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.
After Debra Alberding’s brother died in November 2019, she and her family thought of a way to honor his memory. Aware of the great need of many families in Oriskany Falls, she opened "Spike's Food Pantry" in an annex next to the office where she works at her family insurance agency. With an outside entrance, it is open 24/7 in an effort to help those who are “too proud” or find shame in asking for help.
When food supplies run low and donations are scarce, Debra and her family, use their own money to replenish stock. She said Along with food, she adds diapers, and essential clothing including warm coats, blankets, and other useful things. Everything put out quickly finds new homes.
Debbie is well known in the community for her generosity and jumping in to help wherever and whenever needed. “We have all had tough times. When I was younger things got tight and I too, hit a rough spot and I would have wanted someone to help me out,” Debra said. “I know it's got to be tougher today than when I was younger to make ends meet. I'm not a millionaire by any means, but I do what I can to help.”
When asked why making an impact is important, she said “there are people who need help but won't ask for help. It wasn't something that we did for recognition or praise. We did it because there were a lot of people who could use a little help and won't ask for it. We figured by doing it this way, they could come, and nobody would even know they were there.”
In her downtime, Debra loves pizza from NY Pizzeria in Waterville, crafting, sowing, and she loves spending time with her granddaughter – her very first!
Marc has been a fierce advocate for the Mohawk Valley his entire career with the State of New York and the United States House of Representatives. During the pandemic, Marc worked tirelessly to help ensure those out of work received unemployment benefits to support their families and worked with an extremely backlogged IRS to help get constituents much-needed stimulus payments, and for their returns and refunds to be processed timely.
When asked what his proudest moment is, Marc didn’t hesitate to say his work in public service is a team effect that he loved being a part of – especially during the pandemic. He said, “The Leave the Light On Campaign. We are the people who are helping to lead that on the constituent side. Foodbank information, vaccines, testing, how to book an appointment, and just material outreach for small businesses, and Department of Labor efforts. It was one of those things that I didn't think about at the time, it was a lot of work, but it definitely was a proud moment looking back and it felt good at that time.”
Marc says his work isn’t done, although he does feel that he has made an impact – one person at a time. “I think what's changed for me though is just the way I look at helping others. Anything I did I constantly had other people in the loop, and never felt alone. It was a team effort, and it was always good to have those people in my corner and talk to about the level of stress that we were under,” Marc said. “I got advice to do the best you can today and figure out what you can do for those people today and do the rest from there. I definitely think it made a difference.”
His nominator mentioned that even before the pandemic, Marc worked day and night, sometimes 7 days a week to help communities impacted by the Halloween 2019 flooding, attending meetings, going to people's homes, working with federal, state, and local officials, and others to get aid and support during this difficult time. He is thought of as a “dedicated, hard-working member of the team and an asset to this community.”
When he started serving his community is still up in the air. Marc was a part of the broadcast news industry five or six years ago because he wanted to be an information source. Then his role/effort changed from the communications side to the public service sector. He said, “I just knew that every outreach I did was constantly helping people. Items in the budget, grant assistance programs, office hours, etc. I learned how to be a good constituent by not overpromising or under-promising, but just making the most of it and connecting the dots for people.”
To Marc, it’s the little things that count the most. He says there is no better feeling than when you do something that helps another person. “It doesn't always have to be on a grand scale. It can be simple things and the rewards are so great when you can hear somebody say, ‘thank you.’ It's a form of competition for me to be the exception and I wanted to switch people’s negative opinions on calling the office for help. Looking back on it now, I think I feel an even stronger connection with the work and just with trying to help people out because of those experiences,” Marc said.
When asked who his mentor or hero is, he didn’t bat an eye. He said Delores Caruso has made a huge impact on his life and career, and also works for the New York State Department of Labor in Utica. “She has taught me the old-school way and the best way to get things done,” he said. “I wouldn't have been able to do many things without her and I am forever grateful that I met her because I honestly don't know what life would be like without her leading me through a lot of stuff.”
In his few hours of spare time, Marc enjoys being part of the Boilermaker Road Race, the Village Greens from Georgios, movies, sharing his vast movie knowledge with others, golfing, and being out on the lake or by water.
Sarah Bormann has dedicated her life to helping our community, working for four Members of Congress and a member of the New York State Assembly. Currently, Sarah has taken on the great task of working to reorganize the Oneida County Board of Elections to ensure that everyone's vote, no matter their party, matters, and counts.
As a member of the Mohawk Valley Lead-Free Coalition, Sarah is part of a large group of community members from different professions committed to reducing childhood lead poisoning throughout our region. That isn’t the only group she takes part in as a volunteer, however. Sarah also works for the Oneida County Democratic Committee, where she maintains the committee list, keeps the calendar updated, notifies members of meetings, prepares petition packets, and gathers signatures to get our candidates on the ballot.
Her nominator’s words spoke true to Sarah’s character, and her love for the community in which she lives. They said, “I cannot tell you how many individuals, families, organizations, and municipalities Sarah has advocated over the years. She has made this community, which she is proud to call home, a better place for the present and the future for all she does.”
When asked what she was most proud of when it comes to community impact, Sarah said, “I am so proud of the work I’ve been able to do throughout the years for our community through working for four Members of Congress (Representatives Sherwood Boehlert, Michael Arcuri, Richard Hanna and Anthony Brindisi). I enjoy helping people whether that is directly or helping them get on the right track to solve their problems. I have had the privilege of learning through my congressional work about all the amazing organizations throughout our region that help folks and really understanding how a variety of complex systems and how to navigate them.”
Sarah credits her love of home for creating her passion for helping others. She said this is her home community, and she wants everyone to have the best quality of life possible. “If I can help someone achieve that by sharing knowledge that I have accumulated then I don’t see why I wouldn’t. I try to give the help that I crave when I’m trying to solve a problem that I’m unfamiliar with,” she said.
Something unique about our community that made her want to get involved or give back? The immigrant and refugee population. Sarah says, “I love learning about new cultures, and I have been so inspired over the years at the perseverance of our refugees to come to the United States America and start their lives over in our community. I love that our area already rich with culture and history has continued to add to its tapestry of culture by being a resettlement area.”
During her time off, Sarah loves the gamut of international cuisines this area has to offer – including the delicious fish fries that other places just can’t beat, hiking, cooking, yoga, ballet, and of course, spoiling her cat.
Daniel Enea is a business owner and community advocate who gives of himself during times of crisis and is always raising his hand to help. If there is an opportunity to support a cause or event, you can count on Dan to be there. His enthusiasm for the Mohawk Valley shines bright.
Not only does Dan own and operate Mohawk Valley Funerals & Cremations (Little Falls) to offer low-cost funeral and cremation choices to those in need, but he also recently opened Pet Passages to assist those who grieve their pets. Through his work, he helps individuals through some of their most difficult times.
Dan is also devoted to the service of others through his volunteer and crisis work. In April 2020, Dan was deployed by Kenyon International Emergency Services to NYC to assist workers overwhelmed by the COVID-19 impact. He served on the frontlines during the onset of the pandemic.
In 2018, Dan was deployed by American Red Cross Eastern New York to Greenville/New Bern NC for disaster assessment following Hurricane Florence. Earlier this year, he was selected as Disaster Program Manager of Territory 3.
Dan completed BEFO and IFO in 2016 to begin service as an interior firefighter for the East Herkimer Volunteer Fire Dept. He was appointed to the Board of Directors in 2019.
For the past 8 years, Dan has organized the annual veterans and first responders’ appreciation picnic at various locations in Herkimer County. He also spearheaded a 10th-anniversary 9/11 Walk in both Herkimer and St. Johnsville, followed by the 20th Anniversary 9/11 Remembrance Walk in Little Falls.
Additional community service includes numerous committee and board obligations, including with United Way of the Mohawk Valley.
Dan is also an avid supporter of events throughout the Mohawk Valley including his lead sponsorship of Little Falls' first-ever Pride celebration held this year through Little Falls Community Outreach.
His nominator spoke highly of Dan saying, “As someone who has known Dan personally for nearly three decades, I can say that he is a true community leader with a big heart, and we are so fortunate to have him in with us in the Mohawk Valley!’
American Red Cross
East Herkimer Volunteer Fire Dept (Interior Firefighter)
Board Member-BASE Camp
Leadership Mohawk Valley Graduate
Organizer/Founder of the annual Mohawk Valley First Responder and Veterans Picnic
Known by many as a “quiet giver,” Rocky Fiato uses his successful business as a steppingstone for generosity. Rocky owns "The Waterfront Grill” and for many years given countless charity donations through the restaurant. For more than a dozen years, he hosted a Tailgate Party fundraiser, which has raised thousands of dollars for United Way of the Mohawk Valley.
Rocky doesn't look for accolades and many would be surprised at the many things he does for the community. “I've never refused anybody. I've always supported the United Way and Salvation Army and the Human Society and the Hunger Coalition. Last-minute, I threw the prom for CVA last year,” he said. “Those kids have been so let down, and when it was canceled at the last minute, I knew I could help. I just like sharing. I don't call it giving, it's just sharing with people. It all comes around.” When asked what his proudest moment has been, he brought it back to the CVA prom, where every student thanked him. He said it was one of the biggest and best things he has ever done.
Being a “valley” boy, Rocky loves where he was born and raised. He said he went away for school, but made his way back home, and never looked back. “Herkimer is my town, that's where my community is,” he said.
He pinpointed a few key mentors and heroes in his life that shaped him as a person and business owner. Rocky credited Junior Deluca, from Frankfort, who owned a bar in Ilion. He was the same way, he said, and he was so generous. His mother and father were also major influences in who Rocky is as a person and can account for his generosity as well.
In his downtime, Rocky loves sports – and that’s something people know about him. A positive in his life in the last year? His business. Rocky said, “I’m starting to see people who are older and coming back through the doors. Seeing families come back together at the restaurant.
Those who know Paul Frye, know about his willingness to help others, and his love of his wife, Madeline – and the Masonic Care Community was lucky enough to get the best of both worlds. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Masonic Home knew Paul well – as he came to visit his wife of over 60 years daily.
They got to know Paul well, as he spent many hours visiting, going to church services, and musical events with Madeline. When he saw the home needed help, Paul would lend a hand like refinishing the church altar and even cleaning brass items used for weekly mass. For a long time, Paul did all of this without "officially" being an MCC volunteer.
During the pandemic, Paul called often to learn about the visitation policies and if anything changed – as he missed being able to see his wife. His nominator, who works at MCC, said “I appreciated his kindness at such a dark time, and he would say things to make me laugh and lift my spirits. Not only did he extend kindness to me, but he also extended it to many members of our team. He brought us homemade cinnamon candy, cookies, ice cream, and other treats and gifts. He let us know how much he appreciated what we were doing in the most challenging of times.”
When the time came to let people back into the Masonic Home, Paul stepped into volunteer and help transport loved ones to and from their visits. “As our staff was stretched to capacity already, and volunteers were few because of the fear of contracting the virus, Paul was a true hero for our residents, our staff, and for MCC,” his nominator remembered. “And Paul helped us five days a week, all day long, week after week, month after month. And as Paul will tell you himself, “he is no spring chicken!’
Paul said, “I like to do things for doing things not for recognition. It’s for the love of the people and residents at the Masonic Care Community. They call me the involuntary volunteer!”
When asked what he could say was positive about the last year, his answer says it all. “My wife is still alive even though she is still in a nursing home, and I can still visit her and the fact I am able to help the Masonic Care Community.”
For Kristina Hameister, giving back to her community has become second nature. She has been a member of the Little Falls Board of Education since 2008 and has assisted with putting on over 12 benefits for those in need over the past 12 years.
The ability to grow up in the same community where both her parents and grandparents grew up further developed that desire to give back to this area. A background in the medical field made the focus be to help those in need and their families. One of Kristina's proudest moments was when she was able to put on a benefit to support a friend who was recently diagnosed with Leukemia. Getting the right group of people together, they were able to raise over $60,000! Recently, she was able to organize an online fundraiser to help replace the roof of the house for a woman who recently lost her husband. These efforts all started as a few people coming together to help others and has been able to grow, over the years, from there!
Kristina’s drive to give back is thanks, in many ways, to her hero- her father. When he got sick, she told him she would work to find out why and work to help prevent the same from happening to other. With a background in the medical field, she made it her mission to determine high risk areas for illness and do all she could to keep children and others from getting sick. Even though he’s been gone 22 years, he still is someone everyone remembers for his smile and generosity.
Kristina’s efforts are always focused on the people she is helping. For her, the biggest reward is being able to bring a little peace, even if just for a moment. “The best part of volunteering,” Kristina says, “Is that little bit of calm you can give to people. That little moment of peace you can give someone or their families who are going through so much at that time.”
Sometimes, for people who want to give back, it can be hard to pinpoint who to help, who to donate to, who to fundraise for, or knowing where to start. For Joe and Monica Hickel, the solution to that is easy- help everyone. Help all organizations with all needs and continuously aim to grow bigger and better each year. Having been able to donate near $100,000 to different organizations in different ways over the years, it’s safe to say they’ve succeeded with that!
While both were involved with giving back before they met 9 years ago, when they brought together Joes fundraising and Monicas event planning, they were able to take their events to the next level. Some of their fundraising highlights were their Toy Drive they held for 3 years, where 24 different locations had a toy dropbox. Needing to shift their approach during the pandemic, they setup online auctions to raise money, with an initial goal of raising $5,000. Well, they shattered that goal when they were able to raise $16,000!
Joe and Monica find the drive to keep their efforts going by their heroes; each other. For Joe, it was Monica who helped take the fundraising efforts to the next level. For Monica, it was seeing Joes passion and everything he was doing to give back. Being able to see the impact they are making and the joy they are bringing to those in need, and to do that together, is everything to them.
Joe and Monica have always geared their efforts towards children. They feel if you give a child hope at a young age, they never need to feel that feeling of hopelessness. This is why they aim to give back- to help others. When asked what being a hero meant to them, they said “A hero is someone who wants to make a difference but doesn’t want to be seen as a person out there making a difference. Clark Kent is Superman, he’ll always be Superman but he lives his life as Clark Kent.” That’s exactly who Joe and Monica are for their community and the people living in it!
Two heroes joined by marriage and united by common interests and a commitment to volunteerism and community, Charles (Chuck) and Carol Higgins have devoted themselves to making a difference. Their volunteerism takes the form of inspiring, educating, and helping and they both put an impressive amount of energy into these activities. They share a deep interest in the solar system and beyond and both have been officers and remain active members in the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS). Carol is a member of the Solar System Ambassador Public Engagement Program managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She also writes and produces educational materials to help others better understand the intricacies and mysteries of space. Beyond that, she frequently develops and presents educational programs to share the latest information about current and future NASA missions and discoveries. In addition, she is always trying to light that fire in students about science and technology and encouraging them to engage in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) projects. Chuck edited the MVAS monthly newsletter “Telescopic Topics” and also participates in the group’s public outreach programs, making his telescope and the night sky available to the general public at planned nighttime events.
It continues. Both Chuck and Carol are interested in and possess considerable skills with computers and web technology and they use their skills to complement their volunteer work. Volunteering for the Women’s Employment and Resource Center (WERC), Carol has designed, developed and now maintains their parent organization, Empowered Pathways, website. This is a system that supports clients and staff with computer classes and job preparation/job search workshops. Chuck has also volunteered for WERC behind the scenes, helping with their IT and computer needs. Further, they both worked with the American Red Cross in helping those who were displaced in times of flood, fire, or other disaster. This was where their commitment to serving their community was most on display because it provided immediate and essential assistance when needed to people who had nowhere to turn. It is hard to imagine any couple whose interests, sense of citizenship, and community service could be more in parallel. For this reason, their bios have been merged to better illustrate their joint passion and commitment to helping others. Truly, they are a couple of heroes.
Chuck sees his past involvement with the Red Cross as the “most community-minded.” He feels it is a big part of how he defines his own self-worth. Growing up he was taught that “you can't live life for yourself; it’s about your community and you have to give something back to it.” For Carol, it’s also this work with the Red Cross that really inspired her and positioned her to “literally touch the lives of people” in need. It’s the close-up, “person-to-person” helping – things like a simple touch on the shoulder, a child’s smile, a brief conversation with someone who’s in pain, or a parent’s relief when food is delivered. These are the things that she finds most rewarding. Before they got involved in community service, they both doubted whether one person could make a difference. Now they know that’s not true. And making that difference is what keeps them volunteering.
Coming from an IT background, Chuck numbers Bill Gates as a major inspiration in his life. Seeing someone with so much money put it all on the line for the public good is impressive. Chuck feels that if Gates can do that then he can give some time and effort to his community. Carol names her mom as her biggest influence. Amazingly, she worked and raised three kids after her husband died. While the family struggled, Carol never realized “how little we had.” “Mom worked through her sadness and somehow found a way to get us through. Despite her health issues, she never gave up and never gave in. She shared with others what little we had.” Carol had a wonderful role model to follow as an adult.
“Stepping up and meeting a need that other people are simply not meeting” is how Chuck defines a hero. And this is important simply because “it makes the world better”, even if in a small, local way... and we need a better world. For Carol, being a hero is helping people in need with humility and empathy. In that way she can put herself in someone else’s shoes.. and “when you do that with empathy, magic things can happen.” Carol sees all her community service as a “hand-up and not a hand-out.’
Local events are a huge favorite for the Higgins crew. For Chuck it’s the farmers markets; for Carol, local star-gazing events. As for local food favs, it’s Holland Farms jelly buns for Chuck, and for Carol it’s Tony’s Pizza on Burrstone, with Heidelberg and Utica breads a close second. With all they do, you’d think they would just sleep the rest of the time but no, each is very busy with hobbies. Chuck loves astro-photography and has a collection of marionettes that he uses to entertain kids. Carol paints, colors, and sketches in addition to collecting Legos. Plus she is also into photography and keeping up with the space program.
As you can see, Chuck and Carol Higgins are busy people committed to serving their community.
Loving, kind-hearted, and devoted to his children and community. These are just some of the many attributes Charles “Bud” Koss II marked the people he loved the most with before his untimely passing. A jokester who loved to laugh, who raised two beautiful children on his own, and always thought of others before himself, was a community hero in his own right and an individual who is so deserving of the 100 Heroes recognition.
Bud was a volunteer firefighter since the age of 16 as a junior member, when he wasn’t at Boy Scouts or church serving as an altar boy, eventually working his way up the ranks to become 1st Assistant Chief at the Oriskany Fire Department. He was in the fire service, between Deerfield and Oriskany, for nearly 40 years. He thought of the department as his family, and while his kids grew up you could catch Bud attending football games, ballet recitals, and of course – at the firehouse. His father was also in the fire service, and he eventually passed that on to his own son. He was also the Co-Founder and Operations Director of the CNY Memorial Stair Climb, he started the Annual Firefighter's MC Ride for Cancer Awareness, a member of the Oneida County Origin and Cause Team, and the president of the Red Knights Motorcycle Club MV Chapter of Rome. His daily job consisted of working for the New York State Office of General Services as a Construction Superintendent, where he passed away while hard at work in July of 2020.
His children, Chaz and Caleigh, believe he was proud of his time serving the fire department, and say he loved to help people. It was Bud’s goal to make a difference, no matter how big or small. He wanted to be a helpful member of society and aid those who needed it most. “Oriskany is a small town, and everyone knows each other. He met a lot of people through the fire service, and everyone in our tight-knit community wants to help each other out. Being a good neighbor was important to him,” his daughter, Caleigh remembered. Bud had two kids he raised in Oriskany, and he made it his mission to help protect them and the community where they were growing up.
Bud’s kids say they would credit Uncle Pat for guiding their father. If they were to name anyone as a mentor or hero, it would be him – someone he looked up to for everything. When asked how her father would finish the sentence “making an impact is important because…” Caleigh said he would have said, "that's all you got once you're gone – it's what people remember you by. What you did and what you didn't do.”
One of his favorite local community events was the CNY Stair Climb, which he helped start, he loved tomato pie – being an East Utica guy at heart he loved his Italian food. In his downtime, he loved to hunt, fish, be outside, ride his motorcycle, and above everything else – he loved spending time with his kids. A positive from the last year of his life would be spearheading and creating the Annual Firefighter's MC Ride for Cancer Awareness
Bud leaves behind his fire service legacy now to his son, Chaz, to carry on. Another one of our 100 Heroes, who has been serving right after his father’s footsteps – since he was 16. All-in-all, Bud loved to serve his community and did it until the day that he died. And for that, and so much more, he will be remembered.
Keeping his father’s memory and legacy alive through life and the Oriskany Fire Department is something Charles “Chaz” Koss III strives for daily. Losing a parent is hard on anyone, but losing his father, the man who raised he and his younger sister Caleigh, in 2020, is something Chaz says was and continues to be one of the toughest things he has had to endure.
Chaz is an active 11-year member of the Oriskany Fire Department and has been involved with the department since he was 16. He followed in his father’s footsteps, who, before he passed away, was the 1st Assistant Chief of the same department.
His sister, Caleigh Koss said, “My dad left some big boots to fill. On top of going to school and graduating with a bachelor’s degree, working, and maintaining a social life, Chaz strives to keep learning new things and new ways to keep his community safe. I could not be a prouder sister!”
Not only does Chaz spend his time with the department and the many activities they put on for the community, like Christmas in the Nettles, drive-thru dinners, holiday parades, and the Butterfly Kisses Ball to name a few, but he is also a board member on the CNY Stair Climb. “I just like to try and help others any way I can,” Chaz said. “My mentality is If I were ever in a situation where I needed help, I would want someone to help me. So, I put myself in their shoes and how I would feel if I was in that situation.”
After reading this bio and having just a glimpse in the life of a young person out there doing good – it’s not hard to figure out who his hero is. Chaz says his father was his biggest role model, and although nothing can compare to losing him – he has had a lot of people who have helped him through it – and that has made all the difference. “Everyone comes into and out of the world the same way,” he said. “We may all lead different lives, but at the end of the day who you are as a person and what you stand for, is all you have. It doesn’t cost a thing to be a good person.”
In his “spare time,” you can find Chaz outside, riding his motorcycle, enjoying anything sports-related, and eating one of his favorites – chicken riggies. He also loves spending time with his sister, he takes pride in making sure she’s doing well and always safe.
If you ask Deb Martin what her proudest piece of her beautifully crafted and diverse puzzle she calls life – she will tell you it’s hands down her work with the refugee population in Utica. She says, “my work with refugees I am proudest of. They have become such an important part of our community. And without the services and help that we give them, they wouldn't reach that point.”
Deb Martin has always been someone who has been helping others “forever.” She says in terms of the center, she has been helping refugees since July 2010 – right after her what nominator calls an “early” retirement, but before that through her church, she’s been serving her community since 1986. She said, “it's just something I always did. In my 20s I worked within the Catholic Church, and then in another church, I worked with a church Girl Scouts group and taught Sunday school. And then at retirement, I started working with the refugees and Habitat for Humanity.”
“Deb takes care of each particular new arrival and their families. No child would go to the school without a backpack with all necessary school supplies or without appropriate clothing. Each new arrival child and their parent will have mittens, hats, scarves, coats, and shoes,” her nominator said. “Whenever we hear about any family in need in the community, we first think about this amazing person who is always ready to help!”
When asked what her driving force has been to get involved and make an impact her answer was clear. To share her blessings with others. Deb said, “especially my work with the refugees is because my grandparents were immigrants and when they came here in the 1900s it was sink or swim, and now because of the hard work of my parents, and my work and my husbands, we don't have financial concerns and to be able to share that with others who come here with nothing is everything. God has blessed me, and scripture says to share my blessings with others. My community may not have called me, but God did.”
Deb credits her mother for her giving spirit. She said that she was the one who was always helping others and offering whatever she could – and she wanted to model that. She said, "To me being a hero means I’ve done something right and good for others, and making an impact is important because I’ve been given much so I should give much.”
In her downtime, Deb enjoys Utica greens, and anything from Zeina’s, loves to kayak, and play with her grandkids, and the positive from her life in the last year or so? The birth of her newest granddaughter – the day after her 70th birthday!
Young Scholars Mentor & Advisory Board Member
Teachers’ Resource Center at Compassion Coalition
Habitat for Humanity – Utica
Build a Bike with Utica Safe Schools
Despite overcoming everyday challenges, Lizzie Moore has been using her love of “looming” not to be confused with crocheting, to create hats and scarves that she sells to friends and family. She then donates the proceeds to her favorite local charities.
The youngest of the 100 Heroes, Lizzie at just 11 years old, is making quite the impact on the people she helps, sells her looms to and anyone whom she encounters. Lizzie says, “I have seen that even with just a little bit of positivity and a little helping it can make all other possibilities go all the way and with my experience, I have good luck with charity and overall helping people.”
When asked if there was a specific moment, she knew she was called to serve, Lizzie said she had no pull or reason other than just wanting to help others. Her mother got her a looming kit, and she put the two together in a way that was beneficial. Lizzie mentioned that every single person is completely different from each other – even two sets of twins in different environments – would be different. And she wanted to help different people who needed help and don’t have enough to survive.
Lizzie had no hesitation in naming some very important people in her life that have made a positive impact on her. Her hero or mentor, you ask? Lizzie says it’s her mom and grandfather. “My mom because she is super independent and smart and pretty. My Papi was in the military because he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps, and he was a great influence on him. He is super funny and very loving.”
Her nominator said, “this Fall, we were blessed by Lizzie's amazing giving heart, when she chose to donate the sales to the KEYS Program, raising money so we can provide free music therapy and respite days to kids who have been impacted by cancer and serious illnesses. Lizzie herself is a "KEYS kid,” her dad is battling a brain tumor, so she knows firsthand how much KEYS has helped her, and kids like her throughout the tough days. She was so excited to be able to support her fellow KEYS kids by lovingly crocheting hats and scarves to keep people warm in both body and heart!
“To Lizzie being a hero means, "trying to help others and trying to make everybody have a smile on their face.”
In her downtime, Lizzie looms, loves to eat chili, is artsy, sings, dances, hangs out with her cat, and LOVES sleeping. In the last year or so, her first cousin was born. Lizzie also wanted everyone to know that she has three brothers and is the only girl. Find out how you can help Lizzie meet her goals on her Facebook page: Lizzie Looms 4 A Cause.
In his 90s, George Pavese is the neighbor and friend you want to have in your back pocket. The kindness that exudes from this man the moment he makes eye contact with someone, and the warmness in a smile is all someone needs to brighten their day. It wasn’t a wonder he was chosen as one of our 100 Heroes. And it all started with a turkey.
In his free time, George has carved Thanksgiving turkeys at a Presbyterian Church for about 25 years until the church sold. He works hard at the Masonic Care Community carving turkeys for various households for about 5 years, he assisted residents on and off the bus for the Festival of Lights, accompanied residents on shopping trips to Walmart, and did fishing. Now, he transports residents from the wellness program to their households. Plant vegetables and donate seedlings “For the Good of City Gardens” every spring. He also makes sandwiches at St. John’s Church every Monday. He has assisted with directing traffic at United Way MV- sponsored food giveaways. He is a member of the DAV, American Legion Fort Schuyler Post 1290, and a proud member of the Masonic Lodge.
When asked if he felt like he’s made a difference he said, “when my wife passed away, I had to have something to do -- so that's when I went to the Masonic home to make a difference.” And he’s doing just that. He said, “my wife would say ‘I know how you're gonna die – trying to help somebody.’ Helping neighbors, family, and friends. With all that in life and all I have had to endure, I am blessed.”
George says with so much bad going around if he can do some good and lift somebody up by helping them, “maybe that can make the difference.”
In his free time, George is a meat and potatoes type of guy, he loves macaroni, homegrown veggies, and homemade sauce. Hunting and fishing would be his past times of choice, and he loves spending time with his kids and grandchildren.
Ela is a compassionate and driven individual that strives to better the community that we live in. As a loving wife and mother of three amazing boys, she somehow manages to support her community throughout the years with her involvement in the Polish Community Club, Mohawk Valley Health System Stewardship and Communication Focus Group, Mohawk Valley Economic Development Growth Enterprises Corp, United Way of the Mohawk Valley, and other impactful organizations. Additionally, Ela holds a leadership position at Utica National Insurance Group where she continuously supports those that report directly to her as well as others throughout the entire organization.
When asked what she is most proud of when it comes to making an impact and difference in her community, Ela said saving the Polish Community Club on a verge of being shut down and taken by the city for unpaid bills, taxes, and neglect of the building is near and dear to her heart. “Preserving a 100-year-old facility meant a lot to me and many of the Polish people in our community. The leading efforts we took to save the club were unmeasurable. The empowerment our volunteerism created was simply tremendous. I am truly proud of where we are today and how much we have overcome to continue to preserve our culture, traditions, and heritage. Those traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help us form the structure and foundation of our families and our society. It reinforces values such as freedom, faith, integrity, education, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the value of being selfless.,” Ela said.
Ela is the type of person that inherently is a helper. If there is a need, Ela will be there to help find a solution. There is no set date that she started volunteering her time and resources, she just knew that there were people who needed help – and she was there giving. When she came to the United States in 1993, that’s when her impact started. It started as simply an ask from one of her community members, and the rest is history. She said, “The most memorable moment was when I won the Miss Polonia contest in 1997 and was asked to participate in different community events on a broader scale such as advertising Polish articles in local stores, participating in local parades as well as representing the Utica Polish community during Pulaski Parade in New York City. I was exposed to more people as well as more organizations, which opened many doors and opportunities to get involved in our community, learn about Mohawk Valley in general, and understand the needs our community has.”
Her passion and driving force? Ela grew up here, and now raises her children in the same community. The people mean everything to Ela, and she will do everything she can to create positive change. “Our community is represented by the people who live here. Our community is made up of very diverse and unique groups of individuals and cultures. As an immigrant, this community has been very welcoming and generous to those from other countries and different backgrounds. In a way, I feel that volunteering created empowerment allowing me to give back to our community as well as pay it forward. I care deeply about people in general and their well-being. Volunteering allows me to help those less fortunate and those in need. It also allows me to inspire others to get involved to make a positive change in the community we live in,” she said.
In her free time, you can find Ela at Ancora enjoying shrimp riggies, or eating pierogies from the Polish Community Club of course, and she truly enjoys and finds passion in dance. Ela is humbled by the 100 Heroes honor, and says, “to me, this award serves as a reminder of great work in the past but also as a motivation for the future and the great work that still needs to be done.”
Cindy Reed has served on numerous boards and committees throughout her years volunteering her time and resources. She is known for working hard for the betterment of her community. If there is a cause and Cindy Reed is asked to assist you can guarantee she will be there to help not only with her time but financially as well. She is the epitome of what a board or organization is looking for when it comes to volunteering.
When asked one thing she has done for her community that she is most proud of, Cindy said,” Dating back to 1989, I recruited from the Utica School district close to 75 volunteers to work on the Runner’s Goody Bag Pick up and they have continued to do so for over 30 years.”
And if you ask Cindy when she started her volunteer efforts, she will tell you she doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t volunteer. There was no specific moment she started or turning point where she thought she needed to get out there. “My parents always instilled the importance of giving back, and once I married into the Reed family, they too, were always volunteering,” she said.
Her passion comes from the desire to wanting to create a better quality of life for all people in our community. “We are a very giving community not only monetarily, but also hands-on,” Cindy said. Just getting to know the wonderful people in her community is enough to sign Cindy up to help. To her, being a hero means having a passion to make a difference in the world, and if everyone does just a small part, we can create a better world to live in.
In her downtime, Cindy loves St. Patrick’s Day events locally, traveling, reading, spending time with her family, and of course, shopping!
New Hartford School District PTA
New Hartford School District Foundation
New Hartford Little League Board Member and Concession Manager as well as a working
New Hartford Youth Basketball Committee Member
Children’s Museum Board Member
Children’s Museum Capital Campaign Member
Upstate Cerebral Palsy Foundation
Annual American Girl Member for over 15 years
Utica Boilermaker Committee member for over 30 years
United Way R4K Committee Member
Women United Committee Member
United Way’s 100th Birthday Party Committee Member
It all began as a temporary effort to help out his local food pantry back in winter 2010. Twelve years later, Spike Seeley, the Coordinator of the Dolgeville Area Food Pantry, is still around, with no plans to leave! Having lived in his community for 74 years, it is important to know he’s giving back to what has been, and will forever be, his home.
It’s always been a great feeling knowing that the folks who are visiting the food pantry are getting items that will help them during hard times. When the pandemic first started, Spike and his team quickly jumped in to help with school lunches since no one knew when things might be getting back to normal. Since some kids in the area don’t have food outside of school, it was good to be able to help them out!
Spike also leads an effort to create Christmas boxes during the holidays. These boxes consist of 15 meals for a person to have access to in the winter. For Spike, it’s not just being able to help these folks out, but to get to talk with them as well. That’s one of his favorite parts of his role, being able to talk to people and make relationships within the community he loves.
Spike is always focused on what he can do for others. When he’s not at the pantry, he’s typically at Community Events, or enjoying his favorite hobby, woodworking. But, even then, he’s got others in mind, as his recent projects include building a desk, bookshelf, and bedframe for his grandkids. It all speaks to Spikes constant drive and focus to help out, as he himself says “I don’t see myself as a hero. I do the best I can to make people feel better about themselves and help them when they have a need.”
For 9 years, Judy and Matt Sica have been filling their house with toys throughout the year in anticipation of one day... Stuff the Bus. Since 2013, they have purchased more than 7,000 toys to put joy on children's faces on Christmas. They donate so many toys each year that the bus goes out of its way to make a special stop at their house to pick up the gifts.
Stuff the Bus is an annual toy drive created to help the less fortunate in the Mohawk Valley have a happy holiday season despite any financial circumstances their family might have. Over the last ten years, 100,000 toys have been collected for children and our community, and a good percentage of that number is thanks to Judy and Matt.
Judy prepares for Stuff the Bus all year long, searching the weekly advertisements for sales and discounts on toys. She arrives to the stores bright and early to make sure she can purchase them before they go out of stock. She was inspired many years ago when she saw the Stuff the Bus in the New Hartford Shopping Center and ever since that day, the number of toys Judy and Matt purchase annually continues to grow and grow. In fact, Judy already has hundreds of stuffed animals in anticipation of the bus visiting their home this December.
“It makes me feel really good inside knowing that children who otherwise wouldn’t have a gift, will have something to open on Christmas morning,” said Judy.
Married for 55 years, Judy and Matt would truly do anything in the world to help another person; they have spent their lives doing so. Together, they raised three boys and then Judy went to work at Westmoreland Road Elementary school, working in the cafeteria kitchen for nearly 16 years. Matt spent 15 years working for the New York State Department of Developmental Disabilities, where he cared for residents and would go out of his way to make sure they felt loved. Those in his care often joined the Sica family for dinner on holidays and he would bring them to outings, church, functions and much more.
The word ‘hero’ can be defined as a selfless, genuinely good person who causes change for the betterment of others. The Sicas are the epitome of this definition and ask for nothing in return, evident by the number of children who have a gift to open because of them. And according to Matt, this is not a tradition they see stopping anytime soon. “Judy and I consider ourselves blessed and as long as we are able to keep giving, we will continue to buy gifts for children in our community.”
For retired Fireman Ed View, the goal is simple: Help Others. Whether it’s his support of the Humane Society, being one of the first EMT’s in Herkimer County, creating scholarships through the Rotary, or being Santa during Christmas on Main Street, Ed is always looking to help others!
Ed loves being from a small community and knowing the various people he sees each day and being able to stop, say hello, and interact. “You know everyone and everyone knows you in a small town. The bible says Love thy neighbor as thy self, and you’re supposed to do that all the time.” said Ed. It’s this love for his community that helped drive Ed to work to raise $25,000 and get the volunteers to build a dog park, the Roger Skinner Memorial Dog Park, in Herkimer.
There wasn’t a single moment that drove Ed to want to start to give back. The love he had for his parents and spouse all helped make him strong and, over the years, it blossomed! For Ed, the best part of giving back is the feeling it gives. He says “It’s the best feeling you can get. You can’t really explain it. It’s the greatest feeling in the world and the closest to a heavenly feeling you can get.”
He feels that same level of joy when playing Santa Clause during Christmas on Main Street, as he has done since 1985! And he is reminded of his goal every holiday when he does Christmas on Main Street. “Santa says Ho-Ho-Ho. For me, the ‘H’ stands for Help, and the ‘O’ stands for Others. Help Others. Ho-Ho-Ho, Help Others, Help Others, Help Others!”
Arthur Wormuth is known for being passionate about giving back to his community and feels that everyone should make time in their lives to volunteer. Upon retirement, Arthur decided to volunteer for Hospice.
Being a veteran, Arthur took pride in wanting to sit with other vets who were in their final stages of life. His daughter, Bernadette remembers, “My father would come home and was elated to talk about all the stories he had heard from our nation's heroes. My dad always felt that veterans should support one another and have mutual respect for the sacrifices veterans have made to serve our country. He was dedicated to making others never feel alone.”
When asked what makes him passionate about giving back and making a difference, he said, “I see what this city has done for refugees and for people who are less privileged. It is unprecedented for a city this size to be so giving and caring. And when the community does that, I think everyone should be involved as well.”
Arthur credits his parents for his desire to help others. He remembered, “my mother organized drives for underprivileged and unemployed – even during the Depression when their own pay was getting cut. My dad did campaigns to write to the veterans overseas. It is in my blood.”
"To me being a hero means being someone who stands up for something that wouldn't otherwise be accomplished, whether it be popular or not. To go against the tide when you have to,” Arthur said.
In Arthur’s downtime, you can catch him eating all the Italian food, reading, or catching up on current events. He also credits the support of his family, his wife, and daughter, Bernadette during health issues. He said, “they are wonderful.
Chair of United Way AFCEA Data Corporation in 1990s
Board for Utica Neighborhood Housing
Board of YMCA - 1990's - Camp Pioneer
United Way's ELU Spring Clean-up