Longtime friends 'fill our hearts by volunteering' in Ridgefield

RIDGEFIELD — The Rotary Club of Ridgefield has announced two residents as its 2021 Citizens of the Year. Lori Berisford and Elaine Cox will be recognized for their service during a dinner program at Silver Springs Country Club on June 16.

“Each year, our club accepts nominations for individuals who have gone above and beyond for our community and have met an incredibly commendable set of criteria,” said event chair Theresa Santoro, of RVNAhealth. “Lori and Elaine surely surpass this criteria ... and we’re delighted to honor them.”

The honorees answered some questions about what this award means to them, their altruistic efforts around town and how their friendship has supported their commitment to the community:

Question: What was your initial reaction to being named Citizen of the Year?

Berisford: Very surprised.

Cox: We thought we were in a meeting for a very different reason, so they got us good!

Q: How does this honor differ from others you’ve received in the past?

Berisford: The Rotary is comprised of many different organizations and people from all walks of life. I think this award is special because you are being recognized not only by some of your peers, but others who (understand) that what we’ve tried to do through our work … is make Ridgefield a better place.

Cox: (To receive) an award from the Rotary in Ridgefield, our community, is so meaningful. Since moving to Ridgefield we’ve tried to give back and make our community a better place — the Rotary does that every day. And to get this award with my best friend is wonderful.

Q: How long have you lived in Ridgefield, and what local organizations have you been involved with during that time?

Berisford: (My husband) John and I moved to Ridgefield in 1999. We built a house three (doors) down from Elaine and her family, which will tell you how long we’ve been friends. I had a 9-month-old and was pregnant at the time ... but two years later, Elaine and I sent our older daughters to Landmark Academy in Redding. We started down this journey as “room moms” when our children were in preschool, and since then we’ve been involved in many different organizations.

Cox: I moved to Ridgefield in 1998. (Lori and I) worked together at Pepsi, got married a year apart and had our daughters at the same time. It’s only fitting we would gravitate to volunteering for similar organizations. One is the Evelyn C. Peeler Children’s Fund, (which) started with the summer backpack program and (then) holiday shopping for those in Ridgefield who needed a little help. A dozen of our friends do this with us.

Q: Can you describe an instance in which you contributed to the community in a positive way? What compelled you to give back?

Berisford: I would hope all of what we’ve done over the many years has had a positive impact on the community as a whole. The work that I am most proud of is running SPHERE, a nonprofit for adults with disabilities. We run programs five days of the week for our members (that) enrich and enhance their lives through education, recreation and the arts while fostering and nurturing relationships between (them) and our communities. We also perform with many of the arts organizations in town.

Cox: We fill our hearts by volunteering in our community, trying everyday to make it a better place. What I’m most proud of recently is being the vice chair of the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury that serves 13 surrounding towns, including Ridgefield. It’s an organization (that) helps victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and so much more. Currently I’m the co-chair of their enrichment campaign raising monies to build a new residential facility and help grow our programs, such as free court advocacy, community education and counseling. We are close to $5 million and counting.

Q: As the world inches back to normal, what message do you want to relay to your fellow citizens?

Berisford: Be proud. Be proud of the nonprofits and businesses who pivoted and made it work and stayed open during the last year, and proud of our community for following guidelines that made (it) safer. I think we all learned some valuable lessons (about) what was important, and I hope those lessons carry into the future.

Cox: To watch our community pull together was proof that we can be better as a whole. (Whether it was) neighbor reaching out to neighbor, shopping locally, ordering take-out from local restaurants (or) shopping for friends who couldn’t shop for themselves. What we’ve all learned from this is if you’re having a bad day, go do something nice for someone else — I hope we all remember this.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Berisford: This award means a lot to me because I get to share it with a person who has been one of the biggest parts of my life for 30 years. When you can do this type of work with someone who has the same values as you, it’s effortless.

Cox: Lori and I make an amazing team. (We’re) two friends who read each other so well. We also have an amazing set of “gal pals” who work alongside us every step of the way. It makes what we do fulfilling and, at the end of the day, fun!

To purchase tickets for the dinner, visit ridgefieldrotary.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com