American Dreamer Awards return, honoring Special Services partners

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Center for Special Services was able to host its annual celebration of the partners and supporters whose crucial work helps ensure we meet the needs of all of our students.

The 28th annual American Dreamer Achievement Awards luncheon took place at SWBOCES’ Career Services campus in Valhalla June 9.

The event is an opportunity to honor and thank those who have elected to make a difference in the lives of others by supporting the SWBOCES mission to provide quality educational services.

Andrea Byrne, Director of Special Services, explained that tradition dates back to 1991 with the idea of recognizing the valuable partnerships that the SWBOCES community relies upon and benefits from.  

“There are certain people that come along in all of our lives who are integral in helping us feel good and in helping us out,” Ms. Byrne said. 

Six individuals were honored for their contributions to our students and programs. Each was introduced by a member of the Special Services team. One of the honorees, Claire Polin, was handed her award by Chris, the SWBOCES student she mentors. Another honoree, Pastor Jonathan Recabarren, addressed the luncheon and reminded attendees of the importance of simply being present, as they are for students every day.

On hand for the event, in addition to Ms. Byrne, were Catherine Draper and Cheryl Brady, members of the SWBOCES Board of Education; Dr. Harold A. Coles, District Superintendent; Jacqueline O’Donnell, Chief Operating Officer/Deputy District Superintendent; James Gratto, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services; Jessica Walker, Assistant Director of Special Services; principals Phyllis Rizzi, David Nisenbaum, Leslie Handler and Alberta Grant-Johnson; and Assistant Principal Francesca Fernandez.

The honorees, many on hand with family, friends and colleagues, were:

James Ebron
Security Guard, Irvington High School
Nominated by: Principal Alberta Grant-Johnson

James Ebron is a security guard who greets visitors at Irvington High School. James is always so kind to our students and staff. He regularly looks out for the students in the program and communicates with us on their behalf. He is also always welcoming to our visitors. James truly embraces the SWBOCES team and students as part of the Irvington Schools community.

Patti Greenberg
Account Manager, Allied Division, PearlCare Search Group, White Plains
Nominated by Jack Aiello

Patti Greenberg has become an indispensable partner in procuring multiple related services for all students, both within as well as outside our programs. One of the many functions at SWBOCES is to ensure that surrounding schools and districts receive additional support for their students. This may come in the form of services for vision, speech, counseling, initial assessments, and re-evaluations. Mrs. Greenberg works assiduously to ensure that the full gamut of services is secured for as many students as possible, so that they can achieve their dreams and reach their full potential. It is with distinct gratitude and pleasure that I nominate Mrs. Greenberg for this award.

Isa Marrs
Speech Language Pathology, PC, Briarcliff Manor
Nominated by Jack Aiello

Isa Marrs has become a crucial partner in providing many different related services to our non-SWBOCES students. Mrs. Marrs excels especially in providing multiple speech services throughout our component districts. She demonstrates great care and dedication in ensuring that no schools experience a “resource vacuum” when it comes to service needs. In addition, Mrs. Marrs also helps with delivering assessments and evaluations, critical tools for helping to fine-tune our efforts to meet students’ needs. Mrs. Marrs performs a vital function in helping all students achieve their dreams, and she has made such a deep impact that deserves recognition.

Claire Polin
Volunteer New York!/WIHD
Nominated by Teacher Erroll Rivera and Principal Phyllis Rizzi, Tappan Hill School

Claire Polin has mentored our student Chris weekly since October 2021 through Volunteer New York! where she came highly recommended by RISE program manager Patti Columbo. Ms. Polin is an experienced self/disability rights advocate, which all involved in Chris’ education believed would be incredibly helpful to him as he prepares to graduate and transition into the adult world. Claire provides Chris with consistency in attending their weekly sessions. She has given him appreciated social contact during the isolating days of COVID. Her weekly presence creates a calming environment for Chris, letting him know that others care about him, his progress and advancement. She is a positive role model, demonstrating independence, responsibility and professionalism. She always addresses Chris in a friendly and respectful manner and shows interest in those things that interest him. She is patient, encouraging and supportive, while simultaneously providing him the space and opportunity to express himself. Ms. Polin has provided many opportunities, experiences and connections for Chris. She introduced him to Mariela Adams of the Westchester Institute of Human Development, where he was recently able to join a panel discussion during their virtual conference with a peer group of young self-advocates. Through Claire and Mariela, Chris also has the opportunity to make an autobiographical video presentation with The Speaker’s Network as a graduation project. It is our honor and privilege to nominate Claire for the American Dreamer Award.

Pastor Jonathan J. Recabarren
St. Matthew’s Church, White Plains
Nominated by St. Matthew’s SWBOCES staff

Pastor Jonathan J. Recabarren has been an integral part of the SWBOCES community at St. Matthew’s. Though we may not see him every day, Pastor Jonathan often walks around the building, taking time to interact with our students and check in on how they are doing. He goes above and beyond to help our students feel supported and always lends an ear to any staff member or student who inquires about his job, our facilities or what he does for the community at large. On many occasions, Pastor Jonathan speaks with students, joined by staff members, in his office or conference room, sharing positive interactions and modeling appropriate ways to approach and converse with a member of the community with whom students may not be entirely familiar. One of our students, Oscar, verbalizes on an almost daily basis when he notices the pastor’s car in the parking lot, “I can’t wait to see him today! I can’t wait! I hope he lets me talk to him in his office with the fancy leather chairs!” Many other students reiterate this same sentiment. Thank you, Pastor Jonathan, for always helping our students continue to grow and succeed!

Marcela Stern
Treasurer, SWBOCES SEPTA, Tappan, N.Y.
Nominated by Phyllis Rizzi, Principal, Tappan Hill School

Marcela was a founding member of the SWBOCES SEPTA in the spring of 2010. From the beginning, SEPTA’s goal has been to help parents be better informed about opportunities for their children. SEPTA supports families in navigating the system. They have created a platform that invites all parties to share their expertise, experience, and questions. No one exemplifies these goals better than Ms. Stern.

She emigrated from the Czech Republic to the U.S. as a political refugee. An electrical engineer, she worked at Columbia University for over 35 years. She is a proud mother to Kaya Stern, who is now 22 and who attended SWBOCES programs for many years. Ms. Stern has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to our families and our learning community. She is a constant resource and support, providing crucial information and recommendations that allow families to actively engage in their children’s educational planning and to advocate for their needs. She is dedicated to empowering families to maximize available resources to best serve their children throughout the educational process and into adulthood.

As a volunteer, Ms. Stern has dedicated over 13 years to the role of treasurer, working with the NYSPTA to maintain our charter and keep us in good financial standing. With her assistance, SEPTA has provided workshops, social events, and enriching activities for students and families. She has teamed with the SEPTA board to ensure that events are inclusive and representative of the diverse and unique families and students within the SWBOCES community. It is worth noting that her work has continued beyond Kaya’s enrollment as a student. That is dedication!

She is a champion for special education and illustrates a tireless commitment to serving our families across the Center for Special Services. We are grateful for her many years of service.