Town Honors 11 Extraordinary Women at Annual Pathfinder Awards Ceremony

Supervisor Anthony J. Santino and members of the Hempstead Town Board honored 11 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 7, 2017. Hempstead Town’s Annual Pathfinder Awards Ceremony celebrates the victories and profound contributions of women in a variety of roles.

“Whether we look at our honorees’ efforts to feed the hungry, study cures for cancer, inspire through education or create jobs as an employer, the women whom we honor at this ceremony are developing opportunities for future pathfinders,” noted Supervisor Santino.

Laura Maier, owner of the three Dairy Queens on Long Island, served as the keynote speaker for the event. Maier started out in healthcare, a field in which she worked for more than a dozen years, but she noticed the absence of Dairy Queens in this area. It became her goal to fill that void, and in 2013 she opened Long Island’s first Dairy Queen in Massapequa. It was so successful that she went on to open stores in Levittown and Huntington with a fourth Long Island location scheduled to open soon. Maier uses her business to help local organizations such as school groups, sports teams and charitable entities. In the last three years, Laura’s three stores have helped to raise $15,000 from Miracle Treat Day, where a portion of “Blizzard” sales go to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

The following are brief biographies of the honorees who were saluted at the Pathfinder ceremony:

 

Arts & Entertainment: In 2009 Marsha Cilento, of Oceanside joined the Senior Pops Orchestra of Long Island, playing violin with this multi-generational ensemble. Members of the orchestra, mostly seniors, perform numerous free concerts annually, bringing the joys of music to senior citizens as well as the community at large. Marsha became president of the Senior Pops in 2015, volunteering her time to do so. Among the free concerts offered to seniors during the year is a special concert for the Town of Hempstead’s seniors at the Senior Summer Beach Program. With a full orchestra, seniors are treated to the sounds of patriotic music. The ensemble also performs an inter-generational concert with one of the local high school orchestras each year, providing young musicians with a wonderful learning experience. As much as Marsha is passionate about using music to enrich the lives of senior citizens, Ms. Cilento also gives back to our nation’s service members who have returned from deployment wounded. In 2014 Marsha partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, organizing a benefit concert which raised over $9,000 for wounded veterans. Marsha is planning to hold a “Music for Healing” benefit concert later this year and hopes to raise another $10,000 to fund holistic programs offered by the Wounded Warrior Project.

 

Business: In Uniondale, Marie Catanese is truly in the business of “getting things done” for her community. Since she first moved there in 1955, Marie has been in the business of helping others. She quickly became a member of the Uniondale Community Council and the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association, as well the local PTA and St. Martha’s Church. Marie served as a Girl Scout leader and counselor for the church’s summer camp, and also directed the Girl Scout Roundup Chorus. Marie also volunteered her time at Smith Street Elementary School, Turtle Hook Middle School and Uniondale High School. Marie led the community’s efforts to obtain a property that is now home to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Park. Marie helped found the Uniondale Neighbors in Total Effort, known as UNITE. She ensured that the former Goehner’s farm stand – a piece of the community since the late 1800s – was relocated, restored and preserved at Uniondale Park. Today, the farm stand is the centerpiece of the Uniondale Children’s Farm Museum.

Community Affairs:Born and raised in Levittown, Dr. Tonie McDonald has dedicated her life to educating the community’s young people. Her investment in America’s first suburb runs so deep that Tonie settled and raised her own family in Levittown. Immediately after receiving her Master’s degree in secondary education from Adelphi, Dr. McDonald began her career with the Levittown School District. She began as a teacher, was on the PTSA and was a mentor to new teachers. She was honored by Division Avenue High School as Teacher of the Year and received the Honorary Life Award from the school’s PTSA. She was promoted to Social Studies Chair and director of pupil services before moving on to assistant business manager and assistant superintendent for business and finance. She continued to pursue her education at Hofstra, earning her doctorate. Shortly thereafter, Dr. McDonald was named Superintendent of Schools for the Levittown School District. She is also an active member of the Levittown Kiwanis Club and volunteers with the Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity. In addition, she takes the time to help mentor her former students who have expressed interest in pursuing a career in education.

Community Affairs:As a teacher, Rockville Centre’s Kathleen Baxley has worked with children for nearly 30 years which may have prepared her to be the administrator of three Facebook groups that boast more than 4,000 members. Facebook Moms groups have popped up all over in the last few years. They are often filled with many different opinions on the best dance studio, preschool or restaurant. They have become the “go-to” place for parents who are seeking “up-to-the-minute” information. While residents used to have to wait until the next news broadcast to learn why helicopters are circling the neighborhood, now all one has to do is log on to their local Facebook Moms Group and an answer can often be found in moments. These pages are also the place where neighbors post details about a fundraiser for a local family who lost everything in a fire or a notice of a missing child. Kathleen’s Rockville Centre Moms Group, RVC Moms Business Group and RVC Residents Supporting our Schools Group are pages where thousands of her friends and neighbors are able to turn for important information and assistance. Helping others is nothing new to Kathleen who has dedicated almost a decade to local PTAs and 12 years as a Girl Scout leader. RVC Breast Cancer Coalition, the No Place for Hate committee at Southside High School, RVC Sponsor of the Arts, St. Agnes Parish Gala committee and the RVC Education Foundation are just a sampling of the other organizations that have benefitted from Kathleen’s community dedication.

Education:As a career educator, one thing has been consistent throughout Kathleen Safrey’s career- never lose sight of what is most important – the children. In 1994, a young mother walked through the doors of the Alden Terrace Elementary School in Elmont. She was experienced, working as a substitute teacher, eighth-grade teacher and youth program advisor before accepting her new position at the school, teaching the third and fourth grades. A St. John’s University Alumni, Kathleen received her Master’s in Elementary Education from Queens College in 1980. After graduating, Kathleen immediately became involved in the educational realm, teaching at St. Ignatius Loyola in Hicksville and then working her way through East Meadow until she found her home in Elmont. During her tenure in Elmont, Kathleen served as a Trustee and Vice President for the Island Trees Board of Education in Levittown. She continued to serve on the board, enjoying a change of pace from teaching and went on to serve as President. After teaching in Elmont for six years, Kathleen, beloved by her students and colleagues alike, shifted to the administrative side of education. She started out as Assistant to the Principal and ultimately achieved the position of Director of Curriculum and Instruction, where her tenacious nature and strong sense of focus was critical in the expansion of enrichment programs. These programs have provided students with a multitude of learning experiences that introduce them to exciting possibilities and paths to success. Kathleen built a solid foundation for students to meet and exceed the highest learning standards.

Health Services: As the Family and Child Life Specialist at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, it is Kerri Wagner’s job to ensure that children and their parents are cared for, comfortable, and that they understand the medical options they may have. According to a colleague who nominated her for the Pathfinder Award, “It is Kerri’s warm smile, honest nature, communication skills and a calm and reassuring demeanor that helps families through very difficult times.” Kerri also plays an important role at the South Nassau-affiliated SIBSPlace in Hewlett, which provides assistance to children who have a sibling, parent or other family member that is sick or hurt. In addition to helping young children understand the difficult situation, Kerri works to foster a family environment in which kids can feel loved and cared for while also staying active, learning new things and even celebrating birthdays and holidays.

High School Senior: Excelling in the classroom at Oceanside High School is just one important chapter of Sarah Romanelli’s life as she prepares for her college years and beyond. This AP Scholar and Honor Roll student possesses a drive for success and a passion to help her community while she juggles the many and varied demands of a college-bound senior. Sarah interned for the past two summers at Columbia University’s Center for Cancer Genetics, where she studied a form of cancer found mostly in pediatric patients. Her research garnered her several prestigious awards and distinctions, including being named a 2016 Siemens Semifinalist. Sarah serves as a choreographer of numerous shows, including one that provided special needs children performance opportunities and another to benefit the American Cancer Society.  As founder and club president of Music Inspires, Sarah directs the summer revue to perform at the Ronald McDonald House, Oceanside’s elementary schools and local senior centers to raise money to benefit the Ronald McDonald House.  Sarah is a proud Girl Scout, earning her Bronze, Silver and Gold awards and is an Assistant Troop Leader as well.

High School Senior: Hempstead High School Senior Alejandra Llican is a natural born leader. From her long list of extracurricular activities to her even longer list of volunteer services, Alejandra’s maturity, creativity and overall eclectic pursuit of interests are unparalleled. With a passion for art and writing, Alejandra’s take charge attitude has led her to become the lead artist for the Hempstead High School 2017 Mural as well as the lead writer for the high school student newsletter. As a member of both the Art and Journalism Club, Alejandra took charge and founded a club of her own. She established the Hempstead’s Undocumented Scholars Program, a club for students who dream about college but are unsure of how to get there. The members support each other through peer counseling and the tight-knit networking of college research and scholarships. Alejandra is the first generation college bound student in her family. Alejandra also volunteers in a variety of activities and programs. She volunteers with the Hempstead Public Library’s Children’s Reading Program, at the Red Cross Annual Blood Drive, Harbor Child Care Summer Camp and the St. Ladislaus Bake Sale. And rounding out her activities, Alejandra has a black belt in Taekwondo as well.

Humanitarian: From her work as a full-time teacher at St. Francis Preparatory School to her community involvement as Youth Board Coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Linda Baldacchino of Malverne is making a difference for both young students and families in need. Linda helps economically disadvantaged persons by creating programs such as the Souper Scavenger Hunt, where by teams throughout the community collect donations for her church food pantry. The event collects between two and four tons of food per year. Linda designed “meal trains” for elderly and ill community members. The initiative enlists volunteers who cook and deliver meals to people who are unable to cook meals for themselves. During the holiday season, Linda also coordinates Christmas decorations and gift collections for Glory House, a halfway house for women. Linda coordinates a “Midnight Run” program which distributes food, clothing and personal care items to the homeless in New York City.

Volunteer: In 2010, Marlene Soling of Merrick suffered the sad losses of her husband, Frank and son, Mark, within a span of only a few weeks. Rather than allowing her grief to consume her, Marlene, who is well into her eighties, has become a dedicated volunteer at Birch Elementary School in Merrick. Marlene demonstrates compassion, reading to children with special needs with a compelling delivery and humor to help them smile and brighten their days. Marlene is a rock star “Grandma,” at Birch Elementary School, and is regularly praised by teachers, faculty and parents. While grieving the loss of a spouse and a child, “Grandma” Marlene mends her broken heart through the “grandchildren” she interacts with at Birch Elementary School. Marlene’s impact helps these youngsters thrive and grow up as our future leaders in society.

Angie Cullin Town of Hempstead Employee Award: From her career roots as a seasonal lifeguard at Hempstead Town beaches, to her invaluable work in the Highway Department, Sharon Sweeny of Westbury has proven time and time again her unwavering dedication to “everything Hempstead Town.” Colleagues often remark that Sharon has made her mark, “saving dimes and saving lives” through her work with the March of Dimes’ March for Babies. As a team leader for the March of Dimes’ March for Babies, American Heart Association’s Wear Red Day and the United Way, Sharon has forged strong relationships with all employees throughout the Town of Hempstead. She makes her rounds to each department, distributing flyers, programs and cute little angel forms that are impossible to say no to. One of Sharon’s most well-known charitable endeavors has been her work on the annual Angel Tree Toy Drive. Every year, Sharon works in tandem with the Salvation Army in the Village of Hempstead to put together Hempstead Town’s largest charity event. The drive invites all Town of Hempstead Employees to bring in an new, unwrapped toy to donate to the Salvation Army. In turn, the gifts are distributed to families in need of a little holiday magic. Sharon involved herself with the Angel Tree Toy Drive in 2001 and ultimately began running the entire program in 2014. Whether she’s in all red, raising awareness for women’s heart health or spreading holiday cheer through the “Angel Tree” drive, Sharon Sweeny has epitomized the very best in Hempstead Town employees for over 16 years, and that’s not counting the summers at the beach. The helpful voice on the other side of the phone, the friendly face handing out flyers and the always eager volunteer are just three characteristics that are the tip of the iceberg for this model employee.

 

            “Our honorees have not only realized great achievements, they are creating a vision that is inspiring future generations of women,” concluded Santino. “And, while women have made great strides in achieving parity in many fields, all people who embrace fairness and justice know that we have more work to do.”