Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and the Town Board presented 12 Make a Difference awards to outstanding residents at the 18th annual “Make a Difference” Awards Ceremony. The ceremony highlighted local heroes, including those who rise to the occasion, as well as people who make a difference in the lives of others on an everyday basis.
Murray opened the ceremony with a tribute to late 9/11 responder, New York City Police Officer Francis T. Pitone of East Meadow, who died in August of 2013 from an illness related to his recovery work at Ground Zero and at the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. Members of the Pitone family were special guests at Hempstead Town’s Make a Difference ceremony as Murray called the fallen officer an inspiration for the ceremony and for all people who strive to make a positive difference in our communities.
“Like Officer Pitone, the people who we honored haven’t sought to reap the harvest of their volunteer efforts,” Murray said. “Indeed, they have given of themselves without a thought of recognition or accolades.”
Hundreds of nominations were received for the town’s prestigious “Make a Difference” Award. Murray presented each Make a Difference honoree with a commemorative medal and certificate.
The honorees represent several communities across the Town of Hempstead:
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Richard Cantwell of Freeport turned a small group of friends into a battalion of volunteers known as the Friends of Freeport. Led by Rich and his wife Donna, the group has renovated more than 100 homes since Sandy.
Created by Shantay Carter of Hempstead, the Women of Integrity empowers and educates women of all ages, focusing on young girls in need of support and guidance. Shantay orchestrates a drive each year to help make prom dreams come true for disadvantaged young women, by collecting and donating dresses and providing makeovers.
Mark Eisen of Island Park, who witnessed the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center first hand, has volunteered to assist, guide and comfort visitors to the 9/11 national monument since it opened in 2011. He also volunteers at the Tribeca Film Festival and Woodstock Senior Center in Manhattan.
Gene H. Hall, Sr., of Freeport, a beloved barber and a pillar in the Hempstead village community for nearly 50 years, is not only a business owner, but he is also a mentor, a dedicated family man, a devout member of his church and active in various causes.
In support of friends and loved ones, Cassidy King of Levittown has given countless hours during her teenage years raising funds and awareness for charity organizations, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Special Olympics and Locks of Love.
Daniel and Laurie McGuiganof Franklin Square, married over 50 years, are dedicated to preserving their community’s storied past through the Franklin Square Historical Society. They are active in their local parish and an array of community groups.
Inspired by a documentary about people struggling to make ends meet on Long Island, 13-year-old Cory Nichols of Oceanside set out to raise money and support local food pantries, establishing “C the Difference: Cory Cares.” Superstorm Sandy hit the area about a month later, and Cory’s humanitarian efforts aided hundreds of storm victims.
Chris Pekoff of North Bellmore plays many roles in his community – as a business owner, civic leader, coach and president of his local Little League. Pekoff spearheaded the establishment of a youth bowling league, as well several charity efforts and programs.
In a wheelchair and facing physical challenges of his own, Noah Adam Probert of Westbury, a proud member of the Town of Hempstead ‘s Camp ANCHOR in Lido Beach, works tirelessly to make children’s dreams come true through a host of organizations, including Make a Wish, Toys for Tots, United Cerebral Palsy and Island Harvest.
Jane Rubinstein of North Merrick uses her artistic talents, donating her artwork and paintings to support a variety of causes, including the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Chrohn’s and Colitis Foundation and the September 11th Relief Fund.
When Tony Spezio of Valley Stream became president of his school district’s PTSA, it launched him into a legacy of volunteerism in the district. Tony has taken the lead on important youth initiatives and has served on many school district committees and boards.
The holidays truly are a time of giving, but Kathryn Tuffy of Bellerose Village goes above and beyond, storing thousands of donated toys in her home and then distributing them to families in need. Tuffy also co-created Beautiful Me, a program focused on promoting self-esteem for young women, established in honor of the three Hance sisters of Floral Park who tragically died in a 2009 car accident.
“The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in Hempstead Town,” Murray said. “I thank all of our honorees for making our township a better place.”