Russ Berrie Making a Difference Awards

The Russ Berrie Making a Difference Awards | Celebrating Unsung Heroes, Inspiring “Ripple Effect” of Change


One of our foundation’s signature initiatives, the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award recognizes New Jersey’s most exceptional unsung heroes each year for remarkable work transforming their communities. Along with a monetary prize — $50,000, $35,000 and $25,000 for the top three winners and $5,000 for runners-up — the awards, which are announced in a ceremony at Ramapo College, also provide a rare moment of public recognition for recipients’ tireless efforts to help others. Russ Berrie created the Making a Difference Awards two decades ago, explaining to The New York Times, “It’s another way of looking at philanthropy — inspiring people to look at themselves and what they can do for the community.”

Recent Top Award Winners

2016 — Chief Vincent Mann For his remarkable efforts to force the Ford Motor Company to renew remediation at a 500-acre site it had contaminated decades ago. Chief Mann, leader of the Ringwood, New Jersey-based Turtle Clan of the Ramapough-Lenape Tribe, continues to serve as a passionate advocate for the environment.

2015 — Dominique Lee For his passion as a teacher and his innovative spirit and perseverance in helping schoolchildren overcome poverty and inadequate educational resources. Lee created a school management non-profit, BRICK (Building Responsible Intelligent Creative Kids), focused on infusing Newark’s failing schools with best practices for academic success and for addressing the elements of poverty that often impede it.

2014 — Joyce Jenkins For creating the Paul M. McGuire Family Health Center in Freehold, where volunteer medical professionals provide desperately needed health care services to thousands of underserved children and adults. Jenkins, a nurse practitioner, dreamed up the Health Center after a free clinic she had volunteered at closed, then secured funding and private donations to make it a reality.

For a complete list of past winners, please click here.