"What's Your Connecticut Story?" Contest Winners Named
Grand Prize About Connecticut River Kayaking Trip
By JESSE RIFKIN,
The Hartford Courant
2:50 PM EDT, July 17, 2012
When Jalieth Gary received an email saying she won a statewide essay contest, she marked it as spam.
"I never win anything," Gary explained.
Gary was selected as one of four winners for the "What's Your Connecticut Story?" contest sponsored by the Department of Economic and Community Development's Office of Tourism. From Feb. 29 to May 18, the contest solicited anecdotes of meaningful experiences within the state.
Anybody could vote for entries online at myconnecticutstory.com with the most popular named grand prize winner, and a judging panel selecting three "CT Picks" winners.
Grand prize recipient Sally Roberts notched 5,484 votes for "CT River Journey, 100 Miles in 3 Days" about her solo kayaking trip down the state's longest waterway.
"A friend sent me the link and thought I might want to enter one of my kayak adventures," said Roberts, a New Britain attorney. "I was elated [to discover she won]."
The "kayaking adventure" was not without difficulties.
"On Day 1 when it drizzled, and especially on Day 2," Roberts wrote, "a blanket of fog rolled in that was so thick I literally could not see beyond the bow of my boat and paddled for miles navigating by compass bearings alone."
Roberts, who also linked to an online Shutterfly photo gallery featuring pictures from her journey, won a $1,000 gift card from American Express.
"I have recently opened my own law office, so I am using it to pay for Continuing Legal Education seminar materials," Roberts explained.
Jaleith Gary, marketing manager at Smith Whiley & Company in Hartford, was first runner-up with "A Change of Heart," about the Brooklyn native's reluctance to move to Hartford for work.
"It turns out that all I had to do was give this city a chance to prove me wrong," Gary wrote, "and it did."
"Since I began living here 2 1/2 years ago," Gary continued, "I've joined an a cappella group, participated in various community service projects, discovered a flair for sushi, gone indoor rock climbing, joined a young professionals group (Urban League of Greater Hartford Young Professionals), and met some amazing people."
Christi Papa, a lifelong Wallingford resident and financial analyst at Hospital St. Raphael in New Haven, won second runner-up for "Money Saving Mommy - 2 Little Girls," about inexpensive Connecticut entertainment while working as a poor single mother.
"My story begins in 1998 when my husband left me with an infant & a toddler to raise," Papa wrote of her daughters Michelle and Karen Milner, now 16 and 14. "The things we did on a shoe string budget were amazing and my girls will remember those years forever."
Papa, who remarried in 2007, heard of the contest through Scot Haney on WFSB and wrote her essay in one night. "The words just flowed out," she recalled, although her children were less than impressed. "They are at that age, not wanting a big story about their mom hanging out with them all the time."
"Of course," Papa adds, "that all changed when I won."
Paula Cornell won third runner-up for "Is The Ice Ready for Skating" about a memorable childhood experience at West Hartford's Elizabeth Park.
"The pond house was huge to our eyes back then…lockers to hold your belongings…..a snack bar so not to get hungry and the creamiest hot chocolate in town," Cornell wrote. "In the excitement of coming on this night I forgot my shoes and went with my ice skates on."
Her friends accidentally stayed so late that nobody could drive them home.
"It was bitter cold…no such thing as cell phones….so we walked," Cornell wrote. "My best friend gave me one of her shoes…..so we both walked with one shoe on and one skate on and it seemed home would never be in our sights….Alas…..we reached our homes….frozen hands and feet."
Cornell heard of the contest listening to WNPR radio and discovered she won by "[opening] the Connecticut Tourism site one morning with complete disbelief."
Christopher "Kip" Bergstrom, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, says the contest far exceeded expectations.
"We received 58,000 votes and 365,000 shares across social media," Bergstrom noted. "Our Facebook page 'Visit Connecticut' went from around 5,000 likes in February to around 103,000 now."
Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant