Town Honors Outstanding Residents at 21st 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 21st Annual Make a Difference Awards ceremony.

“For more than two decades, our government has celebrated a group of altruistic and caring people who have made it their mission to help others and make a positive difference in Hempstead Town and the world beyond our township’s borders,” said Santino. “The people who we are recognizing are the heart and soul of our communities, and they demonstrate that the spirit of volunteerism and moral leadership is alive and well.”

The honorees have all dedicated themselves to enriching the lives of others. Santino noted that each of the honorees had an inspiring story of courage, volunteerism, and philanthropy.

The following honorees were recognized at the May 23rd ceremony:

After undergoing grueling medical treatment and enduring long hospital stays, Autum Blois of Oceanside drew strength from her own hardship and adversity, deciding to help others who are facing serious illnesses and long hospital visits. Autum discovered the joy and therapeutic benefits of art while she was hospitalized. Inspired by the experience, Autum endeavored to help others through a project called Autum’s Colors. Lifting the spirits of sick children, providing a diversion from pain and suffering while showing others the joy of art, Autum has delivered over 1,300 bags of art supplies to hospitals. She has demonstrated that art knows no boundaries, delivering her supplies to children as far as Ohio at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Demonstrating that her hardship prepared her to blossom from the ordinary to the extraordinary, Autum has expanded her good works. Working with her school in Oceanside, she has arranged for more donations of art supplies, organized fundraisers, and is donating to even larger networks such as the Ronald McDonald House.

J.J. Byrne has become a local hero in his hometown of Island Park because of his tireless efforts to raise money in the fight against Cystic Fibrosis. Since 2012, J.J. has raised over $31,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and has raised awareness for a disease with which he has suffered with since he was six years old. Every spring, for the past five years, J.J. has raised money and led “Team Shenanigans” for the Great Strides Walk at Jones Beach in support of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 2013, J.J. received “The Unsung Hero Award” from the Long Island Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for his continuing efforts in working to find a cure. J.J. has also won the “Irma Tice Award” from the Island Park Business and Residential Chamber.  Despite, J.J.’s challenges, he remains dedicated to his cause and his community, and his love for the Village of Island Park is evident through his work at Village Hall and Masone Beach. He hopes to go to law school and return to his hometown to become Island Park’s mayor. As a junior at Long Beach High School, J.J. is on the High Honor Roll for this semester and is a member of the Student Government.  He also serves on a teen advisory committee at Winthrop University Hospital and is training to be a lector at Sacred Heart Church.

Emma Carey of Wantagh has a beautiful voice and the passion for helping others. That pairing of genuine talent and a caring soul has inspired her to help hundreds of grateful individuals at nursing homes, rehab centers and hospital pediatric centers. The smiles on the children’s faces and the expression of gratitude from senior citizens are all that Emma needs in return for sharing her singing talent. The multi-talented Emma is also the current Miss Wantagh. In her role as Miss Wantagh, Emma has made breast cancer awareness and an anti-bullying program her main areas of focus. She has taken her positive message to Girl Scout troops throughout our township.

Dr. Isma Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Long Island has dedicated her life to preparing thousands of young women for excellence throughout their lives. A champion for women’s rights, she has dedicated over 30 years to empowering women by creating programs that enhance academics. Isma herself has set an example of how to achieve excellence. After 20 years of active involvement, she was elected as the first female president in the history of the Islamic Center of Long Island in 2015. Isma, simultaneously, has been actively presenting lectures to dispel myths about Islam, and Islamophobia. She has focused her presentations on building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of diverse backgrounds. Her goal is to move beyond just tolerance and achieve equality for all.

In a time when many women were relegated to support roles in the business world, Maureen Clancy of Garden City jumped out in front to become a licensed insurance broker and started an agency with her husband Cummin. Even as a busy working mother of five, Maureen Clancy wasn’t going to let anybody stop her. Indeed, she became the go-to person for many community organizations in and around Garden City. In fact, she was the first woman to serve as Village Trustee and later as Deputy Mayor. She was a Director and President of both the Garden City Chamber of Commerce and the Garden City Historical Society. She was also the first female member of the Mineola-Garden City Rotary Club, where she went on to become President. Maureen still serves on the board of Rota-care which provides free health care for Long Islanders in need. Maureen serves on the Board of Directors of New York Community Bank and Winthrop University Hospital and is on the Parish Council for St. Joseph’s Church. 

Dominick Curra of Atlantic Beach has made it his personal mission to help children in need throughout Nassau County. As President of the Peninsula Kiwanis, Dominick helped create the Aktion Club to benefit adults and children with special needs. Through this program – which partners with the Town of Hempstead’s Camp ANCHOR – club members engage in fundraising initiatives, recycling projects, landscape beautification work and other community missions. Dominick also serves as the Co-Coordinator of the Dream Christmas Program in Inwood, providing school supplies, food, and clothing to hundreds of local children. He also volunteers his time to transport families of sick children to the Ronald McDonald House. In addition, Dominick participates in collection drives for local food pantries. As a recipient of the prestigious Teddy Papatsos Award, Dominick Curra is known throughout the New York Kiwanis organization for his work in helping others.

Having served on the Alumni Board of his high school, Levittown resident Steven Dalton epitomizes exactly what it means to be a Chaminade Man: doing the right thing at the right time because it is the right thing to do, regardless of who is watching. For the past seven years, Steven has served as a member of the Levittown Public Library Board of Trustees, becoming the youngest elected person to ever hold the position. Steven now holds the office of Vice President and under his leadership, the Levittown Library has undergone its most expansive renovation in over 50 years. By partnering with local schools, Steven spearheaded the renovation to include an “innovation station,” giving students early exposure to the latest technology. Steven is currently in his first term serving as President of the Kiwanis Club of Levittown. As President, he has expanded membership, increased the number of children that the club sends to Kamp Kiwanis, held programs to curtail distracted driving and helped raise funds to combat pediatric Lyme disease. Before serving as President, Steven chaired the “Terrific Kids” program, where he reached out to local schools to recognize exceptional students throughout the academic year for their good deeds. Steven is also incredibly active in his parish, St. Bernard’s, where he volunteers as a lector and catechist, teaching sixth-graders about Catholicism and preparing them for the sacrament of Confirmation. Never one to remain idle, Steven is also a member of the Nassau County Bar Association, the Levittown Historical Society, the Levittown Community Council and the Knights of Columbus.

Anyone who has visited the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve in Merrick is greeted by the “Merrie Merrick” statue, a symbol of brotherhood and friendship honoring Merrick’s first residents- the peaceful and ‘merry’ Meroke Indians. The idea for the “Merrie Merrick” statue was conceived by Helen Dickinson, a Merrick resident and member of the Historical Society of the Merricks, during the observance of Merrick’s bicentennial in 1993. The statue, which was designed and created by local artist/sculptor Bob Cariola, was first dedicated at the Merrick Commons in 1993 and later relocated to Levy Park in October 2000. This symbol of Merrick’s rich native American heritage now stands at the gates of Levy Park, welcoming thousands of visitors to the plant and wildlife sanctuary annually. Through the years, Helen tirelessly tended to the grounds surrounding the statue. Helen made weekly trips to Levy Park, caring for the plants and flowers surrounding Merrie and ensuring that Merrie stayed in good repair.  Her sense of volunteerism truly impressed the Levy Park Rangers who got to know Helen well through the years. Helen’s sweet, kind, and loving demeanor served as an inspiration to so many residents, which fittingly paralleled the true meaning of the Merrie Merrick statue. Helen Dickinson passed away in 2016, but she leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of brotherhood and friendship.  

Volunteering with the NAACP, Catherine New of Roosevelt helps empower those who need assistance in ensuring their voices are heard. Working with the Roosevelt Day Committee, Ms. New is helping to celebrate the pride of one of Hempstead’s storied communities. Active in her church, Catherine helps instill faith and guidance in our local youth. And, with a full plate of community involvement, Catherine has focused on the innate link between family and community. The mother of 3 children, Catherine has opened her home to countless other young people in need of mentoring, a hot meal or a shoulder to lean on. Indeed Catherine is proud of her 8 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.

From his days as a young soldier fighting for his country in World War II, to his 36-year career as a Nassau County police officer, and now a man in his 90s who maintains his philanthropic spirit, Joseph Santillo of Inwood epitomizes the spirit of the Make a Difference Award. He remains active on the Governing Board of the Sons of Italy in Inwood and as a member of the Inwood Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. Joe also serves as an usher every Sunday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church. Joe Santillo is a Trustee of the Inwood Civic Association, which recently named him “Man of the Year.”

Todd Weinstein of East Meadow takes his salesman know-how and lends his skills to the several community committees of which he chairs, including the Barnum Woods Parent Teacher Association, the Barnum Woods Planning Management Team and the Temple Emanu-El of East Meadow Social Action Committee. Leading the charge for an abundance of fundraisers and drives, Todd spearheads campaigns for his school district and local charities. He has led the fundraising for the Francis X. Hegarty School to repair damages inflicted by Superstorm Sandy, assisted with the Friends of Barnum Woods to raise money for a new playground and ran several food drives for Island Harvest. Todd Weinstein is dedicated to running marathons, including the New York City Marathon, to raise money for local charities. Some of the charities for which he has raised money include the National Meningitis Association, Tuesday’s Children for families of 9-11 victims and Achilles International for disabled athletes. Todd also finds the time to coach East Meadow Baseball and Soccer, PAL Basketball and CYO Baseball.

If there is a committee or service organization in her community of Floral Park, it’s pretty certain that Theresa Whalen has served in a leadership role or at least has contributed in some fashion. Currently, Theresa serves as Lions Club Governor of District 20 K-2 Nassau and Bermuda 2nd Vice District. Theresa has served as President of the Floral Park Lions Club, President of the Floral Park Chamber of Commerce and has held a leadership role or membership in so many organizations. Theresa has demonstrated versatility in leading a diverse set of roles within the community, including the fields of business, education, community service, youth athletics, social services, historical preservation, environmental and civic-minded duties.

“One of the most compelling elements about this program is that the everyday heroes who we salute shun the spotlight and eschew recognition,” concluded Santino. “While pop culture may hog social media, the men and women who we recognize are actually shaping our society in a profound and awe-inspiring fashion.”