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16 PEF members recognized for stellar service at OPWDD


Every year, committees are formed at state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities worksites to decide which worker to honor as their employee of the year. Sixteen of the 2017 employees of the year at OPWDD were PEF members.

“We can all take pride when members of our union are honored by their employer and co-workers for their outstanding work, services and attitude day in and day out,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “The recognition these members have earned reflect well on themselves and all of public service. I hope you will join me in thanking and saluting them.”

PEF members among the honorees are:

Feb2018AlbanyDentalEmbeddedSubrata Mukherhjee

OPWDD-16-UPSuzanne Banner – Habilitation specialist 2 at Bernard Fineson Developmental Disability Office. With 27 years of service Banner was recognized as “an exemplary supervisor who goes above and beyond for all the individuals and staff at the day program where she works. Suzanne is supportive of others and very caring. She comes to work with her spirits very high and gets her staff motivated to perform at a high level to serve the individuals we support. She doesn’t allow tasks to go undone because it’s important for the people we serve.”

Joel Berkowitz – Habilitation specialist 1 working as an eligibility specialist at Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. Berkowitz has more than 30 years of service and was praised for his work as the health and safety coordinator for the DDRO and responding promptly to reports of health and safety issues. He also was recognized for having been “phenomenal in cataloging the eligibility files for the department. ” “Joel is never too busy to leave his desk to assist parents who are seeking services on behalf of their child with a disability. His added smiles, witty words and laughter enhance the workday.”

Joanna Buccellato – Social work assistant 3 at Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Region 4 Office. Recognized after more than 29 years of service, Buccellato’s recognition was announced posthumously. She died September 29, 2017, at age 65. Working as a transition coordinator, she helped students transition from high school to the next step in their lives and helped provide internship opportunities in the community to students with developmental disabilities. “Not only did Joanna provide people with impeccable service to ensure they were ready with eligibility way in advance of graduation, but she truly cared for all of them. She wanted them to succeed and she always put their needs first.”

Michelle Costa – Youth program supervisor at Long Island Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. She was recognized for frequently going above and beyond her normal job duties; and making “every effort to ensure the individuals and their families get the information necessary to them. With 17 years of service, she is credited with being very knowledgeable of all OPWDD services, and committed to assisting the people being supported on Long Island. “I have seen her resolve conflicts and handle other difficult situations with remarkable patience and admirable tact. Michele is always professional when interfacing with individuals, family members, school personnel, administrators and voluntary agencies.”

Clara Fournier – Social work assistant 3 at Metro NY Developmental Disabilities Services Office. With more than 29 years of service, Fournier was recognized for her work as a “front door facilitator” in the Bronx. “Clara has incredible empathy and sensitivity for the families she works with; so much so that these families are heartbroken when her work with them is complete and it is time to move on. Clara does not view her job just as a nine-to-five position, but as a calling. She is passionate about what she does and she remains a hard worker with fervent enthusiasm. In a setting, where change is the order of the day, Clara is totally reliable and comes to work ‘ready to roll,’ whether the task is big or small.”

Soreth Ghullikie – Developmental disabilities specialist at Bernard Fineson Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. When appointed the front door unit supervisor, “Soreth (who has 18 years of service) graciously and diligently continued to carry out her responsibilities as transition coordinator (in addition to her new responsibilities) until a permanent replacement was found. She enthusiastically took on the additional responsibility of managing the front door staff, assigning and reviewing cases, coordinating monthly front door information sessions, working closely with her staff and meeting with them on a  regular basis to offer support, knowledge and guidance.”

Kevin Jackson – Developmental disabilities program specialist 2 at Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. With 13 years of service, he was selected for his wealth of knowledge, his professionalism and his constant positive and calm demeanor, as well as for his willingness to help others and to pitch in whenever he is needed; his efficiency, timeliness and reliability; and the reputation and respect he has earned by his peers and providers in the field. “Kevin supports the mission of OPWDD every day. He is admired for his eagerness to provide guidance and assistance to those in need. He is helpful, friendly, reliable and always a pleasure to be around.”

Suzanna Jarzynka – Mental hygiene staff development specialist at Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Services Office. She has 26 years of service. Jarzynka “is the first one to arrive in the morning, opening the Vienna Building at 6 a.m. Suzanna is a primary contact for new employees as well as seasoned staff who have questions about training classes, locations and class status. She also is a wealth of knowledge about the computer programs that the department uses to track trainees, such as the Statewide Learning Management System. Daily, Suzanna is tasked with ensuring that trainers are properly equipped with all required resources, and does so effortlessly and always with a smile. (Her) wealth of knowledge and experience, compassion for others, and excellent work ethic is an ideal example of how our staff deliver high-quality services to the people we serve.”

Brenda Kavanaugh – Social work assistant 3 and self direction liaison at Central NY Developmental Disabilities Services Regional Office. Kavanaugh has 25  years of service and “As a Self-Direction liaison, Brenda excels at educating individuals and families on how this service can benefit their lives. She has developed positive relationships with providers of Self-Direction.” Kavanaugh was praised as “one of the hardest-working employees in the regional office, who for many years was the only Self-Direction liaison covering four counties. Brenda’s belief in the Self-Direction program, and its ability to effectively support individuals and families, is why we’ve seen such growth of this service in the Eastern counties.”

Sharon Krinsky-McHale – Research scientist 5 and head of the Cognition and Development Laboratory at the state Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities. Her recognition was reported in the February 2018 issue, page 15 of The Communicator.

Shannon McDole – Social worker 2 and Front Door intake coordinator at Taconic Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. McDole, who has 27 years of service, was singled out fot this honor because she “will do whatever is needed to help the Front Door Team at the Taconic DDRO, and the Regional Office as a whole, to accomplish its mission. Shannon is the ultimate team player. She prefers to do things the old-fashioned way. Shannon meets with parents to do an ‘intake’ so the parents are comfortable and can start to associate a name with a face. Even with the volume of phone calls she gets on a daily basis, she manages to provide this individualized attention to the families to help them feel supported.”

Alicia Mendegorin – Health information management administrator 3 at Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Services Office. Mendegorin “has been a very diligent employee throughout her 22-year career. She has demonstrated the ability to multi-task while handling her responsibilities with patience and grace. Alicia has made it her daily routine to arrive at work prior to her required start time. She likes to ‘get settled’ so she can begin her workday on time. Alicia never says ‘no’ to any request made of her – even when she is juggling several tasks simultaneously. “Even though her job description does not require her to have direct contact with the people we serve, Alicia takes it upon herself to visit the homes, program areas, and centralized activities and events on campus. This allows her to connect faces with the names of those whose cases she might be addressing in her work assignments.”

Rozanno Miller – Rehabilitation counselor 2 at Long Island Developmental Disabilities Services Office. With 22 years of service, Miller was praised for his hard work, cheerful attitude and willingness to face “every challenge head on” and for being “the first person to arrive and the last person to leave. He shows the people and the team that he cares by being there for them when needed.” Miller works with individuals who have forensic histories and helps them to move toward being productive members of the community. “When the individuals wanted to work, go to school, repair strained relationships with their families, he has been the catalyst to help them make positive changes in their lives. Every day, he demonstrates dedication and commitment to the individuals, the team, and the agency.”

Vanessa Smith – Developmental disabilities program specialist functioning as a self direction liaison at Broome Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. After seven years with the agency, Smith was recognized for “quickly becoming a valued member of the team, and a resource to the brokers, fiscal intermediaries and agencies supporting people and families with self-direction plans.” She was praised her willingness “to think outside the box and brainstorm ways to meet the needs of individuals and families in the most productive ways. (Her) positive attitude is contagious and her calmness in critical situations has a wonderful impact on the regional office and on the individuals and families seeking services.”

Tanya Washington – Licensed master social worker 2 at Hudson Valley Developmental Disabilities Regional Office. Washington has 12 years of service and was lauded for her strong work ethic, willingness to accept new challenges and being “a true team member, always ready and willing to learn, to share her knowledge and expertise with others, and to lend a hand whenever needed.” “Tanya has been an integral member of the Front Door team since it began and has immersed herself in learning all aspects of the process as it has developed. She has mastered the nuances of the eligibility, assessment and authorization tool as it relates to various groups including residential school age-outs and ICF conversions. She has mastered complex projects involving special populations, residential school age-outs and developmental center downsize individuals.”

Chad Willis – Resources reimbursement program development specialist 2 at the Department of Enterprise Solutions as central office staff based in Rome,  NY. Willis was featured in the December 2017-January 2018 issue, page 14 of The Communicator.

Table of Contents – March 2018