Race for 111th: Issues led Berger-Girvalo back into politics
It was the tragedy of Sandy Hook — young school children gunned down by madman — that re-awakened the political activist in Aimee Berger-Girvalo, starting her transition from someone who votes in elections to someone who runs for office, and leading to her candidacy for Ridgefield’s 111th District seat in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
“My mother was a U.S. Army nurse,” she said. “... I was raised in a house where political conversations were a regular thing. She took me to D.C. on marches when I was in middle school and high school, so I was involved at a very young age.
“And then life happened, and raising children happened. And it was actually when Sandy Hook happened when I started to get involved again,” she said.
“I went to Hartford to testify. That was the first thing that got me involved again, was fighting for gun violence prevention.”
She’s lived in Ridgefield 13 years.
“We were in Boston for 10 years, that was where our first child was born,” she said.
“Jeff and I both grew up in Ossining, New York.”
They have two kids. “Gracie is a senior at RHS, part of that amazing soccer team, and Austin will be 12,” she said, “ ...which went in the blink of an eye.”
She works in special education.
“I’m currently an ABA therapist — applied behavior analysis, I work with people on the autism spectrum,” she said. “... I was a paraeducator for Ridgefield Public Schools for four years, up until this school year.”
Now she’s with a private-sector employer, and pursuing further education.
“I’m getting my master’s,” she said. “I’ll be a BCBA — board certified behavior analyst — when all is said and done.”
Working with special needs kids grew from youth sports involvement.
“Everything started with the Soccer Club of Ridgefield.” she said. “I was — we’ll call it enticed — to join the Soccer Club of Ridgefield. And first thing in the door they handed me ‘House’ — the biggest program.”
It included “Hollard Soccer” — special needs kids playing with other young soccer players.
“They said it hasn’t run in a couple of years, so you don’t have to run it if you don’t want to. And my response was: Why wouldn’t I?” she said.
“It really did change the trajectory of my life, completely,” she added. “This is my 11th season as coach and director of Holland Soccer, and it was working with those kids that got me excited about a career in the field.”
Berger-Girvalo and Jessica Mancini co-founded Ridgefield Women’s March, which they describe as nonpartisan, with over 1,000 women and men advocating governmental accountability, transparency and action.
They organized bus trips to marches in Washington, D.C. and New York.
It began with an email.
“The morning after the presidential election” she and Mancini both got an email about the women’s march in Washington, she said.
“Jessica and I got very excited and we put the word out on Facebook, and we got a tremendous response and within a few days we had a Facebook group,” she said. “It started with a few hundred people. We polled the idea of getting down to D.C. on buses, and again the response was tremendous, so we started to formally plan.”
They’ve also organized carpooling and train rides to smaller events in New York and Hartford.
“Our goal,” she said, “was always not just to get people engaged, but to keep them engaged.”
Issues fuel a candidacy‚ and the State of Connecticut has plenty.
“The budget is a big deal, but we also want to make sure that we have firewalls in place as federal protections are being stripped away — concerns, such as health care of women and seniors, environmental protection, paid family leave, and gun violence prevention is also crucial,” she said.
“Those are the areas I believe we need firewalls,” she added. “But we also have very real problems. We’re in a state of failing infrastructure and declining transportation...
“It’s urgent to get the state moving in the right direction on matters of budget, infrastructure, job creation and basically making Connecticut a place where our kids want to come back after college and where other people want to relocate, including businesses — just making it an appealing place again. We’ve got such a beautiful state.
“The key to being able to move in the right direction is being able to bring businesses and college kids back to this state. Those two things, I believe, work together. So we want to be able to entice businesses and one of the things that’s lacking is a young, tech-savvy workforce...
“We also need to entice these kids to come back to Connecticut when they have graduated college — that’s where things work together.”
She added, “The more people I meet in town, the more I realize whatever your particular issue is, it’s crucial. There are so many concerns right now.”
She is meeting people.
“I am knocking on doors virtually every day,” she said. “And I will tell you it is the most fun in all of this experience. Meeting people at their front doors has been really exciting.”