I’m inspired by people who see a problem and, rather than complain or get discouraged, work hard to figure out ways to solve it, no matter how overwhelming it might seem. When I was CEO for the Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey, we had a fundraising campaign called, “It just takes one,” and I got to see up close how true that slogan is. One person, with the compassion and fortitude to give their time, talent, or treasure can save a child’s life, advance civil rights, or move us a step closer to world peace.
All great progress in our country’s history started and often was led, by one person who could inspire others to join in their cause.
At Taft Communications, we have the privilege of working with many organizations and institutions that aim to make their community, and even the world, a better place. All are led by passionate and committed people and teams that work daily to fight the good fight. These professionals often go above and beyond the jobs they are paid to do because it is, simply, what they do.
Click to tweet: In this extraordinarily challenging time, it’s important to recognize everyday people whose good work shows that everyone can make a difference. http://ow.ly/ZVJl50EGfPv #givingback @taftcomms
Recently, the Taft team had the pleasure of working with the Russell Berrie Foundation and Ramapo College in promoting the 25th annual Making a Difference Award. Increasing nominations and growing the overall awareness of the award opportunity through a digital advertising/paid social media campaign, hyper-local media outreach and editorials was made easier by the powerful stories of these individual heroes and the legacy of Russ Berrie.
In this extraordinarily challenging time, it’s important to recognize everyday people whose good work shows that everyone can make a difference. What might seem to be a small gesture can have a life-changing impact on thousands of people.
The Russell Berrie Foundation has honored such unsung New Jersey heroes with the Making a Difference Award for the past 25 years. Berrie was an innovative entrepreneur who started in a rented garage and created a $300 million global toy and gift company known by its slogan, “Make Someone Happy.” He created and sold the Russ teddy bears and other lovable creatures.
Berrie, who died in 2002, created the award, which comes with significant cash prizes, to celebrate the accomplishments of New Jerseyans who perform selfless acts. Many Making a Difference Award winners have used the prize to advance the mission and growth of their grassroots organizations, some of which now serve people nationwide in scope. Some honorees include
- Dionisio Cucuta, Jr., aka “Chef Dion,” a military veteran from Teaneck and this year’s $50,000 winner, is described as an irreplaceable asset to his community. Recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic created devastating food insecurity for many vulnerable residents in Bergen County, Chef Dion jumped into action. Drawing on his culinary background, he created Hot Wheels, hot dinners prepared from scratch to families at Bergen Family Center. He has since created Table to Table Tuesday, a raw food distribution donated by Table to Table food rescue organization. Chef Dion has also been a long-time mentor to young people through the Disabled Combat Veterans Youth Program and Englewood’s Culinary Cadets program.
- Chip Pallix started Grow-A-Row in Pittstown to plant and harvest vegetables for local food pantries. From donating 120 pounds of produce from his home garden in 2002, Grow-A-Row now provides 2 million pounds of produce annually to food pantries from Maine to Virginia. Pallix’s hard work and giving spirit earned him a $50,000 award in 2010.
- Fraidy Reiss founded Unchained at Last in 2011 after her experience of being forced into an arranged, abusive marriage at 19 years old. Unchained at Last is the only U.S. organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriage. It provides free legal and social services and advocates for social, policy, and legal changes. She won the top award in 2019.
- Jack Fanous, a 2013 recipient of $25,000, used his award to expand GI Go Fund, based in Newark, into a national organization that helps military veterans — with a focus on those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan — find employment and housing and secure education and health benefits.
- Adam Lowy turned his family’s local moving company in Monmouth County into a creative solution to food insecurity and food waste. A 2016 recipient of a $5,000 award, Lowy took Move for Hunger from collecting 300 pounds of food a month in New Jersey to a network of socially responsible relocation companies in the U.S. and Canada. Since 2009, the organization has given more than 22 million pounds of food to food banks that might otherwise have been thrown out.
Over 25 years, 366 people and organizations have won a Making a Difference Award. On May 7, the Russell Berrie Foundation will recognize this year’s Making a Difference Award winners adding to the more than $3.5 million in cash awards to date.
Amid a pandemic that magnifies glaring racial injustice and societal fissures, it’s inspiring to find hope in the extraordinary people who step up to help and it’s been a joy to play a role in helping to identify this year’s nominees and celebrate this year’s winners.
If you ever wondered whether one person really can make a difference, or are debating about whether you should get involved in your community, these Making a Difference Award winners will surely inspire you to act. The Russell Berrie Making A Difference Awards are further proof that it really does “just take one.”
RSVP to attend this year’s virtual awards here.