the parish Task Force. Additionally, Roxanne is a member of the sub-committee for faith formation, a lector, and a parish champion for Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic organization. Jason has served on the parish’s finance committee.

“We contribute financially to the appeal, but we also wanted to be involved,” says Roxanne.

“It is important for parishioners to understand that their contributions are being used locally, and in places that are in line with their beliefs,” adds Jason.

Although they support all the programs and ministries assisted by the appeal, Jason has personally experienced education in both public and Catholic schools and was impressed by the impact of faith-based education in his life.

“We see everything the appeal helps, including taking care of the elderly, encouraging teenagers—who are the future of our faith—and Catholic Charities helping people in need. The ACA does good in so my ways,” he says. “If everyone works together, we can ensure a positive future for the diocese and the people it serves.”