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Hall of Fame celebrates 4 immigrant success stories

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) – It was a twist of fate that led Naeem Khalid into the convenience store business.

He needed a job quickly when he arrived in the United States from his native Pakistan in 1984 and found work at a convenience store. He found he enjoyed the business so much that he never returned to school, instead coming to Connecticut and founding Sam’s Food Store, now with 300 locations including the DB Mart and Smoker’s Discount World chains.

“I liked the convenience store business. It seemed recession proof,” Khalid said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you make, people need gas, they need to buy their milk. If you are happy you buy chocolate, if you are unhappy you still buy chocolate.”

The Farmington resident not only parlayed his idea into 300 successful stores, he also started a charity to help families of sick children with their financial burdens.

Khalid was among the leaders who have made outstanding contributions to the community honored Saturday night at a gala as they were inducted into the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame.

Founded by the Polish American Foundation, the Hall of Fame celebrates the diverse ethnic heritage of Connecticut and the people who have made a significant contribution to their communities. In addition to Khalid, this year’s fourth class of inductees also included New Britain attorney and community leader Nicholas DeNigris; Roman Nowak, a longtime business leader and philanthropist with Polish roots; and two generations of the Alverio family, one of the first Puerto Rican families to move into New Britain, in the 1950s.

“It’s great to honor these individuals and families who have contributed to our community,” said New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart. “It’s important to remember we are a melting pot from many different countries. I think tonight was the perfect opportunity to honor them.”

Nowak is co-founder and co-owner of Focus Technologies Inc., a machining company in Berlin. He moved to the U.S. in 1973 hoping to establish a better life for himself as well as his wife and three daughters, who joined him in June 1976. Since the mid-1990s, he has served as the president of the Polish American Council of Greater New Britain Charities, organizers of the annual Dozynki Festival in New Britain. He is a past member and president of Falcon Club Nest 88, a member of the Polish American Business and Professional Association, a member of the Pulaski Club, and member of the board of trustees of the Polish American Foundation.

“I was very surprised,” Nowak said as the crowd of about 200 gathered at Alumni Hall at Central Connecticut State University to enjoy refreshments before the induction ceremony and gala. “It was something that many people said was long overdue but I always enjoyed helping people. It’s my nature. When I came to this country, someone helped me. I want to help someone else.”

Khalid is now chief executive officer of Sam’s Food Store. Organizers credit him for working tirelessly over the years to build his company into one of leading independent convenience store chains on the East Coast. Since opening its first store in the summer of 1992, Sam’s has expanded from Hartford to over 200 locations on the Eastern Seaboard and in Canada. The company now includes the convenience store chain DB Mart and the tobacco specialty store Smoker’s Discount World. Khalid is also the founder of Sam’s Childre, Inc., a Connecticut-based charity operating in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut that raises funds for children battling life-threatening diseases.

Born and raised in New Britain, DeNigris settled in his hometown and in 1964 joined the firm that is now Januszewski, McQuillan & DeNigris. DeNigris’ parents were born in the coastal city of Bari, Italy, and over the years he has cultivated a relationship with the area’s Italian community. He served on the New Britain Board of Education from 1963 to 1967 and again from 1971 to 1975. He also served as the president of the Boys & Girls Club from 1999 to 2002 and is a New Britain-Berlin YMCA trustee.

Along with other awards, DeNigris in 2005 was named Man of the Year by the Order Sons of Italy in America.

DeNigris admitted he was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the gala. “I thought it would be a nice quiet dinner with a few speakers. This is quite a production,” he said. “I am very pleasantly surprised.”

The late Gerardo and Vicenta Alverio raised one of the first Puerto Rican families in New Britain and contributed to their community for more than 40 years. Their daughter, Diane Alverio, is the founder and publisher of the award-winning news website CTLatinoNews.com.

Gerardo Alverio was born in Puerto Rico and settled in New Britain, where he worked in the city’s thriving manufacturing industry. Over the years, the Alverios became members of several organizations, with Gerardo going on to serve as president of the New Britain Puerto Rican Society Club. Vicenta was a member of St. Mary’s Church and was recognized for outstanding contributions to the advancement of women by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund in 1997. She was also the New Britain Puerto Rican Society Club’s first Mother of the Year in 1975 and had served as vice president of the club’s Ladies Committee.

The couple was married for 52 years before Vicenta’s death in 1998. Gerardo died last year at 95.

They were leaders in the community, valued education and taught their children to become leaders as well. “I’m humbled,” Diane Alverio said of the family’s induction. “I walked in and saw my parents’ picture. I think about the struggles they faced when they got here, I’m sure they would be standing here saying ‘what is this?’”

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Information from: New Britain Herald, http://www.newbritainherald.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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