Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.

– Cicero

AHRC New York City expressed its gratitude to hundreds of staff members celebrating longevity milestones and continuous excellence in their daily work with its first annual Staff Recognition Day, held on Friday, January 17 at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers. The day included the presentation of awards, inspiring speeches, and music and dancing to cap off the event in style.

Celebrating Dedicated Staff

This is a signature event where we can recognize staff throughout the agency for their exemplary service,” said Marilyn Jaffe Ruiz, an AHRC NYC Board Member who chairs the Committee on Diversity and Personnel Practices.

Marilyn Jaffe Ruiz, AHRC NYC Board Member, provided opening remarks at Staff Recognition Day.

Marilyn Jaffe Ruiz, AHRC NYC Board Member

You are the professionals who every day in your work demonstrate the humanity, compassion, and commitment to social justice necessary to respect the difference between and among people w/ I/DD and their families.

I know for many decades we’ve respected and honored the work you do every day, but this is new,” Marco DamianiCEO of AHRC NYC, said. “This is a way to gather hundreds of people together–many of them here for 30, 35, even 40 years–and really showcase the amazing workforce that we have. Today we celebrate milestone anniversaries, your commitment to excellence, your commitment to continuous learning and self-improvement, and your central role in promoting social justice for people with I/DD.

Reflecting on Professional Experiences

Several of the staff who were honored during the event provided testimony on their experiences working at AHRC NYC.

What keeps me here is that every day I get to engage with the people we support on big-life issues,” said Craig Becker, Associate Director of Residential Services, who celebrated 25 years with AHRC NYC.

“It feels good to be recognized,” said Lizadro Mejia, 34, who has worked in the mailroom at AHRC NYC’s Headquarters for five years. “I didn’t see it coming.” He takes pride in traveling independently and delivering packages and mail to different programs. “The best part of my job is being able to help people,” he said. Lizandro wants to continue to work in the mailroom and become even more independent. “My biggest goal is to get my own place,” he said.

Lizandro’s mother, Clarisa, was thrilled to see her son so happy. “When you work somewhere and you’re recognized, it means a lot and it feels really good,” she said.

Alex Oo, a Direct Support Professional for 10 years at Kings Highway Day Services, celebrated 15 years with AHRC NYC. “I love the people I support,” he said. “I treat and see them as my family.” With a bachelor’s degree in botany, Alex spearheaded a community garden. “It was a chance to show off my knowledge and what the people we support can do for the community,” he explained. Alex has helped develop a hydroponic garden, which uses no soil, but instead grows plants in water and nutrients. The garden is also organic, as no chemicals are used. When the crop of eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers basil, and fruit are ready, the people at Kings Highway distribute the food to the local fire department, homeless shelter, and to the people working at and attending the day program.

I feel good,” said Kevin Brown, who couldn’t contain a huge smile when he was acknowledged for his 30 years as a messenger with AHRC NYC. “I’m proud.”

Expressing Gratitude

Lou Radja spoke about the pillars of gratitude all people should observe.

Lou Radja

Lou Radja, a renowned public speaker who previously addressed AHRC NYC’s first Leadership Summit, said that “Gratitude is at the foundation of everything we do. My father once told me ‘When you take the elevator to the top, send it back down for someone else.’ Every person here is committed to sending the elevator back down for those who need it the most.

Lou encouraged staff members to observe the Seven Levels of Gratitude:

    1. Counting your blessings—“Juxtapose your reality with people all over the world that would do anything to switch places with you;
    2. Expression of gratitude—“Feeling gratitude and not expressing is like a beautifully wrapped present that you cannot open;
    3. Reciprocate/return the favor—“A handwritten note, a five-dollar gift card, whatever you do find a way to return the favor;
    4. Pay it forward—Always give for the sake of giving. “We are meant to be rivers, not reservoirs,” Lou said;
    5. Earning the gift—You never want someone to have buyer’s remorse when they give you something;
    6. Teaching gratitude—Gratitude is not an organic thing that everyone picks up;
    7. Building on gratitude—You will not find or sustain happiness without gratitude.

A day like this is another way to say thank you,” Lou continued. “What gets praised gets done. In Africa, we say ‘If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go with others.’

Valedictory Speeches

Nyoka Simmons was the valedictorian for staff members celebrating five, ten, and 15 year anniversaries.

Nyoka Simmons

Nyoka Simmons, Management Systems Coordinator with Residential Services, was recognized as the Valedictorian for staff members celebrating 5, 10, and 15-year longevity milestones. “Fifteen years ago I interviewed with Michael Weinberg for an assistant manager position,” Nyoka said. “Even though my only previous experience was managing an animal shelter, he took a chance on me. He noted that you have to look beyond the experience in the field and see the passion, the capability, and the potential in people. That has always stuck with me and that is what we are all about. If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.

What started as a step to save and help myself has turned into helping others, has given me meaning, and has turned into my family,” said Belma DautovicBorough Director for Employment and Business Services – Queens, who was honored as the Valedictorian for staff members celebrating 20-years-and-above milestones. “To me, AHRC stands for welcoming those that otherwise may not have opportunities elsewhere. I came to NYC from Bosnia over 20 years ago as a refugee. AHRC valued my work, my commitment, and me as a person. AHRC stands for appreciating each and every person for what they are as human beings, and helping each person become the best version of themselves.

Belma Dautovic was the valedictorian for staff members observing 20 years and above longevity milestones.

Belma Dautovic was the valedictorian for staff members observing 20 years and above longevity milestones.

Service Excellence Awards

AHRC NYC Board Members sponsored a number of Service Excellence Awards, given to staff members who have exemplified our mission at all levels of the organization.

Staff members receiving awards included: Seth ArcherNouraddin BarkerMary BuckleyEddie BurgessMaureen BurkeSonia CastroMatthew CrowleyPeter DohertyMaxine John-FosterTowanna FranklinHillary GoldsteinLillian GonzalezGeorgina GyesieShameika HendersonSamantha HollowayHindou KaneSerge KapytkaSusan KondoffShirley LeiSheila LeveretteKimberly LewisTanya MartinRobyn O’BrienAnna OganesyanAlex OoMigdalia PadillaKostas PapamichaelLynette ReidJessica RodriguezJose SantiagoDaisy SantiagoNatalya SarukhanovaJulia ShapovalovaEllaine Thomas, and Faith Xikis.

Several staff members who have sought to continue their education were recognized for their commitment to continuous learning. These awards were sponsored by AHRC NYC’s Executive Team and corporate partners including Arthur Webb Group, Ltd.Milbank Memorial FundClifton, Budd, & DeMaria, LLPPitta Bishop & Del Giorno, LLC; and Prudential.

Staff members receiving scholarship awards were: Abigiel BaharliasAngela ChanJulissa EstevesHolli FlackKathryn KearnsElisa Medina AlcantaraKesha SuttonJessica TaverasAlex Treyger, and Peter Vigil.