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For her work with Latino residents in the Union City area, Blanca Molina of North Bergen was awarded a $50,000 Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference at a ceremony today at Ramapo College of New Jersey. Molina is the executive director of Centro en Union para El Salvador, called CEUS. The organization was established in 1993 and is based in Union City. Molina’s bi-lingual networking skills bring together diverse elements in the community for the good of the whole. Molina has been described as a person who can’t say “No.” With the support of civic groups, churches and educational groups, her achievements are many. In the past 19 years, more than 2,000 students have attended English classes and Spanish literacy sessions and more than 2,000 residents have been helped with affordable immigration legal services. CEUS also has sponsored numerous Latino cultural events, youth and adult leadership development workshops and a women’s empowerment group. In addition, Molina organized fund raising drives to help survivors of earthquakes and hurricanes in El Salvador.

Taking home the $35,000 award was fifteen-year-old Zachary Certner of Morristown. He is the co-founder of Special Needs Awareness and Athletic Programs, a.k.a. SNAP. The program provides social and recreational programs to more than 150 special needs children with little or no access to peer-related activities. The programs use peer mentors, often students, who provide a one-on-one relationship with the children. To date, 350 mentors have dedicated 5,000 hours of community service for the programs. The latest SNAP endeavor is a sensitivity and anti-bullying training workshop that will be attended by all third to fifth graders in the Morristown school district. Certner has taken his message of awareness and acceptance to all parts of the Morristown community and, in the process, has raised more than $60,000 for SNAP.

Ron Snipes of Perth Amboy received the $25,000 award. Snipes, a comedian, demonstrated a most serious side when he saved a man who wanted to commit suicide by jumping off the 100-foot high Victory Bridge spanning the Raritan River in Perth Amboy. Without hesitation, Snipes pulled over, rushed to the railing, grabbed the man’s arm and strained to keep hold until the police arrived. The man’s despair resonated with Snipes, who uses his line of work to raise money for those who can’t afford help for emotional issues. Snipes, who received the Perth Amboy Police Department’s Good Samaritan Award for his actions, continues to support the man he saved by donating a portion of what he earns by performing to his care.