The Russell Berrie Foundation

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Jewish Renaissance

We want to spark a new Jewish renaissance in the 21st century.The Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference

Honoring New Jersey’s Unsung Heroes

The Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference celebrates New Jersey’s unsung heroes—everyday people whose extraordinary volunteer efforts have made a real difference in the lives of others. Created in 1997, the annual award program honors individuals who have performed outstanding community service or an act of heroism. A selection committee comprised of New Jersey business leaders and professionals chooses the unsung heroes from a pool of several hundred nominees. In 2014, the Foundation provided funds for one top award with a cash prize of $50,000; the second place honoree received $35,000 and the third place honoree received $25,000. Eight awards with a $5,000 cash prize each were also announced. To read the full list of winners and finalists and their stories please follow this link: Berrie Winners Press Release April 28 2014 for web site


2014 Russ Berrie Award for Malking a Difference, top Winners and Semifinalists. From left to right, back row : Rita Yohalem, Lisa Goldman, Keely Freeman, William Smith, Zamir Hassan, Dr. Brian Ulman, Tawanda Jones, Raymond Dansen, Joseph Abate III, Patricia Dansen. From left to right, front row: Joyce Jenkins, Edith Coogan and Joseph Blythe.

Alfa, Angelica and Dr. Mercer

From left to right: Angelica Berrie, President of the Russell Berrie Foundation, Dr. Peter Mecer, President of Ramapo College and Alfa Demmellash, co-founder and CEO of Rising Tide Capital.

Angelica and top winners
From left to right: Angelica Berrie, President of the Russell Berrie Foundation, Joyce Jenkins top awardee ($50,000), Edith Coogan, first semifinalist ($35,000 award), Joseph Blythe, second semifinalist ($25,000) and Dr. Peter Mercer, Presidnet of Ramapo College

Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference

2014  Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference
Celebrating Eighteen Years

This year, The Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference Celebrated its 18th Anniversary. The ceremony was held on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at Ramapo College and welcomed more than 240 guests including goverement officials, community leaders and the families and loved ones of selected finalists. A retrospective of past winners can be seen on the following video. Please click here to view the video

Alfa Demmellash, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rising Tide Capital in Jersey City, an organization that transforms lives and communities through entrepreneurship was the key note speaker.  Alfa established Rising Tide Capital to support underserved entrepreneurs in the low-income urban communities of northern New Jersey. 

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Alfa came to the United States at age 12. Alfa spoke warmly of her mother, a political asylum immigrant to the U.S. that had to leave Alfa behind to forge a better future for her family. Alfa’s mother worked a full time job in a Hotel and established a home seamstress business to have sufficient funds to reunite with Alfa in the Unites States.  Alfa’s mother is her inspiration and her example. Alfa has devoted her professional life to using economic empowerment to foster peaceful and prosperous societies. Her efforts have been recognized by many including CNN heroes and she was named in 2012 by Forbes as one of the Most Powerful Women Changing the World with Philanthropy. To learn more about Alfa and her organization please follow this link:

Angelica Berrie, the President of the Russell Berrie Foundation spoke eloquently about the impact of the awad over its 18 year history and how this program has created a ripple effect of good deeds and inspiration to respond to the call of service to the community. Angelica recently appeared on a Caucus public television special entitled "Make A Difffference: The Ripple Effect". To see this special please follow this link: 2365199383

Joyce Jenkins of Marlboro was awarded a $50,000 Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference.  Jenkins is the founder and director of the Paul M. McGuire Family Health Center in Freehold.  A nurse practitioner, she had been a volunteer at a free clinic in Neptune.  When the clinic moved to a larger facility, Jenkins saw an opportunity to bring free medical services to the Freehold area.  She convinced the clinic to donate the trailer they had been using to provide medical services to Jenkins’ church, New Beginnings Agape Christian Center.  She recruited a medical director and medical professionals.  She secured funding and private donations to start the McGuire Family Health Center.  The Center opened in 2005 and nearly all who work there are volunteers who provide desperately needed health care services. Jenkins’ dream expanded when the Center moved to a larger facility in 2007.  The Center provides physical and primary care services, immunizations and pediatric, ophthalmology and dermatological services.  The Center has served more than 3,000 patients, totaling over 10,000 visits. 

Edith Coogan of Cranford was awarded a $35,000 award. She is the co-founder of Raphael’s Life House, a 12-bed program in Elizabeth for homeless pregnant women, mothers and children. Coogan, who is 82 and the mother of seven, established Raphael’s Life House 20 years ago.  She was frustrated by the lack of services and took matters into her own hands. Through her efforts, hundreds of women and their children receive prenatal care and a new start in life. Coogan is omnipresent in her efforts, securing a $1 per year lease for the program’s facility and galvanizing thousands of donors and volunteers over the years. 

Joseph Blythe of Hasbrouck Heights accepted the $25,000 Berrie Award for Making a Difference.  Blythe converted his vision for a facility to feed the hungry into a reality when he established Meals with a Mission in 2010.  Working with two local churches, Corpus Christi and Assumption Church, he planted the seed.  The organization has expanded from cooking meals one night a week in the Corpus Christi school’s cafeteria to a full-time facility in Garfield that opened last year. His vision, commitment and financial support have made a difference in the lives of thousands.  Many joined Blythe and contributed personal time, labor and equipment to feed the hungry. Since opening in Garfield, Meals with a Mission has distributed more than 53,000 meals.  Blythe leads a dedicated team of 130 who are committed to making sure no one goes hungry.

Please click here to read more about the 2014 Making a Difference Awards.