Welcome to the 2021 County of Union SHero Awards[row][column size=”1/4″ center=”no” class=””][/column] [column size=”3/4″ center=”no” class=””]
We have all had that one woman whose lead we want to follow – who comes to mind when you think about someone who is inspiring, self-confident, energetic and a positive role model for others. During the tougher times of last year, there were many women who deserved recognition just for getting through the day.
Many women in Union County are likely to have had an amazing story; some of these tremendous women were nominated and their stories are shared below.[/column][/row]
With great pride, the Union County Board of County Commissioners are thrilled to announce our 2021 Union County SHero Award winners:
Nomination from Berkeley Heights’ Mayor Angie Devanney
Donna Aflalo is a consummate, powerhouse volunteer – always volunteering in town. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she responded to the community’s needs in a big way. Donna started “Snow Buddies,” which matches volunteers with seniors to help remove snow from their properties. She also partnered with another volunteer group, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” to help connect seniors with volunteers to do grocery shopping, prescription pickup, and other errands. Donna had her own network of volunteers for grocery shopping and rides to doctor’s appointments.
Every year Donna and her husband Yoram help organize the Township’s Menorah lighting for Hanukkah, and organize a fundraiser for the Berkeley Heights Volunteer Rescue Squad. The fundraising helps the Rescue Squad purchase much-needed life-saving equipment. Recently Donna spearheaded a fundraiser for the Berkeley Heights Police Department to help raise money for exercise equipment which will help them offer more free self-defense and related programming to the community. Donna has a boundless desire to help others; she encapsulates the spirit of the Union County SHERO Award.
Nomination from Jennifer Cooney
Marie is the face of the Junior League of Summit Thrift Shop, the oldest retail shop in Summit. When the Shop closed in March due to COVID, Marie changed the brick-and-mortar shop model by offering home shopping in the form of personal shopping, bag sales, and Facebook Live events, all with contactless pickup. She accomplished all of this with just a staff of two. Marie and her assistant worked double-time to serve her customers and keep donations coming in.
When other thrift shops were shut down, Marie developed innovative ways to keep the Shop going during unprecedented times. Realizing that many were home cleaning out their closets, she found a creative way to take donations in a contact-free way, keeping everyone safe. With nowhere else to donate, the community came in droves, allowing this important community service to support the community at large as well as to provide the overage to other nonprofits in need.
Nomination from Kelly Pitta
Kim was one of the women who got the FLAG going for Clark. They bought signs and raised money to provide food and other needed items to our frontline workers. Every time I looked online I saw Kim delivering food to the police, fire department, gas station workers, etc.
Kisha Belton Chubb
Nomination from Timothy Priano
Kisha Belton Chubb, organized the entire nonprofit community. A group of volunteers gathered at duCret School of Art on a brisk Saturday to pack trucks with food to be distributed to those in need in the Plainfield community.
The boxes, assembled earlier in the week, were packed with 12,000 pounds of food received from Community FoodBank of New Jersey, and another 2,800 pounds of food donations made to Star Fish Food Pantry. With the food from these two agencies, 350 families received boxes and over 50 seniors had them delivered to their homes. Sean McKenna, a councilman in the Second Ward, said the Plainfield YMCA branch of Greater Somerset County is working with the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance to deliver boxes of five-day food supplies each week. Organizers anticipate to run the program for eight weeks.
Nomination from Letizia Rhodes
Anyone who knows our mom knows that she’s been sewing beautiful masks to donate since the start of Covid. I had the original task of calling local hospitals asking if they would accept them. This being at the start of all craziness so no one knew what sort of masks would work. I finally came across a very nice man at Overlook and my mom has been dropping bags off, full of masks which were given to patients as well as staff members. She also whipped up a bunch of masks for friends who asked and friends and family who were first responders in the medical field in different States. I’m obviously partial but I think she’s a gem to nominate.
Nomination from Gabriella Stasiulewicz
My mother, Pam Bonifacio has always taught my sister and I what it means to help others and those in need every opportunity that we get. A year ago, at the start of the pandemic, although challenging as her fingers are compromised after previous chemo treatments, my mom began sewing masks for essential workers. After successfully connecting with the Academic Affairs Department at Overlook Hospital she began dropping bags full of masks to Jeffrey Levine, PhD and Tanya Poppov weekly. She was happy to be able to give back to the community who helped make her the cancer survivor that she is today as well as the hospital where all five of her grandchildren were born. The masks were used by the doctors, nurses and patients at Overlook Hospital. Each week, their was such excitement in seeing what new fabrics and colors they could choose from. In addition to Overlook Hospital, she had a long list of friends and family who asked for masks. Her masks even made their journey to essential workers in Colorado and Philadelphia in addition to Union County. She continues to make these masks and does not plan on stopping until this pandemic is over. She also volunteers her time at various hospices as a Reiki Master. Anything and everything that she can do, she is there to help. She is a SHero in our eyes and we are so grateful that her gift of giving has been passed down to my sister and me.
Dr. Pamela Brug
Nomination from Damali Campbell-Oparaji
The world was taken by storm in March 2020 when SARSCOV2 respiratory illness flooded hospitals. Infection of pregnant women occurred parallel to infection in the general population but there was a gap in information for this group. Pam Brug, MD during the pandemic sprung into action when the pandemic hit making sure labor and delivery nurses had N-95 masks. PPE was in short supply at hospitals. Pamela was also instrumental in galvanizing several community based organizations to push three large initiatives: – supply surgical / reusable masks to community members thru CBO’s in the state, – organizing the New Jersey Black Physician’s Association to put together a COVID booklet for women combined with donations of reusable cloth face masks, hand sanitizer and vitamin C packs and these donated items were put together and bags were handed to women’s health centers in NJ, and – joining state agencies, university student organizations and other community based forums to disseminate trusted information regarding covid 19 and now vaccinations.
Nomination from Anna Daurio
Dr. Pamela Brug is an OBGYN with RWJ/Barnabas Health and founder of New Jersey Black Women Physicians Association. She is dedicated to decreasing racial disparities in health care. When the pandemic hit, Pam knew that to help keep families safe and healthy, outreach was needed beginning with her pregnant patients. Her outreach began with informing mothers, knowing that they, in turn, would educate their families & communities. Pam recruited volunteers and launched an initiative assembling COVID-19 care kits, complete with masks, hand sanitizer, and booklets with critical health care information on prevention of virus spread. Kits have been distributed to over 1,000 families in and around Union County. Pam started an in person outreach campaign to help at risk residents sign up for life-saving shots at clinics in Westfield, where she is a lifelong resident, and throughout the state. Pam, is a tireless advocate who does whatever is needed to help vulnerable populations and help eliminate disparities that exist in Black and Brown communities.
Nomination from Lydia Kaplan
I’ve known Dr. Pamela Brug since we were in junior high school, dare I say more than 45 years ago. I know how to drive to her home blindfolded, but I couldn’t remember the house number. I emailed her for that info and explained why I needed it: that I am nominating her for the Union County SHero Award. And what is the first thing she said? “thank you, because it will give the New Jersey Black Women Physicians Association some exposure.” This is typical, selfless Pam. A woman who, without any ego, will dream, create and implement her vision of what will empower and uplift those who are disenfranchised in our communities. Among such accomplishments, she founded the NJ Black Women Physicians Association to do just that. She designed a “STEAM” program to service children who do not have access to the STEMs and Arts. She is a force, and I am honored to nominate her for this recognition.
Nomination from the Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella
It is a pleasure to nominate, as one outstanding nomination, three extraordinary women who worked extremely hard throughout the COVID -19 public health emergency: Amy Crisp Wagner, Vikki Drake, and Jessica Cohen.
These three women were examples of Union County employees who went above and beyond the call of duty since the beginning of the pandemic. I have been impressed with their hard work, creativity, self-sacrifice and genuine care each of them have for the staff as well as the public.
Jessica Cohen worked with the County staff in the early days of the pandemic as Chief of Staff for Senator Cryan and worked with the state to ensure all went well setting up the center at Kean and in the Township of Union. Later, she became a member of the County leadership team servicing as Chief of staff for the County Manager. In this capacity, she organized the extensive effort for mobile testing throughout our communities. Jessica also worked hard to establish and manage the vaccination center at Kean. Many of the residents who have been vaccinated, have commented on the organization and professionalism of the staff there. Currently she is developing a plan for mobile vaccinations.
Nomination from Reni Erdos
Sally is part of a family that consists of a nurse practitioner mom, a nursing student son, a teenage active cheerleader daughter and Aunt Sally. During the past year while both of the healthcare providers worked tirelessly at clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes treating Covid patients, Sally made certain their needs were met and that they all had the strength and courage to continue to contribute.
Without her, their lives would’ve been much more difficult. We salute those who care for those who care.
Nomination from Dorian-Lee Velastegui
Jennifer Costa has exhibited going above and beyond for her community in many ways. Beginning of 2020, she took on the position of the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce CEO/President and Executive Director of the Elizabeth Destination Marketing Organization proudly. She exemplified determination and leadership skills to her team, as well as support to help guide us through the hardest time.
As businesses were closing, being forced to stay home and not support employees with jobs, Jennifer communicated directly to local businesses, big and small, throughout Elizabeth and Union County with ways to support their businesses financially, emotionally, and physically.
Our Chamber of Commerce has assisted these business by sharing open job positions in our area to decrease the loss of job security during COVID and conducting networking opportunities monthly for our Chamber members virtually to share these great resources and bring the community together by sharing tips on how all community influencers were making it through the pandemic.
Nomination from Former Mayor of Scotch Plains, Al Smith
Elaine Coupe, Director of Community Outreach for St. Bartholomew Church in Scotch Plains, is a SHero! Elaine has done outstanding work for the community for many years, and she was recognized in 2016 by Union County as a Women of Excellence. However, during this pandemic, she has gone into overdrive. She does these amazing tasks efficiently, with love, and very quietly.
When the Pandemic hit, a group of residents, associations, and municipal employees banded together to try to assist our Scotch Plains small businesses to survive. One of the significant things the group did was to establish the SP Business Resource Group Facebook page to “provide information and resources to all allow the small businesses of Scotch Plains to ask questions and seek answers to the issues that concern you most right now.” Over 100 small businesses joined this private page which provided them with a central location to interact and receive the latest information on how to get help from various government and non-government sources. The Facebook page was established in March of 2020. This was a very confusing time for small businesses, and the Facebook page was extremely helpful to many of our small businesses allowing them to get the latest information from federal sources like the SBA and state sources like the NJEDA on PPP, grant programs unemployment benefits, etc. Elaine stepped right up and volunteered to establish and administer the Facebook page.
Nomination from Pat Bixel
“Hi, Elaine, I’m Pat Bixel, Director of Star Fish Food Pantry Plainfield. Is there any chance you can help me?” In two days I received a phone call asking me what our needs were and another two days later, a van full of nonperishable food was delivered to 631 East Front St, Plainfield – the headquarters of Star Fish, an organization of 50 years that serves those who are hungry.
Without hesitation, Elaine Coupe, Director of Community Outreach, St. Bartholomew the Apostle Church, Scotch Plains answered the call to provide food to those in need and she hasn’t stopped leading the charge! Due to school closures during the pandemic, underserved children have not readily accessible meals available to them as they would during normal school days. Elaine volunteered to conduct a food drive at St. Bart’s for child friendly foods that Star Fish gladly distributed to agencies and food distribution sites throughout Plainfield. Over 1000 donated packets of food fortified literally hundreds of children. At other times hundreds of families were recipients of food parcels Elaine in conjunction with Star Fish.
Instinctively, Elaine acknowledges the necessity of food for those who experienced job loss, illness, poverty. She eagerly and enthusiastically shares parishioner’s contributions with our Food Pantry. Star Fish is ever so grateful for her magnanimous disposition, her mission to help those in need, her compassion for others. She is a superlative individual, a constant. A single introduction to Elaine is helping Star Fish food pantry provide families and individuals with stable, nutritious food on a regular basis. Elaine Coupe qualifies for recognition because she is a woman of substance, a woman who sincerely cares about taking care of her neighbors in the next town. Star Fish believes Elaine Coupe is most suitable for recognition for a “Tribute to SHeroe Award”. We ask for your consideration in bestowing this honor to Elaine.
Nomination from Rev. John J. Paladino, K.H.S
Nomination from Tim McGhee
Shortly after the lockdown last March, Katie Darcy spearheaded the creation of the Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) of Summit. FLAG was created to support local healthcare and front line workers, as well as Summit restaurants.
FLAG purchases meals through local restaurants and delivers them to workers on a regular basis. As a result of Katie’s tireless efforts, FLAG has delivered thousands of meals while providing a lifeline to Summit-based restaurants. She is constantly raising funds, and as a result, FLAG has been one of, if not, the most successful local COVID relief efforts in Summit.
At the same time, she’s been managing her four kids as they navigated distance learning in Summit schools. I can’t think of anyone more deserving recognition as a SHero than Katie.
Nomination from Jessica Short
I would like to nominate our New Providence EMS Captain, Susan DeLuise for the SHero Award. Susan is an almost 40 year EMS volunteer. She was tracking the COVID-19 pandemic before the first case was diagnosed in New Jersey. She would listen to the experts, track reports, researching how we can prepare ourselves for a pandemic that we knew very little about.
Susan was proactive acquiring proper PPE for our members and making sure we had adequate training on donning and doffing and that we felt comfortable on our calls. She led us with great strength and knowledge as we all sought her guidance. Our safety is a top priority to Susan.
She volunteers at a minimum a 12 hour rescue squad shift every week in addition to her daily Officer position and answering every member’s questions. Having the proper leadership allows us to safely serve the residents of New Providence and surrounding towns during the pandemic.
Bonnie Diaz, CDS
Nomination from Joanne Figliolino
Ms. Bonnie Diaz is the key player in implementing Covid-19 protection & illness reporting at Linden Bulk Transportation LLC., A Subsidiary of Odyssey Logistics and Technology Corporation. Ms. Diaz makes sure that all of the Linden Bulk LLC 5 terminals have supplies to sanitize and protect the employees and drivers as well as implementing safety precautions and procedures in the workplace: all of the many daily responsibilities as a NE SHE & S Safety Manager.
Ms. Diaz is also a single mom raising 2 children on her own. In my opinion Ms. Diaz is definitely “One Of The Essentials” and one of many ” Un-Sung Heroes” in this terrible time of this terrible Covid 19 Pandemic.
Nomination from Doug Harris
Nancy(on the left) and Mary( on the right) McTigue are being submitted together as they co-led Trinitas’ COVID response
At Trinitas Regional Medical Center our dynamic duo is Mary McTigue, Vice President of Patient Care Services/Chief Nursing Officer, and Nancy DiLiegro, Vice President of Clinical Operations and Physician Services/Chief Clinical Officer. Together they led the Medical Center’s response to COVID and ensured the care and successful discharge of more than 13,000 COVID patients.
Today, they lead a vaccination effort that is reaching tens of thousands of area residents with the COVID vaccine. Beginning one year ago with the admission of our first COVID patient, Mary and Nancy stepped up to lead a unified response that included every discipline in the Medical Center, caring for hundreds of COVID-positive individuals at one point.
The challenges of organizing a mass vaccination effort were many. Mary and Nancy can be credited with leading the operation that pulled this effort together.
Nomination from Nancy Zimmerman
Zenaida Downey is a dedicated professional and a kind and caring individual. Prior to the beginning of the statewide quarantine to flatten the curve, Nurse Downey was keeping the students and staff of our school safe by making sure we followed all precautions and implementing procedures to minimize risk. On March 16th, students and staff were sent home to continue teaching and learning from the safety of home as COVID-19 case numbers began to climb in our neighborhoods.
Zenaida could have stayed home where her risk would be minimized like the rest of us, but that was not her way. She immediately volunteered to assist at the COVID-19 testing site set up at Kean University where she would spend long days doing all she could for the people of Union County. It was no surprise to any of us when we heard she had placed herself on the front line, helping those who needed it most in a time of terror and turmoil.
Nomination from the Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella
It is a pleasure to nominate, as one outstanding nomination, three extraordinary women who worked extremely hard throughout the COVID -19 public health emergency: Amy Crisp Wagner, Vikki Drake and Jessica Cohen.
These three women were examples of Union County employees who went above and beyond the call of duty since the beginning of the pandemic. I have been impressed with their hard work, creativity, self-sacrifice and genuine care teach of them have for the staff as well as the public.
Viki Drake was a leader from the onset of the pandemic. Once it was determined that testing was the key to trying to manage the pandemic and the spread of the virus, Vikki worked hard to set up the testing center at Kean University. She sought and managed donations of supplies and food flawlessly. The food for breakfast and lunch were key to enable the testing staff to enable them to keep working and serving the public. Vikki’s positive, can do attitude was contagious throughout the testing and vaccination center as well as the many food distributions events. Her organization skills help service the public in each of these areas.
Nomination from Bryan Hansen
I nominate Michele Ford, President & CEO of Inroads to Opportunities for Union County SHeroes Award. For over 35 years, Michele has dedicated her life to serving the needs of individuals with disabilities. A life-long advocate, Michele has been a champion for this most vulnerable population by serving on Union County Non Profit Consortium, Union County Crisis Consortium and most recently addressing members of the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of choice in defense of employment options for individuals with disabilities. In her role as President & CEO of Inroads to Opportunities, formerly the Occupational Center of Union County, a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit agency, Michele leads the delivery of services and programs for over 400 individuals with disabilities each year. Services and programs include vocational rehabilitation, mental health services, day habilitation and school-to-work transition. During the height of the COVID 19 pandemic when facilities throughout the State were required to shut down, Michele swiftly developed virtual innovations so that program participants could receive uninterrupted services and supports such as counseling, group engagement, therapy, vocational training and more. Inroads’ 24/7 emergency wellness hotline was expanded and Michele deployed a plan to ensure participant engagement and enjoyment using social media including weekly activity links for our participants at home. Through Michele’s unwavering commitment to her staff as well as to program participants, Inroads has retained nearly all its original staff throughout the pandemic. Michele Ford embodies the definition of leadership and selflessly works to improve the lives for the Union County citizens with disabilities who reply on Inroads supports. Not all heroes wear capes, however Michele deserves to be the next Union County SHero.
Nomination from Erica Carter Wood
Krishna Garlic is more than the Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Elizabeth: she is a Covid SHero. Director Garlic has put in countless hours planning for and facilitating programs and services for our most vulnerable residents. She has delivered meals to the elderly, provided staff to distribute food to those in need, established local Covid testing sites, and provided support to families through the offices on aging and youth in newly designed virtual programs.
Her vision for serving the community has been instrumental in slowing the spread of Covid in the City. She has established crucial partnerships with service providers and linked residents suffering from Covid to much needed services. What’s more heroic is that she has done all of this while caring for two elderly parents and getting her son through senior year of virtual high school.
Gloria (Anny) Garris
Nomination from the Rahway Community Action Organization
RCAO nominates Gloria (Anny) Garris for her work leading our Emergency Needs Program throughout the pandemic, increasing from serving an average of 6 families per week to an average of 80 families per week. From May-December 2020, she served 1,882 families for a total of 7,778 individuals (including children and seniors), and counting as 2021 gets underway.
She has done everything in her power to ensure no one is turned away and receives the help they need. Food boxes are dropped off when transportation is a challenge for our neighbors, especially seniors, diapers are provided to mothers struggling to make ends meet, and if a child shows up without adequate clothing or a warm winter coat, they have it before they leave. While she has played this role in our community for the past 40 years, she shouldered the extraordinary burden of the pandemic gracefully and focused on a single goal – to help as many people as possible.
Nomination from Anthony Fischetti
For over 30 years Yelena Horré has been an instrumental piece of the Linden Public Schools fabric. As a teacher, reading coach, and principal, Yelena has worked in various roles within Linden. Perhaps none have been as challenging as the role of principal for a school of over 1,600 students and 150 staff members during the past year of this pandemic.
However, during this time she has been vital in ensuring that students are provided with superior instruction whether virtual or hybrid. She has ensured that no student is left behind, often by mentoring some of the most at-risk students in our district. She has seen to their social and emotional needs by providing extensive support from our school social workers and counselors.
She has provided the same care for her staff by offering constant support and understanding through professional development and her constant willingness to listen with an open mind and heart. Her work ethic is simply incomparable.
Nomination from Bill Imbimbo
Kristin continued going to work as a certified child life specialist throughout the pandemic, as if nothing changed. While she typically worked with children to prepare them for procedures and support them during their hospitalization, her work shifted once the pandemic hit the tri-state area.
Her hospital had to empty every pediatric unit to turn every unit into adult covid ICUs. With no kids to support, Kristin along with her team supported the other frontline workers with talking to their children about the pandemic. More prominently, Kristin spoke with families of covid patients that were unable to receive any visitors, or even unable to talk as most were too sick. Kristin spoke with children over the phone to explain what their parent was going through, and unfortunately in too many instances, helping them say goodbye. Kristin bridged the gap of communication and emotional support for these families.
Kristin put others first throughout the entire pandemic and deserves to be recognized!
Nomination from Walter Sosnosky
I nominate our Kenilworth Mayor Linda Karlovitch for the SHero award. Mayor Karlovitch, fresh to the office of mayor, had to deal with the worst pandemic that hit this nation in over 100 years. She faced this challenge head on. She kept our fellow citizens aware and reassured us that she was there for us 24/7. Mayor Karlovitch left no one behind during these trying times.
She personally delivered lunches to our seniors at the senior center; she answered questions and reassured us that everything will be OK. You know we speak of injections for the COVID virus and people suffering, those stress bearing images are hard to live with every day. But life must continue every day with Police, Fire, EMTs, DPW services.
The key to this all functioning efficiently is its leader, that being Mayor Linda Karlovitch. Mayor Karlovitch performed her office of mayor with strength and leadership and she did it with dignity, compassion and pride.
Nomination from Ryan Kelly
Eileen Kelly is a devoted public health nurse who has been on the frontlines battling COVID-19 since the beginning. In the early months of the pandemic she was relentlessly investigating cases to help identify cause of spread – her caseload often exceeded the resources and bandwidth of the department. Eventually, it became a physical impossibility to manage the caseloads. From investigating cases to administering COVID-19 vaccines, she has obsessively pursued fighting the virus. When she’s not in full PPE organizing and administering vaccines, she is home on her laptop working cases. When she contracted the virus she continued to work remotely chipping in any way she could. Despite multiple hospitalizations related to COVID-19 and repeated pleas from her family to rest, she kept contributing any way she could to fight COVID-19. Eileen Kelly never slowed down, her work ethic stems from her genuine love for public service and the oath she assumed as a public health nurse.
Nomination from Corinne Varhley
There is no one more deserving of the SHero recognition then my mom, Eileen Kelly. My mom is the Public Health Nursing Supervisor for the City of Elizabeth. She is not only an essential worker, but she has been crucial in the organization and execution of the COVID-19 vaccine program for residents of Union County. She has gone above and beyond this past year, working after hours, weekends, tracking cases, contact tracing, managing the vaccine program, and assisting elderly residents with their appointments. She and her team have successfully vaccinated thousands of residents, helping us get closer to the end of this pandemic. Our family is so proud of her and what she has accomplished.
Kristen Koehler, EdD
Nomination from Aneesha Ghaly
This mom, wife, daughter, educator, and so much more, put everything aside to assure that our team at RCAO was able to remain employed throughout the pandemic. Through her efforts we were awarded PPP which kept all 25 FTE on payroll during a 6 month shutdown- and it just didn’t stop there!
She aggressively sought out funding so that we could meet the hunger needs of the residents of UC. Our pantry normally serves 20 families weekly, which rose to over 80-90 during the pandemic. She worked tirelessly to collaborate with community partners such as Covanta and Phillips 66 to provide complete Thanksgiving dinners to 98 families.
By use of social media platforms, and because of her efforts we were able to serve 1,882 families totaling over 7,500 people. If that’s not astonishing enough, she did that all while teaching on a collegiate level and tackling remote learning with her preschooler! For these very reasons, I’m honored to nominate her!
Nomination from Kathi McDonald
Lori has been tirelessly working as a School Nurse and Nursing Supervisor for the Clark School District. She is in constant contact with parents, teachers, and students throughout the entire district advising them on CDC Rules and Covid 19 Guidelines. She fields calls and emails not only during work hours, but after hours and on weekends as well. Our district has been on top of these rules and guidelines because of her.
The schools have remained safe for faculty and students because of Lori’s strict adherence to all guidelines and prompt attention to each and every issue that arises. Lori does this while also balancing a family of her own.
Nomination from Jennifer Cooney
As the owner of the UPS store in Summit, Antonietta’s workload increased exponentially during COVID when people were stuck at home and ordering their essential needs through the mail. Despite her increased workload, scaled-down staff and building damage resulting from a fire, “Anch” was able to keep up with the increased demand while offering curbside pickup for the immune-compromised. She found time to deliver Toys For Tots and Easter eggs for the Thomas I Glasser Memorial Scholarship fund. As a community leader, she was a drop-off point for various charitable collections, including essentials and gift cards for GRACE and various recycling initiatives. When Overlook Auxiliary needed to raise money, she printed and sold lawn signs and donated the profits. She donated funds to pay for 500 masks for front-line responders and then set up a GoFundMe to collect more. Antonietta promotes other local businesses and champions local causes using her creativity, humor, hope, and always showing gratitude.
Nomination from Micayla Mirabella
I am nominating someone who is kind, smart, empathetic, and dedicated to the wellbeing of others. She is someone who will drop everything and help those in need.
She has worked her hardest to support the small businesses in Summit and around Union County during the pandemic and all that came with it. She cares for her community very much and wants each and every small business to succeed and thrive. Her resilience is an inspiration to others.
Nomination from Karen Blanchard-Salmon
CSN has positively impacted the lives of countless Union County residents. Barbara Maher demonstrates professional excellence, leadership, and dedication to those she serves as a school nurse and volunteer, in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Barbara Maher is President of the Union County School Nurses Association, New Jersey State School Nurses Association- Board Membership Chair, School Nurse at Rahway Franklin Elementary School, Rahway, NJ, and volunteer in Union County COVID-19 testing/vaccination programs. Barbara strengthens the lives of young and elderly residents in Union County. As a school nurse she promotes student health/education, also builds youths’ sense of civic responsibility and engagement in community service. Barbara Maher has touched the lives of adults by providing health teaching, counselling and physical care during this COVID-19 pandemic. She is truly deserving of being a SHero of Union County and enhanced the lives of many residents of Union County during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Nomination from Rina Lieberman
Barbara Maher is my role model. Barbara is the lead school nurse for the Rahway School District, the school nurse for the Franklin School, and the president of the Union County School Nurse Association (UCSNA), among other things. During the pandemic she encouraged UCSNA members to volunteer at the Union County Covid-19 testing site. She volunteered there often, while still attending to the needs of her school community. Currently she serves as a volunteer Covid-19 vaccinator after working at her school during the day. She often gets home late in the evening and only complains that she does not have more energy to expend. Barbara is a true leader for the UCSNA, her district, her school, for the nursing profession, and for her community. I credit her with encouraging others to volunteer for the community, and so, Barbara is more than deserving of recognition from the community which she so diligently serves
Nomination from Doug Harris
Nancy (on the left) and Mary (on the right) McTigue are being submitted together as they co-led Trinitas’ COVID response
At Trinitas Regional Medical Center our dynamic duo is Mary McTigue, Vice President of Patient Care Services/Chief Nursing Officer, and Nancy DiLiegro, Vice President of Clinical Operations & Physician Services/Chief Clinical Officer. Together they led the Medical Center’s response to COVID and ensured the care and successful discharge of more than 13,000 COVID patients. Today, they lead a vaccination effort that is reaching tens of thousands of area residents with the COVID vaccine. Beginning one year ago with the admission of our first COVID patients, Mary and Nancy stepped up to lead a unified response that included every discipline in the Medical Center, caring for hundreds of COVID-positive individuals at one point. The challenges of organizing a mass vaccination effort were many. Mary and Nancy can be credited with leading the operation that pulled this effort together.
Nomination from the Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella
Deana Mesaros has been a significant contributor in the Union County effort fighting the COVID pandemic. Her regular e-mail publication was extremely helpful to public officials and the entire Union County business community. This e-mail was full of helpful resources for businesses.
In addition, Deana was instrumental in the execution of many CARES Act grants that the County implemented in 2020. Involved were grants to the non-profits, small businesses, restaurants, and bars. All very complicated and necessary to keep well organized, which she did. She is most deserving of this award.
Nomination from Micayla Mirabella
I am nominating a wonderful, beautiful, empathetic, and hardworking woman who is dedicated to serving her community and others around her. During the pandemic, she has demonstrated this by volunteering at the Union County food drives and vaccination center in her free time, months of hundreds of hours of volunteering at the testing center on her days off.
Along with her many commitments in her everyday life, she always makes sure to go above and beyond for others. I am proud of her everyday and hope to be like her one day.
Diane Moore – Pender
Nomination from Jen Salavarrieta
Diane and Ms. Carmen have worked tirelessly throughout 2020 up till now on helping those who are in need. Working with the most vulnerable in our community, who are most at risk from Covid and the financial burden this pandemic has brought on. They both have dedicated thousands of hours of community service, using their own time juggling their own jobs and families as well. Not only providing food relief to the community but also helping victims from landlords. Many people who do not have Internet at home or English as not a first language, needed assistance in where to find help or fill out applications.
They even helped new mothers from having to choose between diapers or paying rent for their families. Overall they had impacted 14,673 people in 2020 through over 158 free community events. About 130 were of free food relief events. They not only impact families but those who are homeless and undocumented in the community.
Rebecca Morales Tantillo
Nomination from Karen Demyen
Rebecca Tantillo has been an exemplary community member for Cranford– she was one of the driving forces behind FLAG for Cranford. In late March, Rebecca helped spearhead the effort to raise funds from the community to purchase meals for frontline workers. Funds were then used to purchase meals from Cranford restaurants to help support our local small businesses. In May 2020, $115,000 was raised and the group had delivered to over 50 locations including local fire and police departments, Union County vaccination center at Kean, Trinitas, University Hospital and countless others. FLAG helped keep morale up in the community for residents and businesses alike. She has helped FLAG pivot to become a 501c3 and recently helped get a $100,000 grant from the NJEDA to purchase more meals for front line works and families in need.
Rebecca also runs a Facebook group for Cranford moms – with over 2500 members, this forum is a positive, safe space for Cranford residents to ask questions, advice and support of other moms in town. This group has helped fundraise for Cranford Family Care, supply items for a family who lost everything in a fire, as well as a mother-to-be who had fallen on hard times.
I think Rebecca would be an excellent candidate for your SHero program! I know that she is a SHero to me! Thanks for your time!
Nomination from Lyubov Ursic
Rebecca is an exceptional woman with the biggest heart and fearless SHero! When the COVID lockdown started, she together with Caren Anne Demyen, organized and founded a local chapter of the Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG), with a goal to raise $5,000 and distribute a few dozen meals to essential workers in and around our hometown of Cranford. They raised over $100,000 by June and keep on going strong! Their mission for 2021 – “FLAG for Cranford facilitates volunteerism, financial and service contributions to the members of the Cranford community during unforeseen hardship.”
Rebecca pours her heart and soul into helping businesses and residents in Cranford and surrounding towns day in and day out and somehow manages to be a full time employed mom of two teenagers! We love and adore her and are very grateful to have her as a SHero of our community.
New Jersey Sews In Unity Face-Mask Making Group
Nomination from Jeanne Golden
In March 2020 Phyllis Binder read an article about the need for face-masks & suggested it was something local people could do. Jeanne Golden thought that was a great idea & went to work organizing & forming a Facebook group. Marci Kleinberg-Bandelli & Margaret Shore Illis got on board as administrators and Shannon Coulter joined soon after to help with organization. Peggy Sue Brooke had a lot of contacts in the medical/social services worlds & was willing to deliver to them.
Phyllis Kivett-Howard, Anastasia Orlando-Harrison, Julie Brandt Horne, Barbara Murphy and Joyce Friedman all had a go at running depots. Robin Marko helped a lot with general sewing help & pattern suggestions. Nina Ovryn created our graphic.
And then of course there’s the hundreds of amazing sewers who have been the backbone of what we did this past year. The group has produced over 31,500 in less than a year. And we’re still going.
Nomination from Tom Ollen
I’d like to nominate my wife Kathleen for the SHero honor. When the virus first started, Kathleen volunteered at the Kean University testing site run by Union County. She worked tirelessly in the heat, cold, wind and rain testing people outside in the parking lot. When the vaccines finally arrived, she again volunteered at Kean to give the shots to eligible people.
She also made time to organize friends and family to make sandwiches for those less fortunate than us for the Franciscan Charities soup kitchen. I believe we made at least 400 sandwiches. She did all this while working full time as a school nurse at a school that is 100% with students in attendance. She also is attending post graduate classes at Kean University. Please let me know if you need references from Union County or Franciscan Charities.
Danie Orelien Armstead
Nomination from Senator Nicholas Scutari
Nomination from Senator Joseph Cryan
Danie Orelien Armstead is an accomplished woman, mother, wife and educator of children. She is a strong, powerful and wonderful woman who cares deeply for her family, for all Linden residents, and who does not stop trying to make this world a better place. Danie helped organized the Easter Bunny ride for the children of Linden, which brought joy to Linden residents. It was with her inspiration that linden’s 2020 graduating class enjoyed their outdoor graduation celebration in Linden Airport safely. She helped organize multiple food drives to feed families in need. Danie organized Linden’s Mother’s Day Virtual celebration. To keep Linden City’s seniors entertained, she put together a series of videos for the Local TV36. She runs the after school Bilingual and New Comer ESL Program to help students in the Linden School system who are struggling with virtual learning as a result of COVID-19. Danie is married to Derek Armstead, Mayor of Linden, NJ.
Nomination from Cleadel Waye
Danie Orelien Armstead, is married to our very own Mayor Derek Armstead. Danie is a mother to four beautiful children. She is quite involved and instrumental in the affairs of our town. Danie is known to be an intelligent, compassionate leader in her own right. As an educator in our town, she also runs the after school Bilingual and New Comer ESL Program to help students struggling with virtual learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While coping with the Pandemic, Danie helped to organize the Easter Bunny ride for the children of Linden which was an uplifting experience. Danie, was instrumental in using safe social distancing measures to have Linden High School’s 2020 outdoor graduation celebration at Linden Airport. This was met with pride and joy from our students and parents. During trying times, Danie would selflessly volunteer her home to families that lost a love one, to have a repast. With families struggling financially and out of work, she helped organize numerous food drives.
Nomination from Joshua Weiss
Danie Orelien Armstead is an accomplished woman, mother, wife and educator of children. She is a strong, powerful and wonderful woman who cares deeply for her family, for all Linden residents, and who does not stop trying to make this world a better place. Danie helped organize the Easter Bunny ride for the children of Linden, which brought joy to Linden residents. It was with her inspiration that Linden’s 2020 graduating class enjoyed their outdoor graduation celebration in Linden Airport safely. She helped organize multiple food drives to feed families in need. Danie organized Linden’s Mother’s Day virtual celebration. To keep Linden’s seniors entertained, she put together a series of videos for our local TV36. She’s created events such as the National Love Your Pet Day Video Showcase and Cooking With Your Kids Challenge, which she collected from Linden residents to bring joy to families and senior residents. Danie is married to Derek Armstead, Mayor of Linden, NJ
Nomination from Shelley Leighton
Pam Palmieri came into my life a few years ago. I recognized instantly what an extraordinary woman she is. She has dedicated her life as a nurse to the service of others. Upon retirement she didn’t cease to continue her good work. When COVID struck our Union County community Pam immediately sought ways she could assist. She has worked countless hours as a volunteer administering COVID vaccines at various sites throughout the County. Many days she works 7-8 hour shifts, on her feet, with few breaks, all the while maintaining a positive and upbeat demeanor.
Fortuitously, I was one of the lucky people to have gotten my vaccine from Pam. Despite having worked a long shift that day, she still exuded warmth and compassion knowing that she was helping so many people. Our community is fortunate to have people like Pam working selflessly on behalf of others. For that reason I consider her my “SHero” and hope you will too.
Amanda Parrish Block
Nomination from Jennifer Cooney
In 2016, as a member of the Junior League of Summit, Amanda learned that a high population of Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) residents in Summit suffered from food insecurity. She was determined to do something about it, so she created “Giving and Receiving Assistance for our Community’s Essentials” (GRACE). In 2020, pre-COVID-19, GRACE’s Refrigerator was serving an average of 95 families a week. In April, (when the pandemic was in full swing), the number of families grew to 515. By that time, all community members in need were welcome, and no one was turned away.
During the height of COVID-19, Amanda and her small crew kept up with the increased demands (thanks, in part to over $250,000 in donations from the community), all the while putting themselves at risk as essential “volunteers.” GRACE has grown wings and is now a 501(c)3 organization of its own and is a program offered by Summit’s Department of Community Programs.
Nomination from Roberta Samuels
Shortly after the pandemic began, Amy and a few friends started Mountainside Cares dedicated to feeding the staff at Overlook Hospital and supporting local restaurants. Amy coordinated donations and the purchase of meals from local restaurants, which were then delivered to hospital staff. She coordinated pick-up and delivery of snacks to frontline workers, gift baskets to staff at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, and delivery of meals to Mountainside Rescue and Police personnel.
After seven weeks, they had raised $27,500 from 325 donors, providing more than 2,500 meals at Overlook, Atlantic Ambulance, and Mountainside Rescue and Police. Money was also donated to the rescue squad for PPE. These efforts supported at least 16 Union County restaurants, helping them sustain their business. During the holidays, they were back at it providing bagel breakfasts, snacks, coffee, and self-care baskets to frontline healthcare workers. Working full-time herself, Amy selflessly rallied her community to support our heroic frontline workers.
Nomination from Wayne Zuhl
When the pandemic struck, Carmela, a sewing teacher, took it upon herself to make masks. She reached out to members of her Rotary Club and other organizations and supplied the fabric as well as teaching dozens of people to make masks. Early on, masks were donated to first responders. Masks were also donated to senior housing facilities in Plainfield, Scotch Plains and Fanwood. Beginning in May through the FSP Rotary, masks were sold in the local community.
To date, her Rotary Club has sold over $10,000 worth of masks with every penny being donated to local food banks in the area. Carmela’s spearheading the mask project did not go unnoticed. She was featured in a television piece on the syndicated show Chasing News. She is also the Female Volunteer of the Year for 2020 in Scotch Plains. Through her dedication, devotion and persistence, she’s helped people stay safe while helping local food banks during the crisis.
Jaheedah Roane, M.D.
Nomination from Aneesha Ghaly
Since the onset of the pandemic Dr. Roane has volunteered her professional services to help establish and implement complex reopening plans for Helping Hands Learning Academy in Rahway- an Early Childhood Learning Center that primarily serves low income families throughout Union County.
She has provided seminars on the COVID vaccine, how to mitigate the spread of the virus, and best practices to keep staff, students, and families safe. She has since partnered with the Rahway Family Success Center and the City of Rahway to use her professional platform to educate all Union County residents about the vaccine so that they make an educated decision about the vaccine and to promote its importance.
She will be providing a series of webinars in both English and Spanish at no cost. She was Educated through Union County (Plainfield Public School system) and has deep roots within Union County. It is with great honor that the Rahway Family Success Center offers her our nomination!
Nomination from Jill Harris
Adrienne is a real SHero. She lives in Scotch Plains and is Special Needs Educator at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Fanwood. She also coordinates the Scotch Plains Disability/Inclusion committee. During the pandemic, she created and displayed hearts in the windows of her home to honor various types of health care, first responder, and front line heroes.
She provided education and created resources to explain COVID-19 to kids with special needs, tips for people with disabilities on wearing face masks, how families can implement IEPs at home for students with special needs, and self-care for caregivers. She also routinely provides community education to promote safety by training Union County police recruits to identify needs and better communicate with autistic residents.
She also has created an Autism Family Safety Book and Friends Like You/Friends Like Me program to promote meaningful social inclusion for kids with autism. She also leads a new grant Living Safely with Disability and Special Health Needs.
Nomination from Brian Rosario
My mom is a nurse who worked hard saving lives during this pandemic. She works in the emergency room and when she came home at night sometimes I would see her crying.
I know my mom is so brave because she would get up and go help people who are so sick everyday. I would ask God to keep her safe so she can be with her family.
Nomination from Patricia Campos-Medina
Carmen Salvarrieta is the angel who has provided a light of hope to immigrant workers, the homeless, and children during this pandemic. Since the crisis began she mobilized support for all those who needed it – from food pantries, to clothing, to assistance with rent, and counseling for families kicked out of their home for failure to pay rent. La Casita, as everyone calls Angels for Action, has become the place immigrants in NJ go for information, classes to learn English, for an ID, for clothes, for food and now for life saving access to vaccines. She is indeed a hero for the undocumented immigrant, immigrants’ families and children and the homeless community in Union County.
Nomination from Gloria Montealegre
Carmen Salavarrieta came to Plainfield from Colombia in 1969. She has evolved into a community advocate after seeing the need in her community as a member of numerous organizations in Plainfield, including El Centro Hispano Americano. The COVID – 19 pandemic did not stop Carmen. She has been a true SHERO. She has not wavered from her work on behalf of the families in Plainfield. Through several partnerships with the Union County Board of Commissioners, the NJ Food Bank, the YMCA of Greater Somerset, the United Way of Greater Union County, the Muslim Soup Kitchen, The Food Insecurity Coalition of Plainfield, and Plainfield Public Schools she has been able to address the food insecurity many family faced because of the isolation caused by the COVID pandemic. She continues to process the City IDs for people, that have been instrumental in helping families, especially the undocumented, register for the COVID vaccine, open bank accounts and receive other social services.
Nomination from Manny Ramirez
I am writing this letter to talk about a long-time resident of Union County, Michelle Salermo. This selfless individual raised over ten thousand dollars during the Covid-19 pandemic; her goal was to make sure that frontline workers received food during these tough times. In addition, Michelle led an effort that helped provide frontline workers with the necessary personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, for work. Michelle’s mission began with a Facebook Community forum and evolved into “Feed the Frontline”, which called on the community to share in her mission to help others. Michelle’s Facebook forum quickly became popular and garnered a large following based on the work she was doing for the community. At the end of 2020 during the holiday season, Michelle and volunteers from the Facebook forum organized and collected toys for those in need. The group collected enough toys to provide two hundred kids with a holiday gift.
Throughout the past year Michelle has also been a huge advocate of supporting our local businesses. All of the money that she fundraised was used to order food form local restaurants and helped support small businesses in the area. Michelle’s work is far from over as she continues to do so much for the community, and I am proud to nominate her for the outstanding citizen that she is. Our community is very lucky to have her.
Nomination from Aneesha Ghaly
Because of Mansi’s efforts, our childcare component was able to open up for our September school year safely and successfully. She lobbied for and supplied mandated PPE, funding, and other essentials for us to meet state licensing requirements. She went above and beyond to ensure that the staff, students, and families we serve were safe. Utilizing her professional platform, she advocated for RCAO to be a recipient of a 10k grant to support our food pantry that fed over 7k people throughout UC.
From corporate donations to personal donations, she did it all. Without her, our reopening plan would’ve been pushed back to January as we simply didn’t have the funding to support the stringent requirements. Because of Mansi’s hard work we were able to provide much needed in-person childcare for the families that needed it most. I could think of no one more deserving of this honor than she. RCAO is forever grateful for Mansi’s efforts.
Nomination from Patricia Leon
Since the pandemic began, Cindy has tirelessly been in the office to help with the fight against COVID-19. Once the vaccinations became available she, along with her boss Mary McTigue, head of nursing at TRMC were instrumental in ensuring a seamless and effective administration of vaccines to the public. Spearheading this initiative in an unknown and scary situation, was met with professionalism, effectiveness and kindness to allay fears for those getting the vaccination, while instilling confidence to those for making the right decision to fight against this heinous virus.
While Cindy doesn’t run a department, she is the one woman that I would want by my side because of her kindness, professionalism, and just a positive attitude. She is someone that everyone needs in their court when you need someone the most, she will be there with a comforting smile. Lastly, for the person that society may overlook, since she isn’t “in charge”, this award should be awarded to her!
Nomination from Mayor Linda Karlovitch
Since February Gayle Turner, her daughter Nicole, sister Robin Madden, and sister Debra Varnerin have been helping seniors, first responders, teachers and others throughout Union County get an appointment to receive the COVID vaccine. Gayle hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks. While working a full-time job she finds it her mission to help others. Gayle secures appointments at CVS, Walgreens, Wegmans, Union County, and other sites at all hours of the day and night. To date she secured over 500 appointments with the help of her sisters and daughter.
Gayle and her family also help seniors in other ways like food shopping and running errands as many seniors are afraid to visit stores. As the mayor of Kenilworth I have personally contacted her many times to secure vaccine appointments for Union County residents whom reached out to me in frustration trying to book an appointments.
Nominated from Stacey Barbossa
We all have heroes, people we admire for distinguished courage, brave deeds, or noble qualities. During the pandemic there have been many heroes in our community and I know of one in particular, Lauren Twombly. A Clinical Scientist for Johnson & Johnson, Lauren is also a certified Physician Assistant and wasn’t about to go into lockdown quietly. Early in April when very little was known about Covid-19, Lauren searched for ways that she could help with testing since that was the most urgent need. Putting aside her fears of the virus and continuing to work her full time job, Lauren volunteered at Kean University starting in April, administering over 700 tests to Union County residents. When the vaccine became available, Lauren again stepped up to administer the shots inoculating over 90 people. Testing and vaccinations alone would have been more than enough to nominate Lauren as a, “SHERO,” but the work she has done to secure vaccination appointments for members of the community has been remarkable. Frustrated with the inability of senior citizens and vulnerable people to book vaccination appointments, Lauren took it upon herself to seek out these people through family, friends, church group and social media. She has worked tirelessly, all hours of the day and night, monitoring Twitter, and other social media sites to secure vaccination appointments for people that just don’t have the technical ability to do so for themselves. Over 150 people (and counting) have benefitted from her assistance. Impressive, to say the least. Lauren has undoubtedly saved many lives, she is truly a SHERO!!!!
Nomination from Karin Melvin
My sister, Lauren Twombly, has really stepped-up to try to help as best as she could during the Covid pandemic. She started by testing more than 700 people for Covid at Kean University. She then administered over 90 vaccines. She is currently helping people make appointments to get vaccinated. She has been following Twitter, Facebook and other sites all hours of the day and night to try to secure appointments for elderly and vulnerable people.
Currently she has gotten appointments for almost 200 people. In addition to all of her volunteer work as above, she is a Clinical Scientist for Johnson & Johnson and also a certified Physician Assistant. She is definitely a SHERO in the eyes of many people!!!!
Nomination from Aneesha Ghaly
Without hesitation, Juanita sprung into action to ensure that no Union County resident went without food. With the aide of Amazon Logistics, Juanita and her team at UWGUC have given out over 420 pallets of food and over 15k boxes of food through a foodbank partnership. She orchestrates weekly, a distribution of food, diapers, and other essentials to 25 community partners that span throughout UC. An advocate for the minority and underserved populations, Juanita also connected community partners to one of the most needed services to the community which was funding for emergency needs, utilities, and rental assistance. She advocated to ensure that all residents in need, regardless of their status had access to these much needed funds and services. Not only does she organize these events, she actively participates in the distribution of the goods and services and is widely visible in the community. I am honored to offer my nomination to Mrs. Juanita Vargas!
Nomination from Gloria Montealegre
I am proud to nominate Juanita Vargas, a SHero, who has worked diligently since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Juanita turned her attention to providing thousands of pounds of food to Union County’s most vulnerable children and families. She has coordinated donations from Amazon and the Food Bank on a weekly basis since April 2020. Over 25 local nonprofits and faith-based organizations across Union County take the food to hundreds of food insecure families every week. Under her supervision, United Way has helped over 500 families with rental assistance and other financial emergencies resulting from loss of income due to the pandemic. Juanita is a fierce advocate for all marginalized people and is committed to closing inequity gaps. She is effective at bringing people and organizations together to work collaboratively to help our County’s residents in need of help. I hope you consider Juanita Vargas’ nomination! Thank you for this opportunity.
Nomination from Jeff Varnerin
Debra is a phenomenal woman doing great work for those around her. As a member of FLAG Berkeley Heights, she cooked meals, donated non-perishable snacks, and delivered meals to front line workers across the County. As a volunteer leader within the BHYSC, Debbie partnered and coordinated with a local business owner to procure, create, sell, and deliver >200 red, white, and blue bows across Union County that raised thousands of dollars for struggling local businesses. She has dedicated a substantial amount of time every week to food shop, run errands, and drive seniors to appointments.
Over the winter she even shoveled snow for seniors who were in isolation due to health issues. Lastly, Debbie has helped establish a network of moms who go without sleep to help the vulnerable, senior citizens, and teachers secure COVID vaccination appointments (scheduling >500 herself). Lastly, she has driven many to their appointments, so they do not get lost and have assistance when walking.
Nomination from Jennifer Erdos
Coral Venturino is one of the best elementary school teachers in Westfield. When Covid-19 first hit, Coral’s attitude was “We’ll make it work” and without a doubt she did. Coral’s classes always enjoy her entertaining teaching style and focus on getting every child the skills and information they need in the 5th grade. Coral Venturino is also a very active member of the Presbyterian Church in Westfield. She has been on several Mission trips with the Church to Zambia Africa.
She is a trailblazer, spirited, leader in the Westfield community. I think it’s easy to nominate a teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, but Coral really is an exceptional teacher who loves her students and what she does, and it shows. Coral is most definitely a Union County New Jersey SHero!
Nomination from Nicole Graves-Watson
I am nominating Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese for Union County SHero for her great leadership and service to the community during the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic increased food insecurity amongst residents and Mayor Vetreese quickly sprang into action by implementing weekly food distributions to assist families in need. During this time, Mayor Vertreese created the Clean Team summer program, an employment program for the township’s youth. She engaged the youth throughout the program and gave them words of encouragement. Mayor Vertreese provided young people with jobs during a time when there is a lack of employment opportunities for adults and youth. Mayor Vertreese created Facebook messages and participated in Zoom calls with residents to provide updates on the pandemic. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission kicked off its 2020 Mobile Vehicle Registration in the township after she met with representatives from the agency and advocated on the behalf of residents in need of renewing their registrations and other services.
Mayor Vertreese created Facebook messages and participated in Zoom calls with residents to provide updates on the pandemic. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission kicked off its 2020 Mobile Vehicle Registration in the township of Hillside after Mayor Vertreese met with representatives from the agency and advocated on the behalf of residents in need of renewing their registrations and other services after the temporary closings of multiple motor vehicle offices throughout the state due to the pandemic. Mayor Vertreese rode along with the members from the department of public works during last month’s snowstorms to ensure that streets were plowed. Mayor Vertreese is a true SHero.
Nomination from Larissa Wade
Hi my name is Larissa Wade and I’m from Hillside New Jersey. I am nominating the most important woman in my life which is my mother Lawanna Wade. I love my mom so much where I felt the need to do this, to show how wonderful of a woman she is. Of my 18 years of age of being her daughter I have seen the blood, sweat, and tears gone into her hard work of life. She is currently a RN at Newark Beth Israel Hospital located in Newark, NJ. My mom is about to have two graduating children this year by me going to college and my little brother starting high school.
With the pandemic a lot has changed for us financially and mentally but I want her to know despite all we go through that I love her very much. I will fight till the end for her.
Amy Crisp Wagner
Nomination from the Union County Board of County Commissioners, Chairman Alexander Mirabella
Amy Crisp Wagner, was the communication voice throughout the entire emergency, organizing regular calls with the County’s Mayors and Administration. She and her team interpreted the Governor’s executive orders and made them readable for the County staff and the municipalities. She also worked to answer countless questions from the municipalities. These calls were 7 days a week for the early part of the pandemic. Amy also partnered with County Manager, Ed Oatman to lead the County, day to day effort. She sacrificed many nights and weekends managing staff, setting up the County Call center and distributing food to those less fortunate.
Nomination from Danni Newbury
With the COVID-19 pandemic creating unprecedented challenges in our everyday lives, there are some people who have without hesitation stepped-up to represent the best of who we can be. One of those individuals is Christina Wilson of Rahway. As an educator for children with special needs, Christy immediately knew that school closings were going to have an immeasurable impact on the children she teaches and cares for every day. From the first day of virtual learning to every opportunity to return to the classroom, shifting back to virtual because of infection rates, to the plan to return to the classroom fulltime, Christy prioritizes the needs of the children. What people don’t see is her unwavering dedication to engage every student from extra hours to personal resources Christy is committed to making school a safe and engaging experience for each student.
Beyond the challenges of being an educator during a pandemic, over the past year Christy and her family have spent meaningful time collecting food for local food pantries, supporting local FLAG efforts, helping local seniors run errands, and even volunteering at Union County’s COVID-19 vaccine site – all while being an amazing mom of two young children and a supportive wife.