Town Honors Outstanding Women at Annual Pathfinder Awards

Supervisor Kate Murray and members of the Hempstead Town Board honored nine women who live or work in the Town of Hempstead for their outstanding contributions to the community at the town’s annual Pathfinder Awards ceremony Tuesday.

An inspiring keynote speech was delivered by Long Island’s own Christine Conniff Sheahan, founder, publisher and CEO of Networking Magazine, a national award-winning publication for enterprising executives. Ms. Sheahan began her career as an illustrator and started her own publishing corporation in 1981 and launched Networking Magazine in 1991.

“The women we recognize today have made a genuine difference in our communities and have gone to great lengths to accomplish their goals,” noted Murray. “From swimming with sharks in an effort to raise money for students to personally constructing homes for the elderly and needy, our ladies have shown grit, courage determination, intelligence and ‘grace under fire’ as they’ve staked their claims on success.”

The winners of this prestigious award are as follows:

Arts & Entertainment: Mary Ann Cali of North Valley Stream’s life-long love  of music and instruments began 4th grade as she took up the violin and almost immediately demonstrated unique talent and unbridled passion, earning many music awards. Mary Ann began a teaching career in Garden City and she was soon chosen as the Orchestra Director for the Valley Stream School District. Having compiled a remarkable 33-year career in Valley Stream, Mary Ann is renowned as a respected and much loved educator.  She provides instruction on the violin, viola, cello and string bass and she is the orchestra director at both the James A. Dever and Howell Road Schools. Mary Ann serves on district, county and state committees to promote music and support musical education.  Mary Ann’s career and talent have been cited on many occasions, including District 13’s PTA Lifetime Member Award. Uncommon talent and supreme dedication have earned Mary chairs in the Nassau Pops Symphony Orchestra, Valley Stream Community Orchestra and the Lawrence Philharmonic.

Business: When it comes to home health care, Taniella Jo Harrison of Garden City means business. As the CEO of Tri-County Home Nursing Services, Taniella has increased revenue by 500 percent and quadrupled the size of her company’s work force. Taniella is committed to the principles of serious yet sensitive health care. Superior services and quality care have moved Tri-County Home Nursing Services to the head of the class in the health care industry. The company is renowned for hiring caregivers who are among the best trained and most highly educated in the field.  Inspired to do justice to the work of the company’s founder, her grandmother Ella Ferguson, and her predecessor as CEO, her mom, Linda Cunegin, Taniella is continuing a tradition of “Family Caring for Family.” Despite a rigorous professional schedule, Taniella is devoted to many charitable concerns.  She works tirelessly to raise scholarship funds for needy high school and college students and she even finds time to teach classes on digital scrapbooking. Tania continues to impact the Long Island Chapter of the NYS Association of Health Care Providers and the Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Community Affairs: East Meadow’s Camille Leone is involved in the Wounded Warriors Foundation, the East Meadow Kiwanis Club and the Parkway Elementary School PTA. Camille is a fighter for the Wounded Warriors Foundation, providing companion dogs to wounded servicemen and women and fundraising for the organization’s Pennies for Pups Walk. As a member of the East Meadow Kiwanis Club, Camille helps make the holidays brighter for families in need, providing food baskets for local families for Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah and Easter/Passover. She also adopts two families a year, providing clothing and toys for the children. In addition, she supports the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Center at North Shore LIJ Hospital and her family actively participates in fundraisers for the center. A role model to local children as a PTA member, Camille has instilled the desire to help others in her two elementary school-aged children, who have also become involved in community service under their mother’s guiding hand. She recently learned of a toddler battling Leukemia, and has been a driving force in fundraising for the family to help pay medical bills and provide basic necessities. She is also a regular supporter of the Rich Forenza Memorial Fund, which supports a burn unit for children, and she is working toward sending burn victims from the unit to camp this summer.

Education: Not many educators can say they literally swam with sharks for their students, but Leeann Graziose did just that.  A parent at St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Regional School in Bellmore pledged a large donation to the school if Principal Graziose would jump in the shark tank at the Long Island Aquarium. Leeann quickly donned a wet suit, taking on the challenge. In another instance, she ran a marathon to raise money to purchase new chairs for the school auditorium. Whether swimming with sharks to raise money or flying across a stage hoisted by a pulley for a school play or dressing up with her fellow faculty members for the school Halloween parade, there is nothing that Principal Leeann Graziose won’t do for her students. And while we can laugh about some of the adventures in which she has participated, Principal Graziose was just as quick to jump in to help one of her students who battled Cancer throughout his time at the school. She visited him at home and was a shoulder to cry on for his mother when needed. This unwavering compassion is typical for Leeann, who has taught the students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Regional School sensitivity and kindheartedness in addition to the “three Rs”.

Health Services: This year marks Freeport’s Carolyn Simpkins’ 47th year in the nursing profession. After graduating as a Licensed Practical Nurse in 1964, Carolyn launched a noteworthy journey as both nursing student and instructor. In 1990, Carolyn launched her first entrepreneurial endeavor, creating a Childbirth Education Center while simultaneously volunteering as a Childbirth Education Instructor at the Freeport Health Center. In 1996, Carolyn earned regional acclaim as the very first African American Family Nurse Practitioner to graduate from Adelphi University’s Post Graduate Nurse Practitioner Program.  As a Family Nurse Practitioner, Carolyn provides primary health care including physical examinations, medical diagnoses, treatment and prescribing medications. Despite a busy and hectic professional schedule, Carolyn remains a pillar of the local community.  She contributes nobly to the Boys and Girls Club of Hempstead, local senior groups, and area Breast Cancer Forums. Carolyn is also a dynamic contributor to the Antioch Baptist Church. She has been married to husband, Joshua for 53 years and the couple boasts, three children, seven grandchildren and two great grand children.

High School Senior: One could say that Kayla Babbush of Merrick is the “heartbeat” of John F. Kennedy High School’s student body. As the founder and “lifeforce” behind a group of young people who secured defibrillators for local schools, Kayla has demonstrated a kind heart and a lifesaving talent for helping others. Through her organization, “Teens for Life,” more than a thousand of her fellow students and faculty members now know CPR and how to operate an automated external defibrillator. In partnership with the Robbie Levine Foundation, Kayla advocates for the education and the tools to provide for emergency life-saving care for heart disease victims. Her efforts have been featured in Newsday and recognized by the American Heart Association. “Teens for Life” has even been advertised on milk cartons across the region. Kayla’s drive and commitment for Teens of Life also is complemented by her excellence in the classroom and dedication to extracurricular activities. Kayla posts a grade point average that exceeds 100 and she excels in several Advanced Placement courses. She is active in many school organizations and holds leadership positions, from the varsity kickline to the Key Club.

Humanitarian: Nancy Howard works tirelessly as both a member of her community and as a public servant. Nancy’s dedication to the Rockville Centre community made the spotlight when she stepped into the role as the village’s deputy mayor. Nancy’s talent as a strong leader shined brightly when Hurricane Irene made its way through our area last summer. She worked alongside Mayor Francis X. Murray to prepare the village for its emergency response during the storm. Nancy’s energy and compassion throughout the stressful period were integral in executing the storm management process and the post-storm response. Nancy also spearheaded the Mayor’s Youth Task Force, a group comprising volunteer teenagers who clean up Rockville Centre’s downtown business district on Saturday mornings. She was also instrumental in crafting an agreement between the village and Molloy College to upgrade village athletic fields. During that process, Nancy visited all of the youth sports organizations to present the proposals and answer questions from the community to ensure the best decision was made for the children and community. Nancy’s community involvement dates back to her extensive background as a dedicated parent volunteer in the Rockville Centre School District. Additionally, she has held leadership roles in the Rockville Centre Education Foundation, the Rockville Centre Guild for the Arts and the Mercy League.

Volunteer: Retiring after 37 years as a physical education teacher in the East Rockaway School District, Dorothy Criscuolo, of Rockville Centre has established herself as one of Hempstead Town’s most dedicated volunteers. For Dorothy, volunteerism began in 1994, when she started dedicating one night a week to South Nassau Communities Hospital as a messenger – running errands, making beds, escorting patients and socializing. Dorothy soon realized that one night a week wasn’t enough for her. Dorothy soon joined Rebuilding Together Long Island, Inc., an organization that rehabilitates homes for the needy, elderly and disabled. As a physical education teacher, Dorothy had the strength, endurance and, of course, her volunteer spirit, to help repair over 30 structures, including women’s shelters and historic buildings. From helping out a hospital one night a week to spending the next 14 years volunteering whenever possible, Dorothy has repeatedly shown her commitment to her fellow neighbors and to worthy causes in Hempstead Town.  

Town of Hempstead Employee: For 29 years, Town of Hempstead employee Sheila Dauscher has enjoyed coming to work each day. Her colleagues in the town Highway Department, as well as those residents she assists, are greeted regularly with a friendly smile. She handles a range of important responsibilities, including the Records Access Office and Workers Compensation Case Management. Sheila also serves as the Litigation Liaison with the Town Attorney and as Office Operations Manager. If there’s a complex question that comes before the Highway Department, chances are that Sheila has an answer. She regularly goes above and beyond what is required and is always the first to volunteer for a project, to train and mentor new employees and promote teamwork among her colleagues. When it’s someone’s birthday or another event worthy of celebration, Sheila is always the one planning the party. Even after coming home to Malverne, Sheila remains involved in helping others. In the CYO Sports Program of the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, she has been a soccer and track coach for nearly 10 years. She also donates blood platelets monthly to the New York Blood Center.

“Each of these women is truly extraordinary,” concluded Murray. “They refuse to limit themselves or accept the limits that others might place on them. Instead, these ladies have dared to realize achievements that have broadened horizons and created opportunities for future generations of Pathfinders.”