DARIEN — Emily Larkin was celebrating the awards for two other women one night in May when she was told she had been chosen as a Fairfield County Business Journal 40 Under 40 award recipient.

The 29-year-old had no idea she had even been nominated.

“I was riding high on those amazing awards, and when I got home, Laurie Orem (director of development for the Community Fund, where Larkin works) told me I had won this award,” Larkin said. “I was shocked and excited.”

The award recognizes the “rising stars in Fairfield County” in different fields, according to Westfair Communications.

For Larkin, her work and passion revolve around addressing the issue of substance abuse in town through Community Fund initiatives.

Larkin joined the Community Fund in 2015 as the Thriving Youth Program director when the organization received a $500,000 grant from the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to oversee a five-year plan to help reduce teenage drinking in town.

Susan Cator, president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, nominated Larkin for the award.

“The Darien Chamber of Commerce nominated (Larkin) for the 40 Under 40 due to her contributions to the Darien community, especially the teens of our town,” Cator said. “(Larkin’s) ability to work with numerous Darien organizations to gain support has made a difference to the acceptance and awareness of the 06820 campaign.”

The Thriving Youth Task Force, founded in 2008, has surveyed Darien students in grades seven to 12 since its inception. Through its surveys, the Thriving Youth Task Force found drinking was an issue within this population.

Larkin also co-chairs the Darien Thriving Youth Task Force, an initiative of the fund, and has been a key player in the 06820 campaign, which also seeks to reduce teenage drinking in Darien.

Larkin’s work with the Fund has led her to present at the National Prevention Conference in Anaheim, Calif. last fall and she was recently invited to do the same at the state capitol last month.

“What sets this campaign apart is that we’ve also worked with a professional marketing firm, Colangelo,” Larkin said. “So while a local and grassroots effort, we have the expertise of a national firm and we’ve worked closely with them.”

When asked about future initiatives under the Thriving Youth Task Force, Larkin said the campaign would be looking at the most recent survey data.

“What I expect is more focus on mental health and the ‘why’ behind substance abuse. I think the next iteration will be a kinder, more inviting conversation,” Larkin said.

humberto.juarez@hearst

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