2018 Community Impact Awards

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, Partners for Health Foundation awarded 10 Community Impact Awards, and grants totaling $100,000, to recognize nonprofit organizations and individuals making a significant difference in the health and well-being of local communities. The awardees were selected from 65 nominations that cited contributions in areas such as hunger, homelessness, chronic disease prevention, oral health, and mental health.

The awards were presented on November 29, 2018 at a celebratory event emceed by Jim Axelrod, Senior National Correspondent for CBS News.


It is with great pleasure that we share the 2018 Partners for Health Community Impact Awards recipients!



As a young boy, the unthinkable happened to Dr. Mario Szuchman: he was separated from his family in Cuba and sent to the United States by himself. As a child refugee, he dreamed of becoming a doctor so that he could help immigrants have a better life. Dr. Szuchman followed through, obtaining his medical degree and, today, treating pediatric patients who otherwise could not have quality healthcare. In addition to his private practice, Dr. Szuchman works at Zufall Health Center in West Orange, where all patients receive services, regardless of their ability to pay. Dr. Szuchman and the Zufall staff provide multi-lingual support to patients who struggle to navigate the healthcare system because of education and language barriers.

Dr. Szuchman recognizes that many of the children he treats have complicated lives. Often, parents work in minimum wage jobs and would forfeit wages to see a doctor. Others can’t access transportation, so he readily speaks to them by phone. He also schedules office hours on Sundays. At Zufall Health, Dr. Szuchman has seen his childhood dream come true, providing care and ongoing chronic disease prevention to more than 15,000 low-income children. In his words, “there is nothing more gratifying than to see these children grow up to have a better life.”

Dr. Nicole McGrath, dentist, mother of three and founder of KinderSmile Foundation, envisions a world where all children have access to quality dental care regardless of their socioeconomic status or zip code. Over the past decade, she has been making that a reality through KinderSmile Foundation, which has provided more than $6.5 million of in-kind services to 18,000 low-income families in New Jersey and in 12 developing countries. 

Oral disease is the number one chronic illness affecting low-income children, yet it is the most preventable. That’s why KinderSmile Foundation’s mission is focused on Education, Intervention and Prevention. KinderSmile started when Dr. McGrath was volunteering at a local Head Start programs, providing monthly oral education to children. One day, a little girl arrived in her office with no dental records and a dangerously abscessed tooth. The girl’s family could not find a dentist who accepted Medicaid and the tooth had been festering for three months. Dr. McGrath treated her with antibiotics and decided at that point to take on the larger children’s dental crisis.

KinderSmile Foundation’s approach works because it combines treatment with community education and collaboration.  Dr. McGrath says, “No one can do this alone, and our results are proving that increased access to oral health is possible.  We’re getting people to understand that no child has to live with dental disease.” 


Counselor, mentor, educator, and leader, Wally Weikert, LCSW, LMFT has devoted 43 years of his professional life to Family Service League, serving as its clinical director for the past 20 years. Wally treats all his clients with the upmost dignity and respect and imbues his work with a passion for the therapeutic process and a deep compassion for his clients. No one has ever been turned away because they cannot pay for counseling.

Every day, Wally and Family Service League’s therapists help clients deal with tough issues like anxiety and depression; marital and parent/child conflicts; drug and alcohol abuse; domestic violence and sexual assault. He also employs bilingual therapists so clients can use their own native languages. In addition to the clients’ lives he’s touched, Wally has made a significant impact on the professional development of numerous therapists, staff clinicians and interns.

“I believe that therapy helps people develop their voices in such a way that they can have an effective say in the world. At Family Service League, we provide an environment where the voices of the marginalized and traumatized can be heard,” said Wally. “I’m proud of the work we do to make the world a safer place where individuals, couples and families can truly thrive.”

One notable area is Family Service League’s exceptional quality of services pertaining to sexual violence, whether its preventing sexual violence through education and advocacy or through its rape care center, SAVE of Essex County.

In June, 2017, Mary Rossettini, LCSW retired as President and CEO of a nonprofit supportive housing agency.

A trip to Clifton City Hall to renew dog licenses provided an unexpected opportunity. While there, Mary’s wife started a conversation with the Director of the City’s Health Department and discovered a need for a consultant to assist in managing a growing homeless population.  She knew Mary was just the person who could help. The Director quickly agreed that Mary, who had once been homeless and had experience advocating for homeless individuals during her career, would be a great fit. 

As the new Clifton Homelessness Consultant, Mary educated City leaders about the gravity and impact of homelessness on the community. Within a month, she formed Clifton’s Homeless Task Force and organized Clifton’s first ever Point in Time Homeless Count.  As a result, Clifton became eligible to receive County funding for homeless prevention and street outreach. The grant enabled the City to address its homeless problem without raising taxes or cutting spending.

“Most people don’t want to acknowledge that homelessness exists in their community, but it does.  Rather than close their eyes to it, I encourage people to see the homeless as their neighbors and support them in their struggle,” said Mary.  “Basic human decency can help a person – or a family – stay alive.”

Mary’s work has now extended deeper into the community.  She supports St. Peter’s Haven, a healthy food pantry and family shelter that offers a safe and caring place for men, women and children.  St. Peter’s also provides short-term housing for homeless and at-risk families until they can find a stable home.

The Community Impact Award grant will be made to St. Peter’s Haven Food Pantry in Clifton in Mary’s honor



When Vanguard Medical Group physicians started making house calls to their geriatric patients, medical issues weren’t the only things their patients were struggling with. They also needed hot meals, warm clothing, help with Medicaid applications and, most of all, human interaction.

Moved by their plight, and understanding the crippling effects of social isolation, Medical Director Dr. Thomas McCarrick founded Connections at Home in 2012. The nonprofit transforms seniors’ lives through an unexpected solution: technology. It puts computers, tablets and laptops into patients’ hands to connect them with medical, community and social services. They use them for weekly Skype sessions with social workers, to look at family members’ Facebook pages and, in short, to interact with the world.

“Technology might seem counter-intuitive for older individuals, but we found that with proper training, most participants took right to it,” said Dr. McCarrick. “This cost-effective solution has dramatically improved outcomes for isolated seniors. Something as simple as putting technology into their hands makes them happy and enhances their quality of life.”

Connections at Home has successfully touched the lives of more than 300 seniors and Dr. McCarrick continuously seeks ways to improve. His vision includes virtual experiences so the plugged-in seniors can participate in community events; a long-term strategy to recruit more volunteers; and the introduction of more advanced technologies like Amazon’s Alexa. Connections at Home proves that technology doesn’t just solve an array of medical and social needs, it also brings seniors together, even when they can’t leave their homes.

Age-Friendly Montclair

This award goes to three individuals working together to address aging in place Montclair: Katie York (Lifelong Montclair), Ann Lippel (Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee) and Carolyn Lack (Aging in Montclair). 


Since Katie York became involved with Lifelong Montclair, an aging in place initiative to transform Montclair into a great place to grow older, she has spearheaded programs that are energizing Montclair’s seniors, while giving them transportation they need to participate in community life.

A gerontologist by training, Katie knew that seniors want to learn, be entertained and engage with like-minded people. Enter the Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning, or MILL, a collaboration of local institutions, including The Montclair Art Museum, Montclair Public Library and Montclair State University, among others.
In its first year, the MILL saw 1,311 registrations for 48 classes and had a 422-person waiting list. MILL has since expanded its programming and uses technology to reach seniors who can’t leave home.

Transportation is a daunting challenge for many seniors. To get it right, Katie convened a Senior Bus Roundtable to guide development of an effective system that included a reservation-based EZ Ride program on the Montclair Senior Bus. The Lifelong Montclair Guide to Public Transportation also debuted to showcase all resources available.

“Lifelong Montclair is living proof that our communities grow stronger when we support seniors in all aspects of their lives,” said Katie. “Moving the responsibility from one person to a broader community makes a better aging experience for everybody.”

As testament to her support of better aging, Katie successfully applied to the World Health Organization, resulting in Montclair’s recognition as an age-friendly community. Her action plan, which was developed in collaboration with partner organizations and seniors, was also recognized by the group.



After Ann Lippel “graduated” from a successful 30-year career in college administration, she started a second career advocating for senior citizens struggling to achieve healthy, stimulating and secure lives while coping with transportation, medical issues and housing.

It started when a friend introduced her to the Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee. Ann’s skills in project management, advocacy and public education were a perfect match. Being a senior herself, she could emphasize with the challenges seniors face.

Ann resolved to raise the visibility of seniors and to educate the community – and legislators – about their needs. She championed a benchmark survey of 800 seniors, collaborated with a variety of community partners and recruited seniors to volunteer with the Senior Advisory Committee.

Ann helped persuaded the Town Council to support development of a comprehensive Senior Center. The Senior Advisory Committee also launched the Life Transitions for Seniors program, which provides free case managers to counsel seniors on financial, health care and housing matters. The group also helped to implement Seniors in Taxis, an initiative that provides door-to-door transportation for hundreds of residents.

Ask Ann what the future holds and she’ll say a vital, comprehensive Senior Center with stimulating classes, health services and social activities. She envisions an age-friendly Montclair, where people at all life stages socialize, support and learn together.


If you’re one of the more than 500 seniors whose lives have been changed by Aging in Montclair, you can thank Carolyn Lack. Ninety years young, she lit the spark behind the volunteer organization just a few years ago, and her group has been helping Montclair emerge as an ideal place to age ever since.

Carolyn was long involved in community issues and increasingly became interested in aging. As she became more knowledgeable, she realized the Township needed more services specifically dedicated to meeting older people’s needs. Validated by a new study revealing gaps in senior services, Carolyn, with a handful of

volunteers, formed Aging in Montclair. The grassroots initiative quickly took hold and awakened others in the community who wanted to be more engaged.

“My vision isn’t just about aging in place, it’s about thriving in place,” said Carolyn Lack, “Through Aging in Montclair, we are helping to build a community where older people are empowered and our voices are heard. We advocate for seniors’ needs, including transportation, social activities, housing, education, information and more.”

Aging in Montclair is not just run for seniors, it’s run by seniors. Through a program called Hear Our Voices, AIM made personal phone calls to all members, listened to their concerns about aging and urged them to get involved. The organization also works in partnership with other groups with similar missions, particularly the Montclair Senior Citizen Advisory Committee and Lifelong Montclair.

What’s next for AIM? Carolyn has a dream of a comprehensive Senior Center in Montclair. She’s confident that with the help of like-minded organizations, it will become a reality.

The YMCA has a presence in 10,000 neighborhoods across the nation and Montclair is home to one of the organization’s first buildings. Although many things have changed for the YMCA of Montclair over the course of its 127-year history, it remains an anchor in the community. Unlike many other Y’s, a majority of its 12,000 members having been returning for decades.

“If you live in Montclair, then you or someone you know is likely affiliated with the YMCA of Montclair. I’m constantly approached by people who tell me how our YMCA has made a difference in their lives,” said President and CEO Buddy Evans. “Thanks to one of our programs, a mother saw early signs of her teenager’s suicidal tendencies. She got help and credits the YMCA for saving her daughter’s life. It’s empowering to know that we’re making a major impact.”

More than anything, the YMCA of Montclair focuses on its youth. The Y gives them a positive environment to gather in and prepares them for success through development workshops and events. It is one of the first and only YMCAs in the country to launch ASPIRE, a program designed to help young adults who are in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.  

The YMCA of Montclair tackles the community’s most pressing needs by providing affordable programs to all. It’s a support system for people living with chronic disease, or dealing with mental health issues and addiction. The YMCA also partners with other community organizations to serve Montclair’s growing elderly population with interactive experiences and resources to address aging issues and isolation. In addition to its core programming, the YMCA of Montclair also offers a host of fun activities like swim lessons, after school programs, summer camp, youth & adult sports and group exercise.

Addressing Hunger

This award recognizes work addressing hunger in our community and it is shared by the Human Needs Food Pantry and Anne Mernin.

When the Human Needs Food Pantry was founded in 1982, it served 25 people. Today it provides nutritious food and other essentials to 4,000 people in 443 households from Montclair and surrounding communities.  Many of pantry’s clients hold jobs but still don’t make enough to meet their basic needs and survive in Essex County, which has the highest concentration of food insecurity in the state. 

“Our goal is simple: to ease the burden for our neighbors living below the poverty level,” says Mike Bruno, Executive Director. “Our client base continues to grow and we are gratified to see local community and youth groups running food drives and lending a helping hand on our behalf. Their generosity is amazing and we are truly a neighborhood partnership.”

The Human Needs Food Pantry is focused on distributing healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and nutritional supplements. Its services go beyond tackling hunger, by providing gently used clothing that is constantly being refreshed from community donations, and expensive but essential items like feminine products, diapers and wipes. Through a partnership with Mountainside Hospital, clients can take advantage of bi-monthly screenings for diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and receive referrals for early interventions to avoid costly emergency medical care down the road.


At Toni’s Kitchen in Montclair, feeding neighbors in need extends beyond serving up a hot meal. When Director Anne Mernin joined Toni’s Kitchen, it was a well-run soup kitchen staffed by caring volunteers with deep respect for their guests. As she listened to the stories of Toni’s guests, she realized that while hunger was paramount, they needed much more.

She learned that Toni’s guests also needed health and nutrition education, mental health counseling, tutoring, fitness training and other services to enhance their lives. Ann arranged to bring experts and advisors into Toni’s kitchen to address these needs, and more.

Anne works hard to eliminate the stigma associated with hunger and poverty. “Toni’s Kitchen is based in an affluent, suburban community. The people we serve are largely invisible, even as they coexist alongside those who are more fortunate,” said Anne. “At Toni’s Kitchen we see them, we hear them and we tailor personalized services to encourage healthy, independent lives.”

For example, through its Healthy Backpack Program, Toni’s Kitchen provides backpacks filled with healthy foods to low-income children. Because they look like typical backpacks, students can bring the food home without fear of being stigmatized. This is just one way that Toni’s Kitchen is nourishing its neighbors with dignity. 

Jennifer Papa spent much of her life wondering how she could make New Jersey a more vibrant place. She’d pass through underserved communities and quickly become affected by the lack of greenery. From a young age, Jennifer envisioned a state where everyone could experience the beauty of nature and have access to fresh, healthy food regardless of financial burdens or location. Today, Jennifer is making that possible as the Founder and Executive Director of City Green, an urban farming and gardening organization located in Clifton.

Through collaboration of local governments, school administrations, community partners and a dedicated staff, City Green has created dozens of community and school gardens. It has stewarded two unique outdoor learning centers – a 5-acre farm eco-center in Clifton and a one and a half-acre learning garden in Paterson’s Eastside Park. These spaces provide organic food production, educational workshops, fun events and employment opportunities for inner-city residents.

“There’s an assumption that people from low-income communities don’t care about feeding their families healthy food, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Jennifer. “Many people are grateful for the produce that we provide and tell us they never imagined being able to afford it. We feel privileged to turn their neighborhoods green.”

Of City Green’s many “attractions,” visitors have taken a particular liking to its Veggie Mobile, a market on wheels that transports produce to locations where it’s difficult or impossible to access fresh food. As part of City Green’s “double bucks” program, they are able to accept and double federal food benefits so that its customers’ dollars go even further, making produce more readily available to those who need it the most.

If one female mentor could make a difference in a girl’s life, what would happen if there were 600 mentors? That’s what Adele Katz envisioned when she started Sister to Sister Teen Mentoring in 1998. It began by pairing five high school girls with four trained female mentors. Since then, Sister to Sister has served 600 young women at schools throughout Montclair, giving them the skills, confidence and judgment they need to navigate the world. 

Sister to Sister was born from Adele’s background as a social worker and personal experience with the benefits of mentorship. Since its early transition from being part of the YMCA, to overcoming the challenge of finding a home of its own, Adele has been unstoppable in her efforts to grow the program. She has the ability to see potential for adults to serve as mentors and recruits anyone she thinks could help. Parents play a role too, as the program helps them reinforce what the girls are learning.

“If it wasn’t for Sister to Sister, most of these girls would be feeling their way through life in the dark, with all of its choices, temptations, opportunities and dangers,” said Adele Katz. “Our mentors, who participate with commitment and joy, foster pride, respect, a love of learning, critical thinking and cultural understanding among these girls.”

Partnerships are a cornerstone of the program’s success. Adele has developed collaborations that support academics, community service and substance abuse prevention, among many others. Sister to Sister’s success has even spurred the development of a Brother to Brother program run by men for young men.