Hempstead Town Presents 2014 Pathfinder Awards to 10 Outstanding Women

As people across the nation commemorate Women’s History Month, Supervisor Kate Murray and the Town Board celebrated today by hosting an annual Hempstead Town tradition — the Pathfinder Awards at Town Hall’s Nathan L. H. Bennett Pavilion.

During the 2014 Pathfinder Awards, Murray and members of the Town Board recognized the outstanding achievements of 10 women who either live and/or work in the Town of Hempstead, including one posthumous award.

“When Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,’ she could have been speaking of the spirit exuded by the exceptional women we honored at our annual Pathfinder Awards ceremony,” Murray said. “These truly inspirational ladies from our township have made indelible impacts on their neighbors and communities.”

The Town of Hempstead’s 2014 Pathfinder ceremony featured the presentation of awards, musical entertainment and a keynote speech. The keynote speech was delivered by Melissa Connolly, the Vice President for University Relations at Hofstra University. Connolly led the University’s hosting of the presidential debates in 2008 and 2012, as well as the New York State Gubernatorial Debate in 2010.

“We are grateful to have had Melissa Connolly with us today to share her creative thoughts,” Murray said. “With Melissa and our 10 exceptional award winners, we showcased some of the finest female role models from our township and across the nation.”

The winners of the prestigious 2014 Pathfinder awards are as follows:

Arts & Entertainment: Rachel Blackburn, is the Choral Music Director at Hempstead High School, where she directs the Hempstead Select Chorale. Under Rachel’s leadership, the Chorale has performed with prestigious instrumental ensembles, including the National Philharmonic in Washington, D.C. The group has performed at Carnegie Hall and at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, as well as internationally in Austria and Italy. Rachel is also the founder and artistic director of the Voices of Virtue, a community-based choir and non-profit organization to provide a performance platform for Long Island’s talented youths and adults. She is also the Vice President of Sisters of the Arts, a group that supports youth and young adults who seek careers in the Fine and Performing Arts.

Arts & Entertainment (Posthumous):  The late Beth King Young of Wantagh, who left a legacy after her untimely passing in 2012, shared her love of dance and fitness with countless youngsters for more than 25 years. She taught at Freeport Middle School, the East Meadow School District and at ACDS, a school for children with special needs in Plainview. A Freeport resident for over 40 years, Beth and her husband Keith moved with their family to Wantagh. Beth achieved her dream of converting a barn into a dance studio, founding the Dance Barn, where she offered affordable and stress-free dance training for children. Beth, who lost her mother to cancer, created the Hot Pilates Secret class to help the healing process, providing a peaceful, healing atmosphere. Beth was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer in January 2012, right after she committed to choreographing a dance number for her beloved special needs students at ACDS. Through great physical pain, Beth still choreographed the number from her hospital bed and insisted on traveling to watch her students perform at Lincoln Center. Her daughter Kaley, has continued her mom’s journey, teaching the Hot Pilates Secret classes.

Business: Sheryl Taylor of Baldwin has had a profound and lasting impact on the Town of Hempstead business community. A remarkable professional career with tenures in both the public and private sectors has propelled Sheryl to the forefront of Long Island business leaders. She is the Director of Human Resources at EPIC Long Island, which is dedicated to providing treatment, care and education to people with epilepsy, developmental disabilities and emotional challenges. Sheryl is an expert in the fields of employee and labor relations, helps encourage corporate partnerships and student internships, and is devoted to educating people who are willing to learn a trade.  

Community Affairs: Susan Helsinger of East Meadow is a mother whose heart-wrenching tragedy has inspired a heart-warming campaign of hope to safeguard youngsters afflicted with heart disease. Susan lost her beloved son Jason at the tender age of 15 to a rare heart disease called IHSS (Idiopathic Hyper-thropic Sub-aortic Stenosis) that can strike unsuspecting, apparently healthy youngsters. In honor of her son, Susan has worked tirelessly to raise money, heighten awareness and prevent other children from succumbing to the disease through the Jason F. Gruen Research Foundation. Through detection and medication, the foundation endeavored to identify and treat the threat of cardiac arrhythmia. Dozens of children’s lives have been saved thanks to the work of Susan’s foundation. Susan also pioneered efforts to provide free echocardiograms for local students.

Education: Meredith Brosnan, Assistant Superintendent for Business for Valley Stream Union Free School District 13, is more than a school business official – she is an advocate for students in her district and across the state. Meredith puts students first, volunteers in the community and is a recognized leader in her field. She also supervises the physical education teachers and plans physical fitness programs. Meredith works closely with the Interschool PTA, and has worked tirelessly on the District Grant Committee to secure funding for a reading garden created in memory of a student who died of cancer. She is a past president of the New York State Association of School Business Officials and is a member of the State Education Department’s Advisory Committee for School Business.

Health Services: Beth Watras of Garden City has been passionate about pediatric occupational therapy, constantly striving to find new and improved ways of caring for children of all ages. As Senior Occupational Therapist at The Hagedorn Little Village School in Seaford, Beth contributes to provide the finest educational and therapeutic program to children with developmental delays and disabilities. She maintains the highest quality of care, ensuring healthy youngsters and grateful parents while providing a warm, nurturing environment. She serves on the school’s Golden Rule Committee and is the Capital Campaign to improve the school at no cost to families it serves.

High School Senior: Fiona Allain of Baldwin is an exceptional student at Oceanside High School who has volunteered more than 2,000 hours of her free time to community service. Most of that time over the past two years has been dedicated to assisting Sandy victims in her neighborhood and across the south shore. She spent countless hours removing flood-soaked insulation, carpets and walls for victims. Fiona maintains a 4.0 GPA and is involved in the school’s Robotics Club, the National Honors Society, the Chamber Ensemble and the Christian Club. She is also active member with South Nassau Christian Church in Baldwin, where she volunteers as a Sunday school teacher.

Humanitarian: Ele Ruth Melendez, the Outreach Director of the Parish Social Ministry Office at St. Frances de Chantal Church in Wantagh, has transformed the office into a model for the rest of Long Island. Incredible outreach programs and services offered by St. Frances spread so much that people actually stop Ele on the street to ask for help. From helping to get a traffic light installed near the church to traveling to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, Ele has helped countless people in need.

Town Employee: In a workplace full of barks and meows, Kim Matthews gives a voice to the four-legged characters at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter. Friendly, energetic and highly motivated, Kim is known by her colleagues as the “heart and soul” of the Animal Shelter. Kim is the go-to gal for all shelter operations, first in line to help on a project and always someone her co-workers can rely on in a jam. Kim runs the shelter’s annual Rabies Clinic, at which the shelter offers low-cost rabies vaccinations for cats and dogs.

Volunteer:A volunteer is often defined as one who offers assistance of her free will without compensation. But Debra Kirsh certainly made sure that her hard work paid dividends for the East Meadow community. Debra’s incredible resume of volunteerism started in the Meadowbrook School PTA, where she quickly rose through the ranks to become president, and later an officer of the Clarke High School PTA, the East Meadow PTA Council and the Nassau Region PTA. She later served as a school board trustee from 2004 to 2007. Debra has been also an active volunteer within the East Meadow Kiwanis, becoming only the third female president of the community organization.

 “The spirit of the Pathfinder is alive and well in Hempstead Town,” concluded Murray. “Women who have made a difference and are serving as outstanding role models deserve our recognition and respect. I am proud that we were able to honor them today.”