Sixteen individuals and four organizations recently received a prestigious Unity Award for Achievement, honors given by the Union County Human Relations Commission to role models who dedicate their time and efforts to activities and programs that raise and honor the human spirit.
The awards were handed out during a special presentation held at the Elizabethtown Gas Company headquarters in Union Township on May 9.
The 2016 awards marked the 15th year in which the Commission has named honorees.
“This annual award recognizes programs, services, activities, and efforts being put forth by local role models that promote cultural diversity, strong community relations, and human rights,” Commission Co-Chair Leonard Guarino said. “Those who are nominated for this award are regular people who do extraordinary things. Their efforts make others’ lives better.”
“The commissioners who volunteer their time and energy to serve on the Union County Human Relations Commission unequivocally agree that one of the best ways to strive to accomplish their mission — to actively encourage, develop, promote, and strengthen respect for human rights and cultural diversity among the people of Union County — is to publicly honor those who already do it well,” said the Commission’s other co-chair, Union County Prosecutor’s Office Director of Communications Mark Spivey. “The evening’s presentation highlights all of the positive and good that is being accomplished in Union County.”
The 2016 recipient for the Unity Award for Achievement by a Student was presented to Griffin Spielman of Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights.
Over the years, the 18-year-old senior has collected thousands of dollars and has spent hundreds of hours volunteering and fundraising. Spielman was particularly honored for creating SCORE — Second Chance for Our Recreational Equipment.
In seventh grade, Griffin won a wrestling match against an opponent in Plainfield, but when he saw him pass his headgear to the next player, he told his mother, Marla, “I didn’t win this fairly. I’m going to fix this.”
Starting with one empty box in his elementary school with a sign reading “please donate your used sports equipment here,” the program has rapidly grown. He received a standing ovation for a recent delivery to the East Orange basketball team, which had just one basketball before Griffin stepped in. He currently has almost 400 pieces of donated sports equipment to deliver and he also has written instructions on how to start the same program in other school systems and is building a website to encourage students nationwide to get involved.
The Paul Jackson Fund, Inc. received the Unity Award for Achievement by a Nonprofit Organization. The award, honoring Fund founder Paul Jackson (1961-2009), was accepted by his sister, Mary Doherty.
The initial fund was created to help 28-year-old Paul Jackson, a lifelong athlete left paralyzed after surgery, pay for mounting medical bills for his rehabilitation program.
Paul was motivated by the compassion and generosity shown to him, and his personal tragedy became an inspired calling. He took full control of the fund and set out to raise money to create a safety net for people whose needs had become so dire they had nowhere else to turn.
When Paul passed away in 2009 at the age of 48, his family and friends fulfilled his dream and today only wish for the work of the Fund to continue.
Today, this tax-exempt charity continues to serve as a resource of last resort for individuals and families who face a financial crisis due to a debilitating long-term illness or disability.
Other award recipients included:
Lori Gonzalez and Joan Fruciano/Union County Spectrum All Stars (Individuals) — for creating a parent-run organization that provides a support group and a source of information about recreational programs and other events for individuals of any age on the autism spectrum.
Cranford’s Alluem Yoga and owner/founder Gina Pachkowski (Business Establishment) — for hosting a multitude of activities and events reflecting extensive outreach to make a difference in the local and global communities.
Lorrie Sanchez and Carol Blank of Utterly Global LLC (Media) — for their vigorous anti-bullying efforts, which are exhibited in a new children’s book: Virgil, the Bully From Cyberspace.
Dr. Theodore Schlosberg, Executive Director, The New Jersey Workshop For The Arts (Educator) — for providing for individuals with special needs and learning disabilities to learn to soar educationally, culturally, and socially through music.
Sergeant Russell Gottlick, Plainfield Police Division (Law Enforcement) – for his lifelong professional and personal dedication to protect, serve, and to do whatever good he can do for everyone he encounters.
Nancy Bates (Public Service) –- for her 20 years of dedicated service as a greeter at the Union County Courthouse.
The Unique Divazz (Plainfield) (Community Organization) –- for their outreach in using their personal resources to help disadvantaged families and children, the homeless, and others in need.
Reverend Elizabeth Alexander, First Presbyterian Church, Cranford (Clergy) – for a lifetime of inspirational, energetic and visionary personal and professional outreach and ministry.
Colonel Edward Chrystal, U.S. Army National Guard (Military/Veteran) –- for his service to our community, state and country, and for making a difference in our world.
Community Access Unlimited’s Union County Interfaith Coordinating Committee Council (Faith-Based Organization) — for harnessing the collective power of Union County clergy and community organizations to benefit all.
Special Achievement Awards were presented to the following individuals:
Charles Newman, Union County Office for the Disabled (ret.) – for his inspirational personal and professional perseverance to find, create and distribute keys to unlock doors for so many disabled individuals.
Rahway artist Jim McKeon -– for his interactive Broken Hearts Memorial in Rahway’s Veteran’s Park, which pays tribute to our 4,500 fallen heroes from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
Captain Ralph Gregson, Cranford Auxiliary Police Department – for exemplary and committed volunteer service for the past 22 years, including the past 16 as the department’s administrative leader.
Police Officer Gerald McDermott, Summit Police Department –- for his unselfish dedication to bridge cultural gaps within the community and to cultivate relationships with youth and their families.
Andrew Ertman and Detective Paul Pasternak, Elizabeth Police Department/Friends of the Child Advocacy Center of Union County -– for their extraordinary service to raise funds on behalf of Union County’s victimized children and their families.
Outgoing Co-Chair Sgt. Leonard Guarino, Elizabeth Police Department (ret.) -- for his leadership and outstanding contributions to the Commission during his two-year term.
The Union County Human Relations Commission was created in 1991 by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
Additional information about the Commission and the award recipients can be found at www.ucnj/uchrc. To submit a nomination for 2017, email Commissioner Karen Positan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 908-889-9028.