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Project Self-Sufficiency Honors Successful Men and Women

The fifteenth annual Celebration of Literacy was held recently at Project Self-Sufficiency to honor agency participants who had impressive academic achievements, as well as those who had completed significant steps towards economic self-sufficiency during the past year.  Several participants were received awards in honor of longtime Project Self-Sufficiency supporters.  Presentations were given by keynote speaker, Dr. Allison Blake, Commissioner of the Department of Children & Families, and Sussex County Community College President Dr. Jon Connelly, and Sussex County Freeholders George Graham and Carl Lazzaro.

The men and women who were acknowledged at the event included community college graduates, medical assistants, nursing students, and students at business colleges.  Scholarships were awarded to five agency participants.  Several of the evening’s awardees are graduates of the sixteen-week Higher Opportunities for Women program, a structured curriculum which provides computer training, job skills training and internships at area businesses.  Many others have completed courses at the non-profit agency in QuickBooks and Microsoft applications.  A group of young mothers were congratulated for moving on to the next step of one of the agency’s three home visitation programs.  Finally, several agency participants were honored for obtaining employment leading to economic self-sufficiency.

 “This is one of many achievements today’s graduates will attain as they move forward to lead productive and successful lives,” said Commissioner Blake.  “Completing the program required hard work and self-sacrifice, and is an inspiring example of their selfless dedication and resolve to build a promising future for their families.”

In his remarks to the assembled crowd, Sussex County Community College President Dr. Jon Connolly emphasized the significance of pursuing education, "Independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency are far too often taken for granted by those who already possess these things.  Higher education, whether in the form of foundational knowledge or work-related skills, is the bedrock of a steady course towards economic independence."

“The Celebration of Literacy is intended to honor those Project Self-Sufficiency participants who have successfully worked towards academic achievement or economic self-sufficiency during the past year,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “We are very proud of the goals achieved by these men and women.  These milestones are vital steps on the path to economic self-sufficiency for these participants and for their families.”

Five agency participants were singled out for special recognition during the event.  Alexa Justino was chosen to receive the Ruth Ann Duffy Williams Scholarship, named in honor of the esteemed Sussex County educator who spent her career as a teacher and principal at the Branchville and Frankford Elementary Schools.  The scholarship is bestowed upon an individual or individuals under the age of 25 who have demonstrated exceptional drive and academic potential during the previous academic year. 

Agency participant Belinda Akamelon received the Connie Koeppel Award, given in honor of the late Sussex County educator and spiritual leader who, along with her husband Keith, founded the Loving Arms crisis shelter for pregnant girls and women, and who worked tirelessly on behalf of those experiencing hunger in our area.  The award is bestowed annually to a young woman who is newly parenting and who is actively striving to provide a stable, loving and economically self-sufficient home for her family.

The Dot Dedrick Award was given to Christina Primavera in memory of the ardent Project Self-Sufficiency supporter who spearheaded fundraising projects on behalf of the agency’s food pantry, Back-to-School Fair, and Season of Hope Toy Drive, both as an individual and through her membership in the Sparta Women’s Club.  The award is given to an agency participant who is actively engaged in giving back to the community through acts of volunteerism.

Project Self-Sufficiency participant Kaymie Martinez was selected to receive the Richard Illingworth Scholarship, in honor of the former Leadership Council member and Human Resources professional who devoted countless hours to assisting participants in the agency’s Career Center.  The scholarship is given to an agency participant who has tenaciously pursued education and employment during the past year.

Agency participant Carly Cassone received the Jessica Heaney Brown award in recognition of the young aspiring student whose dream of attending college was tragically cut short.  The award is bestowed annually upon a mother who has overcome substance abuse or is actively in recovery and wants to further her education.

Several agency participants inspired the gathering by sharing stories about the obstacles they had overcome along their respective paths to academic success, including Annesha Carballo, Matt Madera, Allyson Mercado, and current Project Self-Sufficiency Board member and former agency client Cheryl Ross.

In reviewing this year’s group of award recipients, Beverly Gordon, President of Project Self-Sufficiency’s Board of Directors, commented, “Each step these men and women take brings them closer to their personal goal of financial self-sufficiency.  We are proud to have been able to help them to determine their career paths, and more importantly, to give them the tools to start the process with a solid education in their chosen field.”

Project Self-Sufficiency is the only organization in the area whose mission is to provide the services necessary for single parents, teen parents, displaced homemakers and two-parent families to improve the quality of their lives, and those of their children, by attaining economic self-sufficiency and family stability.  Since 1986, over 25,000 low-income individuals have participated in one or more of the programs offered by the organization.  Project Self-Sufficiency offers a supportive family-centered environment where life issues are addressed through a combination of individual counseling, peer support groups, case management services, parenting skills training, life skills management training, home visits, childcare and early childhood education, family activities and health education.  For information about the programs and services offered at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit


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