Art Wall Scholarship Fund: 20 Years of Quietly Helping So Many in Wilton
What do you do to memorialize someone whose passion for getting involved in the community was larger than life? You find a way to keep that going, even 20 years after he’s been gone.
That’s what the Wall family did to honor their patriarch, Arthur Wall, after he passed away in 1999. The Walls have been Wilton residents since 1991, and they wanted a way to continue Art’s dedication to so many of Wilton’s civic and community organizations–not only did the family own Wallflowers Florist and Gift Shop but Art had been passionate about his involvement in Parks & Recreation, the Chamber of Commerce, the Football and Lacrosse Booster Clubs, and Wilton Sports Council, among others. He co-chaired Wilton’s first Class Project – Project ’88 – a program which continues to provide a safe and entertaining graduation night for Wilton High School seniors each year. He also spearheaded the fundraising effort to pay for July 4th fireworks after they were cut from the town budget.
Art’s wife, Sue, and sons, Kevin, David and Brian, created the Arthur J. Wall, Jr. Scholarship Fund in an effort to continue Art’s work. The intent was to support individuals and organizations that give back to the community. Celebrating its 20th year in 2019, the fund has given out almost $200,000.
“He was a quiet dude, but he just always seemed to be doing stuff,” Kevin recalls. “He was just very involved in the town, just a guy that was always doing stuff. To me he was not much of a standout in the front guy. Now when you’re doing this stuff yourself you realize, to your point, how hard it is to have a little side business, to have a full time job, to have kids, to be involved with things. It’s a lot of work. He was a quiet man that’s for sure–he’d probably be horrified to know that there’s a scholarship in his name and all that jazz. It wasn’t quite his MO, but he doesn’t have a choice,” laughs Kevin.
Kevin’s mom, Sue, agrees. “Art would be very humbled by the scholarship itself. He was very modest. He loved Wilton, and took a special interest in our youth. He gave untiringly of himself to the betterment of our town. The success of his scholarship, I believe, would astound him. And he would be so very proud, as I am, of his sons, and their friends, and all who have supported this worthy cause.”
The fund itself started out modestly too. “We decided we’d do a scholarship to pay tribute to and acknowledge a community service type mindset. Where, ‘Hey we’re all here but what can we do to make it a better place for people.’ You know, help. We figured we’ll have a golf outing, maybe raise some bucks and maybe we can give a couple thousand dollars away to a graduating senior,” Kevin recalls.
They wanted to recognize graduating seniors who reflected what Art had been. A graduate of Brown University and a member of the Army Reserves, they looked to acknowledge a student athlete with significant community service involvement. They started with a $1,000 award to one male recipient, and now give $10,000 a year–$5,000 each to one male and one female WHS graduating senior.
“We wanted to establish that and honor both,” Kevin says. “These kids are amazing in what they’re able to do, both in the classroom and off.”
In the 20 years, the Walls have been able to recognize 32 deserving WHS students. In the last several years, they’ve also been able to magnify their impact by adding awards to organizations that do significant outreach into the community. Among the recipients have been Trackside Teen Center, Wilton Youth Council, the Police Gift Fund, the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Wilton Student Financial Aid and the Wilton Family YMCA. This year, to acknowledge the Fund’s 20th year, the Walls bestowed two gifts–to the Wilton Library Association’s Children’s Library and to the Child Guidance Center of Fairfield County. The fund has also supported the 9/11 Fund, the Prospector Theater, Timmer’s Way, and a new scoreboard at the high school baseball field.
“I try to pick someplace where we can have a bigger impact–$5,000 is a big amount to give away, although it might not be that big to some organizations. At the Y, we funded two programs for Norwalk kids to get bused out in the summer and have meals. We try to have it be a big impact at least with the organizations we pick and then who those organizations support,” Kevin says.
Key to the fundraising is the yearly golf tournament each September. “We’re absolutely blessed with the fact that, almost without even working, I get a hundred guys–a lot of them went to Wilton High School, more than half the field I think somehow has ties to Wilton High going there, it’s almost like a pseudo reunion. A lot of them knew my dad. As long as we keep doing that, we’ll be able to turn it over to my son in 10 or 15 years, we’ll get him to start doing it. It started out, ‘Hey let’s have a golf outing, maybe raise some bucks and give a scholarship.’ Now it’s, 20 years later we’ve done some great things,” he adds.
Kevin credits longtime Wilton friends who have helped make the outing a success every year, including Saul and Anne Pollack, Tim Egan, Kevin McKiernan, and Claire Canneleo. Former WHS Football Coach Tom Fujitani had been very involved as well, before he passed away.
Of course, the payoff is the impact the Walls know the gifts have, and it’s what continues to drive the effort forward.
“You get letters every now and then, not all the kids, but I’ve gotten a good number over the years. They tell me what they’re up to, ‘Hey, I graduated Wake Forest and I’m gonna go to law school.’ But always in the back of my mind, guys or gals I’ve heard it a number of times, is community service and giving back to others, helping those less fortunate, and they reflect back to that night. That’s great to forward it on to my family. It’s nice to hear that, ‘I graduated Wilton High x years ago but I still think about it and here’s what I’m doing now.’ Hopefully we’ve made a little bit of an impact. We get two or three people thinking help those less fortunate, and it’s better than none.”
Graduating seniors can apply to be considered for the 2019 awards. The organizations that received donations this year from the Arthur J. Wall, Jr. Scholarship Fund are:
Child Guidance Center: DBT Program
A growing percentage of children and adolescents seeking help from the Center are presenting with serious, complex, and high risk behaviors (e.g., current/past suicide attempts, self-injurious behavior, previous behavior health hospitalizations, trauma and/or substance abuse) that require a much higher level of intervention; approximately 15-20% of the children we currently serve are assessed as suicide risks. One of our most presenting challenges is to meet this increased need. Our DBT program, which is one of the most effective treatment modalities for these symptoms and behavioral health presentation, serves adolescents age 13-18. DBT teaches mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and emotion regulation skills and includes a strong family component to best support the client’s use of new skills. The DBT model includes:
- individual and multi-family group therapy;
- 24/7 phone coaching
- medication management (as needed)
While DBT is incredibly efficacious, it is also expensive to run. We must rely on the generosity of our friends and partners to not only sustain the program, but also to expand and enhance services so we can meet the growing demand. DBT can truly be a lifeline for many of the children we treat, but only if we have the resources available to meet the need.
Wilton Library Association: Children’s Library
The Children’s Library has offered a wide range of programs for the toddler to the pre-teen. Programs have ranged from 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, the ever popular Summer Reading Program, to the various STEAM oriented programs, author talks, Storytime, and Create and Discover activities. These types of programs have proven social, emotional, and educational benefits. Art, music, and movement programs help children’s developing minds by engaging in creativity, small motor and gross motor movement, and language development, as well as social skills.
Programs would include:
- Interactive Music Programs: providing an opportunity for younger children to listen and respond to music, which would include following directions and to call-and-respond singing. Musicians use simple percussion instruments such as bells or drums that the kids can also use. For the older children, music programs would incorporate the same things as for the younger kids, but with more information. hey may learn about specific instruments and have a chance to play them, or even have a chance to write a little of their own music.
- Creative Art Programs: working with local experts such as Art Spot and Happy Hands Pottery, providing an environment in which children can use their imaginations and create through art. Children would learn about watercolor, pastels, oils, drawing, hand crafts and many other arts as well as paint-your-own pottery.
- Movement Programs: providing a place and activity in which children of all age can express themselves through movement such as yoga, Zumba and dance workshops.