NEW HAVEN, CT -- The Morris and Irmgard Wessel Fund announced that the latest winners of its Unsung Heroes Award are the Immigrant Bail Fund for standing up for our immigrant neighbors and Doreen Abubakar, a social entrepreneur and environmental educator in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood.
The Immigrant Bail Fund, organized in early 2017, pays bond for immigrants -- some undocumented, some legal residents accused of minor crimes -- who otherwise would be held in jail while they wait for resolution on their immigration case. Immigrants who cannot afford bond often remain in jail regardless of their alleged flight risk, but because they simply can’t come with up with thousands of dollars meant to assure their appearance in court. Immigrants released on bond are much more likely to get legal representation and to win their cases.
“Defending and protecting immigrants was particularly important to our mom, Irmgard, who fled Nazi Germany in 1939. Along with her parents, she was offered a new life by the good people of Eureka, Illinois, who gave them shelter, employment and education, the Wessels’ children, David, Bruce, Paul and Lois, said in making the awards.
The Immigrant Bail Fund is a project of Community Bonds, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting racial and economic justice in the pretrial part of the criminal justice system.
Doreen Abubakar, a lifelong New Haven resident, created the Community Placemaking and Engagement Network (CPEN), which focuses on family fitness and outdoor recreation. CPEN established the Newhallville Learning Corridor along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, a linear park that once was a canal and railway route.
“Morris and Irm never waited for someone else to change New Haven for the better,” the Wessel children said. “Like Doreen Abubakar, they just did it. We know they would be pleased to celebrate her hard work and creativity.”
The Learning Corridor features resident-maintained public greenspace and an Audubon-certified pollinator garden, a space for festivals and community gatherings, and a bicycle storage facility where community members can access bicycles (and helmets) for use on the trail and in the community. The Learning Corridor’s program includes the springtime Pedometer Challenge for walkers, the Harvest Festival in October and a holiday sing-along in December. It soon will add a farmers’ market to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into Newhallville.
Abubakar also leads 4-H programs and teaches fishing for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In 2011 she founded the West River Water Festival, a popular annual summertime event featuring canoe rides and watershed education.
The Unsung Heroes Award was created in 1993 and is funded by friends and admirers of the late Morris Wessel, a pediatrician, and Irmgard Wessel, a clinical social worker and community activist, to continue their decades-long efforts to make New Haven a better place for all its residents. The Fund is a donor-advised fund at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Each award comes with a grant for the local nonprofit to further its efforts.
The previous Wessel Prize went to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) to assist that organization in its work to help refugees and other displaced people establish new lives, regain hope, and contribute to the vitality of Connecticut communities.
Past recipients of the Wessel Prize include: Collective Consciousness Theatre (Dexter Singleton), Junta at Big Turtle Village (Rafael Ramos), Solar Youth (Joanne Sciulli), Karen DelVecchio, Donna Savia, St. Martin dePorres Academy (Mary Surowiekci), Bikes for Babes (Dan Perrotto), Grandparents on the Move, the Connecticut Health Policy Project, the Mob Squad (Al Shakir), The Natural Guard, the Inner City Bicycle Program (David Clough), The Cesar Jerez Catholic Worker House, and Leg Up (Anne Gallant). Also, Dan Kinsman, music instructor at Fair Haven School; Raymond Wallace, founder of the Guns Down, Books Up organization, and Music Haven, which brings music to local youth.
Donations may be made online to support the work of the Wessel Fund or by check to The Morris and Irmgard Wessel Fund, c/o The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, 70 Audubon Street, New Haven, CT 06510. All gifts are tax deductible. For more information about the Fund, please contact Paul Wessel at email@example.com.
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