100 Heroes: Financial Stability

As United Way of the Mohawk Valley celebrates 100 years of making an impact in our community, we are celebrating 100 local heroes who have done the same.

We are excited to recognize this community's UNSUNG heroes, the people who have made an impact in Oneida or Herkimer County, as part of United Way's "100 Heroes."

100 local individuals have been selected based on six categories that align with United Way's mission.
Check out the full list here.

Martin Babinec

martin babinec

Martin Babinec of Little Falls, New York, is a true community hero. Babinec, a graduate of Herkimer College, created a successful business in Silicon Valley, called TriNet. In 1999, Babinec made the bold decision to move back to his hometown of Little Falls to help build and strengthen his community. His decision paid off. Babinec has since founded and remains active in several initiatives that are helping to build successful local communities. 

“There are a huge amount of assets here,” said Babinec. “The people in Silicon Valley aren't any smarter than here, but our assets are disconnected here.”
Babinec has started more than 10 companies/non-profits locally that all have the same goal in mind – to build community. His goal is to create more jobs in the local region so that our top talent will stay where they grew up. 

“What I do isn’t limited to one community, it’s focused on all of Upstate New York and beyond,” said Babinec. “It’s about building community in a way that impacts a lot of lives and brings connectivity between our communities.”

Babinec is especially proud of his work in creating Upstate Venture Connect (uvc.org), which has grown to a network of more than 17,000 people across all of Upstate New York. Its goal is to help bridge the geographical divide. In addition, Babinec is an avid supporter of the thINCubator and the Innovation Collective. The following organizations and initiatives are ones Babinec has created and remains active in:

Upstate Venture Connect

Entrepreneurs Across Borders 

UpMobility FoundationMore Good Jobs Community 

Unite NY 

Little Falls High School Alumni Network 

UpVentures Capital

Rock City Centre



Babinec could not have gotten to this point without the support of mentors along the way and acknowledges Jack Stack, founder of SRC in Springfield, Missouri, as a great one. 

"I believe everyone was born with a purpose and mine is to help bring about changes that have an impact on building stronger communities,” said Babinec.

Diane Berry

diane berry

Diane Berry is described by her friends and peers as the definition of an unsung hero. As the Director of the New York Mills Public Library, Diane has put the safety of her staff and clients at the forefront since the start of the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, she took great pride in visiting different schools in our area to support their banned book events, where she would advocate for the importance of highlighting different voices in local schools through literature. 

As one of our 100 Heroes, Diane’s impact on the Mohawk Valley stretches far beyond her day job. In addition to her work at the library, Diane volunteers her time to several local organizations, including the local NAACP chapter, the American Civil Liveries Union, the Mohawk Valley Latino Association, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. She’s also involved in the Junior Frontiers of the Mohawk Valley and OnPoint for College.

Diane’s peers praise her for her deep understanding of the needs in our area. Beyond her work and volunteer efforts, Diane is known for providing direct support to young people in our community, whether that be through giving them a ride to school, helping them financially, or providing them with safe housing. “I started informally helping give rides to a couple of young individuals,” said Diane. “Seeing them then get into college makes a huge difference in breaking the cycle of poverty for these families—but it didn't end there. They still needed support while in college, like housing when they didn't have access to the dorms during breaks and holidays.”

When those who have benefitted from Diane’s selfless support ask how they can repay her, she simply urges them to “pay it forward” and says, “if you have resources, be generous with them.”

Daniel Cribb

daniel cribb

A friend and active member of the local Burmese and Karen communities who arrived in Utica as a teenager in 2006, Daniel Cribb is a remarkable advocate for the refugee community in Oneida County and beyond. His current position is as the Director of Refugee Health for Mosaic Health. In this role and in his spare time Daniel works tirelessly to ensure that all new arrivals to Utica feel that they are welcomed and supported. Among the many ways, advocates for the refugee community are interpreting, coordinating community events, engaging in political action, and generally assisting individuals in accessing available community resources. He is an empathic listener, a creative problem solver, and a bright light to many in times of darkness. Much of Daniel's work goes without comment or recognition but it is life-changing for our newest refugee and immigrant community members.

His volunteer work includes involvement with the Utica Karen Baptist Church and with the Utica Karen community. He is also a translator, an advisor, a tutor to the Karen youth of Utica, and a health educator in the Burmese/Karen communities. His love of soccer has led him to organize popular local soccer tournaments. He admits that being young when he arrived in Utica has been a big help when advising young refugees and helping them deal with things like peer pressure and bullying.

Knowing how his people have been oppressed by the Burmese military regime and how they have struggled and suffered in Burmese refugee camps has served as a huge personal motivator for Daniel as he does what he can to help. He sees himself as a “bridge” between two very different cultures and feels it is important to “lead by example.” He loves bringing smiles to peoples’ faces. Sometimes he plays the piano, something that seems a surprise to many, as a way to add gaiety to an occasion and bring on those smiles. 

“My parents raised us children to understand life's struggles and to serve those who are in need. Seeing them go out of their way to help others has rubbed off on me. My mom showed me how to be humble and resilient and the importance of strong faith.” While struggling themselves, Daniel’s parents always helped those less fortunate who didn't have access to basic human needs. They are Daniel’s number one heroes. Doctor Wah Htoo, former head of the Christian mission in Burma, is another of Daniel’s mentors. He preached the importance of giving to those who are in need without expecting anything in return – a lesson Daniel took very seriously. So now it is the lessons of his parents and the teachings of his faith that guide him in the present to help his countrymen. "To me being a hero means to serve and speak up for those who aren't able.”

Here in Utica what most impresses Daniel is the community’s general acceptance of diversity. Different cultures coexist side by side and a welcoming atmosphere is everywhere. The traditional Karen wrist-tying ceremony and America’s Greatest Heart Run and Walk are his favorite local events, and “riggies” are his go-to favorite local food. When he has spare time, Daniel enjoys his music, soccer, golf, and hiking. All this adds up to a very active and busy and meaningful life.

Jackie Lewis

jackie lewis

Jackie Lewis has been dedicated to the non-profit industry for over 25 years and continues her work with ARC Herkimer. When it comes to raising money, Jackie is the one you want on your team. She’s always thinking of new ways to raise money to fund different programs for the people she supports with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Jackie started her non-profit journey more than 25 years ago when she joined the Lion Club. From that moment on she has volunteered at countless events, won countless awards, and touched countless lives. Jackie has many mentors but one that stands out most to Jackie is Anne Rushlo. Jackie served on the leadership board while Anne was the executive director. “Her ability to bring people together and dedication to the community” is what she admired most. “She has this special power to share stories and bring people together for a common good,” Jackie said. She also credits Kevin Crossley, ARC Herkimer’s CEO, for helping her grow personally and professionally because of his leadership.

Jackie is most proud of managing the New York International Wine Auction event for Herkimer Arc. Over the years the wine auction has raised over $1.4 million! 

When asked why making an impact is so important to her, she quoted Hellen Keller. "Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much." Jackie said, “we have to come together to make an impact and support and change the lives of those that need it because no one can do it alone."

Volunteer Efforts:

Center for Leadership Excellence Marketing & Events Committee (former LMV/CLE Board

Member and served as Treasurer, & Secretary). CLE was formerly known as Leadership Mohawk Valley (LMV)

Board member of ARMA International (formerly known as Association of Records Managers Administrators) Upstate NY Chapter since 1994 (served as VP,

Treasurer, Secretary)

Greater Herkimer Lions Club member since 1997 (served as Secretary)

Herkimer County Hunger Coalition founding board member since 1999 

Executive Office & Special Events Manager at Arc Herkimer

Gram Lorraine (finds sponsors for kids for Christmas) 

Uncle Frank Back-to-School program

Fallen Stars Memorial

Karin Piseck

karin piseck

Karin Piseck is the person who has overseen Herkimer Working Solutions Career Center for years, helping thousands of people with their employment needs. She and her dedicated staff provide resources, services, and programs that are available to assist individuals in obtaining and maintaining employment. They also provide workshops and informational services which are completely free. This was a big help to Herkimer County during the time the country’s largest employer, Remington Arms, was transitioning into new ownership. According to her nominator, she was also instrumental in leading her team during several layoffs at Remington prior to that. Hundreds of displaced workers were guided through the process with great success. Karin’s customers have said she is “professional, caring, and has a calming and reassuring demeanor with her clientele.”

At the start of the pandemic, Karin and her staff brought people in safely to make sure they knew of the benefits available during the layoff. She looked for and found different ways to connect with those who needed them. She said they were always “available and with a friendly voice – no matter what, we're going to be kind.” Throughout the pandemic, Karin and her team helped people find opportunities for new employment, education, and advanced training.  

When asked why she is so passionate about her community and giving back she said the area is a hidden gem. “You can take for granted what is here until you need to explain to people what is here. But, when you can articulate to people, what’s here, they’re surprised.” Karin says making an impact is important because “if we want young people to stay in our area, then we need to model the behavior we want to see in them. Showing someone that we have a lot to offer, and it is a good area can make a difference.”

Karin can’t pinpoint just one person that has helped her along the way. She credits many to her success including Jim Wallace, Herkimer Country Administrator, David Mathis, her counterpart in Oneida County, whom she has learned so much, and Al Savino with the Workforce Development Board just to name a few. 

Her nominator said, “Karin is a friend and working partner, I have seen Karin, display genuine devotion and care for the people she serves. There are not many like her. She is a true hero.” And when we asked Karin her thoughts on being a hero she said, "To me being a hero means making a difference in someone’s life. Someone that we’re helping. No matter what it is, no matter what they need at that moment, then we’ve had a good day.” 

In her downtime Karin loves Italian food, trying different menu options too, of course, reading, a good vacation, and socializing. Her positive from the last year or so is the fact that people are starting to connect in person, again. She says, “people had a chance to miss each other and we’re happy to be together again.”

Volunteer Efforts: 

Manager of the Herkimer Working Solutions Career Center

Director of Employment & Training for Herkimer County

Chairman of the MVCAA Board of Directors

United Way Community Impact Committee Member

Former WERC Board Member

Perkins Loan Advisory Committee Member for HCCC and BOCES

Herkimer County Youth Task Force

Herkimer County Suicide Prevention Coalition

Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency Board Member

United Way MV Community Impact Committee Member

Jawwaad Rasheed

jawwaad rasheed

Coming to Utica as a Family Court Magistrate in 1992, Jawwaad Rasheed knew he was called to serve. Whether it be through his work as a judge, or his willingness to help children – his call to serve came from within, but also from his faith. 

As part of the 100 Heroes, Rasheed checks all the boxes of what we were looking for in a hero. He has countless years of volunteerism through a multitude of organizations. Jawwaad’s passion has been working with young people, and he says his job always allowed him to give. Helping the youth get into college, whether it be through the application process or even financing, has been his focus. Hearing the stories of success years from the now-adults – is all he needs to carry on his mission. 

“There are a lot of good and well-meaning people in Utica,” Rasheed said. “This community rallies around need very well – but my passion comes from the fact that Utica is small enough so that if you really had enough people to make a positive change it can happen, but large enough to be noteworthy and recognized.”

Jawwaad’s favorite meal is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, area staples he enjoys are chicken riggies and lasagna, and he enjoys reading Westerns. Growing up he says his father was a great influence in his life, and was his mentor and hero – his wisdom, caring, and love shaped Rasheed into who he is today.

Volunteer Efforts:

Mohawk Frontiers International

Co-Director of Junior Frontiers

President of Board of Directors of the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida counties

Board of Directors of Science Academies of New York

100 Black Men

NAACP member

Member of many boards

Boy Scouts


Judy Vicks Sweet

jusy vicks sweet

In addition to helping build a nationally recognized financial firm in Utica, Judy Vicks Sweet has supported friends, neighbors, family members, not-for-profit institutions, and businesses located throughout the Mohawk Valley and the country with compassion, passion, and industry-leading expertise. Both her impact and volunteerism in the financial industry are immeasurable. 

More than 33 years ago, Judy joined Alan Leist in building Strategic Financial Services, which today is a firm with 35 employees and more than $1.8 billion under management in New York. As president of the company, Judy credits our amazing community for allowing her the opportunity to start and grow a business that currently serves more than 1,000 clients, helping all to live a great life.

Judy has used her financial knowledge to not only grow her business but to give back to the communities that have supported her. She believes strongly that it is her responsibility to give back to the area where she has worked and raised her family. Over the last 30 years, Judy has served on numerous boards and committees, acting as a trusted advisor. In the past, Judy served the following organizations: 

The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties 

Commercial Travelers and Monitor Life Insurance Company 

St. Margaret’s Corporation of Utica

Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce

YWCA of the Mohawk Valley

Pathfinder Village

Utica College Capital Campaign

United Way Fundraising Committee

Currently, Judy serves in the following capacities: 

Director of the Lifetime Healthcare Companies in Rochester, serving on the Finance, the Health Plan, and Audit and Compliance Committees

Chair of the Regional Advisory Board of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Utica

Member of the Investment Committee for the Episcopal Diocese in Syracuse 

Member of the International Thyroid Oncology Group (ITOG), serving on their Finance Committee and co-chair of the Development Committee

Member of the Finance Committee for Save The River, an environmental watchdog for the St. Lawrence River

Her work has garnered hard-earned recognition as Wealth Management magazine’s list of Top 25 Women-Owned Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) for 3 years. In 2021, Strategic Financial Services was recognized as a #1 Best Place to Work by Investment News magazine, in no small part due to the focus on culture championed by Judy.

When asked, she would tell you that the highlight of her career is not these awards, but the advocacy and support she provides her clients throughout the many facets and stages of their lives, especially through sensitive financial transitions. In her words, “clients become part of our family.”

When not at work, Judy loves spending time with her family, enjoying activities outside, and participating in the Boilermaker. She loves everything about the community-oriented event that brings so much unity and comradery to our area.