Mon, Jan 28th 2019 10:00 am
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Colleen Milette "Making a Difference" award recipient.
When St. Amelia School teacher Colleen Milette was called to assemble with other faculty, by the school principal, she thought it was to announce a calendar change.
She certainly didn't expect to be named as this year's recipient of the "Making a Difference" award, a recognition sponsored by the late Tim Russert in honor of the teachers who made a difference in his life, Sister Lucille Socciarelli and Father John Sturm. Milette will be honored at the 19th annual Catholic Education dinner GALA 22:6 on Thursday, Jan. 31.
"I was shocked," Milette said after learning the news. "I didn't expect it. I looked at the pre-K3 teacher next to me and said, 'Did he just say my name?'"
Milette has worked as a pre-K3 teacher at St. Amelia School in Tonawanda for 22 years. She has always had a passion for working with toddlers, and has served as the school that began with a half-day pre-K3 program has grown to a full-day system with two classrooms. Milette has 24 children in her classroom.
"I just love that age," she said. "It's their first time learning new things, and they're so excited. We're the first to be teaching them science, religion and social studies. We do a lot of hands on work. They have unconditional love for everybody."
St. Amelia Principal James Mulé nominated Milette for the award, noting her work in the community, from supervising childcare during weekend Masses at the parish, running a summer camp for children and serving as a Eucharistic minister at St. Amelia Parish.
"She volunteers beyond the call of duty at not only the school, but also the parish," Mulé said. "She knows what it means to live a Catholic education ... and she knows the sacrifices that people make."
Once the Tonawanda school went to a full pre-K3 program about six years ago, enrollment took off. There are two classrooms of pre-K3, and three classrooms of pre-K4. Some students leave for other schools when they reach Kindergarten age, but the program has helped increase overall enrollment at the school.
"You have to change with the times," Milette said. "(Parents) would rather have them in a school than a daycare. It's great because (this) feeds the school. When they come, try us out and like us, they stay. We have a lot to offer them."
Milette originally came to St. Amelia's as a student teacher. She enjoyed it so much, and her kids were registered at the school. Her children are now adults, but she also has one grandson that went to St. Amelia's as well, and is now a student at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda.
"It's like family," Milette said of St. Amelia's. "They offered me a job and I just loved it. It's like they were teaching the same values I was teaching at home. Like they say, 'It takes a village to raise children.'"
Russert, a native of Buffalo and respected former host of NBC's "Meet the Press," was a longtime booster of Catholic education. He passed away in 2008.
In addition to Milette, several other individuals will be recognized at GALA 22:6. Katherine Juhasz and John C. Dwyer will receive the Bishop's Medal "Champions of Education" due to their fundraising support for Catholic schools. The Natalie Mattimore Lewis "Kindness Counts" Character Award will awarded to Williamsville's SS. Peter and Paul School student Gabrielle Adamczyk, a seventh-grader who exemplifies selfless acts of kindness at every turn. Kathleen and Tom Christy, parishioners at St. Amelia's, will serve as this year's dinner chair couple.
GALA 22:6 will be held at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The Jan. 31 event will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m., and dinner to follow. Proceeds from the dinner will be used to fund needs-based tuition assistance for students attending Catholic elementary schools throughout the diocese. Last year's dinner raised more than $350,000 and funded nearly 300 scholarships.
For more information, donations or to purchase tickets, contact Laura DeMizio at 716-847-8373 or www.gala226.org.