SOUTHINGTON — Isabeth Luciano Criscitello is a mother of six and a grandmother of three, and she operates three businesses. In addition, she inspires and helps others in her community as a Southington Chamber of Commerce member while embracing her Latino culture.
Her achievements and relationship with her community didn’t come easily.
Born in Puerto Rico, Criscitello said she moved to New Britain as a timid 5-year-old after her parents split. She was thrust into a new school with no English as a Second Language classes available.
However, Criscitello adjusted to the culture shift with perseverance, adapting to a new language while also embracing her origins. Though it was a rough start, she said she was always loved and supported, shaping the person she is today.
“I remember really being scared,” Criscitello said. “Just because I’m a little girl in this big world and didn’t understand the language. But through body language and learning at an early age, teachers’ support made it easier for me. My mom got connected at St. Mary’s Church with the Latino community there and I felt that although I was uprooted from what I knew and what was comfortable, I just had a great environment.”
Now, Criscitello owns and operates ServiceMaster Apple Valley in Prospect, a disaster restoration enterprise, alongside her husband, Ric. The ServiceMaster team specializes in cleanup and restoration services for any home and business in Connecticut. The service restores homes and companies that have undergone a residential or commercial disaster like fires, mold, floods and hurricanes, to name a few.
“We have the unique opportunity to come into people’s homes when experiencing an unexpected disaster and restore peace of mind. I take that very seriously,” said Criscitello, who has plans to move the business to her hometown of Southington in the near future.Puerto Rican culture not forgotten
Despite moving from Puerto Rico at an early age, Criscitello said she still embraces her culture every day. She often brings food to the office, like arroz con gandules or pasteles, to feed her employees, not only bringing a bit of her culture to the workplace but also expressing her gratitude and admiration for her workers.
“I’m their boss, but I also love them. And I really try to not only feed them physically, but spiritually nurture them, and really respect them and where they are and give them opportunities to grow with me, because without them, I wouldn’t be where we are today,” Criscitello said. “I feel that it’s great that I have a great opportunity to be a good representative of where I come from and my culture.”
She and her husband have been married for almost 30 years. For 20 years of the couple’s marriage, Criscitello was home raising their six children and helping with their other business, FloorsNow! She said she didn’t want to miss out on her childrens’ upbringing.
“My primary goal, I think it’s the Latina in me, was wanting to be home and nurturing our family and creating those opportunities,” she said. “My mom was single and worked three jobs, so she missed a lot. And I said, ‘OK, what can I do a little differently to make those authentic connections and then keep this progression for the next generations?’”
A few years ago, the previous owner of ServiceMaster Apple Valley needed help to keep up with technological advancements, she said. Criscitello’s husband temporarily ran the business while the then-owner took a break.
Criscitello said in the meantime, she helped with administrative responsibilities in the office. About six months later, the owner decided to sell the business to the couple. Though her husband was apprehensive about taking over the business full-time, Criscitello convinced him to take the offer because she felt it was an excellent opportunity to take on a new, important responsibility.
“I’m at a stage now where my kids are older, and I’m now in my late 40s,” she said. “I’m thinking about retirement, weddings, college, all those things, and maybe this is a great opportunity for me to get back in the workplace and help establish our family and our goals or to reach those things that we want in the future. I love what we do. It’s hard work. It’s important work.”
Criscitello’s primary role at ServiceMaster Apple Valley is supervising and training her staff to ensure they have everything they need for their jobs. When she first came into the business, Criscitello wanted to learn everything there is to know about the company so she could relay the knowledge to her employees and properly guide them through challenges. Often, she joins her employees on trips to restore a damaged home or business.
“I think I’m a great cheerleader, being a mom of six kids, that’s been my primary role. So going into the chamber, coming into the workplace and becoming a business owner after so many years at home was at first very intimidating,” Criscitello said. “But I realized that we’re just all trying to do our best, and then I can use those gifts of encouragement and support in the workplace.”Reaching out to the community
In addition to being a leader in the office, Criscitello is also a leader in the community. She is an active member of the Southington Chamber of Commerce, where she contributes time to making sure the community is aware of the different networking events and how they will be able to positively impact and grow their business, resulting in more jobs for the community. She received the 2023 Southington Chamber Member of the Year award.
“If (business owners) look at the opportunities to invest in their community, it will always reflect positively on them,” Criscitello said. “Therefore, they can influence other people’s business challenges or even their endeavors. You will have wisdom to share and that’s awesome. If you have a blessing, why keep it in your pockets? It’s not for you. You’re blessed to be a blessing.”
Criscitello said it’s essential for her to be an active member of the community and support other businesses because she wants to be a role model in the same way she was for her children, who span from 16 to 26 years old, for many years.
“It’s not just about businesses. It’s not about making money. It’s about positively influencing those around you,” Criscitello said. “When people hear the name Isa Criscitello, I want them to know that I will be that encouragement or that positive influence. I will make sure that I’m there to love on them and tell them that if I could do it, you could do it.”
In addition to ServiceMaster Apple Valley, Criscitello and her husband own and operate two other businesses, FloorsNow! on 516 Berlin Turnpike in Newington and All Fulfillment Direct, at 128 Old Brickyard Lane in Berlin. FloorsNow! has been in business for over 30 years and provides flooring materials such as tile and laminate for residential and commercial and offers installation services. All Fulfillment Direct is a warehouse that includes mail and shipping services.
“(All Fulfillment Direct) is more like an Amazon. But I like to say it’s Amazon with a heart,” said Kathy Kiley, the business development manager at ServiceMaster Apple Valley. “It is not a crazy zoo; it has the same type of family support from ServiceMaster Apple Valley.”
Criscitello said that she and her husband, who is Italian, value their bilingual workers and their contributions to each business. For example, a few weeks ago, AFD held its annual picnic for its employees. Many of the employees at AFD, who are mostly Latino, brought a meal to share. She said though this was a company picnic to celebrate them, they still came with gifts and food for the couple.
“They brought us gifts and thanked us so much for the opportunity. ‘I hope you can tell how much we love it here.’ It’s cool,’ ” Criscitello said. “I think being bilingual, I can understand and feel their heart, and then I can also communicate that to them … it’s a great feeling.”’She makes things fun’
Criscitello said her story proves that anyone’s dreams can change as we mature. For example, she wanted to be a nurse as a child. Though that didn’t work out for her professionally, she found success in motherhood and as a business owner.
“Our dreams change as we get older, at different stages in our life,” Criscitello said. “If you have a dream that doesn’t fit in your box today, don’t just forget about it. Put it in its proper place and when we have the opportunity, don’t be afraid to be humble and to find a mentor that can help you bring that to reality and do that. … I cannot just be ‘Dr. Mom’ but I can also be a business owner that is impacting her community and her family for generations to come.”
Sandra Bucci, from Bogota, Colombia, has lived in the United States for 20 years. She’s a respiratory therapist, a wife and a mom of three children. She’s known Criscitello since 2014, and they’ve become close friends. Their kids used to attend the same school, and their daughters shared a classroom.
She said Criscitello is funny, loyal and comforting to talk to. In addition, she said she’s hard-working, a go-getter and doesn’t take life too seriously. “She makes things fun,” Bucci said.
She said Criscitello is a very nurturing and welcoming person. For example, Criscitello welcomed exchange students from China into her home in the past.
“No matter how difficult the days are sometimes, she always manages to smile; she has this amazing and contagious smile. She always shows that beautiful smile … it just comes out of nowhere like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be OK.’ You can tell just by looking at her,” Bucci said.