In recognition of National Women's History Month, the Town of Hempstead honored 11 women who have made a significant difference in their communities. Among the honorees was Franklin Square resident Dee Cornella, who was honored for her volunteer work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Dee Cornella accepts the prestigious Pathfinder Award from Town of Hempstead Supervisor Rich Guardino.
Town of Hempstead Supervisor Richard Guardino explained at the awards ceremony on Tuesday that the town's women's history committee had to go through a difficult screening process before arriving at its choices to receive the prestigious Pathfinder Award.
Those who were ultimately chosen represent the epitome of success in their chosen field and are truly pathfinders since they act as inspirations for others to succeed, Guardino said.
As Mrs. Cornella listened to her accomplishments being read before those gathered at town hall prior to receiving her award, tears welled up in her eyes. Although she was proud and honored to receive the award, her efforts have come because she experienced a parent's worst nightmare - losing a child.
"Amy was such a beautiful girl," Mrs. Cornella said of her daughter who was killed in a drunk driving accident at the age of 17. "Her loss has just been unbearable."
Amy, who was aspiring to be a doctor, and her two friends were home from college on Christmas break in 1990 when their lives would be taken from them and their families. A day before going back to school, drinking and driving extinguished their hopes and dreams.
Although the loss of a daughter may be devastating to anyone, Mrs. Cornella's resiliency and fighting spirit became evident in the years following the tragedy. She went on a crusade to stop drinking and driving so that her daughter death was not in vain. "It's just so sad that it ended up like that, but I just can't not do something," Mrs. Cornella said.
A year after her daughter's death, Mrs. Cornella became a volunteer for the Long Island Chapter of MADD. Despite her full-time job as a physician's assistant, she accepted every assignment MADD asked of her. She has spoken at high schools at victim impact panels for the Nassau County Department of Probation, where her audiences consist exclusively of DWI offenders. She has served as chair of the annual Candlelight Vigil Committee, the annual "Walk for the Ribbons" and the Walkathon committee.
Asked what drives her to do all the volunteer work she does, the Pathfinder Award recipient replies simply, "Amy."
By keeping her daughter's memory alive, Mrs. Cornella is helping to prevent other families from going through what she did. Her daughter serves as a reminder on billboards that a senseless act can rob someone of their future and all the love and memories that would have been shared and experienced.
"Just by sitting back and not doing anything, I couldn't survive. I have to do this for her," Mrs. Cornella said. "Amy was always out there striving for excellence and trying to make things better and I'm hoping that by us doing this, it will make it better so that people don't drink and drive."
As an activist against drinking and driving, Mrs. Cornella has made it her mission to help prevent future tragedies from occurring. She lives by the motto common to all MADD volunteers - if you reach one person, it was all worth it.
Mrs. Cornella expressed gratitude to the town for presenting her with the award. "It was presented so nicely," she said. "I was so surprised to get it. I'm just so overwhelmed."
The Franklin Square resident selflessly and humbly wanted to share the award with other volunteers from MADD. "It's nice to be appreciated for all the volunteer work and all the hard work everybody does," she said. "It's a wonderful organization and all the volunteers deserve an award."