Senator Kemp Hannon recently bestowed the New York State Senate Liberty Award, one of our state's highest commendations, on 17 honorees who aided in the rescue or recovery efforts after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Senator Hannon recognized these honorees at an awards ceremony in the Hofstra University Cultural Center Theatre. Local honorees included Dr. Michael Maiorino, Matthew Botta and the Plainview-Old Bethpage fourth-grade choir under the direction of Jeanne Candal and JFK High School choir under the direction of Adam Paltrowitz.
"It was imperative that we honor those who, during the terrorist attack and its aftermath, acted on their own to help others," said Hannon. "Their example challenges us all to give of ourselves for the common good, and provides us with role models to emulate."
Hannon recognized Dr. Maiorino of Plainview for conducting himself like a veteran when tragedy struck New York City on Sept. 11. Dr. Maiorino had recently graduated from New York University Dental School and was attending a lecture at NYU when news of an accident at the World Trade Center spread. The school was evacuated as well as Bellevue Hospital, where he was stationed, except for the intensive care unit; so Dr. Maiorino set out to find his father and brother who also work in the city.
Ensured of his family's well-being, Dr. Maiorino went of his own will to Ground Zero very early the next morning, joining just a handful of doctors administering aid to the many rescue workers in need. "I was just hoping to help anyone I could," he said. For six days, the doctor tended to the workers at the disaster site and also gathered remains. Dr. Maiorino returned to his duties but he continued to spend his spare time helping out at Ground Zero. Dr. Maiorino said, "I have more of an appreciation for my knowledge in the field because I am able to apply my knowledge to areas outside of dentistry and help people."
Senator Hannon bestowed the Liberty Award on Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School fifth grader Matthew Botta for organizing a Walk-A-Thon fundraiser to benefit those affected by the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, including his pal Ethan who lost his father there. "I cried when I found out what happened," said Matthew; but he channeled his despair into positive activity.
Botta masterminded the Walk-A-Thon; and he served as the lead person in planning and implementing the fundraising event. Matthew said, "I was proud of myself. This is the first time one of my big ideas really happened." Matthew credits his parents, school administrators, the Student Council and the Leo Club for their support; and he recognizes the many local businesses, whom he solicited himself, for their donations and raffle prizes. He also expresses gratitude to his uncle, a New York Islanders employee, who was instrumental in getting the Islanders involved in Matthew's cause. Approximately 80 students and teachers participated in the Walk-A-Thon, enabling Matthew to raise more than $4,100 for donation to the American Red Cross. Matthew said, "It feels good to know I am helping people."
Hannon recognized the Old Bethpage Elementary School fourth-grade chorus, under the direction of Jeanne Candal, and Plainview's John Kennedy High School treble choir, under the direction of Adam Paltrowitz, because they presented an extremely moving benefit concert, Harmony for Heroes which had the awesome effect of healing a community reeling from the tragic events of Sept. 11.
The inspiration for this concert came from Candal, who even created an original composition honoring firefighters which is entitled Dedication and was performed by her chorus. Besides that performance, other touching moments during the sold-out concert included a performance by James Noone, a lone bagpiper who reportedly lost his future son-in-law in the World Trade Center attacks and an address to the audience made by the wife of a missing firefighter. The sold-out concert was recorded live and CDs of the performances, as well as sales of tickets, home-baked refreshments and buttons designed by students raised over $8,000 which was donated to the Uniformed Firefighters Association Widows' and Children's Fund.
A parent in attendance, Susan Naftol, described the program as "just such a sad, yet wonderfully uplifting experience" which raised a large sum of money and started to heal souls. She added, "We were able to teach our children that even though all of us feel powerless at times like these, we really aren't. When we, as a community, set our minds to achieve a greater good, nothing can stop us! As I wrote in my thank you to Ms. Candal, 'It's amazing how many heroes, large and small have emerged.' "
Hannon celebrated the extraordinary accomplishments of these special individuals at the outset of National Volunteer Week so others would be encouraged to seek out opportunities to help others. "So many people want to help, and don't know where or how to begin. All of the volunteers we have selected for the Liberty Award saw a need and, without being asked, found a way to help those in need."
In order to inspire potential volunteers, Senator Hannon encourages people to visit the Points of Lights' Foundation's website at www.pointsoflight.org and link to the "Getting Involved" section. "There are about 50 simple ideas on how to help someone - your neighbor, local children or senior citizens - that you can begin today."
Some of the ideas listed on the website include: collecting warm clothing for the homeless or needy, performing household chores for an elderly or homebound person or coaching a youth sports team.
Hannon put out a call for Liberty Award nominations at the end of 2001. His office received over 100 applications. "We were truly overwhelmed and gratified to see so many examples of generosity, courage, and volunteerism," said Hannon. "It was difficult to select the winners because every person nominated had helped people." Liberty Award recipients were chosen primarily for their initiative, responsiveness and generosity.
Created in 2000, the New York State Senate Liberty Award is given to individuals who have merited special commendation for exceptional, heroic or humanitarian acts and achievements on behalf of their fellow New Yorkers and their community.