Town Honors Outstanding Residents at 20th Annual ‘Make a Difference’ Awards Ceremony

Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony J. Santino and the town board recognized 12 extraordinary community members for contributions to their local neighborhoods at the 20th 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 Santino. “Their selfless acts of volunteerism and leadership are symbols of the heart and soul of Hempstead Town. These heroes make our township a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

The honorees have all dedicated themselves to enriching the lives of others. Hundreds of nominations were received for the prestigious award. Santino noted that each of the honorees had an inspiring story of courage, volunteerism and philanthropy.

The following honorees were recognized at the May 24th ceremony:

An admired community leader and respected public figure, Andrew Healy of Rockville Centre has become the face of numerous philanthropic and fraternal causes. He is also one of the most celebrated and accomplished lifeguard officials in the entire country. Andrew has impacted a myriad of groups and causes, but his signature contributions have been clearly seen with Mercy Medical Center, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Rockville Centre Fire Department, the Village’s St. Patrick’s Parade, the United States Lifesaving Association, and the Knights of Columbus. Mr. Healey is also a tireless fundraiser who has raised millions of dollars in support of medical advances, charitable causes, military monuments, veteran’s projects, as well as state-of-the-art firematic and lifesaving equipment. Andy has also become a revered figure in the Irish-American community and he shares the spirit and pride of his ancestry with numerous organizations and events, including the Hibernians and Rockville Centre St. Patrick’s Parade.

Executive Director Sister Aimee Koonmen has served Bethany House, now located in Baldwin, for the past 38 years. In 1978, Sister Aimee and two fellow Dominican Sisters of Amityville rented a small house in Roosevelt to provide a safe place for women and their children in need. But as demand increased, so too did the resources provided by Bethany House. Today, this wonderful organization can provide shelter for up to 85 people per night. In addition, 94 percent of women who stayed at Bethany House for more than two weeks have successfully found future housing. Nearly 40 years after starting the Bethany House, Sister Aimee still puts her heart and soul into her work, even living at one of the residences to cover night shifts. For her dedication, Sister Aimee has received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Community Service, the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, The Woman of the Year Award and many others.

Sister Evelyn Lamoureux of Oceanside is a tireless crusader on behalf of society’s struggling and vulnerable populations. The good Sister has always poured heart and soul into the campaigns for social justice and human rights for all. Sister Evelyn is the Human Services Coordinator at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Elmont. Among a myriad of responsibilities, she helps needy members of the community obtain food, financial assistance, furniture and other vital necessities of life. Sister Evelyn is an invaluable contributor to many community groups and administrative boards. The Sister is particularly active with area youth groups where she helps with counseling, educational and recreational programs, along with health care, substance abuse and vocational training. The Sister has always been inspired, not intimidated by challenge. She has shown herself to be a warm-hearted agent of change who is helping to shape our future for the better.

Malverne resident Brian Lewis, not only participates in the Our Lady of Lourdes food pantry drive, he has instilled the spirit of volunteerism in the next generation and includes his five children in the drive as well. They notify the community of the food drive by distributing fliers and then drive from door to door to collect the food. This year the Lewis family collected 1,000 pounds of food for the hungry in their community! Brian is a dedicated volunteer in many other aspects of the community as well. He helps keep his neighbors safe, as deputy inspector of the Malverne Police Reserve. He also serves as the Secretary of the Nassau Land Trust, a non-profit organization that operates Crossroads Farm. Brian also does fundraising for the farm. This organization preserves the agricultural culture that is at the “root” of Long Island’s heritage.

As one of our township’s most respected religious leaders Rabbi Yossi Lieberman is dedicated to the Chabad of West Hempstead’s mission of love for it’s fellow man demonstrated through programs of great religious, social and educational value. The Rabbi believes deeply in the respectful and dignified treatment of all people, regardless of religious persuasion. Along with the Chabad, Rabbi Lieberman endeavors to assist, educate and encourage all segments of the community. Rabbi Lieberman has been particularly loving and caring to people with special needs. Through the “Friendship Circle” at the Chabad Center the Rabbi has fostered a greater awareness and understanding for physically and emotionally challenged residents.

Serving the Roosevelt community for twenty years, Mary Market, of Uniondale has been active at the Naomi Temple A.M.E. Zion Church. The mother of three children, Mary brings love and caring through nutrition to children as the Food Service Manager at the Uniondale School District. Mary has used her expertise in the food service industry to create a food pantry for economically disadvantaged families. The pantry, located at the Naomi Temple, is a labor of love for Mary. She stocks and organizes food supplies for over 70 families each week, and ensures that groceries reach those who are in need. Mary has also served as the Director of the Naomi Temple Soup Kitchen for seven years. Each Saturday, Mary prepares and serves a meal to an average of fifty adults and ten children. Since 1998, Mary has volunteered for the Naomi Temple’s Summer Day Camp Enrichment Program, which operates in July and August. As the camp’s director, she plans field trips and supervises daily activities for 60 children between the ages of 5 and 12.

Joseph Pelletiere of Floral Park’s  life mission has been to help others and he has been a particular friend to the needy and disadvantaged members of society. Joe is a patriotic veteran of the United States Air Force and a former employee of distinction with National Grid. Actively involved in youth athletics for many years, Joe has been a coach, mentor, board member and huge fan, always making time to help youngsters enjoy the games they love.  Among a remarkable resume of volunteer activities, Joe has been a particularly dynamic contributor to the Floral Park Knights of Columbus and the Hance Family Foundation. With the Knights of Columbus, Joe has greatly influenced the Annual Blood Drive, community picnics, fund-raising projects and church functions.  With the Hance Foundation Joe has offered heart and soul to preserve the legacy of the beloved Hance sisters.  His work on the Toy Drive, the “Beautiful Me” Program and Family Day have contributed mightily, to the success of these events. 

Maureen Rattray-Reid of Uniondale has a long history of volunteerism, including her tenure as a Girl Scout Leader. In Scouting Maureen served as a leader, a director of two camps and a certified leaders’ trainer.  Building upon her role in Scouting, Maureen worked hard to build a better education system for young people. Indeed, she served in almost every official office in Uniondale’s PTA system, eventually representing her community’s schools at the national level. Maureen was widely recognized, receiving wide acclaim as a PTA Council President.  She also chaired various committees for both the Uniondale and West Hempstead Boy Scouts and currently contributes regularly to the curriculum committee of Southside High School in Rockville Centre, where her grandson attends school.

A Carey High School senior, Nikki Taylor of Franklin Square does room “makeovers” for youngsters who are sick and spend almost all of their time in their rooms. Nikki has been volunteering with the non-profit organization, Special Spaces since she was just 15 years old and even donated most of the gifts she received for her Sweet Sixteen to fund decorating an entire room for one of these special children. In a similarly inspired spirit of creating more attractive surroundings for young people, Nikki donated Christmas and birthday gift money to fund a community enhancement project in Costa Rica. Nikki travelled to Costa Rica when she was in the ninth grade, painting and cleaning school rooms for students. One of the children who was part of the Special Spaces program introduced Nikki to the Respite Hour for sick and disabled children at St. Anne’s Church in Garden City. Nikki began volunteering at the church and now runs the program’s music room.

For Debora Thivierge of Levittown, Autism awareness is observed nearly every minute, hour, day, week and month of the year. Debora’s passion for serving children and families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder is reflected in her years as Executive Director and Founder of The ELIJA School. A mother of a 17-year-old son with Autism, Debora founded the ELIJA Foundation and School to provide the community with educational opportunities focused on children with Autism, while empowering families with vital information and programs. Without much time to spare, Debora lends her support and wealth of knowledge as a volunteer for Nassau County’s Department of Health Early Intervention Coordinating Council, the Nassau County Autism Coalition and an array of Autism support groups and organizations. An advocate who fights for children, adults and their families, day or night, Debora’s dedication highlights the everyday reality faced by those impacted by Autism behind the scenes and not in the headlines or during  “Awareness Month.”

Lance Wolf of Levittown, manager of Miller’s Ale House, spearheads programs that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for several causes, including a Motorcycle Run for Toys for Tots, the Cycle for Survival for cancer research, a work study program for the ELIJA School for Autism, support for veterans and more. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, he coordinated an effort to provide meals to families in need. Lance saves a special place in his heart for children, bringing countless smiles to their faces as Santa Claus at the Nassau University Medical Center’s Pediatric Department. The safety of children is also his priority, as Lance organizes a monthly visit from the county’s Kidpix program, providing IDs for children and their families.      

Amy Zaslansky of Bellmore may seem like your average resident – a dedicated mother of three and active volunteer in her children’s schools. But Amy is proof that you can never simply judge a book by its cover. Recognizing that many local students did not have books at home or the means to buy them, Amy founded the Book Fairies, a non-profit organization that collects reading material from across New York State and provides them to libraries, schools, community organizations, homeless shelters, social programs, children’s hospitals and battered women’s shelters. The Book Fairies’ warehouse provides a comfortable environment for people with special needs to enjoy reading, learn job skills and earn experience for resumes. The group also enlists the help of many volunteers with special needs to collect, organize and distribute books across the state. Since its founding in 2012, Amy and the Book Fairies have donated more than 250,000 books across New York State.

“This award ceremony recognizes those who never seek recognition,” concluded Santino. “They are the everyday heroes in our neighborhoods who make a difference each and every day.”