CRIS Honorees Applauded at Annual Gala

A sold-out crowd applauded CRIS honorees and local celebrities at CRIS Radio's 4th Annual Dining & Dancing in the Dark on Saturday, April 26 at The Bond Ballroom in Hartford.  The CRIS honorees - Comcast as the CRIS 2014 Business of the Year and John Waiculonis as its Educator of the Year - received plaques acknowledging their contributions to improving access for people who are blind or print-disabled. They also received Congressional citations presented by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.


Comcast was recognized for its role in providing technical assistance and equipment necessary to broadcast audio versions of children's magazines to each patient room through the in-house television system at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, becoming the first children's hospital in the nation to provide an alternative to print magazines for pediatric patients who are unable to read or turn pages of a magazine due to their medical condition.

Waiculonis, a 35-year orientation and mobility instructor for the Board of Education and Services for the Blind, was recognized for his outstanding dedication to improving the lives of people who are newly blind. A Watertown resident, Waiculonis was credited for going beyond the call of duty by training people in the community, such as bus drivers and staff at senior centers, about the needs of people who are blind or print-disabled.

After dining in the dark, the lights came up as local celebrities competed in CRIS Radio's own version of Dancing with the Stars. Scot Haney, WFSB meteorologist and co-host of "Better Connecticut," emceed the competition. Each celebrity was paired with an Arthur Murray Studio dance professional, who donated ballroom dance lessons for the fundraiser.

Starting off the competition was Paul Marte, communications and marketing director of The Bushnell, who was followed by Jose Vega, co-host of Viva Hartford and manager of the McKinney Shelter.

WFSB reporter Courtney Zieller and NBC CT anchor Todd Piro also offered lively performances that earned them solid scores from a lively group of judges: Maryellen Fillo, Java columnist for the Hartford Courant; Joe Furey, Fox CT chief meteorologist; and Heather Leyden, an award-winning ballroom dance professional.

The competition heated up with Billy Johnstone, an actor and director who performed on Broadway in CATS, and Kaitlyn Tarpey, Miss Connecticut, with both receiving perfect scores, earning them the CRIS Mirror Ball Trophy.

CRIS, a 35-year-old nonprofit based in Windsor, is Connecticut's only radio-reading service providing audio access to news, information, and educational print materials, including some Spanish-language publications, for children and adults who are blind or print-challenged, including those unable to read due to physical, learning, intellectual or emotional disabilities. CRIS programs are available on demand and are also broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the help of nearly 350 volunteers at its broadcast center in Windsor and four satellite studios located in Danbury, Norwich, Trumbull and West Haven.

PHOTO: Miss CT Kaitlyn Tarpey and Broadway actor Billy Johnstone received perfect scores from the judges, earning them both the CRIS Mirror Ball Trophy. From left, Arthur Murray pro dancer Moises Guerrero with dance partner Tarpey, Johnstone with dance partner, Arthur Murray pro Sally Nasatka.

Photo courtesy of Steve Laschever