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New Jersey’s Unsung Heroes Honored For Giving Back To Their Communities

(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)May 18, 2007

Russ Berrie Award for Making A Difference
Bestowed Upon 19 State Residents

MAHWAH, N.J., May 18, 2007 – For his work as a host parent and trip administrator for Healing the Children, George Brewer of Wayne was presented 2007 Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference and a cash grant of $50,000.

For more than 20 years, Brewer and his wife have been hosting children who come to the U.S. for medical treatment. Additionally, Brewer has made eight visits to the Dominican Republic as trip administrator for the group’s International Medical Trips Program.

Dana Katzman-Spett of Mahwah, founder of Pony Power Therapies, won the $35,000 award for her work with disabled children and adults who gain flexibility, balance, muscle strength, confidence and self-esteem while riding horseback. Her organization serves more than 200 clients living with disorders including autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and depression, providing a safe and nurturing environment.

Jamie Lauren Cohen of Livingston saved two children from drowning during her holiday break from pre-med studies at the University of Michigan last December. For her quick actions last December, and for her work as founder and driving force behind the Roseville Project – a program to provide holiday cheer to underserved children in Newark, she was presented the $25,000 award.

During ceremonies at Ramapo College of New Jersey, 19 unsung heroes from throughout the Garden State were honored by the Russell Berrie Foundation. First presented in 1998, the award was established by the late Russ Berrie as a way to recognize the contributions of volunteers for a lifetime of service or extraordinary act of selflessness, making a difference in the lives of the honorees and inspiring others to service.

Delivering the keynote address was Saranne Rothberg, founder of the ComedyCures Foundation and a previous award recipient. Steve Adubato, television host and former state legislator, served as master of ceremonies.

Finalists were chosen by a selection committee comprising eminent New Jersey business leaders and professionals. In addition to the top three awards, grants of $2,500 were presented to each of the remaining 16 finalists. They include:

John J. Babitz, Jr. of Wayne, Fire Commissioner for Wayne with 40 years of service to Preakness Volunteer Fire Company. Currently serving as chaplain for his department and the Passaic County Fireman’s Association, Babitz earned numerous citations for rushing into a burning home to rescue two neighbors from a fire that claimed the lives of two other family members.

Derrick Brown of Orange protects his community from fires as a member of the fire department, but has gone beyond those duties to serve the community. A driving force behind the department’s annual holiday food and gift drives, the former body builder obtained a grant to establish a wellness program to help his brother firefighters deal with the stresses of firefighting in an urban setting, and is working to establish a junior fire academy to instill a desire for service among the city’s youth.

The daughter of Rosemarie L. D’Alessandro of Hillsdale never returned home after leaving on a spring day in 1973 to deliver Girl Scout cookies. The body of seven-year-old Joan, who had been raped and murdered, was found in a park in upstate New York. Although her killer was convicted and sentenced, New Jersey’s law allowed the possibility of parole. Because of Rosemarie D’Alessandro’s efforts, there are now state and federal laws to ensure criminals who murder during the commission of a sex crime are kept behind bars and that victims’ families do not face time limits to bring civil suits against the offenders.

Daniel Ryan Feldman of Linwood is founder of “Kids Feeding Kids” and a co-founder, with his sisters, of Peer Partners. Last year, he reached his goal of raising $20,000 to feed the hungry, using his talent and passion for baking to run a series of successful bake sales. The Mainland Area Regional High School student has also collected toiletries for the homeless and books for children who lost theirs in Hurricane Katrina, and helped run a fundraiser to build a specially designed baseball field for children and adults with disabilities.

Donyea Hoffman Goodwin of Newark was determined to “do something” to help two young, homeless drug addicted mothers who wandered into her workplace.  She began looking for a home to open as a shelter. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the shelter became the temporary home for two displaced extended families – a total of more than 50 people – for whom she found permanent homes within 30 days of their arrival in New Jersey. To continue to help disaster victims, she established Each One Help One, a gift registry to match donors with those in need.

James J. Hill of Haledon has worked on behalf of children in foster care for more than 22 years as a member of the Child Placement Review Board. With his late wife Rosemarie, he raised three children and more than 30 foster children. Since establishing a scholarship fund in her name, more than $20,000 in grants have been awarded to graduating seniors in foster and adoptive homes, and another $8,000 in opportunity grants have been awarded by the Paul Hinton Scholarship Fund he established in memory of a lifelong friend. For 30 years, Hill has been a member of the Juvenile Conference Committee, hearing first offender cases to relieve the courts of some of their case overload.

Patricia Kettenring of Summit has helped more than 1,900 aspiring artists learn the art of lampworking – glass bead and tile making – and become self-sufficient through the arts since establishing GlassRoots in Newark in 2000. Conceived as a way to keep bright, at-risk students interested in school, the program also provides business and marketing skills to give young entrepreneurs volunteer experience they can take with them into the corporate world.

Jack Kuepfer of Clifton is 86 years old, but still puts in several hours a day to care for the Morris Canal Park and Wildlife Preserve on Broad Street. A master gardener, his vision and initiative reclaimed this section of land along the historic canal from weeds and litter and transformed it into a habitat for wildlife, birds, fish and hives of bees that pollinate the park’s gardens and trees.

When a stroke paralyzed Diane D’Apolito May of Pequannock, a network of close friends helped the mother of four boys – including a month-old baby – with medical and legal expenses. Realizing that there were other people in similar circumstances without that support, May established Beyond the Rainbow to help others facing medical, economic and personal challenges and has so far distributed more than $250,000 to 13 families in need.

Tim McLoone of Little Silver hits the road every holiday season, performing with Holiday Express in an average of 50 concerts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to music, this grassroots volunteer organization provides meals and gifts at venues throughout New Jersey and New York. The group also sponsors scholarships and has helped renovate soup kitchens that serve those in need. McLoone also took his New Jersey brand of friendship to Colorado following the shootings at Columbine High School and to the Gulf Region in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At age 75, Dr. Milton “Mickey” Mintz of Denville came out of retirement four years ago to open his “Doc in a Car” medical practice to help chronically ill patients. In addition to improving the quality of life for his elderly patients – most are over 86 years of age and have difficulty getting to the doctor’s office – Dr. Mintz helps them avoid the burdensome cost of nursing home care, sometimes waiving co-payments and helping pay for prescriptions from his own pocket.

Donald Roden of Hillsborough spearheaded an effort to save young offenders escape a cycle of crime and incarceration by helping them obtain an education. Building upon an existing program at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility, Roden helped create a pilot partnership between the facility and Rutgers University, where he is an associate professor of history. By helping with applications for admission and financial aid, Roden is paving the way for the successful re-entry into society. To date, there are five former Mountainview residents enrolled at Rutgers University College; two have maintained B-averages and one received straight A’s last fall. Eight more have applied for admission in the fall of 2007.

Teacher Debby Rooney of Ventnor fell in love with Kenya on her first visit to that country in 1991. She established and now leads BEADS for Education, an organization founded to market the beautiful beadwork of the Maasai women and use the proceeds to educate their daughters. In a country where education is costly and where girls are typically forced to marry shortly after puberty rites that include female circumcision, Rooney has nurtured the seeds of change by helping plan the first ceremony without the ancient practice. Among the Maasai people she is known as “Mother of Many Girls.”

Pediatrician Mark J. Wade of Saddle River borrowed $25,000 from his children’s college fund to use as seed money for Arise and Walk Ministries, which provides medical resources and healthcare for the poor in Third World countries. Relying on their own efforts and the generosity of friends and colleagues, Arise and Walk and its clinical arm, Doctors with Wings, have given close to $100,000 in cash grants and millions in medication, supplies and skilled personnel service to missions in Kenya, Jamaica, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Thailand and Indonesia.

Al Youakim of Hillsdale is recognized as a founding father of wheelchair basketball who helped write the rules of the game and expand the opportunities for wheelchair-bound athletes to other sports, including track and field. Now 80 years old and retired from the U.S. Postal Service, he is still actively involved running drills and teaching the sport at Hackensack Middle School.


About Ramapo College

Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The comprehensive college is situated among the beautiful Ramapo Mountains, is within commuting distance to New York City, was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and boasts the best on-campus housing in New Jersey per Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Business Administration, Contemporary Instructional Design, Computer Science, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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