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 eleven 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 2013, the Foundation provided funds for one top award with a cash prize of $50,000 and three top finalists received a cash prize of $25,000 each. Eight runner up finalists were distinguished with cash prizes of $5,000. To see the full list of eigh runner up finalist please follow this link: press-releases

Angelica and Awardees

In the back row $5000 finalists, from left to right: Adele Katz; Jeniifer Papa; Alec Silverman; Robert Clark; James Credle, Estelle Goldsmith; Suzanne Stigers and Richard Pompelio.

In the front row, top finalists from left to right: Regina Coyle ($50,000); Jack Fanous ($25,000); Angelica Berrie (President of the Russell Berrie Foundation); James Barber ($25,000)and Ann Wagner ($25,000)

Dr. Kutsch
Dr. James A. Kutsch, President and CEO of the Seeing Eye in Morristown and his guiding dog "Vegas"

Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference

2013  Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference
Celebrating Seventen Years

This year, The Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference Celebrated its 17th Anniversary. The ceremony was held on Thursday , May 2, 2013, at Ramapo College and welcomed more than 200 guests including goverement officials, community leaders and the families and loved ones of selected finalists. A retrospective of past winners was also part of the ceremony and their stories were shared in video form. Please click here to view the video

James A. Kutsch Jr. the President and CEO of the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey was the key note speaker. Since 1929, the Seeing Eye provides approximately 16,000 specially bred and trained dogs matched to people who are blind. With the help of many volunteers the organization not only trains and breeds the guide dogs but also blind students coming from all 50 U.S. States and Canada. The school covers the cost of one month student training and travel, room and board and post follow up training if necessary. Dr. Kutsch is himself blind and has served over 10 years as a Trustee and leader in various organizations serving people with disabilities. He designed and developed the first talking computer for blind users in 1975. He has lectured nationally on disability awareness, adaptive technology and advocacy and has made extensive contributions to the field of adaptive technology through his personal work and published journals. Dr. Kutsh spoke eloquently of the value of volunteers not only in his organization but in communities nationwide and referenced the incredible collective and individual impact that a life of service and a single act of heroism has on others.

Regina Coyle of Little Ferry was awarded a $50,000 Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference. As leader of the St. Margaret of Cortona Church Parish Council, and a trained Certified Emergency Response Team volunteer, Coyle organized the Parish Hall to become an emergency shelter. The shelter was stocked with food, cots and blankets in advance of the hurricane to shelter residents known to be in flood zones. About 100 residents took shelter in the Parish Hall. As the storm moved through and a storm surge overtook tidal gates that had never been breached, the Parish Hall was evacuated. Coyle, working with the Office of Emergency Management, evacuated the shelter, removing some people by boat to a safe place. Four hundred families were displaced as a result of the tidal surge. With the temporary shelter flooded and the supplies there ruined, Coyle returned to clean up the site and restock the shelves. Within hours of the water receding, she provided emergency assistance in the form of food, clothing, cleaning supplies, blankets and information about where families could turn for assistance. She helped serve 250 to 300 residents a day. Coyle received support from FEMA, the National Guard and UPS. The Parish Hall became the central spot for help in the community. Coyle and her volunteers kept the Parish Hall opened for weeks after the storm. She did all of this in the midst of having lost her own belongings and her car and helping her parents whose house sustained significant damage.

Three finalists received awards of $25,000 each. James Baber of Bayonne is a law clerk by day and a Super Hero by night. The 24-year-old saved the life of a 72-year-old woman who tripped and fell onto the tracks as a PATH train approached the Journal Square Station. Baber, who was on his way to classes at Seton Hall School of Law, spotted the woman from an overhead walkway above the platform. Instinct and adrenaline kicked in. Although passengers were waving their arms to get the conductor’s attention to stop the train, it was Baber who jumped onto Track 3 and pulled the woman to safety before the train reached the station. The victim was hospitalized. Baber took his quick action in stride while risking his life to save someone he didn’t know.

Jack Fanous of Marlton is the founder and executive director of the G.I. Go Fund. For almost seven years, this organization has helped homeless war veterans in Newark. The vets can be found along Heroes Highway, a derisive name given to a stretch of Market Street near Newark’s Penn Station. Fanous and a dozen volunteers go on night missions to Penn Station when it is empty of commuters and the vets are easier to locate. They help war veterans secure jobs and to obtain financial assistance, benefits and shelter. Fanous views veteran homelessness and hopelessness as an epidemic and has expanded the program to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. What the vets have in common is that they often congregate at transit hubs and rarely seek assistance. Newark Mayor Cory Booker gave the G.I. Go Fund an office at City Hall. At least 10,000 veterans have attended G.I. Go Fund job fairs and the group has helped establish housing in the city’s South Ward. Veterans are connected with representatives from Newark’s Health Department, the regional Veterans Affairs office and retrained for full-time employment. They also are given food and clothing provided by Operation Gratitude, a California non-profit organization.

Ann Wagner of Wyckoff is the founder of Oasis: A Haven for Women and Children in Paterson. With a motto of providing a “hand up, not a hand out,” Oasis is dedicated to assisting impoverished families who strive to achieve economic independence. Oasis opened its doors in 1997. Under one roof, a woman’s basic needs are met—food, clothing, education and childcare, as well as referral services, all free of charge. The organization offers educational programs to provide women and children with the skills to become self-sufficient. Among them are adult education classes, educational enrichment for at-risk youth, and ESL, GED and computer classes. Oasis also provides child care and meals, more than 65,000 each year. The programs are designed for women to succeed in the workplace and their children to excel in school. All of this is possible because Ann steadfastly believes that every woman deserves a chance.

Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference is Highlighted in NJ Press

Please click here to read more about the 2013 Making a Difference Awards.