Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and the town board recognized 12 extraordinary community members for contributions to their local neighborhoods at the 19th Annual Make A Difference Awards ceremony.
“Every year we gather to honor the unsung heroes who strive to improve their communities and help their fellow citizens,” said Murray. “You will not find these people in the tabloids or on television. In fact, these honorees could be one of your neighbors, co-workers, or even a child who is helping to feed the hungry.”
The honorees have all dedicated themselves to enriching the lives of others. Hundreds of nominations were received for the prestigious award. Murray noted that each of the honorees had an inspiring story of courage, volunteerism and philanthropy.
The following honorees were recognized at the May 19th ceremony:
Joe Baker of Merrick is “making a difference” in the communities of Bellmore and Merrick through his volunteer efforts in organizations including the South Merrick Community Civic Association, the Historical Society of the Merricks and the Bellmore-Merrick Community Reconstruction Committee of New York Rising. He founded the South Merrick Community Civic Association in 2006, and is currently serving as its president. Joe is the driving force that keeps the organization going, and is involved in everything, from planting flowers to reporting potholes, to providing the community with a forum to discuss important issues. His commitment to community has served as an inspiration and has led to the formation of the North Merrick and South Bellmore Civic Associations. In 2013 Joe Baker was appointed co-chair of the 13-member Bellmore-Merrick Community Reconstruction Committee of the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program. In this capacity, he has provided effective leadership in recovery efforts and projects to improve areas that were decimated by Superstorm Sandy. In addition, Joe has been a trustee of the Historical Society of the Merricks since 2009.
Levittown resident Mildred Bowman, who is 91 years young, is well-known to teachers, administrators and students at the East Broadway Elementary School in Seaford. For more than 43 years, Millie has worked as a lunchroom and playground monitor always greeting students and faculty with a smile and cheerful greeting. While Millie is known for her upbeat spirit, she runs a tight ship, and makes sure that no student feels left out at lunch or recess. She easily diffuses confrontations, watches out for instances of bullying, and intervenes to assist students who are experiencing difficulties. Millie has also been active in the American Legion for over 40 years, serving on the Board of Directors and as Past President of the Woman’s Auxiliary. Additionally, Millie was a dedicated volunteer at Nassau University Medical Center..
Thomas Cesiro III of Oceanside makes “making a difference” look simple. It all began in high school, when he enrolled as a junior member of the Oceanside Fire Department and served as treasurer of his high school’s Key Club. Now with 28 years of service under his belt, Tom rose through the ranks of the fire department, serving as lieutenant and captain. Tom is also an Emergency Medical Technician, certified in CPR and First Aid, and is chief commanding officer of Oceanside EMS Corps. In addition, Tom followed in his father’s footsteps as an officer of the Oceanside-Island Park Rotary Club. He later joined the Oceanside Kiwanis Club, where he is now the president. Under his leadership, the Oceanside Club has earned Platinum status on the district level by recruiting the most new members. He also works with schools and students in the local K-Kids and Key Clubs. Tom has found the time work with the Oceanside School District and the Robbie Levine Foundation to promote the importance of training people in CPR and AED. In addition, Tom has served as vice president of Oceanside Community Service, organizing holiday food drives, and volunteering for the St. Anthony’s Church feast.
Ralph Esposito, of Floral Park, has earned the respect and admiration of his neighbors and fellow residents as he selflessly engages in programs and causes to benefit others. He remains visible and active in numerous projects large and small. He is a talented and tireless champion of all that is good and worthwhile about his local community. Ralph is a prominent member of American Legion Post #1033 and a decorated volunteer with the Elmont Fire Department. A proud and patriotic American, Ralph is also active in the field of Veteran’s Affairs. A man of deep faith, Ralph is devoted to St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Elmont. He is a spirited supporter of the Parish Outreach program and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He is a revered member of the Parish Holy Name Society, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and former Chairperson of the Parish Feast Committee.
Nine-year-old Emily Kathleen Hall of Valley Stream, has been a living example of how a person, regardless of age, can truly “Make a Difference.” For the past three years, Emily has spent Halloween collecting “Cans, not Candy.” In lieu of filling her goody bag with treats for herself, this selfless young lady has collected food that she donates to a local food pantry. She has also served dinner to families in need for Thanksgiving. Emily brings joy to others with her performing talents as well. For the last two years, Emily sang and performed in a play, along with her friends, at a nearby senior citizens home. At the tender age of five, she sang and recited a quote to celebrate Harmony Week at the United Nations in the General Assembly. And, this year Emily performed a tap dance solo for a Black History Celebration honoring young students who were awarded college scholarships. A master fundraiser, Emily has earned accolades for the last three years for the money she has raised for her school. Just this year, Emily raised an impressive $1,000 in her school gift wrap sale. Emily has done all this while maintaining top grades.
Describing Chris Horvath, of Harbor Isle, nominator Sean Schueler noted, “Since Superstorm Sandy, Harbor Isle has solidified into a cohesive caring community, a true neighborhood in every sense of the word, and at the epicenter of this community stands one man, Chris Horvath.” A master builder with a creative genius, he spearheaded many local projects to improve Harbor Isle. He formed a Harbor Isle Committee and developed a Facebook page “Harbor Isle Residents NY,” to rally residents. Chris has greatly impacted the look and feel of the entire community post Sandy. He planted palm trees around town and donated Adirondack chairs for residents to enjoy. He orchestrated the first Harbor Isle Beach Festival, which fueled community spirit and civic pride. Most importantly, he brought people together and encouraged them to care about each other. He continues to provide decorations and special attractions for each major holiday.
Shirley Johnson of Hempstead founded the “Feed the Hungry Campaign,” a not-for-profit charity that provides hot meals, clothing, coats and more for the people in need. She hosts several events per year in the Hempstead community, including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and an annual picnic in September at Kennedy Park. Shirley’s efforts and those of her dedicated volunteers have helped countless people across Nassau County, but Shirley’s mission isn’t completed yet. It is still her dream to purchase a building to provide housing for the homeless and offer clothing, food, career training, counseling and spiritual guidance to the Hempstead community. Shirley Johnson is truly “taking a bite” out of hunger in our community, and providing important resources to people in need.
For more than 20 years, Alan Katz of East Meadow has been introducing young minds to the world of music as a music teacher for the Lawrence School District. He has been “instrumental” in working with special needs students and starting a percussion group. Alan has opened the doors to a whole new world for these students, writing music for them to perform and teaching them to perform in perfect rhythm. His students’ superb performances have led to a trip to Disney World’s Epcot where the young musicians amazed the audience. They have also performed at the Rosemary Kennedy High School where they were the only school district to be represented. Other districts in Nassau County are now considering emulating the musical group in their own district. Not only are the students performing brilliantly, but their self-esteem has been shining brightly. They now make eye contact with other people and have become noticed by their peers in school, not because of their challenges, but because of their musical gifts.
Jill Levine of Merrick was devastated when, a decade ago, her nine-year-old son Robbie collapsed from a cardiac episode during a Little League practice. Efforts to revive Robbie were unsuccessful, including his father’s efforts at CPR. Grief stricken and numb, parents Craig and Jill Levine, were left to cope with the questions of why and how this happened. Through their sorrow, a focus was sharpened on how this tragedy could have been prevented. Inspired by the love of their son and the determination to perpetuate his memory, Jill created “Forever Nine” the Robbie Levine Foundation to promote the importance of automatic external defibrillators at youth athletic events. Jill got off the bench and into the game to make sure no other family, friends or teammates had to endure the heartache the Levine’s did. To date, Jill has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the expenses associated with the promotion of heart health. “Forever 9” has successfully purchased AEDs for youth sports programs around the world and has provided thousands of people with free AED/CPR certification courses. Jill organizes the annual 15K Robbie’s Run in Merrick and a yearly Dealing With Hearts Gala, which together generate over $90,000 for heart-healthy pursuits. She has also partnered with government officials to develop legislation that promotes heart education in public schools and has pioneered CPR training programs in area school districts.
As vice president of the local historical society, Elizabeth McIsaac of Franklin Square is a leader among a group of volunteers whose mission is to preserve the past in their hometown. Elizabeth, who grew up and attended school in Franklin Square, has a special link to the community’s history and invests much time and energy in delivering historical knowledge to the community. She has her place in history as the first female to have her own delivery route of the local newspaper, the Franklin Square Bulletin. When the community recently collected one million pennies at local schools, Elizabeth took the time to count each and every one. Along with many years of organizing garage sales, fall festivals, dinners and building fund drives, Elizabeth’s extensive penny-counting symbolized her role as chief fundraiser. In fact, her fellow members say that without her, the Franklin Square Historical Museum would not have been built. Generations of youngsters will benefit from Elizabeth’s hard work and dedication in preserving Franklin Square’s history.
Working as a Nassau County Corrections Officer, it’s Victoria Moore of Uniondale’s job to make sure prisoners follow the rules and remain on site. But outside prison walls, Victoria volunteers her time and provides resources for social programs and activities for at-risk youth, helping to keep them out of jail altogether. Victoria serves as the Youth Director and Coordinator for “Youth for Tomorrow,” a volunteer organization that teaches leadership skills, teamwork and social interaction through sports and other group activities. She organizes the annual “Hempstead Community Day,” bringing neighbors together to foster a strong sense of community. In addition, Victoria prepares food and collects toys and clothing for an annual Christmas Community Dinner at the Percy Jackson Youth Center in Hempstead. She also volunteers her time with The Labor Council for Latino Americans, helping to raise money for college scholarships for students. Victoria also fundraises for the Widows’ and Children’s Fund, which provides financial assistance for fallen police officers. Through the work she does both inside and outside prison walls, Victoria is making our community an even safer place to live, work and raise a family.
If it were not for people like Westbury resident Harold Somer, many neighbors would not have been able to remain in our area in the wake of the housing crisis and Superstorm Sandy. As the economy faltered and the housing bubble burst, the number of foreclosures in our area rose dramatically. Trying to keep up with mortgage payments on their homes, put some residents in financial peril. As an attorney, Harold has volunteered his time to offer pro-bono services for those who thought the dream of home ownership was slipping from their grasp. When our south shore communities were devastated by Superstorm Sandy, few envisioned that years later some residents would still be struggling to return home. Unfortunately, many of those whose homes were impacted did not have the financial resources to rebuild. And, these same homeowners were lost as they tried to discern the services and assistance to which they were entitled. Harold was there in times of need for distraught homeowners, volunteering his time and his legal expertise to help people return home and keep their home. Harold brings compassion to the table every time he works with his pro bono clients. One clear demonstration of this compassion was evidenced when a client with cerebral palsy came to Harold for pro bono services. As a result of the client’s severe disability, he was unable to attain certain requirements dictated by the bankruptcy code. Harold used his expertise to have these requirements waived so the client’s debts could be discharged. While many attorneys do some pro bono work, Harold Somer has volunteered his time so generously he has become a mentor to others and earned accolades from many.
“Our award recipients have made lasting contributions to their communities,” concluded Murray. “It has been said that volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in. Our honorees have each cast a resounding vote for the betterment of our neighborhoods.”