East Haven’s Evelyn Rossetti-Ryan of ACES Earns Excellence in Advocacy Award from Quinnipiac Chamber
Growing up in New Haven, Evelyn Rossetti-Ryan was always interested in the many aspects of education and communication. She loved poetry, learning new languages, connecting with people, and raising awareness for various causes.
“From the time I was a young child, I knew I wanted to be involved in education,” says Evelyn, who now lives in East Haven. “Throughout my career, there have been two elements that have been consistent strands: education and teaching, and communication and connecting with people to raise awareness and have a positive impact. I saw that done through education.”
Evelyn has integrated her passions into both her education and her career, earning a number of degrees and holding positions in both the price and public sector. Beginning in March 2010, Evelyn began working with Area Cooperative Education Services (ACES), which is headquartered in North Haven and serves the greater New Haven community, serving as chief of marketing and outreach until November 2019 when she was promoted chief of outreach and Adult Career & Community Empowerment Support Services (ACCESS).
Evelyn will be one of seven women honored at the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce’s annual Women’s Achievement Awards with a virtual event on Thursday, Jan. 28. In addition to Evelyn’s award for Excellence in Advocacy, others to be honored include Nanette Pastore (president of Pearce Real Estate) as Woman of the Year, Sherri Helget (HR director of C. Cowles & Company) for Excellence in Business, Lorraine Cullen (senior director of clinical services at Gaylord Speciality Healthcare) for Excellence in Healthcare, Emily Walter (childcare services director of Wallingford Family YMCA) as Emerging Leader, Ann Collette (VP of strategy and business development for Masonicare) as Outstanding Innovator, and Samantha Williams (owner of Sam’s Word LLC) for Community Impact.
“I am completely honored and awed to be selected for this award because there are so many remarkable people in our community doing terrific work, whether in healthcare, education, or social services,” says Evelyn. “A lot of our students, schools, and programs are based in the Quinnipiac Chamber area, so it means a lot for me. Part of our work at ACES and my work in my position is to connect to the community in deep and meaningful ways.”
As chief of outreach, Evelyn’s responsibilities include raising community awareness of ACES, supporting the surrounding community, and garnering support from the community for the individuals ACES serves. ACES’s ACCESS program has been in existence for more than 30 years and “supports the career development and transition for a multi-challenged adult population,” according to aces.org.
Evelyn notes that the ACCESS program now serves more than 130 individuals ages 21 and older with developmental or physical disabilities, helping with things such as job training, job placement, support, and life-enriching and recreational activities.
“ACES has always been the vanguard of special education and vocational training,” says Evelyn. “The program helps them build rich and fulfilling lives.”
While Evelyn has reclaimed the area as her hometown over the past decade, she spent much of her college years in New York City where she began to build her career. She earned her bachelor’s in elementary education and French at Columbia University before obtaining a master’s in teaching English as a second language with a concentration in urban education from Teachers College at Columbia University.
After earning her bachelor’s and during the year working on her master’s degree, Evelyn was the director of education and staff manager at AT&T Infoquest Center for five years before spending two years working as special assistant to the superintendent for Community School District One for the New York City Board of Education.
In 1995, she took a position with the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST), bringing her back to the Teachers College. During her time as a program associate there, Evelyn was inspired to pursue her doctorate in education administration.
“I had the honor of working for this organization that was founded by two incredible leaders [Linda Darling-Hammond and Ann Lieberman] in the field of education,” says Evelyn. “I worked particularly closely with Ann Lieberman, who was the inspiration for my doctorate.”
Evelyn’s position at NCREST was grant-funded and after the funding expired, she was hired as the deputy director of learning out of more than 100 applicants at the Museum of the City of New York. In the newly formed position, Evelyn spearheaded the programming department working on the museum’s educational offerings for adults, families, schools, and the community.
“I’ve always said I’m a construction worker working on cultural or educational construction,” says Evelyn. “I come into a place where people have a vision or a mission and I help them build that or facilitate that.”
Evelyn then applied that same concept at both the Children’s Museum of the Arts from January 2001 to January 2004 and then the Thyroid, Head, and Neck Cancer Foundation (THANC) from January 2004 to December 2008, serving executive director at both.
At the Children’s Museum of the Arts, Evelyn not only faced the challenge of reviving a museum that had been “running in the red,” but also starting her position a mile from the Twin Towers just before 9-11. Though the images of seeing those fleeing from the towers remain with her always, she also recalls how the museum allowed the world to come together through art in the aftermath.
“I remember waking up on Sept. 12 saying, ‘What can we do?’ and we created a board and team of artists to form Operation Healing, a multi-faceted initiative to engage the kids, families, and the broader community that we served,” says Evelyn. “We had art therapists come in, held community meetings, and began receiving artwork from across the country and around world because people didn’t know what to do with these emotions so we did an exhibition.”
The exhibition and images became so well-known that country artist Alan Jackson’s publicist called Evelyn to request use of the images as a slideshow while he performed “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” at an award show. Working with THANC, Evelyn ran a number of major events, but fondly remembers a gala where an “up and coming” John Legend performed in 2006.
After her time with THANC, Evelyn tapped into her cultural background, serving as the executive director for the Westchester Italian Cultural Center from January 2007 to December 2009. She had always been involved in the Italian-American community, organizing poetry reading and walking tours during and after college.
“Through my involvement in the community, I met someone who wanted to create an Italian cultural center,” says Evelyn. “They had the vision and the means but needed someone to create it, so I started helping. The common thread in my career is seeing that vision and helping others see that vision and building something meaningful that’s going to serve people.”
Soon after moving to Connecticut in December 2009, Evelyn received a phone call telling her that she was to be knighted by the Italian government. She traveled to the Italian Consulate in New York to be knighted for her contributions to Italian culture.
Evelyn still had family in the New Haven area and she and her husband decided to make East Haven their hometown after falling in love with the shoreline area. She has enjoyed reconnecting with her family and was happy to have time to spend with her mother before she passed away.
“When I came back here, I wanted to serve the community that served me growing up and I wanted to make good use of my experience in my career and teaching English as a second language,” says Evelyn, who applied for her Connecticut teachers license and worked as a teacher assistant at Martinez Elementary School before becoming involved at ACES. “ACES has an education foundation that spoke to me. I love being able to apply my experiences and the knowledge I acquired and help it to grow