'Well-oiled machine' women's charity league celebrates milestone in Danbury area

LouAnne Cazalet, left, and Andrea Sica hold a baton that is passed from president to president of the National Charity League's Nutmeg Chapter, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

LouAnne Cazalet, left, and Andrea Sica hold a baton that is passed from president to president of the National Charity League’s Nutmeg Chapter, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Contributed photo / Kim Winkeleer

RIDGEFIELD — Nancy Eichman got a little more than she bargained for when fulfilling a promise to her daughter more than 20 years ago.

At the time, there was high demand among mother-daughter duos in town to join the Ridgefield Chapter of the National Charity League, so Eichman told her daughter, Kelly, not to worry if the lottery didn’t pan out in their favor. Back then, members were selected by randomly pulling names out of a hat.

“I said if we didn’t get in, we would start our own chapter, not realizing what that was going to entail,” Eichman said.

This year, the Nutmeg Chapter of the National Charity League — which Eichman founded — is celebrating its 20th anniversary. With 240 members contributing more than 6,000 hours of community service annually, the organization works to foster mother-daughter relationships and develop strong women who are dedicated to helping others.

Alongside New Cannan, Ridgefield is the only town in the northeast with two NCL chapters.

Nutmeg was founded in 1999 as a provisional chapter. In addition to Kelly’s class, it took in members who were edged out of the lottery a few years earlier.

“We were pretty full right from the beginning,” founding member LouAnne Cazalet said.

Kaki Crystal, of the Ridgefield Chapter, mentored Nutmeg’s Board of Directors through its infancy. Eichman and Cazalet served as officers for the first two years to maintain continuity as the chapter got established.

“We were getting by by the seat of our pants, but slowly kept getting bigger and bigger,” Eichman said.

The chapter was initially restricted to volunteering within the limits of Ridgefield, but over the years expanded into Danbury, Wilton and South Salem, N.Y. It has also contributed to national philanthropies like the Special Olympics, the American Heart Association and Operation Gratitude.

Since each volunteer hour is valued at roughly $27, “we’ve probably provided over $2 million to the community over 20 years,” President Andrea Sica said. “We’re a chapter that has a tremendous heart.”

Sica first learned of the milestone while sifting through boxes and binders handed down from the prior president. Last year, she discovered that 2021 would mark the 20th anniversary of Nutmeg’s charter and decided to track down its founding members — also among the belongings was a baton inscribed with each president’s name.

When Sica contacted Eichman to inform her of the anniversary, “I was shocked,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it had been 20 years — I don’t even remember signing the baton.”

Last month, Eichman and Cazalet were invited to attend Nutmeg’s annual mother-daughter tea, which was held via Zoom.

“We were both very impressed at how big the chapter is, how much philanthropy they do and the number of hours (they put in),” Cazalet said. “It’s a well-oiled machine now.”

The founding members took questions from current members who asked about the chapter’s beginnings and also expressed their gratitude for the women who started it all.

“Listening to all these girls who love volunteering,” Eichman added, “I got teary-eyed.”

Before the tea, Eichman and Cazalet hadn’t spoken in 10 years, but during an interview they often talked in tandem, finishing each other’s sentences as if they saw each other yesterday.

“Those are the kinds of people that are drawn to programs like this,” Cazalet said. “Good, friendly people.”

Sica hopes to invite the founders back for the chapter’s 20th anniversary celebration in September so they can continue to dispense their wisdom on the women who have followed in their footsteps.

“Everyone loves to understand (their) history,” she said. “You feel much more connected to an organization when you know how and why it all began.”

For more information about NCL, visit www.nationalcharityleague.org.

Alyssa.Seidman@hearstmediact.com