On April 5, the stars on the stage at the Ridgefield Playhouse weren’t just the actors performing in Sun Dog Theater’s production of Ellis Island. They also included five Connecticut students who won a Union Savings Bank essay contest created for the show, which invited kids to write about the immigration stories of their own families.

Before a packed house of field trip goers who had just enjoyed a performance of Ellis Island, Playhouse Live Shows manager Christine O’Leary read the names of the essay contest winners and invited them to join her on stage, along with Union Savings Bank’s director of community relations, Michele Bonvicini. They were Aadira Balan of North Stratfield Elementary School in Fairfield, Alyssa DiLeone of Litchfield Intermediate School, Sara Rieger of Farmingville Elementary School, Angelina Hubertus of West School in New Canaan, and James Saloomey of Burr Elementary School in Fairfield.  

In all, about 100 students shared family immigration stories from more than 35 different countries. Winning essays included stories about a father who moved to the United States from India, an extended family who made the journey from Italy to New York, a mother who left her small village in China and traveled the world before marrying an American, a Lebanese family who left famine in their country and then faced the Great Depression, and a grandfather who arrived here from Italy as a teenager traveling alone.

Winning students each received a $50 prize, courtesy of Union Savings Bank, a candy bar from the Ridgefield Playhouse, and a huge round of applause from their student peers.