TNADF's 9th Annual American Dream Awards Honors the U.S. Secretary of Education, Recognizes Community Heroes, and Awards $9,000 in Scholarships

The New American Dream Foundation (TNADF) hosted its 9th Annual American Dream Awards on Friday, September 15, at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury.

By Tribuna Staff

The New American Dream Foundation (TNADF) hosted its 9th Annual American Dream Awards on Friday, September 15, at the Amber Room Colonnade in Danbury. The event's theme was "The Power of Education – The Power of Community," presented by Union Savings Bank. Nearly 400 guests were in attendance among dignitaries, elected officials, and community members, eager to listen to the evening’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona.

Mayor Dean Esposito, on behalf of the City of Danbury, presented a $46,440 check to The New American Dream Foundation to support its monthly Senior Hot Meal Program. The funds are allocated from federal dollars earmarked for spending on COVID-19-related projects.

"It was my honor to present funding to the New American Dream Foundation for them to continue to provide their Senior Hot Meal Program to our residents for the next year. The CARES Act funding is making a tremendous impact in our community as the city recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. Danbury is fortunate to have community leaders like Celia, Angela, and Emanuela, who care for all people in our city," said Danbury Mayor Dean Esposito.

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, the nation's education leader, provided a powerful keynote address and accepted a lifetime achievement award as part of the Gala's program.

In his address at the gala, Cardona took a moment to speak about The New American Dream Foundation's leader, Celia Bacelar-Palmares, and the sacrifices she has made "all to build a better future for your family and a lasting legacy in your community."

Cardona added: "We can't talk about the achievements of our lifetime without the sacrifices of our parents. We can't talk about our hopes for the future without thinking about how our actions today affect generations to come. Many of us face obstacles on our journey. Some of us were English learners, overwhelmed at first in a classroom, where we were made to feel like our languages were weaknesses or deficits to overcome, instead of assets."

Cardona homed in on multilingualism as a superpower, noting the contradictions in an education system that largely regards speaking a language other than English, particularly in early grades, as a weakness. 

He also highlighted evidence that “multilingual people tend to end up with better jobs and higher pay in an increasing global economy," asking, "Why would we make the Americans who don't speak English feel lesser when their knowledge of another language is such an asset? It makes no sense, and it's unacceptable."

"So, let's be very clear: our beautiful diversity as a multicultural nation is our enduring strength as a global leader. That's what makes us the best country in the world," Cardona asserted. 

The American Dream Awards honored community organizations and individuals who contributed to education and social services provided to immigrants and their descendants.

The Lebanon-American Club of Danbury was among the two Community Hero Award honorees. Since 1922, the Club has assisted members in becoming U.S. citizens, learning English, and served as a social support system for Lebanese and Syrian immigrants and their descendants. The Club has awarded thousands of dollars to college-bound students of Lebanese and Syrian heritage and their descendants through its annual scholarship program for the past 50 years.

The second Community Hero Award honoree was the Daily Bread Food Pantry, which has distributed food free of charge in downtown Danbury since 1984. Recently, Daily Bread Food Pantry has increasingly provided nutritional support to hundreds of immigrant families struggling to provide food for their families due to job loss, low wages, or personal crises, becoming a vital alternative, as most do not qualify for government programs.

Three $3,000 American Dream Award Scholarships were granted to students who are immigrants or children of immigrants who have faced many challenges along their journey to achieve their American dreams. The 2023 American Dream Award Scholarship recipients were Elvia Fajardo (scholarship sponsored by Ventura Law), Julia Clara Ferreira (scholarship sponsored by Linde), and Daniel Espin (scholarship sponsored by Union Savings Bank).

Fajardo is attending the University of Hartford as a nursing major this fall and is a proud child of Ecuadorian immigrants.

Ferreira, a forensic science major at the University of New Haven, is the youngest child of two and will be the first person in her family to graduate high school and continue her education.

Espin, a computer science major at Western Connecticut State University, is the son of Ecuadorian immigrants and has faced countless challenges as an immigrant.

State Senator Julie Kushner, State Representative Rachel Chaleski, State Representative Farley Santos, and Mayor Esposito presented the Community Hero and Scholarship award recipients with citations. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressional Member Jahana Hayes also provided special recognition.

The evening's program was also adorned by three performances, representing the cultural threads of the heritage of the honorees or the populations they serve.

"Tonight, we are celebrating the power of education and community. And our community is an intricate quilt woven with threads from many cultures, adding color and life to the place we call home," said Emanuela Palmares, TNADF Vice-President. Palmares was the master of ceremonies alongside her son Caio, also known as YouTuber "Caio Ninja."

Lebanon-American Club of Danbury president Ghassan Najm performed "I Love You Lebanon" by Feiruz, a song written during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Danbury is home to several thousand people of Lebanese descent.

A cultural dance performance by the Ecuadorian folkloric group Pureqkuna filled the room with color and life. The group is comprised of Ecuadorian youth from various regions, showcasing different choreographies celebrating their heritage and keeping their customs and traditions alive. Several thousand Ecuadorian immigrants and first-generation Ecuadorian Americans call Danbury home.

José Paulo is a multilingual performer and entertainer from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, based in Newington, CT, and he performed "Aquarela do Brasil" by Ary Barroso, which translates as "Brasil in Watercolor," a classic Samba. Several thousand Brazilian immigrants and first-generation Brazilian-Americans call Danbury home.

"The gala was an opportunity for all of us to come together and go beyond highlighting the cultural contributions of the immigrant community, and sincerely celebrate their determination in the pursuit of their American Dream above all else," said Celia Bacelar-Palmares, TNADF president and founder.

Ticket proceeds for the gala supported The New American Dream Foundation programs and Mission Health Day - a day of free health screenings and other community services for the uninsured and the income challenged, hosted by Nuvance Health in collaboration with The Morganti Group, Inc., the Danbury War Memorial, the City of Danbury, Western Connecticut State University, and TNADF.

The New American Dream Foundation presented Nuvance with a check for $15,000 to defray some of the event's costs, which will be held on November 4, from 9 a.m. -1 p.m., rain or shine, at the Danbury war memorial. 


For more information on The New American Dream Foundation, Inc., visit