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Town Honors Nine Extraordinary Women at Annual Pathfinder Awards Ceremony

Parent Category: Town Hall
Category: Press Releases

Supervisor Anthony J. Santino and members of the Hempstead Town Board honored nine women who live or work in the Town of Hempstead for their outstanding contributions to the community at the town’s annual Pathfinder Awards ceremony on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Hempstead Town’s Annual Pathfinder Awards Ceremony celebrates the victories and profound contributions of women in a variety of roles.

“The town’s Pathfinder Committee learned of so many incredible achievements and accomplishments as they sifted through the award nominations,” noted Supervisor Santino.These are women who have achieved great successes; however, their role in inspiring other women and future generations is what truly distinguishes them as Pathfinders.”

Dr. Christine Riordan, president of Adelphi University, served as the keynote speaker at this year’s ceremony. Hempstead Town is fortunate to be home to several major educational facilities, including Adelphi. Dr. Riordan has more than 20 years of successful experience providing strategic, operational, marketing and fiscal leadership in a variety of industries. She is considered an international expert in leadership development, team performance and diversity management. A frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, Forbes and other respected chronicles, Dr. Riordan has addressed relevant topics such as balancing life and work and workplace advice for young women.


Arts & Entertainment:An NYU graduate with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, Nicole Dalto, of Malverne has put her degree to good use by performing, teaching and creating music every chance she gets. She teaches voice to 6th through 12th graders at the Malverne School of Music, preparing them for NYSMA (New York State Music Association), college auditions and school plays. During the summer, Nicole also runs a musical theatre program for the students. Nicole loves sharing her joy of singing and performing with others. She feels honored and privileged to teach artistic expression to children and help them hone their talent. Nicole takes distinct pride in being invited to sing at veteran events, programs honoring local police officers and the inaugurations of elected officials. In addition, she sings at many concerts and benefits in Manhattan. Nicole is also an actor and a proud member of Actor’s Equity. She was in the original casts of Next Thing You Know, The Hole, and Shooting Star. And while it may seem that her stage performances would fill her calendar, Nicole is also a dedicated member of the Hempstead Town Attorney’s office.

Business:Jessenia Mendez-Velazquezis founder and CEO of Jessie’s CleanSweep, Inc., a full-service janitorial company based in Baldwin. She overcame a financially difficult and stressful childhood, having been raised by her mother after her father was murdered when she was just four years old. At age 16 Jessie gave birth to her son and did not return to school. She tried to support herself and her baby by making Easter baskets and dressing up as a bunny and taking photos with community children for $5. As this was not enough to make ends meet, Jessie began cleaning homes, at which she excelled. Jessie’s CleanSweep was launched and within a few months her business expanded to the point that friends and family were recruited to handle the additional workload. Undeterred by those who said she wasn’t capable of owning a business because she was “an uneducated Latino woman,” Jessie continued to pursue her dreams. After developing a business plan, she was awarded a grant that allowed the business to be incorporated. Recent certification as a Small Minority Woman Owned Business has now enabled Jessenia to receive a $2.2 million dollar federal contract and hire four new employees who are U.S. military veterans. Jessenia is an active member of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, the Baldwin Civic Association, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is a volunteer firefighter in the Baldwin Fire Department.

Community Affairs:Employed by the Bank of America for nearly 40 years, Judith Puma of Lynbrook is currently manager of their Malverne Branch.  As a busy professional, this wife and mother of two still finds time to contribute to the community through her work with the Malverne Rotary Club and the Malverne Merchants and Professional Association. Judith has organized the Malverne Rotary’s annual golf outing for the past ten years, raising thousands of dollars for charitable programs. The funds have allowed the club to sponsor children from foreign countries afflicted with serious heart ailments to come to the United States to receive medical treatment. Judith will take over as President of the Rotary Club later this year. Families who are unable to afford school supplies count on the Rotary to provide backpacks filled with materials for a successful school year. The Malverne Senior Citizens Club enjoys a catered meal each month courtesy of the Rotary Club. Students at Malverne High School benefit from an organic farming experience through a Rotary-sponsored garden on school grounds. The club also provides graduating seniors with scholarship opportunities. In addition to her volunteer work with the Rotary Club, Judi is a trustee with the Malverne Merchants and Professional Association, where she tirelessly strives to foster trade and good will in the business community.

Education:As the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Sewanhaka Central High School District, Dr. Cheryl Champ is a champion in her field who has led several schools in her district to being identified as among the top high schools in the country by US News and World Reports. She has strengthened the schools’ leaders with the resources they need to support student achievement and works tirelessly with the district’s community to highlight the curricula, programs and achievements of students. Due to her efforts, student proficiency and mastery rates continue to rise above the state average and graduation rates, Regents exam and AP exam scores continue to remain strong.

Health Services:Though she is a nurse in the Emergency Department at South Nassau Communities Hospital, Grace Moran’s mission to help and care for others in need extends beyond the hospital’s medical hub in Oceanside. Her reach goes as far as Haiti and across the Atlantic Ocean in England. Her commitment to helping began as a student at Kellenberg Memorial High School. Grace visited Mexico on a mission trip to translate English Catholic teachings into Spanish for local residents. As a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal Team to render aid and distribute food to Haiti in the wake of the massive earthquake in 2010 and to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Grace also traveled with the group to England to visit nursing home patients, as well as making journeys to Honduras and the Caribbean to assist the needy and care for the sick. Grace also raises funds and collects food and clothing for the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, which ministers help to the poor and homeless in New York City. In addition, she serves as a camp nurse each year at the Boy Scouts of America’s New York City Jamboree, and is involved in a variety of faith-based initiatives. Grace coordinated the successful “Give Kids a Smile” Program, providing dental screenings and treatment to underserved children in Uniondale, which attracted 1,700 youngsters last spring.

High School Senior:Excelling in the classroom as salutatorian at Malverne High School is just one important chapter of the amazing story of Ashley Akaeze’s young life as she prepares for her college years and beyond. Her drive for success and passion to help her community is uniquely impressive, especially in light of the fact that this Pathfinder is only 17 years old, and is juggling the many and varied demands of a college-bound senior. Ashley is a member of the GIRLS of Long Island Program. At GIRLS, which stands for Growing Into Responsible Leaders, she advocates for social change and awareness for women’s issues on Long Island. In addition to advancing women’s rights, Ashley is committed to helping her fellow students as a peer tutor and mentor at Malverne High School.  Ashley is also dedicated to the National Honor Society, the Science Research Club, the Model UN Team, the Newspaper Club and the Book Club, among an array of other student organizations. What’s more, she’s earned accolades for her writing abilities and vocal talents and Ashley holds many leadership positions in school and community organizations.

Humanitarian:Through her 35 years of leadership with Hempstead’s EAC Network, thousands of at-risk children, seniors, families, unemployed, and people with mental health and substance abuse problems have been saved by Baldwin resident Rebecca Bell. The EAC has more than 70 human service programs that assist more than 68,500 people across Long Island. As the organization’s former Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Rebecca was directly responsible for the daily operations of those programs, each of them dedicated to helping residents in need. Despite retiring last month, Rebecca remains involved with the EAC Network as a consultant. Rebecca’s commitment to helping others began at a young age. In 1976, she became a foster parent for at-risk youth through a program developed at the University of Massachusetts. She later served as the program’s supervisor until starting at EAC just three years later. Over the years, she has been recognized by the Coalition on Child Abuse and Neglect, named Newsday’s “Everyday Hero” and featured as one of LI Business News’ Top 50 Most Influential Women in Business.

Volunteer:In 1997, Mary Ramo, who was born and raised in Merrick, spearheaded efforts to upgrade Fraser Park. Bringing the community together for the important quality-of-life project, Mary enlisted the help of former Hempstead Town Supervisor Rich Guardino and Councilman Gary Hudes, the Merrick Kiwanis, LIPA and fellow residents. Backed by $100,000 from the Town of Hempstead, Fraser Park was revitalized into the beautiful community resource we enjoy today. Over the years, Mary has volunteered her time and secured grant funding for the Meadowbrook Road Street Sign Project, Old Mill Road School playground and video equipment, and local strip mall improvements. She also served as President of the North Merrick Community Association, a Girl Scout leader and executive member of the Bellmore-Merrick Parents for Change.

Angie Cullin Town of Hempstead Employee Award:For almost three decades, Barbara Simms of Freeport has been a spirited ambassador and respected representative for the Town of Hempstead Department of Parks and Recreation. Barbara has never lost her passion for the job or her purpose for serving town residents. Barbara is a woman of unmatched dedication and initiative. She has influenced parks programming at all age levels and she has been a true trailblazer in the arena of women’s athletics.  Unfazed by the responsibilities of leadership, Barbara has assumed command of the department’s recreational and cultural activities. Never constrained by clock or convenience, Barbara is on call 24/7 and as a hands-on administrator she prides herself in being right in the middle of all operations and events.   Not shy with a whistle or bullhorn, Barbara is known for her “take charge personality.” In her rare, yet precious spare time, Barbara has earned acclaim as a softball and soccer administrator and a member of the Long Island Softball Hall of Fame.


            “Our honorees have not only realized great achievements, they are creating a vision that is inspiring future generations of women,” concluded Santino. “Each of these Pathfinders help make our township a better place in which to live and work.”
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