Regional Chamber Awards

The Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT’s annual awards, now known as The ECTys, honor excellence in community engagement, innovation, customer service, and business best practices.

2021 Winners


Business of the Year

Family-owned and proudly serving southeastern Connecticut for over 56 years, the Antonino Auto Group is your destination for new and pre-owned vehicles at your choice of 8 highly-reviewed dealerships. As a leading employer of hundreds of local residents, Antonino believes in a culture of respect, professionalism, and community engagement. Over the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, they launched their Community Strong initiatives to support the hardest-hit nonprofits in the region. They also offered complimentary steam sanitizing for first responders and other community members, and increased their service offerings to essential workers. The Antonino family is devoted to helping and serving customers with the highest quality car options to suit any lifestyle.


Small Business of the Year

Aces High RV Park is a year-round, full service family campground featuring 93 acres of land, heated pool, waterfront sites, a playground and so much more located in East Lyme. Throughout the pandemic, Aces High R.V. Park remained an essential business for travel nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel staying safely away from their families to avoid spreading Covid-19. They also provided masks and hand sanitizers to campers while increasing their cleaning routines. They are a consistent supporter of local youth basketball and baseball leagues, fire departments, and police departments. They are also excited to be building their business legacy as they expand the campground locally, and begin construction on a condo complex elsewhere in Connecticut.


New Business of the Year

Opened February 19, 2020, Tin Peddler is locally woman-owned and operated in the historic town of North Stonington. They offer handcrafted daily changing menu items including soups, salads, sandwiches, dinners, seasonal specials, and more. Something we especially love to see as the Chamber of Commerce is a dedication to shopping local, and Tin Peddler makes a concerted effort to source their products from local farmers, fishermen, vintners, and artisans, which has in turn increased the stability and demand for these local vendors. In an effort to make their customer service options diverse and Covid-friendly, the Tin Peddler offers dine in, takeout, pet-friendly outdoor seating, drive-thru pick up, and catering, plus a stocked pantry featuring local dairy, cheese, eggs, & jams.


Industry Innovator

Healthy PlanEat is a new sustainable food tech startup based in East Lyme which helps farmers using sustainable growing practices to sell their food directly to local consumers. This organization was able to identify a gap in the market and provide a strategic solution that continues to grow, receiving a grant from the US Department of Agriculture in January to build on this success. Using Healthy PlanEat, farmers can upload inventory, set distribution options, and manage incoming orders from individuals or wholesale buyers such as restaurants, schools, and universities. Customers can purchase food to pick up at the farm, farmer’s market, pop-up, or get delivery. The Chamber is proud to recognize the importance of their mission to increase access to fresh, sustainably grown, local food so people can have a healthy and sustainable diet.


Nonprofit of the Year

For over 140 years, UCFS has embraced life and faced challenges that reflect the community they serve. In 2002, UCFS became a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-alike (FQHCLA), and in 2015, UCFS became a full FQHC Grantee. It models as a uniquely adaptable organization, especially for its size, designed to serve the changing needs of the most vulnerable residents of eastern Connecticut. Their multiple health centers provide primary care including pediatrics, internal medicine, women’s health, geriatrics, dental care, behavioral health, and more. They continuously focus and refocus their resources on areas of greatest need while building organizational partnerships, and fostering a workplace culture which educates, encourages, and supports staff to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Over the past two years, UCFS Healthcare has been an absolutely vital asset in the battle against Covid-19, having tested over 13,500 community members, administered over 9,000 vaccines, and provided food to nearly 24,000 individuals.


Dominion Clean Energy Award

As a John Deere and Yanmar diesel engine distributor, Bell Power Systems may not be what you stereotypically think of as a clean energy company. However, the engines sold by Bell Power are current tier EPA emission compliant that clean and filter engine exhaust, whether they are being sold to an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) or to replace older emission tier engines from the market. Along with their parent company, Bell Power is developing hybrid/electric technology to remain at the forefront of sustainable energy power solutions for their customers. Bell Power also makes a conscious effort to employ eco-friendly practices in the workplace through the utilization of a roof mounted solar array at their Essex facility, along with motion sensor lighting throughout the entire building for additional power savings, with a focus on reducing their carbon footprint.


Best Place to Work

Reliance Health is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit mental health agency with a mission to enhance health through mental wellness. The focus for the past 45 years has been to serve adults experiencing mental health, addiction, and developmental disabilities, in order to enhance their quality-of-life through interventions, skills teachings, and lived experiences. Throughout the day-to-day work, Reliance Health constantly takes unique approaches for its employees by developing new innovative practices, implementing creative ideas, promoting individual growth, and continuing community connectedness. What makes Reliance Health a great employer? Healthy Work-Life Balance; Employing Green and Innovative Practices; an Atmosphere of Diversity and Inclusion; Community Involvement; and Opportunities for Employee Development and Appreciation.


Community Revitalization Leader

Spark Makerspace was founded in 2015 by a group of artists, techies, and entrepreneurs looking to support creativity by providing urban dwellers with resources they did not have at home. With support from CTNext, the City of New London, and generous individuals, they opened their first community workshop space in 2016 in the downtown neighborhood, and grew to 130 active members by the following year. Spark was awarded a Frank Loomis Palmer grant to hire an Executive Director, and award 12 scholarships. Spark’s Member Advisory Council initiated their hallmark accomplishment of Classes and Meetups where members share skills with the local community. Spark was so successful in its growth that it needed to embrace this momentum and relocate again, so they purchased a historic 9,400 square foot commercial building on Union Street which was carefully renovated throughout 2021. The new facility provides a unique cultural asset in our region and we are inspired by their efforts to build local talent, engage local vendors, and support the revitalization of downtown New London.


Young Professional of the Year

Kaiser Leuze

Kaiser Leuze is the Team Member and Guest Experience Manager at Mohegan Sun. He graduated in March of 2020 from Drexel University, where he majored in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and minored in Politics. While at Drexel, he worked as an intern for Congressman Courtney in Norwich and Washington D.C., and currently serves as Co-President of the Eastern CT Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program Class of 2022. Kaiser is a citizen of the Mohegan Tribe and was the founding Chairman of the Mohegan Youth Council. Kaiser currently lives in Brooklyn, Connecticut with his girlfriend Madeleine.


Young Professional of the Year

Wilmer Lambert

Wilmer Lambert is a ‘Simulation and Test Engineering’ Supervisor for COLUMBIA Ship Control at General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) where he has been for almost 11 years.
Wilmer serves as the President of the Black Engagement Council an employee resource group (ERG) at EB. He is also a member of the Hispanic Shipbuilder Association, ForWARD, and as part of Toastmasters earned a “Competent Communicator” and “Competent Leadership” Award. He is also serving as the 2022 class co-president for the ECT Chamber of Commerce Leadership Program.


Volunteer of the Year

Ornet Hines

Ornet Hines is an Assistant Vice President and Branch Manager at Liberty Bank, with over 16 years of experience in community banking. Within Liberty Bank, she is a winner of the prestigious President’s Team honor, recognized in their Volunteer Hall of Fame, and she is a Kindness Ambassador.
With her personal goal of leaving her good spirits within people’s souls, she is very active in her efforts to improve the quality of life for those within her communities.
She is an active volunteer at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center for over 6 years, and at The United Way of Southeastern CT for 8 years, and also serves on the Board of Directors for S.T.E.P.S. The Chamber is proud to count her among our most engaged Ambassadors, helping to welcome new members and promote the Chamber’s mission, and as an active member of the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce Eastern CT Foundation, our 501c3 grant-making arm. In her spare time (it’s amazing that she has any) she loves to explore new places, food and cultures.


Tourism Leader of the Year

Mystic Aquarium employs strategies with a vision of a robust, modern aquarium deeply rooted in its core values and blossoming with measurable impact in protecting ocean environments through research, education and conservation. This past year saw the culmination of the multi-year, monumental process of importing beluga whales from an overcrowded facility in Canada, offering them a new home at a prestigious facility with round-the-clock veterinarian care and providing the Aquarium with the opportunity to further develop research and data to increase our understanding of this important marine species. Over the summer, the Aquarium participated in CT Summer at the Museum, offering free admission to all children in the state, and this winter, they introduced free admission to all healthcare and veterinary workers. The Aquarium’s 40 plus year heritage speaks to the creation of a more sustainable world that protects aquatic animals, assures the survival of threatened species, and calls for action infused with comprehensive compassion and respect.


Board of Directors Special Award

33 years ago, Maria made the decision to create a different type of advertising agency. That vision became Miranda Creative — a brand management firm, now with 25 team members and clients nationwide. That inner vision guided Maria to support our community through the pandemic — hosting webinars, writing articles, and inspiring businesses to “pivot” under shifting marketing conditions. She went on to create two campaigns with other community-minded entrepreneurs, securing tablets for isolated seniors and boosting morale with the “Let’s Go 860” messaging. Maria also reconceptualized the Chamber Foundation’s annual Holiday Gala into “Every Month is a Holiday” — a video series that secured over $60,000 in sponsors.

Past Winners

Small Business of the Year: Cardinal Honda
Business of the Year: Charter Oak Federal Credit Union
New Business of the Year: Sea Services North America
Community Revitalization Leader: The Whalers Inn
Nonprofit of the Year: Backus Hospital/Hartford Healthcare & L+M Hospital/YNHHS
Best Place to Work: Liberty Bank
Volunteer of the Year: Maia Miranda
Young Professional of the Year: Molly Bruno
Board of Directors Special Award: Chamber Staff

Industry Innovator: ThayerMahan

Small Business of the Year: Duncklee Cooling and Heating, Inc.
Business of the Year: Pfizer
Community Revitalization Leader: A.R. Building Company
Nonprofit of the Year: Public Library of New London
Best Place to Work: Chelsea Groton Bank
Tourism Leader of the Year: Bill Furgueson
Volunteer of the Year: Gail Weber
Young Professional of the Year: Matthew Spring
Board of Directors Special Award: Jack Malone

Industry Innovator: Mohegan Sun

Small Business of the Year: SAVA Insurance Group
Business of the Year: Dime Bank
Community Revitalization Leader: Vinnie Scarano and Hygienic Art, Inc.
New Business of the Year: Fresh Men Spa Lounge
Nonprofit of the Year: New England Science and Sailing Foundation
Best Place to Work: Ear, Nose & Throat Associates of Southeastern CT, P.C.
Tourism Leader of the Year: Whaler’s Inn
Volunteer of the Year: Anne Ogden
Young Professional of the Year: Sarah Patella
Board of Directors Special Award: Michael Passero

Small Business of the Year: Mystic Knotwork
Volunteer of the Year: Nancy Bulkeley and Sue Murphy
Community Revitalization: The Lofts at Ponemah Mills
Board of Directors Special Award: Stephen Tagliatela

Small Business of the Year: Ivy’s Simply Homemade
Volunteer of the Year: Meagan Secor
Community Revitalization: CURE Innovation Commons
Board of Directors Special Award: Kevin Brown, Robert Congdon

Small Business of the Year: Pink Basil
Community Revitalization Leader: Inn at Mystic/Harbour House Restaurant
Volunteer of the Year: Louis Ziegler

Small Business of the Year: Joshua’s Limousine Service
Volunteer of the Year: Dianne Kent
Community Revitalization: Seema Mukherjee/Foxglove
Board of Directors Special Award: Rev. Catherine Zall

Small Business of the Year: A Beautiful Company General Contractors
Volunteer of the Year: David Preka
Community Revitalization: Maggie Jones
Board of Directors Special Award: NCDC

Small Business of the Year: Great Neck Country Club
Community Revitalization Leader: David Hammerstrom
Board of Directors Special Award: Robert Congdon

Small Business of the Year: Holdridge Home and Garden Showplace
Community Revitalization: Surrey Equities/Silvera Asset Group
Board of Directors Special Award: Deb Donovan

Small Business of the Year: Harp & Dragon
Volunteer of the Year: Sam Piotrkowski
Community Revitalization: Copperwood Grill
Board of Directors Special Award: Isabelle Singer

Small Business of the Year: Captain Daniel Packer Inne
Community Revitalization Leader: New London Harbour Towers

Volunteer of the Year: Bob Blinderman
Board of Directors Special Award: Chuck Seeman

Small Business of the Year: Survival Systems
Community Revitalization: Mike Buscetto

Volunteer of the Year: SCORE
Board of Directors Special Award: Beverly Goulet