Nineteen Outstanding Citizens Honored by Union County Human Relations Commission at Unity Achievement Award Presentation

For Immediate Release Contact: Karen Positan, 908-889-9028;

Nineteen individuals and four organizations were recognized by the Union County Human Relations Commission at the 18th annual Unity Achievement Award presentation held this past Monday, May 6 at the Kean University STEM Center in Union Township.

The award recipients were nominated and selected for their philanthropic and volunteer efforts, and for fostering and promoting human rights and dignity among the people of Union County. Award categories again included achievements by a corporate/business enterprise, community organization, nonprofit organization, individual, member of law enforcement, public servant, student, educator, clergy, faith-based organization, military/veteran, and member of the media. 

“The Commission is proud to recognize our local role models who dedicate themselves to helping others and strengthening our communities,” Commissioner Co-Chair Jo Ann Hamilton said. “These regular people do extraordinary things to make others’ lives better, and the evening’s presentation highlights all of the good that is being accomplished in Union County.”

The mission of the Union County Human Relations Commission is to actively encourage, develop, promote, and strengthen respect for human rights and cultural diversity among the people of Union County.

“The volunteers who dedicate their time and talents to serve on the Commission unequivocally agree that one of the best ways to strive to accomplish their mission is to publicly honor those who already do it well,” the Commission’s other co-chair, Union County Prosecutor’s Office Director of Communications Mark Spivey, said. “We received approximately 225 pages’ worth of nominating materials for this year’s awards, serving as a moving and powerful reminder of just how much good is being done right here in our home County.”

The recipients of the 2019 Unity Achievement Awards included:

  • Nancy Polow, Ph.D. (Business Enterprise);
  • Norma Bowe, Professor, Kean University’s Be the Change Organization (Community Organization);
  • Social Justice Matters, Hon. Leland McGee and Rabbi Joel Abraham (Community Organization);
  • Liam’s Room, Peter and Lisa McNamara (Nonprofit Organization);
  • Family Promise, Karen Olson (Nonprofit Organization);
  • Betsy LaVela (Individual);
  • Margarita D’Avella, Union County Prosecutor’s Office (Law Enforcement);
  • Dennis Carovillano, New Providence Police Department (Law Enforcement);
  • Bette Jane Kowalski, Chair, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders (Public Service);
  • Chelsea K. Young, Plainfield High School (Student);
  • Frank Stebbins, Arthur L. Johnson High School (Clark) (Educator);
  • James Silkensen, United States Army Veteran (Military/Veteran);
  • Don Sweeney/The Cranford 86 Project (Military/Veteran);
  • Lockey Maisonneuve, Author, “A Girl Raised By Wolves” (Special Achievement);
  • The Prom Dress Project (Plainfield), ShonTe Smith and Ashlee Jackson (Special Achievement); and
  • Jennifer Popper, Editor, TAPinto Plainfield (Media).

Dr. Paula Rodriguez Rust, Spectrum Diversity LLC, who received a Unity Achievement Award in 2013, was also honored for her support and active participation for the past 15 years in many of the Commission’s activities. She has served as an instructor for several of the Commission’s leading-edge training initiatives and public forums, including bullying and cyberbullying awareness and prevention training. For the past two years, she has been the Commission’s keynote speaker on LGBTQ issues, providing the first statewide educational training forum for parents and the community on understanding transgender individuals, and, for educators, with the added components of creating a safe school environment and understanding federal and state laws and statutes.

The Commission was created by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office in 1991. The volunteer commissioners attend five regular meetings each year, and participate in the many public offerings that are scheduled throughout the year.

The Commission is actively seeking individuals who represent Union County’s 21 towns and its remarkable diversity to serve as Commissioners. If you are interested in becoming a member, please email

Nominations are now open for the 2020 Unity Achievement Awards. For more information about the Commission, or to make a nomination, please visit its website at